Home Gmail’s Priority Inbox Refreshingly Difficult to Game

Gmail’s Priority Inbox Refreshingly Difficult to Game

Google rolled out a new inbox last week that, in theory, separates your important emails from your unimportant emails and lets you speed through work faster.

Most of the initial reaction reflected users’ concerns as email recipients – excitement about reading email faster, worry about missing something urgent because Google didn’t think it was important. But most of us who receive email also send email, and we want those emails to be read. Are we entering an era of optimizing our emails for the Priority Inbox, just as we optimize our websites and blogs for Google search?

The death of email marketing?

Email marketers in particular were scrambling after Google announced Priority Inbox. The blog Marketing Professor introduced a new term to describe the divide between priority emails and non-priority emails – the “Priority Inbox Fold.”

The marketing blogosphere’s conclusion seems to be that Priority Inbox is going to cripple marketers who rely on blasting out messages to a massive list of email addresses, but that it will be a boon to marketers who are trying to figure out how to really engage their audiences.

Excerpt and illustration from a post on the blog Marketing Professor about the “Priority Inbox Fold.”

Some marketers have kicked around ideas like adding the word “important” to every email, emphasizing upcoming deadlines in the text or having a competition that requires your subscribers to reply. But most are upbeat – as marketers often are – about Priority Inbox.

“Gmail’s Priority Inbox Isn’t a Threat, But An Opportunity,” booms a headline on email marketing blog Notes from the Lab. “Doesn’t this just place a spotlight on what email marketers should be doing better than anyone? Providing value so the minute an email comes in from a sender, it’s received with positive thoughts in mind? If you’re doing things the right way, you shouldn’t worry but be confident you’ll be tagged as important.”

Fretting about getting priority for outgoing email

But what does Priority Inbox mean for ordinary users? The feature seems to err on the side of assigning too much importance to email, as Google doesn’t want to burn users right away by burying an email from the boss or a reminder from the dentist. ReadWriteWeb’s fearless new researcher Micah Vandergrift tried valiently to send me an email that would be marked non-priority, to no avail.

Emails that were marked Priority included the subject lines, “This is interesting” (about pizza), “This is not a priority at all” (copy of an email from the Gotham City Beardsmen’s Alliance), and a subject-less email which was a list of Micah’s favorite bands from Last.fm.

Tough to game

But Priority Inbox is like a recommendation engine for email. It assigns a list of attributes to each email and watches for patterns as you gently mark emails important or not important by hand. I’ve only been using Priority Inbox for a week, so it hasn’t fully learned the way we do things around here (not priority: humorous emails from uncle, press releases from Vespa. Priority: discount airfare).

As time goes on, I have faith that Priority Inbox will learn what I think is important. That’s great for receiving email, but a little unnerving for sending it. The personalized algorithm makes it extremely tough to optimize for exposure in Priority Inbox the way we’ve learned to optimize for Google’s search engine.

No doubt tricks will arise, like including urgent-sounding buzzwords in the subject line and making sure that you are included in the recipient’s social graph. But based on early experiments,

But that probably reflects reality – senders and recipients are not always in agreement concerning the importance of an email:

Are you worried your emails won’t get marked “Priority”?

About ReadWrite’s Editorial Process

The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

Get the biggest tech headlines of the day delivered to your inbox

    By signing up, you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy. Unsubscribe anytime.

    Tech News

    Explore the latest in tech with our Tech News. We cut through the noise for concise, relevant updates, keeping you informed about the rapidly evolving tech landscape with curated content that separates signal from noise.

    In-Depth Tech Stories

    Explore tech impact in In-Depth Stories. Narrative data journalism offers comprehensive analyses, revealing stories behind data. Understand industry trends for a deeper perspective on tech's intricate relationships with society.

    Expert Reviews

    Empower decisions with Expert Reviews, merging industry expertise and insightful analysis. Delve into tech intricacies, get the best deals, and stay ahead with our trustworthy guide to navigating the ever-changing tech market.