How to Secure a Spot in Gmail’s Primary Inbox

gmail primary inbox illustration

Gmail Primary Inbox is Google’s feature to help users declutter their inboxes. Instead of receiving all types of emails together in one inbox, Gmail’s algorithm automatically organizes mailboxes based on topics. 

The most important and personal emails go into the Primary tab, while the others head to the remaining tabs based on topics. 

As much as this Gmail organization feature helps users, it can be frustrating for email marketers. If your email ends up in other tabs, there’s a much lower chance that your subscribers open it

That’s why hitting the Primary inbox has become the holy grail for email marketers. 

While landing in the Gmail Primary inbox might seem almost impossible, you can significantly boost your odds if you follow a few key email marketing best practices. Let’s explore them together. 



How To Land in Gmail’s Primary Inbox

The first step to landing in Gmail’s Primary inbox is to make sure your emails make it to the inbox in general, not the spam folder. This requires a focus on email deliverability, which hinges on three types of best practices. 

Here’s what you need to consider: 

Best PracticeTop Tactics
Sender ReputationDomain Authentication (SPF, DKIM, DMARC)
Maintain a consistent sending volume
Segment your list 
EngagementHigh open and click-through rates
Encourage replies and interactions
Regular list cleaning to remove inactive users
ContentProper text-to-HTML ratio
Relevant and personalized content
Avoiding spam trigger words and excessive promotions
General strategies to make it to the Gmail Primary inbox

Authenticate Your Domain

Domain authentication doesn’t guarantee you’ll make it to Gmail’s Primary inbox. However, without it, you’re almost guaranteed to make it to the spam folder — especially since February 2024, when Google and Yahoo’s new spam-fighting policies went into effect. 

Domain authentication protects you against spoofing attacks and increases your deliverability rates

It proves your message comes from a legitimate source. Think of it like a license plate number — it makes you identifiable to the recipient’s ISP. 

These are the most common authentication standards:

  • SPF. It creates a list of servers allowed to send messages on your domain’s behalf. If a message claims to be from your domain but doesn’t originate from one of the allowed servers, it’ll be flagged as spam. 
  • DKIM. This standard verifies the message comes from the real sender and that the message hasn’t been tampered with during the sending process. 
  • DMARC. This protocol combines SPF and DKIM and adds advanced reporting capabilities. 

Avoid Heavy HTML

It’s difficult to ignore the host of perks that HTML emails offer — all the custom fonts and eye-catching visuals that can make for a unique user experience. But there’s a catch: 

Too much HTML takes your emails straight to the Promotions tab. 

If your email resembles a message your subscribers might receive from a friend or a coworker, there’s a higher chance that it’ll land in the Primary inbox. 

That said, you can’t ditch HTML altogether. For one, you need it for personalization purposes like dynamic emails. Plus, even plain text is crafted with HTML these days.

So, how can you avoid the downsides of HTML while getting the most out of its benefits? 

  • Don’t include more than one or two links.
  • Don’t use flashy visuals.
  • Keep images to a minimum.
  • Use simple layouts — a single column. 

How do elite email marketers use this to their advantage?

According to our founder and resident email expert, Travis Ketchum, “You can often get an email that is landing in the Promotions tab during tests to start hitting the Gmail Primary inbox by simply adding more word count in the email that is completely non-promotional.

To do this, add a chunky legal disclaimer (1-3 paragraphs) at the end of your email. Make it a bit smaller than your main text but still easy to read — don’t try to hide it with sneaky tricks like blending it into the background. Those tactics never fool Google. 

The idea is to keep the text around 14px, small but not too tiny. Most people will skip this part, but they can read it if they want, and the Google bots definitely will. This big block of text helps Google see your email differently.


Build a Clean Email List

A well-maintained list means better open rates, lower unsubscribe rates, and fewer spam complaints. These are all critical factors that email algorithms consider when deciding where to put your emails.

How can you keep your list in good shape? 

  1. Double opt-in: Use a double opt-in process where subscribers confirm their email address after signing up. This way, you’ll be sure that the people on your list genuinely want to receive your emails.
  2. Easy unsubscribe option: Make it super-easy for users to unsubscribe if they want. It’s better to have a smaller list of engaged subscribers than a large list of uninterested ones.
  3. Regular cleaning: Remove inactive subscribers who haven’t engaged with your emails over a certain period. This helps improve your engagement rates and deliverability.

