Introducing Google’s Priority Inbox

Google announced its new feature for Gmail users called Priority Inbox last week, and there has been lots of comment and discussion about what it means for email.

Essentially the new tool works out (using a secret algorithm of course!) which of your emails are important to you and then puts them at the top of the special new inbox (the old-style inbox will still be available) so you don’t miss them. It’s a pretty simple tool; no customisation or implementation is required. Once activated, Gmail will ask you if you want to enable the service. You can then set a few preferences (e.g. certain contacts you always want to include), but apart from that, it just works!

So what’s in the algorithm?

That’s a very good question and it’s not all clear yet, but things like how frequently you open and/or respond to emails are ranked as well as who the sender is, how often you read messages with a certain keyword, whether the message is solely addressed to you or if you are part of a wider mailing list.

You can also educate the system, by using little arrows to indicate whether a message has been inadvertently prioritised. Feedback from those that have trialled it is generally positive, with many users being impressed with how intuitive it is. Some have complained that it’s sometime difficult to know exactly why a message has been prioritised (Google doesn’t give any indication).

So what does this mean for email marketers?

The first thing to say is that this move isn’t particularly surprising. Hotmail’s sweep feature already does something similar and, at a recent DMA conference I attended, a Yahoo spoke about their plans for deliverability being increasingly based on user engagement. Not to mention the fact that many of us already have filtering options in place, for example, I have a separate folder where I put non-work related emails so I can read them after hours. Despite this, the move is clearly still big news for email marketers. Gmail has around 200 million users worldwide.

The danger for marketing emails is that they won’t be flagged as important by the new system. I have no doubt that email marketers, as they get more used to the system, will start to see if there are ways round it or at least ways to make their messages more likely to be prioritised, much in the same way that SEO can be used to increase search rankings. However, the user is still in ultimate control as a message can merely be flagged as of no importance and therefore relegated forever.

It’s back to basics

At the end of the day, it’s the spammers who send out thousands of untargeted, irrelevant emails that should be worried by this move. Those email marketers that spend time and effort collecting recipient data and segmenting their lists have nothing to fear and, indeed, should welcome the new service. It makes the inbox less cluttered, leaving only the emails that are targeted, relevant and engaging to the users, which can only be good for your results. The best thing is, this is easy to achieve with the variety of tools available out there.

What do you think? Have you tried it out yet?

Tink Taylor, Business Development Director, dotMailer, has many years experience in the field of interactive electronic communications. Tink has wide ranging experience in introducing the concept of digital marketing to companies large and small. He is an elected member of the Direct Marketing Association's Email Marketing Council and also a member of the Internet Advertising Bureaus E-communications Council. Tink was a judge for the Email and Virals category at the DMA awards 2008.