Google’s algorithm is smart and complex; it looks at many factors including email content, HTML code, sender IP address, etc. Some of those factors are easy to manipulate; others are not.
Below are the factors that make your email go to the Promotions tab and are easy to change. They mostly refer to the pieces of content in your email that classify message as either “promotional” or “conversational”.
GREETING RECIPIENT BY NAME
An email looks more personal (like a message from a friend) if it greets you with your name, so using recipient’s name in the first line of the email helps avoid Promotions tab. To add readers’ names to your emails, you need to collect them at the time of signup, and usewhen creating your campaigns.
NUMBER OF EXTERNAL LINKS
If you include too many external links in your email, that looks like promotion to Gmail. Think about how many links a friend would send you in a single email (yes, Unsubscribe link counts as a link, too). Reducing the number of links will improve your email’s chance of landing in the Primary tab.
NUMBER OF IMAGES
Heavy use of images also makes Gmail think you’re promoting something, trying to make it look oh so sexy with pictures. Destination > Promotions tab.
Using HTML formatting with multiple div blocks doesn’t look like a conversational email from a friend. Neither does using multiple font sizes, font colors, and other fancy styling options. For a higher chance of landing in the Primary tab, use plain text and don’t tinker with fonts too much.
If it’s not a promotion, why would it have an unsubscribe link? Emails that have an option to unsubscribe often get tagged as promotion by Gmail. However, if you’re building a high-quality, sustainable blog or business, you know that removing this link is not an option (). Instead, place your unsubscribe link at the bottom of email, as you would a signature. (I’m sure you’re already doing this, duh!)
Obviously promotional language is hard to miss. If you use phrases like “Want to make money now?” or “Buy this product today and get a discount” your email’s final destination is easy to predict.
If you want to get to the Primary tab, make your email look like it’s coming from a friend. Would your friend use more than 2-3 links? Would they send you more than 1-2 images in the body of the email? Would they use sentences like “Buy this shirt today before this promo code expires”? You get the point.
PRO-tip: to check which Gmail tab your email will land in before sending it to subscribers, use
The bad news is that even if you use all of the tips above and strip your email to the bones of a plain text version, there is still a high chance that your newsletter will end up in the Promotions tab.
Here is why.
An email may look conversational to you, but the way something looks depends on who is looking. Fortunately or unfortunately, machines can see more than we do, and they can determine if an email is promotional by detecting things we won’t notice. That’s why I call the following “difficult-to-change” factors.
EMAIL HEADER MARKUP
What machines see and we don’t is the markup language (code) in email campaigns. When you send an email using an ESP (email service provider), it ads certain markup to your email that identifies it as promotional for Gmail.
That’s the reason why even if you send a plain text email using an ESP, it ends up in the Promotions category. If you look at the raw data of a MailChimp campaign, here’s what you’ll see:
Those X-Mailer, X-Campaign, and X-Report-Abuse headers are almost a sure guarantee this email will end up in the Gmail Promotions category.
You can’t customize markup in MailChimp, but there are ESPs where you can, such as Mandrill, which is an email delivery API by MailChimp. If you get access to your email header, here are several things you could do:
- Don’t include the X-Mailer header;
- Don’t include the X-Campaign / X-Campaignid header;
- X-Report-Abuse and List-Unsubscribe might be okay, but be sure to A/B test this.
REPLY-TO EMAIL ADDRESS
Another red flag is non-matching “from” and “reply-to” email addresses. Make sure your subscribers can reply to the same email address you’re sending the campaign from. If you’re using MailChimp and want to set up a “reply-to” address that is on your own domain (i.e.), you might need to