Is The New Gmail Better For Users Or Marketers?

By: Chris Crum - July 23, 2013

Google has rolled out its big Gmail redesign, originally announced in May. The new interface is getting mixed reactions from users, with some loving it, some hating it, and of course many who are either on the fence or just don’t really care. It helps that Google includes the option to make it look basically like it did before, but some aren’t incredibly thrilled that Google is taking it upon itself to organize their emails in ways they didn’t ask it to or showing them ads that look like emails. The new interface also has implications for businesses and email marketers.

What do you think of the new Gmail as a user? How about as a business or marketer? Do you have any concerns about the product, or is this is a step in the right direction? Share your thoughts in the comments.

First off, if you haven’t gotten the new look yet, here’s a brief rundown, so you know what to expect:

You can go to the gear icon, and click “Configure inbox” to set up the new style if Google hasn’t pushed it to you.

The main difference is that the new interface separates your emails into different tabs. There are tabs for: Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates and Forums. You’ll probably get the first four by default, but you can adjust the settings to have whatever combination of these you want, including only Primary, which would make your inbox more like the classic Gmail.

Primary, according to Google, is reserved for messages from friends and family, and other messages that don’t appear in other tabs. Promotions is where deals, offers and other promotional emails reside (like email marketing messages from lists you’re subscribed to). Social is where you will see messages from social networks, media-sharing sites, online dating services, gaming platforms and other social sites. Updates is where you will find notifications like confirmations, receipts, bills and statements. Forums will include messages from online groups, discussion boards and mailing lists.

When you get new emails, Google shows an indicator in the relevant tab telling you how many new messages you have received since you last checked the tab. It will also display names of some of the recent senders (at least as many as there’s room for), so you can get an idea who the messages are from without clicking over to the tab.


You can move messages to different tabs if you like. Just drag and drop it to the tab of your preference or right-click a message while viewing it. When you move a message, Google will ask you if you want to put messages from that sender in that tab in the future, giving you a little more control over your email organization.

Starred messages appear in Primary, though you can configure this in the “Configure Inbox” section if you don’t want it that way. The tabs can also be used as labels. When a message is archived, it moves out of your inbox, and can be found in “All Mail” as well as the labels you have applied to it.

One potentially helpful feature of the categories is that you can use them as search operators to locate messages. For example, if you’re looking for something that you know is in updates, you can begin your search with “category:updates”. You can also combine the category search operators with other search operators.

The Gmail apps for iPhone, iPad and Android (4.0+) will show you the Primary mail when you open the app, and you can navigate to other tabs to see the rest.

New Gmail on mobile

As mentioned, user reaction has been mixed. One user tells us they found the tabs confusing, and they were not happy with Google sorting their emails. They also described the new ads as “off-putting,” but seemed content to revert back to the single inbox style. Another user tells us they found the tabs “odd at first,” but that they like them now, and haven’t yet noticed any of the new ads.

From what we’ve seen, there hasn’t been anywhere close to the amount of backlash that the new Yahoo Mail received (and continues to receive). That’s a pretty good sign for Google, though there is still plenty of time for more users to voice their opinions.

As previously reported, the new Gmail also comes with a new ad format, which pretty much looks exactly like an email marketing message, and functions similarly. The difference is that these are not messages users are receiving as a result of signing up for a mailing list, but are simply ads from Google advertisers.

They are not technically emails. Google is not giving your email address away to advertisers. They’re just showing ads from advertisers they’d already be showing you ads for in a way that more closely resembles an email.

They appear in the Promotions tab pretty much like real email marketing messages would, except they are labeled by Google as ads:

Google ad

When you click to open the message, it looks exactly like an email marketing message:

Email marketing message style

In a “What’s this?” section in the sidebar once you open the message, Gmail explains, “It’s a new type of ad which you can forward to a friend, or star to save it to your inbox. If you dismiss this ad, you won’t see it again.”

