The Uncanny Behavior of Gmail Users

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4 months ago, Google launched a new interface in Gmail which includes tabs that will automatically sort your email upon arrival. The tabs are “Primary,” “Social,” “Promotions,” “Updates,” and “Forums.”

For the next two weeks I was inundated by “guru” Internet marketers asking me to move their email messages into the primary tab. I didn’t . However, I became aware of my changing email behaviors.

I began to make some observations, and was pleased to find that what I had noticed in myself, has been found to be almost identical to the masses.

My Gmail patterns exposed

I noticed that when I started using the tabs I instantly liked them. I didn’t have to sift through emails anymore looking for the important messages. They were waiting for me in my primary tab.

While at first I viewed all the email I was receiving in the other tabs daily, I have moved more towards checking them every several days. I can go through 400-500 emails in about 10 minutes that way.

I also started labeling and tagging my emails so I can archive them. Doing this allows me to quickly clear pages of emails at a time, yet keep them in labels, which act as folders, so I can find anything I need.

As I go through the other than primary tabs clearing out emails, I look for emails of interest and read them. I still think I read the same amount emails I read before, now I just do it at a time that is convenient for me instead of every time I check email.

Since I’m always reading the latest information on marketing and Internet marketing, I browsed two articles recently that show some excellent data on the ways the Gmail tabs update has changed the way Gmail users interact with Gmail.

As I share their information, I want you to think about how much insight you can glean about your customers from this type of data.

When you consider the number of people on the planet, with all of our individuality and uniqueness, it’s amazing to see how similar we all really are.

Jeremy Schoemaker weighs in

Blogger Jeremy Schoemaker noticed that his emails weren’t being opened with the same pattern he had become used to over the years. Instead, it seemed that the emails were taking longer to be opened. So he decided to dive into his analytics to see what was happening. Here’s what he found:

  • 10-25% decrease on initial open/click rates on average 24 hours after the email is sent .
  • Average time to open/click emails much longer.
  • Overall 10 day average had a significant increase in click/open rates.
  • Increase in revenue from emails (20% in his ShoeMoney Products).

His results corroborate with recordings of my behavior. He has 10-25% less clicks, or response, within the first day, but over a 10 day period, sells 20% more products.

He believes the uptick in response over the long term is dependent upon two things:

1. Being in tabs, the email is less annoying. People can let it sit there until they want to go through it.

2. When they get around to going through it, they are more at ease and have time to pay attention.

Of course it still requires your subject lines to stand out and get attention. But if you do that successfully, you can expect more engagement by your list rather than less.

Return Path’s Gmail Research Results Via MarketingLand

MarketingLand author Amy Gesenhues shared the results from a research study focused on Gmail engagement by Return Path.

Email marketing data provider Return Path created a study in which they asked three-million gmail users to agree to share their Gmail inboxes so the company could review their behaviors with the new Gmail.

After 4 months, they concluded that overall engagement with promotional emails has changed only slightly.

It turns out that almost everyone is using Gmail the same way I am. They are leaving the promotional emails in the promotions and updates tabs until they want to review them.

Return Path also found that the read rate of the emails in the promotions folder is 14%, and the read rate of emails in the social tab is 11%. They also found that .3% of promotional emails leak into the primary tab – and that increases the read rate of the promotional emails in the primary tab to 24%.

The mistakes the marketer’s who sent me emails telling me to add them to my primary tab made are twofold:

1. They gave the impression that they weren’t trying to promote anything. Rather, we were close personal friends which I didn’t think for a minute (of the 65,507 emails sent to Return Path clients, 61 were moved into the primary tab.)

2. The emails in the primary tab that are obviously not personal emails, were flagged for spam at a much higher rate than those in the promotions tab.

Imagine that! People won’t flag emails as spam if they are obvious promotions in a tab called “promotions,” yet will flag those same messages as spam if they are in the primary tab.

It seems that for once Google is helping out marketer’s because not only did the spam complaints decrease, the deliverability of the promotional emails jumped from 77% to 93%. That’s huge for marketer’s with large lists!

The Takeaway

There are two main lessons to be learned from this research. First, marketer’s should withhold their tendency to rush in and start messing with things because they assume the opinions of the masses will turn against them. While their behaviors change overtime, people are still essentially people. Our thought patterns, needs, hopes, and wishes haven’t changed over the past 10,000 years and they aren’t about to now just because we have iPhones.

In fact, we are almost completely predictable en mass, and if the “guru” Internet marketer’s had any sense, they would have opted for a wait and see approach to their clients who use Gmail.

Second, if you watch yourself, and how you interact with marketing, you can learn a lot about what works and what doesn’t. The reason is, you and your actions represent a large segment of the population.

Odds are you and I are not so different. We probably respond to marketing in a similar way. Similar enough for marketer’s to make money from the knowledge of how we respond.

As a business owner, your number one job is to understand your customer’s needs and wants — so you can sell to them. In other words, no matter what you do, you are a marketer. As such, just focus on producing the 14% of content that people will engage with.

Are You A Gmail User?

If you use Gmail, I want to hear from you! Have you noticed your email habits changing? If so, how? Let me know in the comments section. Do you clear out your email every day? Are you focused on a zero email inbox? Or do you let it pile up? I’m all ears and anxiously awaiting your comments!

Michael Miller

Michael Miller

Mike Miller is the co-owner of, a Digital Marketing Agency in Atlanta, Georgia that focuses on aligning sales and marketing for exponentially greater results. Michael’s mission is helping small business owners understand, and organize their marketing so they can make money and grow. Mindwhirl helps business owners plan and implement effective, profitable marketing campaigns and sales programs. If you need more sales, we know how to get leads and grow businesses. Call us today at (770) 295-8660, or email Mike at

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