Are your email messages going to the wrong folder?

According to Statista, over 4 billion people around the world have an email account, including around 90% of internet users in the US. I’m a part of this growing trend. My inbox has largely replaced my social media accounts. I even started a newsletter to share personal updates with my closest network to avoid the drama on social media. This is how I learned about the technical aspects of email, like the criteria that may send your message to the wrong folder in Gmail.

Brief Primer on Gmail

Gmail is a free email service that’s owned by Google. For users who created their account within the past decade, Gmail automatically sorts your messages into folders. Older accounts have this option as well, unless they have over 250,000 emails.

The default categories are (1) Primary, (2) Social, and (3) Promotions. Gmail marks messages as “Primary” when they’re from people you know. This is the first screen that users see, which increases the likelihood that your message is read. Messages are considered “Social” when they’re from social networks and media-sharing site. Messages containing marketing are sent to the “Promotions” folder. Users can change their settings and create custom folders but most people probably stick with the default.

How does Gmail categorize messages?

Since it would be highly inefficient to pay humans to sort our messages, Google uses an algorithm. This algorithm searchers for certain key indicators and sorts the messages accordingly. It also sorts messages based on the user’s preferences.

User preference

If your message is going to the wrong folder, user preference is both the easiest and hardest solution to the problem. You simply direct the reader to move the message to their Primary folder or adjust their settings. You can also ask them to add your sending address to their contact list (e.g.,

The issue is that most users won’t do this. They may forget or they may not know how. Never underestimate how much some people struggle with technology and how it can impact others in their life who are comfortable with technology. See this Amy Schumer video.

Understanding Google’s algorithm

Don’t rely on your intended reader to adjust their settings or move the message to the correct folder. In addition to asking your reader to add your email address, there are some simple proactive measures you can take to increase the likelihood that your message is marked as “Primary.”

  • Use an email address that includes your name. For example, instead of or
  • Encourage readers to reply to your message with feedback and suggestions.
  • Be consistent with your send volume and start with a small list.
  • Send messages consistently, like every day or week around the same time.
  • Avoid words that are commonly used in marketing emails like “sale,” “free,” “discount”, and “deals.” Some sources also advised against using characters like dollar signs ($), percent signs (%), an excessive number of exclamation points (!!!), and all caps.
  • Don’t mix different types of content in the same messages. For example, you shouldn’t include content about upcoming sales in purchase receipt messages.
  • Don’t use HTML and CSS to hide content in your messages. Hiding content might cause messages to be marked as spam.

Other tips get more technical such as building an email list of engaged users who actually open your messages. According to Revue, Google’s algorithm gives a better score to messages that are opened by many readers and also get replies. One way to do this is by reminding readers that they can unsubscribe if they aren’t reading your content. This will remove unengaged readers from your email list. You can also use email marketing software to test subject lines and content to increase engagement. This option is not available with personal newsletter platforms like Revue and Substack. For more on that, see my posts about ConvertKit and Medium.

Another tip is to minimize the number of links you include. I’m skeptical of this tip though. I was initially worried about this when one of my readers told me that my third newsletter went into their Promotions folder. I compared it to my second newsletter, which is when they signed up, and I definitely included a lot more links. When I tested the link theory in my fourth newsletter, I couldn’t replicate it. This is only an issue for some readers and not others. That makes me think that personal preference plays a big part in how messages are categorized.


There’s not a whole lot I can do with Revue but I did find some helpful resources for anyone else who may be experiencing issues.

Best of luck with your email issues! Please leave a comment if there’s anything I missed!

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4 Responses

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