10 ways to avoid landing in Gmail Promotions tab

Sean Cho Sean Cho
· 9 min read · July 21st, 2021
Even though the promotions tab was created with the best intentions, we'd all like our emails to reach the inbox instead. Read on to learn the reasons that emails land in promotions and the steps you can take to avoid it happening.

Why does my email go to promotions?!!! 

All of us at some point have thrown our hands up in disbelief when our email goes to Gmail’s Promotion tab. As email marketers, subscribers gave us permission to be in the Gmail Primary inbox, right? 

Well it’s not that simple. Gmail’s inbox tabs are designed to make the recipient’s life easier by sorting emails into groups: primary, social and promotions. This feature is automated so it’s hard to control where your emails will end up. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to give your emails the best chance possible. 

So do you want to know how to avoid the Gmail Promotions tab? 

Let’s start with some background about Gmail’s folders and then jump into how to stop emails from going to promotions.

Importance of Gmail inbox tabs

Gmail is the 800-pound gorilla among email clients. Since its launch back in 2004, it has amassed 1.8 billion active users! Its market share means that you need to pay attention to changes in Gmail that may affect your email marketing campaigns.

Note: Gmail is too big to be ignored. In a recent newsletter campaign sent by our email marketing partner, MailerLite, 60% of subscribers used their Gmail account to read the newsletter—almost 6 times that of the next inbox provider!

While Google introduced the tabbed inbox as a way to clean up the clutter, marketers worried that their emails wouldn’t convert as well outside the primary tab.

Types of Gmail inbox categories

Gmail uses machine learning—a form of artificial intelligence that learns from experience—to decide where to put incoming emails. The AI looks at things like the sender, the email’s content, and how others engage with similar emails.


Messages are then sorted into the following categories:

  • Primary: Emails from people that users know (and everything else that doesn’t fit below)

  • Social: Messages from social media

  • Promotions: Emails containing a call to action (CTA)

  • Updates: Transactional emails like notifications, receipts and invoices

  • Forums: Messages from discussion boards and mailing lists

In addition to Gmail algorithms, the next important factor in deciding where emails should go is user behavior. Gmail learns how to sort emails based on users’ actions—if they’re marking emails as spam or dragging them to another category, for example.

You have little control over the constantly changing rules that Gmail applies, and people can also configure and sort their inbox as they please. To give your emails the best shot of reaching the Primary inbox, you can start by cleaning your email lists and optimizing the content.

What is the Gmail Promotions tab?

The Promotions tab is an inbox category in Gmail that contains deals, offers, newsletters, and other bulk emails inviting people to take a call to action. It was introduced in 2013, along with other tabs, to organize all the emails in your inbox.

Some email marketers associate the Promotions tab with the spam folder. It’s not the same! Gmail users do engage with emails in the Promotions tab, but not nearly as much as the Primary tab.  

Research shows that promotional emails are read 12% less than emails in Gmail’s Primary inbox. Plus, subscriber perception changes depending on which tab your email goes in.

Reasons why emails land in the Promotions tab

There are many reasons why emails go to the promotions folder and not the Primary inbox. Gmail is sorting the important from unimportant emails. Here are some reasons why the Gmail promotions filter might consider your emails as ‘unimportant”:

1. You’re sending bulk emails from an email service provider (ESP). Gmail knows these are marketing emails because they are being sent on your behalf. 

2. You’re not in the recipient’s contact list, and thus not a “friend”. If you’re on the list, your emails are considered important. 

3. Your email content looks promotional with lots of links, HTML headers, and spammy words like “free” and “discount”. 

4. You have a poor sending reputation, not having warmed up your IP address by gradually increasing the sending volume over several weeks, or having incomplete authentication records. 

5. Your emails are seen as promotional by Gmail users and they have put your emails under the Promotions folder.

How to avoid Gmail’s Promotions tab

 Let’s get to the good stuff. Avoiding the promotions tab is not guaranteed, but it is well worth the effort! 

You have to convince both Gmail and your audience by using a two-pronged approach: 

  • Ensure that your email content isn’t overly promotional. 

  • Reinforce your value with subscribers.

Remember, your subscribers opted-in to receive your emails. You belong in the Primary inbox!  Here are the 10 things you can do to stop emails from going to promotions and claim your rightful place in the inbox.

1. Personalize your emails

Bulk email campaigns tend to be impersonal, but they don’t have to be if the greeting is personalized! It’s easy to insert a custom variable like “Hi {$name},” to tailor the email for each subscriber and make it start like a personal email to a friend.


2. Avoid promotional content

When was the last time you sent an HTML email to a friend? Most of us use plain text emails to send messages. Similarly, make your emails look personal by keeping it free of excessive formatting, links and spam-like words in the subject line.

Run a tool like MailerCheck’s Inbox Insights to catch deliverability red flags before sending them.

3. Test your inbox placement

If you’re running an Email Insights report with Inbox Insights, you can add an optional test for Gmail’s inbox. The Inbox Placement add-on sends a test email to Gmail and, based on the contents of your email, predicts which tab your emails are likely to land in.

Here’s an example of a test that showed 3 emails appearing in the Promotions tab while one email was not received, requiring further investigation into the missing email.


4. Avoid mixing email content

Separate promotional (bulk email) from transactional emails that are triggered by recipients. Keep the latest promo separate from your regular newsletter, for example. Then assign a separate email address to each inbox category like this:

5. Send valuable content

When you create email content that people want to receive, you will enjoy higher engagement rates from your subscribers. Gmail will think that they are important because of their higher open rates and conversion rates as they click through your links.

If you have a very large email list, one way to improve email engagement is to segment your list. A mass newsletter may not interest everyone in your list but targeted newsletters or dynamic content may pique subscribers with specific interests.

6. Review your sender reputation

If you’re sending with an ESP, review your sending domain’s SPF and DKIM authentication records to convince Google that you’re a responsible and genuine sender. Gmail looks closely at your sending credentials to check that you are who you say you are and that you have authorized your domain to send emails.


7. Proofread your emails

Generally speaking, hasty promotional emails along with spam and phishing emails tend to have a lot of spelling and grammatical errors. Avoid looking like these emails and maintain your professional brand image by proofreading emails before sending.

Run it through tools like Grammarly to check for spelling and grammar mistakes. These tools aren’t foolproof but they’ll pick up the most obvious mistakes. To be assured, have another pair of human eyes proofread your emails thoroughly.

8. Reply to your email

Ask an open-ended question that invites subscribers to reply to your email. Remember that Gmail reserves the Primary tab for people that the user knows, so this is the quickest way to start a two-way conversation with your subscribers. 

9. Ask to move emails to the Primary tab

If subscribers are enjoying your content, you can suggest that they can receive every edition by right-clicking or dragging and dropping your email to the Primary tab. Once they answer “yes” to Gmail’s prompt, your emails will land in the Primary tab every time.


10. Add your email to their contact list

You can also ask people nicely to add you to their contact list so they don’t miss out on any emails. This can be done in the first welcome email, and it sends a strong message to Gmail that subscribers are getting messages from someone that they know.

Focus on content subscribers love

At the end of the day, email marketers are building relationships with their subscribers. When you deliver content that they anticipate and love, you will find a way into their Primary inbox.

How do you feel about the Gmail Promotions tab? Sound off in the comments!

Sean Cho
I’m Sean, Content Writer at The Remote Company. I like to keep things neat, clean and tidy—including my inbox! My latest craze is to fill up my home with tropical plants of all sizes.