So, not technically emails, according to Google, but you can still forward them like emails or save them like emails. They don’t, however, count against your storage quota, Google tells us.

As you can see in the above example, there is also a more standard ad for the same advertiser in the column.

Google says the ads are based on information from your Google account, and reminds users that they can control what they see under Ad Settings.

Google said, in a statement to VentureBeat, “Instead of ads always appearing at the top of your inbox, they’ve been relegated to a more appropriate place in your Promotions category. In addition, we’ve raised the quality of these ads and won’t show you an ad unless it’s relevant — which means you may sometimes see no ads at all in your Promotions tab. You can also dismiss the ads you see in your Promotions tab by clicking the ‘X’ button on the right-hand side.”

As I noted in a previous article, Google served me the above Publishers Clearing House ad, which I did not find particularly relevant, but if Google is potentially looking at everything I’ve ever done with my Google account, it’s hard to say how far the scope of relevancy stretches. I was indeed in the market for a new house several years back. This would have been more relevant then. On the other hand, you could say that dreams are always relevant.

In my previous coverage, I initially wrote that ads show up as new items in the Promotions tab when Google serves them. I indicated that the Promotions tab said I had 2 new messages, and when I clicked over to the tab, they were both ads from Google. You could probably agree that this is a bit more intrusive way to show users ads than the Gmail ads of the past.

I did not make this up to create controversy where there is none, and as I write this, I would swear that’s what I saw, but a Google spokesperson tells me that Google does not do this. I admit that I am not immune to making mistakes, and perhaps this is not really what occurred. I’ve since been unable to verify that this did happen, as I’ve been waiting for it to occur again, but it has not so far. If you have seen this occur, please let me know in the comments. Otherwise, I’ll assume that I’m just going crazy, and am seeing things.

Either way, you can hide the specific ads if you no longer want to see them, or you can just turn of the Promotions tab if you so choose.

According to Marketing Land, the ads are part of Google’s “Gmail Sponsored Promotion” beta, which pre-dates the new inbox interface, though the actual placement of the ads that makes them more resemble emails, is new. Ginny Marvin reports that the ads are priced on a CPC model, in which the advertiser is charged just one click per user when the user opens the ad. Advertisers must request access through a Google rep.

While only the placement of the ads (that is if Google really isn’t showing notifications for them) is new, they have still managed to attract the attention of users this week, despite being written about by various blogs over the past couple months, and one has to wonder if Microsoft is readying another “Scroogled” campaign. As you may recall, the company recently ran a campaign slamming Gmail’s advertising practices, which had been in effect for about a decade.

For email marketers and ecommerce businesses, the new inbox style could present new challenges in getting messages in front of customers. You have to wonder how frequently users will be interested in perusing the Promotions tab to look at a bunch of ads.

Likewise, as Joshua Sophy at Small Business Trends suggests, “If your business relies on e-commerce, this new tabbed layout could mean that abandoned shopping messages and other order communications will not immediately be seen by customers. This could lead to lower customer satisfaction and missed sales opportunities.”

“Having your marketing email piled up to be read later with other marketing messages may mean you must do even more to stand out,” he notes. “Also Google’s inclusion of its own promotions within the tab only creates more noise detracting from your message.”

He does add, however, that conversions rates could potentially be higher as clicks would come from users who actually take the time to seek out emails in the Promotions tab.

It’s definitely going to be interesting to watch how this all affects the email marketing industry.

Do you think the new Gmail will impact email marketers for better or for worse? As a user, do you prefer the new tabbed format, or are you reverting back to the single inbox style? Let us know in the comments.

Chris Crum

About the Author

Chris CrumChris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.

View all posts by Chris Crum
  • Lakhyajyoti

    Long and informative post. The new design of Gmail is not beneficial for marketers. As a user too I hate the new design. I disabled it yesterday. Thanks for the share.