At Campaign Refinery, our powerful list-cleaning tool automatically removes invalid addresses, spam traps, role-based addresses, and inactive users from your list. So, you’ll always have a high-quality, engaged audience for your email campaigns. 

Learn more about our services and apply to become part of our sender community


Segment Your Audience

Email segmentation is a core concept in email marketing. It helps deliver more targeted content to different groups in your audience. This way, your emails will receive higher engagement, and they’ll be much less likely to end up in the Promotions tab. 

You can divide our subscribers based on different criteria, including: 

  • Demographics. Age, gender, education, and location. 
  • Behavior. Purchase history, what they click on, and what they open.
  • Position in the sales funnel. New subscriber, pre-purchase, post-purchase, or abandoned shopping cart.
  • Psychographics. Interests, values, and preferences 

Data collection is key in segmentation. You can gather and analyze data through analytics, surveys, heat maps, and other tools. Then, segment your subscribers based on your collected data and tailor your content accordingly. 

At Campaign Refinery, we understand the importance of targeted communication in email marketing, which is why we offer a sophisticated tag-based segmentation system

Unlike traditional list-based segmentation, our tag-based approach lets you assign users to an unlimited number of lists and modify assignments on the fly. So, you can target the right person at the right time with the right message. 


Send Personalized Emails

Personalized emails translate into higher engagement, which is a big indicator that your messages are valuable and non-promotional. You’ll also get more open rates and click-through rates.

What’s more, subscribers tend to mark personalized emails that speak to their needs as important. So, you can prove your worth to Gmail’s algorithms without asking your subscribers to do anything.   

You can use different strategies to personalize your emails. Here are a few ideas: 

  • Use the recipient’s name: Address recipients by their first names. This establishes an immediate connection and makes the recipient feel that the message is crafted specifically for them. 
  • Create dynamic emails. Tweak your HTML codes for every segment of your list to change the message for each subscriber. Dynamic email can tailor every part of an email, from the subject line to the sign-off, without having to write one message for each subscriber. 
  • Align your content with the customer journey and behavior. Track your subscribers’ behaviors from the moment they sign up and send them tailored content, from welcome messages to reaching out to re-engage inactive users
  • Celebrate special occasions. Acknowledge personal milestones like birthdays, anniversaries, or significant achievements with customized emails. These messages can include special offers or simply convey warm wishes to make your subscribers feel valued.

Aim for Higher Engagement

The more your subscribers engage with your emails, the stronger the signal that your content is not promotional. 

We’ve already discussed how segmentation and personalization can lead to higher engagement.  

But how does Google decide on your engagement rate?

Through these metrics: 

You need to increase the first three metrics and keep the last one to a minimum. The good news is that most strategies to improve email marketing metrics work for all these purposes. 

Some attempts to increase your engagement may come across as overly promotional. For example, creating a sense of urgency in your subject line can lead to higher open rates, but Google may see it as a definite example of salesy language. 

Alternatively, using graphics and images can make your email content more attractive, but send your message to the Promotions tab. 

So, you should plan your email marketing efforts in a way that lets you avoid these pitfalls. Here are a few ideas : 

MetricHow to Improve
Open ratesClean list 
Segmentation
Timing and frequency
Catchy subject lines and headers
Click-through ratesClear CTAs
Engaging content
Mobile Optimization
Simple email design 
Conversion ratesPersonalization 
Dynamic content 
Create a sense of urgency
Unsubscribe ratesUse opt-in methods
Clean your list regularly
Avoid purchasing email lists
Easy-to-find unsubscribe button
How to improve engagement metrics

Gmail’s Primary Inbox Doesn’t Like Salesy Language

Gmail algorithms check your email content for promotional language and tuck them away in the Promotions tab if they find specific words. So, you should steer clear of the words that signal you’re promoting something or trying to sell. 

These are a few trigger words you should try to avoid: 

  • Coupon
  • Limited-time offer
  • Act now
  • Promotion
  • Discount
  • Lowest price
  • Free 
  • Urgent 
  • Quota
  • Best quality

What about when you want to promote something?

Google algorithms measure the ratio of promotional text to natural language. This means you don’t need to avoid promotional language altogether. Instead, try to keep it to a minimum and fill your email message with useful content. 

You can use tutorials, tips and tricks, a short anecdote, or your brand story. Anything that’s relevant, engaging, and natural can help beat the promotional word count.

Don’t have anything to add?

