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How to Write Ecommerce Emails that Skip the Promotions Tab

Gmail is a dominant email client used by over 1.5 billion people all over the world. As one of the most evolved platforms out there, it learned to separate all of the emails people get into three tabs: inbox (for personal communication), promotions (for transactional emails), and social (for social media notifications). 

Although business owners are aware of the risks of getting their emails stuck in spam, having a campaign land in “Promotions” is not the worst possible scenario since people have gotten used to checking this tab from time to time, often looking for a good deal.

Still, if you want to make sure your ecommerce emails don’t always get stuck in the promotional tab or you want to move from there into a user’s primary inbox, we’ve prepared some pieces of advice below.

How do emails end up in the “Promotions” tab?

It’s often unclear for ecommerce marketers why some branded emails land in inboxes, while others land in spam, and still others wind up in “Promotions.” 

The algorithm in charge of filtering emails is highly complex. That is why discerning the clear rules behind it is next to impossible. However, there are a couple of patterns that will increase the odds of emails going to Promotions. 

  • Transactional emails mainly go to Promotions. If your ecommerce store uses various types of transactional emails, you might think that all the emails you send will go to a reader’s inbox. However, this is not the case. Emails with “50% sale” subjects, other discount announcements and new offers most often end up in “Promotions.” 
  • HTML-heavy emails go to Promotions. Years ago, Gmail had no distinction between plain-text and visually rich emails. However, its algorithms evolved with the tool’s growing popularity. Now, Gmail has a clear differentiation between “plain text = genuine communication” and “HTML email designed like a proposal template = branded campaign.”
  • More hyperlinks = higher odds of getting stuck in Promotions. A high number of links is another characteristic of branded emails. It didn’t take long for Google to pick up on the fact that companies want to include as many URLs as possible, while individuals rarely add more than 2-3 links to the email’s copy. That’s why the likeliest placement for ecommerce emails with 5+ links will be “Promotions” tab. 
  • Using ESPs puts you at risk of landing in Promotions. When facing bulk emails sent via an email services provider (Mailchimp, Salesforce, or other), in most cases, Gmail sends the letter straight to “Promotions.” The usage of ESPs often gives away the advertising nature of your emails, prohibiting them from landing in the Primary tab. 
  • Overbearing personalization is not genuine. Although starting an email with a customer’s name seems like a powerful way to get to know each other, using recipient’s personal data too many times is perceived by Google as unnatural for interpersonal communication. Since a highly personalized campaign often has higher odds of landing in Promotions, be careful with ecommerce personalization tactics if you want to land in the main inbox..

5 Tips for How to Stop Landing in the Gmail Promotions Tab

There are plenty of ways to make sure your next campaign makes it to the Primary tab, not to mention a couple of tricks brands can use to make users opt-in to receiving your emails in their primary inboxes. 

1. Check deliverability

After you hit the “Send” button, your email jumps through lots of validations and hurdles before reaching its final destination. The success rate of this process is the campaign’s email deliverability rate. 

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Concise summary of the delivery process Image Source

Because deliverability is a complex concept, there’s no set-in-stone way to test and keep a high deliverability rate. However, the following tests help understand whether your emails can reach the audiences successfully:

  • Seed list test. Create a sample list of ecommerce emails before sending them to the actual audience. This test checks whether or not ISPs approve of the content you share. Based on this data, you can tweak the campaign’s content and retry. 
  • Content filtering tests. Using content filtering tools helps make sure there are no trigger words in the subject line or the copy that will increase the odds of your email getting to “Promotions.” The most common examples are “X% off,” “discount,” “offer,” “new.”
  • Authentication tests. They ensure that your emails have SPF records and can pass the validation stages. Whether you’re using an ESP or sending emails directly from your site, you should always remember about email authentication procedures.

2. Avoid cliches

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Such emails typically end up in “Promotions” Image Source

We all have an idea of how a transactional ecommerce email should look – bright and flashy, with images, buttons, and lots of outbound links. It’s no surprise Google has an idea of how such emails look and that Google can filter cliche messages away from the Primary tab. 

To get a place in a reader’s inbox, business owners have to make their emails seem as natural as possible. Here are some of the ways to avoid common promotional cliches:

  • Switch from HTML to plain text.
  • Substitute buttons with links.
  • Decrease the number of images or remove them altogether. 
  • Keep emails short. 
  • Use informal language to make it look as if you and the recipient know each other. 

3. Personalize intelligently

As mentioned above, spamming a reader’s first name can do email marketers more harm than good and land the entire campaign in “Promotions”. However, when used intelligently, personalization becomes a powerful tool and can even do as much as move your emails to the primary tab. Be reasonable with the personalization of follow-up emails especially.

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Combined with a creative design, Sephora’s personalization isn’t over the top and will unlikely get stuck in Promotions. Image Source

Try to adopt these approaches for your next ecommerce email campaign to avoid landing in the Promotions tab:

  • Talk to the audience. For instance, if you are afraid of losing touch with readers because of a campaign ending up in promotions, tell them directly something like:

“We want to make sure you don’t miss any of our quality content or upcoming subscriber-only deals! 

If you are reading this in the Promotions tab, add [company name] to the contact list to hear from us in your Inbox”

  • Ask questions. By doing this, you create the impression of caring and stimulate a two-way dialog with a reader, as a friend sending them a peer-to-peer email might do. 
  • Avoid using no-reply addresses. This is a sure way to get a spot in the promo tab if not spam.
  • Always greet new subscribers. For this, use concise but informative welcome messages, stating what to expect from your newsletters.

4. Share original content 

Copying your content and visuals from other websites (or from one email to another) increases the risks of landing in “Promotions”. 

To make sure Gmail algorithms see your emails as genuine, don’t copy + paste the entirety of already  published content. Instead, focus on creating custom copy and visuals that are relevant to the campaign topic and appealing to the readers on your list. 

5. Make your email spam-free

Dozens of factors separate genuine conversations from spam-like emails. Here’s the list of the most impactful spam triggers. Make sure to watch out for these:

  • Messy HTML code. 
  • Emails wider than 600×800 pixels. 
  • Spam trigger words (offer, guarantee, click here, etc). 
  • Misleading subject lines.
  • Image overuse. 

Additionally, when using copy built with email editors, always remember about HTML heaviness of your messages. Mix plain text with original images, and it will help you to avoid the spam folder.

Follow these tips, and your emails just might skip the promotions tab!

Landing in the Promotions tab is a destiny for most ecommerce emails. While it is definitely not the worst thing that can happen to a campaign, your open rates will most likely  be lower compared to those of emails that make it to the Primary tab. 

To avoid the tab, focus on stripping your email down (the number of visuals and links, the length of copy and the verbosity of HTML code). Other than that, make sure a user knows how to move your emails to the Primary tab. Give readers instructions in the welcome email. 

Additionally, avoid spam triggers, and ask subscribers to confirm their email addresses before starting a campaign, having your emails land in people’s inboxes will not be a problem.


Dmytro Zaichenko headshot

About the Author

Dmytro Zaichenko is a Marketing Specialist at Mailtrap, a product helping to test emails at the developmental stages. He has more than 5 years of experience in content making. Aside from writing, he’s passionate about basketball and poetry. Connect with Dmytro on LinkedIn.

Feature photo by Stephen Phillips – on Unsplash

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