The Gmail Promotions tab’s hot debut in 2013 caused mixed reactions. Some marketing pundits prophesied that it marked the end of email marketing as we had known it. Others were less dramatic, and stated that it would have a negative impact on the opens and clicks of bad marketing campaigns.

But in 2019 email is hot again. And Google is leading the pack with its latest update on the Promotions Tab – Google Annotations.

Today, email campaigns need to be more inventive than ever in order to stand out, and this new update from Google allows email marketing to be more visual than ever right in the inbox itself.

So in this article, we’ll walk you through a history of the Promotions Tab and how the new Annotations feature will allow email marketers to find new creative ways to market their emails.

Table of Contents

  1. History of Google Promotions Tab
  2. 2018: A New Look & AI for Gmail
  3. How do the Promotion Annotations Work?
  4. How does this benefit email marketers?
  5. What else you can display in the Promotions Tab
  6. How to use the Gmail Promotional Tab to your advantage
  7. Still want to avoid the Gmail Promotions Tab?
  8. How can Mailjet help you use Annotations?
  9. Conclusion: Gmail’s Promotions Tab is an opportunity for marketers

History of Google Promotions Tab

2013: Google Promotions Tab’s hot debut

In 2013, Google rolled out one of its biggest updates on Gmail by adding the Social and Promotions Tabs.

This update was intended to offer Gmail users a better emailing experience by automatically segmenting emails based on their content and sender address.

But email practitioners everywhere were worried that this would negatively affect their opens and clicks.

2014: Inbox by Gmail

In 2014, Google launched a new email tool: Inbox by Gmail – an email service aimed to help users become more productive.

Inbox by Gmail sandboxed many ideas generated by its users that then was slowly incorporated into Gmail.

Marketers were given access to additional features to give more value to their email campaigns through Email Schema Markup. These code snippets can be added in the <head> or <body> tags of an email campaign to allow Gmail to identify what kind of email it is and take advantage of some advanced features.

Here’s an example of how Email Schema Markup works:

Answers in Google Search lets Google show some relevant emails based on search query, for example, showing you information on flights and events.

Answers in Google Search

Highlights in Inbox displays enhancements like flight details or receipts.

Highlights in Inbox

Adding Actions to Emails allows email campaigns to become more interactive by adding a CTA directly in the email subject, such as “Add to Queue” or “Accept Invite”.

Adding Actions to Emails

2018: A New Look & AI for Gmail

2018 was a big year for Gmail. Its interface got an update and new AI-powered features were introduced:

  • Nudges let users come back to an abandoned email thread.
  • Smart Replies allow users to reply based on pre-rendered templates.
  • Snooze allows users to set a snooze alert on their emails.
  • High Priority notifications let users get notifications only for important emails.

In 2017, there was also Gmail’s Smart and Easy unsubscribe – a popup that asked users if they wanted to unsubscribe to email newsletters they have not opened in the last 30 days or so.

Gmail is still rolling out new updates. Their latest one, Annotations feature in the Promotions tab, allows marketing specialists through schema markup to include additional details like promotional codes, images and additional offers right in the inbox interface.

How do the Promotion Annotations work?

Gmail’s new feature allows email campaigns to offer even more value to their subscribers, including a much more visual interface to bring your emails to life with images, deals, expiration dates, and more.

Thanks to machine learning, Gmail identifies the most important messages (optimized by the Schema Markup script) that could interest subscribers and classifies them by topic or theme.

Below is an example on Top Deals.

Promotions Annotations on Mobile

Simply put, emails can be classified together into groups but only those optimized through Schema Markup can be shown with images and special offers.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to know how to get to the top of the Promotions Tab and the system for getting Annotations, even with the right script implementation. Though overtime, these tricks will be uncovered – so be sure to stay on top of these opportunities.

How does this benefit email marketers?

With Annotations, Gmail selects the best email campaigns to show to users based on their own filters. Brands with an already large following have a better chance of their email campaigns being seen but the more engagement you get from your list, the more likely Gmail will promote your content as well.

What else you can display in the Promotions Tab

What is Displayed in the Promotions Tab

To start, here is a list of elements that you can include in your emails.

Image Preview

Yes, email previews can now include images. The images could be a product preview or something that really encapsulates what your newsletter is all about. Gifs are not supported, though.

Green Badge

This clearly displays your offer, which can include things like:

  • Free Delivery
  • 20% off Discount
  • Deals

Tip: Avoid writing long sentences, they will be cut off and therefore your message will render incomplete.

Grey Badge

The grey badge shows a promotional code that the user can use to access their discount. If there is no code, including this is not necessary.

Expiration date

This part is very interesting for marketers. It lets marketers add an expiration date to a deal and create a sense of urgency.

