Guest post by Scott Gilman, a Senior Interactive Consultant at Blackbaud, who has worked in the non-profit space since 2001.

As most e-mail marketers are very much aware of by now, on July 22 Gmail released a new tab structure to its inbox. Rather than a single in-box, the in-box is now broken into three tabs: Primary, Social and Promotional.

  • Primary is meant for your personal e-mails
  • Social is for e-mail from social networking sites
  • Promotional is meant for pretty much everything else, including most of the e-mail sent by non-profits and commercial retailers.

We assume this is bad news for mass marketers; our inclination is to want our e-mail to be received in the Primary tab rather than the other two. (A Gmail user has the option to create more tabs, and to move e-mails into different tabs, including permanently for e-mail from a specific sender.)

New Gmail tabs, good news or bad?

The jury is still out, and there is much more analysis to be done, especially as we head into the fall and a busier season for e-mail. That said, a quick look at some returns indicates that — so far — we may not need to panic. In some cases, the new tab structure may actually turn out to be beneficial.

What the data tells us …

Below are some stats from five random organizations, looking at their monthly newsletter (in one case, bi-monthly) that was sent right before and right after July 22. We created a query of all e-mail addresses containing gmail.com, turned that query into a group, and then ran a Group Performance Report to attain the stats below.

Clearly, these numbers are being pulled out of context: there is no consideration of other activity, online or off, that might be affecting these numbers. And as you can tell, even the audience size shifted in each case. But we wanted to get a quick snapshot to see if anything stood out.

GmailTabsResearch

A quick look at the numbers. Orgs 1 and 2 saw their Gmail open rates increase, with Org 1 getting a corresponding lift in click-through rates. Org 3 saw what we expect is most typical: that your Gmail audience will trend the same direction as your overall file. Their first-send post the release of tabs was down in open rates and click-through rates both in Gmail and throughout their file.

Orgs 4 and 5 saw a bit more variance. Org 4 had Gmail recipient open at a higher rate on the pre-tab version, but a lower rate in the first send post-tabs.

With Org 5, the open rates moved in tandem, but the click-through rates were different: Gmail users opened more frequently in the pre-tab send, less frequently in the post-tab send. It’s way too early to tell why that may be the case; it could just as easily have to do with the content of the e-mail or even be a statistical fluke, a fluctuation that would be common when cherry-picking two examples out of a wide data set. But this is kind of stat that draws your attention, and will need to be monitored over time.

So keep calm, carry on and track. Time – and the numbers – will tell what if any impact Gmail tabs will have on e-mail performance.

Lastly, you can see that Gmail recipients ranged between 10-20% of these organization’s files. This is something else you should find out for yourself, so can find exactly how many and what percent of your e-mail recipients are affected.

There are three main take-aways:

1. Don’t Panic

None of the organizations saw a major drop-off in open rates or click-rates that can be associated to Gmail tabs. In the instances where the rates decreased, they went down at a similar rate for the overall e-mail delivery as well.

2. Don’t Assume the Worst

In two cases, the numbers for Gmail recipients actually went up; challenging our assumption that Gmail tabs are a nightmare scenario and nonprofits must do everything they can to get back into the Primary tab.

3. Keep an Eye on It

Obviously it’s early, and too soon to judge for sure what the real impact will be, especially once Gmail users get more familiar with tabs and how they want to manage their e-mail in this new format.

The next step, of course, would be to determine how many donors there on Gmail and other e-mail programs, but that’s a question for another day.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Frank Barry, director of digital marketing at Blackbaud and blogger at npENGAGE, helps nonprofits use the Internet for digital communication, social media, and fundraising so they can focus changing the world. He’s worked with a diverse group of organizations including LIVESTRONG, United Methodist Church, American Heart Association, Big Brothers Big Sisters, ChildFund Int’l, InTouch Ministries, Heifer Int’l, University of Notre Dame and University of Richmond. Along with writing for industry publications like Mashable and Social Media Today, Frank facilitates discussions, presents solo sessions and organizes panels for industry conferences such as NTC, SXSW, BBCon and numerous others. When he’s out and about he enjoys talking to interesting people about how they are changing the world – check out his interviews. Say Hi on Twitter – @franswaa or Google+

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