February 24, 2023

The Promotions tab in Gmail may be exactly where your email wants to be.

Have you noticed the "carousel of images"?

Do you have your Gmail inbox organized with Primary ▶️ Promotions ▶️ Social tabs?

This refers to a “tabbed inbox”.

If you have this enabled, and you go to the Promotions tab on your phone, do you notice emails with a carousel of images?

It looks like an Annotation. But… is it?

📧 What are Email Annotations?

Google rolled out tabs for the inbox around 10 years ago.

They launched Email Annotations around five years ago.

Posts popped up ~a year ago about Promotional images not displaying in Annotations. Based on testing, we were also unable to load an image (below), but the deal badge (10% off) and discount code (WELCOME10) displayed.

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It appears updates are being made to Annotations.

Emails with the carousel of images have become noticeable in the last few weeks.

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Looking at the current documentation, it's like a Product Carousel annotation, but without text:

Product Carousel annotation example:


Currently, there is documentation for a Deal Annotation and a Product Carousel. There is not a mention for the carousel of images.

This is confusing since emails are taking this new format, but there is no documentation.

Maybe an update from Google will be coming soon!

🤔 Who are Annotations displayed to?

Specific code (typically) placed in the head of the email allow Annotations to work.

And is only visible if the user:

  • Has tabbed inbox enabled.
  • Views on their mobile device through the Gmail email client.
  • Looks in their Promotions tab.

🔍 What’s the new format?

The new format displays a carousel of clickable images.

Looking under the hood, the emails with the carousel of images don’t appear to have any Annotations code.


Emails with the carousel of images appear to be random, and without Annotation code.

Email subject line and content align to give the reader an opportunity to decide to open an email, or not. Based on that assumption, if Gmail loads images from the email in the carousel style, it should match up.

That isn’t always the case.

There was an interesting use case that popped up with Food52 and America’s Test Kitchen:

It did not pull the article or topic highlighted in the email subject line, but products, or other links:

As a sender, that might be a little frustrating since that was not the intent of the email based on the subject line.

As a reader, that might be a little confusing to see product images unrelated to the subject line. For example, a subject line about "how to engineer a perfect nacho bite", but with pictures of chocolate chip cookies.

Some Food52 and America’s Test Kitchen emails had the new carousel of images format, others didn't.


According to Google: “A variety of factors affect whether email annotations are shown to users, including quality filters and frequency limits. Your annotations might not be visible to all users that receive the email.”

If the user searches for the email or stars the email, it can get moved into the Primary tab. If it’s in the Primary tab, or if the reader doesn’t have a tabbed inbox, it will look like a standard email on Mobile and on Desktop.

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Annotations are common for Sales or Deals with a Promotion Code.

The new format expands possibilities around the Promotions tab. Think about the using the carousel of images for recipes, products, blog posts and more!

Again, it's unclear if it will be new functionality for Annotations, if Google is applying it to emails or something else.

✨ Embrace the Promotions Tab

If you were unaware of Annotations up until this point, this could be an opportunity to learn more about it.

Annotations can provide a way for organizations to stand out in the Promotions tab.


Annotations appear to be rarely used.

This could be due to updates to Annotations — if the carousel of images feature is a part of it — or something else! It does take time to build, but depending on your email strategy, could be beneficial.

Since it's not frequently seen in the inbox, it could be a differentiator for (some of) your emails. A way for your emails to stand out in the inbox, and potentially increase engagement!

Google introduced tabs around a decade ago as a way to sort email into helpful categories. These categories help keep inboxes free of clutter, based on feedback Google received.

Based on Return Path’s findings, ~33% of users have a tabbed inbox.

2016 survey conducted by Return Path (now a part of Validity).

However, tabbed inbox is now the default when launching Gmail (we don’t think it was when Return Path released those findings).

The percentage of users with a tabbed inbox is likely higher now.

It’s likely a percentage of your readers have a tabbed inbox. Survey your readers to find out if they are using a tabbed inbox.

“But, my newsletter isn’t a promotion, it belongs in the Primary tab,”

There is a notion out there that being in the Promotions tab is like being in the Spam folder.

It’s where emails go to be unread.

Based on Return Path’s findings, ~45% of users check their Promotions tab at least once a day.

Granted, this survey was a number of years ago (maybe an updated survey will be released…?), but the study consisted of 1,628 Gmail users along with six billion messages sent to these users.

🌶️ …Now, this is the part where it gets a little… spicy?

Email going to the Promotions tab is not the same as going to Spam or where emails go to be left unread.

For email to go to the Promotions tab, the user must have tabbed inbox enabled.

A tabbed inbox is personal preference.

Some people use Filters and Folders to organize their inbox, some people use tabbed inbox, etc.

Gmail applies Machine Learning to determine where the email should land. Primary tab? Promotions tab? Social tab?

Based on a variety of signals that include:

  • Who the email is from.
  • What content is in the email.
  • How you interacted with similar content.

Gmail continually adjusts to user behavior, such as actions taken with similar emails. It is not a static system that once it’s set it’s done.

Google mentions that you can help Gmail learn your preferences. For example, you can:

  • Move an email from one tab to another (Promotions → Primary) via Drag and Drop.
  • Create a filter to mark email from that sender as “Important” or into another tab.
  • Add sender to your Contacts.
  • Reply to the email.

Welcome emails, post sign-up confirmation messages encourage you to do one or two of the above actions so emails end up in the Primary tab of the inbox.

For folks who use tabs in Gmail, they have an email filing system in place.

They might want newsletters to go to Promotions, or Forum or another Category offered. They might also set up their Filter and Folders system.

They might also ignore any request to move your newsletter to Primary and let Gmail do the work. Especially if their system is calibrated to their inbox preferences.

It could be valuable for your email strategy to survey or poll readers about their inbox experience or preferences.

📈 How you define success.

If you're using Click Rate, Conversion Rate, Revenue, the Promotions tab might be exactly where your email wants to be.

Side note: Open Rate is a common metric to measure email performance, however, this is an unreliable metric due to Apple Mail Privacy Protection.

The new format opens up possibilities for various products and items to feature.

You can highlight imagery and visuals from your email straight to the inbox. No opening necessary.

Try to focus on getting emails delivered and staying out of spam.

Let Google figure out tabs.

We all have our own approach to the inbox and how we like to view our emails. Whether that's a tabbed inbox, folders or trying to get to Inbox Zero each day, we all have our own preferences.

Empower your subscribers to put your emails in a place that works for them.

And if it's the Promotions tab, embrace it!

There's a lot of fun and creative ways to make your email stand out.

Maybe even more so than the Primary tab...

👋 I want to try Annotations

Again, we’re unsure if this is a new feature of Annotations, if Google is applying it to some emails or something else.

In the meantime, if you have access to the HTML of your email, or your ESP provides a way to send emails with Annotations, try it out!

Heads up: Annotations might be undergoing some updates. I would proceed with caution on the below and test-test-test!

To create a Deal annotation:

To create a Product annotation:

Take me to the documentation.

🔑 Key takeaways

  • New email format in the Promotions tab, but no updated or new documentation for how to use it.
  • This new format is a carousel of images being displayed for some emails in the Promotion tab, but without added code.
  • Unsure if it’s a new feature of Annotations, if Google is applying it to emails or how it's applied.

🎉 Have a great weekend!

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