This feature lets an email be visualized on top of a group twice: once when it gets sent the first time, and another in the final three days before expiration.


Brands can finally show their logos so that users will immediately be able to identify their email campaigns. Use a HTTPS URL and not a HTTP to avoid errors.

If the user clicks on any of these Annotations, this will open the email.

Gmail will also show a preview of the promotional tab in the main inbox. This is another great reason to enable Annotations in your email campaigns.

Promotional Tab Teasers

How to use the Gmail Promotional Tab to your advantage

After validating the sender domain to Google, there are two ways to appear at top of the Promotions Tab.

Directly edit Google’s script

Email developers simply need to modify the code given by Google and generate a preview through this page. Once changed, you can include the email code in your campaigns.

Preview Your Annotations with this Google Tool

Use an Annotation Editor

Google is in partnership with Litmus to create an Annotations Editor for Gmail catered toward non-technical marketers, and we recommend this editor.

Marketers can add all the relevant details (logo, image, subject, offer, etc.) in the required field to personalize the Annotation.

Once created, they can download the code either in Microdata and insert it in the body tag of their email campaigns, or in JSON in the body or head tags.

Annotation Editor for Non-Technical Marketers

Still want to avoid the Gmail Promotions Tab?

Even if it is impossible to know exactly how Gmail’s algorithm works, there are some best practices to maximize your chances of landing into the Primary inbox.

But as a clear disclaimer, we do not encourage trying to cheat Gmail’s algorithms by trying to have your marketing emails land in the inbox. If you are sending marketing emails, we highly recommend you do not try to cheat Gmail’s filtering algorithms, or risk getting your future campaigns in the spam folder.

Before doing anything else, think about your brand mission and objectives first and foremost and consider if these campaigns really deserve to be in the Primary inbox.

After all, the Promotions Tab may not be a bad thing for your subscribers, who expect to see marketing emails in that tab. And let’s be honest if they have subscribed to your emails, chances are, they want to see them. If they don’t, you have a different problem on your hands.

Users just don’t subscribe to marketing emails and leave them to fester in the Promotions Tab.

The Primary inbox is for personal emails. Think of it as the figurative home of the user, where they meet family and friends. Imagine how creepy it would be for them to see a marketer just barged into their home for a cool discount.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if they decided to unsubscribe afterwards and block you. This of course is not good for your email reputation and deliverability. That said, some emails like transactional emails that have password resets, important receipts, and more perhaps belong in the personal feed.

If you are looking to send to the personal tab, here are some tips on how to avoid the Promotions Tab:

  • Don’t use commercial or marketing phrases: Forget CTA’s like Buy Now and other words like discount, promotion, offer, and so on. These will activate the filters.
  • Keep images to a minimum: Email marketing campaigns tend to have more images than personal ones, so it’s an easy flag.
  • Use text-based email campaigns, most marketing emails are HTML-based, so try to avoid this.
  • Keep the links to a minimum: It doesn’t seem personal to have so many links.
  • Personalize your email: Referring to the subscriber by their first name would be a way to show Gmail that you know them personally.
  • Send short emails, hopefully resembling the ones you send to your colleagues.
  • Don’t use a generic Reply-to addresses – Such as contact@ or support@ and certainly not no-reply@ address.
  • Configure your SPF and DKIM records to avoid getting seen as a spammer: to learn more, here is our guide on authenticating domains with SPF & DKIM.

These are just tips to avoid the Promotions Tab, and there’s no guarantee that your campaigns would be classified as such.


Conclusion: Gmail’s Promotions Tab is an opportunity for marketers

Gmail is constantly changing the world of email by giving more control to its users. Gmail places marketing emails directly into the Promotions Tab.

The Promotions Tab has exceeded the expectations of skeptics and email marketers everywhere by being more optimized for marketing emails and therefore conversions. After all, Gmail doesn’t want email marketing to die, they want it to thrive for both the user and brands.

If email marketers know how to take advantage of this Promotions Tab, then they can really do some new and innovative things to attract and retain customers.

In the Promotions Tab, Google Annotations allows for an even more visual email marketing experience right in the inbox interface. Annotations show images, discounts and codes to be shown in before getting the emails opened. It’s a real opportunity enabled by Google’s schema markup script.

Non-technical marketers can create these scripts using Litmus’ tool, made in collaboration with Google.

Google has since announced plans to improve their Annotations tool for events, eCommerce and tourism. Even more reason to start using it now!

Gmail Annotations for Events & eCoommerce

If you want to know the latest updates on this, don’t hesitate to subscribe to our newsletters, we’ll have more updates down the line!

Even if many email marketers are trying to avoid it, the Promotions Tab offers new visual opportunities for email marketing campaigns everywhere to add more value to Gmail users.