  • David Brown

    In my humble opinion, Google has taken one of the most user-friendly and yet feature rich email app into a difficult and seemingly ever changing “glob”. I am not a person who is normally averse to change, but I do not believe any such changes should be forced on a user base that was for the most part otherwise happy. Needless to say, I do not at all like it. But then, I didn’t like all the similar disappearing scroll bar changes to OSX either.

  • Carl Donovan

    People actually see ads? I had to pause my ad blocker to see what the new inbox is supposed to look like. I quickly unpaused it and went back to ad-free browsing bliss.

  • Randy Fox

    When is spam not spam? When they pay Google!

  • Linda

    Gmail was working for me perfectly as I wanted it the change before last. I didn’t like the subsequent change or the latest. Really slowed me down – especially the last one – far too fiddly. Very arrogant response from Google that we ‘just have to get used to it’. I’m recommending Fmail to everyone as soon as the option to revert back to ‘old gmail’ is removed.
    PS: The gmail fiddlers have damaged the ‘Canned Responses’ lab. The drop-down no longer shuts itself when you have selected your response. You have to click the link to save your email to make it go away.

  • Enviro Equipment Inc.

    The new “hidden” e-mail ads drove me crazy and I only wish that Google would give you the option of keeping the old format but, obviously, they want to sell more ads small businesses like ours are stuck spending time trying to sort out legitimate e-mails from advertisements.

  • Steve

    I don’t care for it at all. If I don’t check all categories I feel like I might be missing something. I can tell when I glance at my email if its personal, promotional, something I want to read, or bullcrap. Google doesn’t have to categorize it for me. I too will be disabling it.

  • John

    Google does not think like I do, and its organization is counter-intuitive to mine. I let anything into my gmail account and forward to another email service msgs from people I want to hear from. GoogleCircles is a pain, and their corrupt copyrighting of photos is a despicable shame. If the self-serving invasions get any worse, I will simply close all my Google accounts and end the annoyances. I find Bing is becoming better in many ways, and other email services are superior too. I would rather pay a little to get what serves me than to get free what serves Google.

  • John

    Do you think that by ‘categorizing’ your email that Google is actually helping the NSA/government by eliminating commercial junk from personal email that may contain more intelligence? Seems like it to me. There are only so many billion of bytes per unit of time that can be sifted and analyzed before one needs more computers, memory and software to keep the digital intelligence systems from being overburdened. Just like socially when someone is offering information you don’t want to hear, you cover your ears, roll your eyes and say sarcastically, “Too much information.” Intelligence suffers when there is too much data to process in a timely manner to get core information.

  • Banderanti

    I think the new Gmail is great – if it adversely affects marketers – tough on them.

  • Free Business Listing

    Hey I just wish google leave the old design the way it is. Google always look for innovative ways to maximize their profit margin, thereby pretending they are making our lives easier. The truth is they are doing it for commercial advantage.

  • john colascione

    I find it helpful and useful like most Google services. It also reflects greatly on how Google gets to know you. As a marketer it also helps separate most of my marketing related activities from discussions and active work items.

  • allan storer

    I find the new gmail account, very difficult and complicated, it is not user friendly. I find that I am resorting back to my Yahoo account, more than ever. Please get rid of this new look. I will not be opening up any more gmail accounts until it is changed.

    • Rank Watch

      The tab structure for Gmail is definitely a win for the marketers with its large & engaging user base. The promotions tab was also recently report to have an option for the users to opt in before promotional email or Google’s new email ads start appearing. This has been an experimenting option for Google ever since it was launched.

  • Kevin

    “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” were never more true than with this redesign.

    To a person, everyone I’ve spoken with about–and there have been a couple of dozen at this point–has said the same thing, “Why did they have to touch it?”

    Why is it that just because something is ‘old’ in Internet years, we have to change it?

    Sometimes things work perfectly. Leave them alone.

    Inventing a solution where there isn’t a problem is stupid.

    This is something Perry Marshall predicted __years__ ago. (Paraphrasing: “As Google gets more and more pressure from Wall Street, they’re going to be forced to do more things we as users and advertisers don’t want them to.”