Here’s a pro tip: 

Incorporate user-generated content or customer testimonials. Sharing stories or feedback from your existing customers not only adds authenticity to your email but also adds a layer of credibility and personal touch.   


Ask Your Subscribers to Change Their Inbox Settings

If you’re sure everything is in order on your end, you can focus on the other end of the communication: your subscribers. Asking your subscribers to take a couple of basic actions can do wonders. 

Here’s what they can do. 

  • Add your email address to their contact list. This way, there’s a higher chance that your messages land in Gmail Primary inbox.  
  • Move your messages to the Primary inbox. This is a simple drag-and-drop process. You can find a step-by-step guide to share with your audience in the next section. 
  • Flag your emails as important. When your subscribers mark your emails as important, it shows the algorithm that it should prioritize messages from you. 
  • Respond to your emails. This creates engagement, which Gmail’s algorithms interpret as a sign of relevance and importance. 

For these solutions to work, you need to establish a close relationship with your subscribers. If they don’t trust your brand or consider your content valuable, these efforts can be more of a nuisance.  


How To Move a Message from Promotions to Primary

If a message lands in the Promotions tab, users can show Google that it’s important and they want it in their Primary tab. The process is straightforward, especially if you access Gmail via a browser on a desktop. 

Here’s how to go move messages to Gmail’s Primary inbox on the desktop:

  1. Open Gmail and go to your inbox. 
  2. Look at the tabs above the first message in the inbox. Depending on your settings, you may see “Primary,” “Promotions,” and “Social.”
  3. Click “Promotions” to see the messages in this tab. 
  4. Find the message that you want to move. Without opening the message, drag it and drop it on the Primary tab. 
  5. After the message is moved, you’ll see a message on the left corner of the window, asking if you want all future messages from this address in the Primary tab. Select “Yes.” 

On Gmail’s mobile app, follow these instructions:  

  1. Open the Gmail app and go to your inbox. The default tab will be “Primary.”
  2. Tap the three horizontal lines on the top left corner and select “Promotions.”
  3. Find the message, tap, and hold it. 
  4. Tap the three vertical dots on the right corner of the screen. 
  5. Select “Move To.”
  6. You can see different options, including “Primary.”
  7. Select “Primary.”

You can share these steps with your audience and even give them a reward for their efforts — for example, a free PDF guide or an email coupon


Avoid Unpredictable Broadcasts and Blasts 

Email broadcasts are the exact opposite of personalized and segmented messages. These are one-time messages that you send to announce sales, new arrivals, or events. And while they can be a time-saver, they can send you to the Promotions tab

In addition to the content of these messages, the sheer volume of emails that get sent is the issue. 

Email providers track how frequently and consistently you send emails. 

A steady flow of emails, as opposed to erratic blasts, helps in establishing a good sender reputation. If you send emails haphazardly, it’s harder to gauge the legitimacy and quality of your emails.

On the other hand, consistent sending patterns establish predictability. When you send emails at regular intervals, your recipients begin to expect your emails. This predictability can build trust and familiarity.


Google always updates and evolves its algorithms. So, you need to stay informed about these changes and trends in email deliverability. 

The best resource for this is often directly from Google itself. Regularly check their updates and blogs for any announcements. And make sure you read Google’s general guidelines for bulk senders

These guidelines may not be directly related to the Gmail Primary inbox, but they help you avoid ending up in spam folders and improve your deliverability


Hit the Gmail Primary Inbox with Campaign Refinery

Campaign Refinery is for email marketers who refuse to settle for the mediocre. With our cutting-edge deliverability and a deep understanding of email algorithms, we’re here to make sure your marketing messages reach the Primary inbox and resonate with your audience.

We’ve already given you strategies to help you steer clear of the Promotions tab. But we’re always happy to share our expertise. So, let’s take it a step further. 

Introducing: The Inbox Formula – Your secret weapon to mastering email deliverability, skyrocketing engagement, and driving sales through the roof. 

Why Download the Inbox Formula?

  • Unlock the secrets to deliverability: Learn the ins and outs of ensuring your emails reach the inbox AND get the attention they deserve.
  • Boost engagement like never before: Discover strategies that transform your audience from passive readers into active participants.
  • Drive sales effortlessly: Turn your email list into a goldmine by leveraging insights from elite copywriters. Get more conversions and grow your revenue. 

Don’t let another email go unnoticed. Download the Inbox Formula and wave goodbye to your email woes!

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