How to Optimize Your Emails for Gmail's New Image-Heavy Inbox

Pamela Vaughan
Pamela Vaughan



A few weeks ago, we reported that Gmail was experimenting with a brand new, Pinterest-like design for its Promotions tab.

Because the image-heavy design was so new and none of us had access to it yet, there was little more for us to say about it other than "it's coming." Well a few days ago I was lucky enough to be granted beta access (boy did I feel special)!

(If you missed the initial announcement or you just need to jog your memory, you can check out our initial post about the new feature here.)

My feelings of special-ness did a complete 180 when I realized how our blog's subscriber emails look in this new format ...

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See that little guy called out in the bottom right corner? That's our blog subscriber email. Umm ... yuck.

This may not seem like a huge deal now, since only certain beta users have access to this feature (you can request your own access here). But once Gmail rolls it out to all, surely you'll want your email to be optimized for the new design.

Something had to be done about the look of our emails, so I put on my detective hat and consulted with the HubSpot product developers about how we could make our emails look as great as those of Etsy, Crate & Barrel, Joss & Main, and LivingSocial in this new layout. (Pay attention, Groupon and Vistaprint ...)

How to Control What Image Shows Up in Gmail's Promotion Tab

While Gmail uses an algorithm that tries to determine the most relevant image from your email to display, if it can't find one it likes, your email will likely be shown with some icky alt text instead of an image -- like ours looks in the screenshot above. And even if Gmail does find an image it likes, it might not be the image you want to feature. 

Luckily, if you implement Gmail's markup and have just a teensy bit of HTML savviness, it's easy to control what image appears with your email in Gmail's Promotions tab -- as long as you can access the HTML of your email. This should be the case with most email service providers, including HubSpot's Email tool

Before we start, make sure any image you choose to feature is at least 580 pixels x 400 pixels. Gmail will resize larger images down, but smaller images need to be at least these dimensions to get featured. 

Designating Images on the Email Template Level 

Any email platform that provides customizable token-based templates (including HubSpot) allows you to use a token as an image URL parameter. That way, you can add Gmail's HTML markup to your email templates. This is great for emails like blog subscriber emails that are automatically generated and sent frequently. Just keep in mind that designating the image on the template level will mean every email sent using that template will display the same image in Gmail's Promotions tab -- unless you override it in individual sends (more on that in a minute). 

Setup on the template level will differ depending on what email platform you're using, but to give you a sense of how simple it is, this is how you'd do it in HubSpot's Email tool:

1) Add a new HTML module to your email template. 

Don't worry. The code you put here will be hidden from the actual email, so you don't have to worry about this showing up in the body of your email. (Click below image to enlarge.)


2) Copy and paste Gmail's HTML markup into your module and replace the image URL (highlighted in red below) with the URL of the image you want to display.

(HubSpot Users: Make sure to check "Allow the default contents of this module to be overridden by the content editor" so you can change what image gets featured in individual emails using this template moving forward. Again, we'll cover that shortly.)

<div itemscope itemtype="">
<link itemprop="image" href=""/>


That's it! Publish the changes to your template, and your new image will show up in the Gmail Promotions tab for any email that uses this template.

Designating Images on the Individual Email Level 

To customize what image gets displayed for one-off email sends, set up your email template like you did above by adding a new HTML module with the Gmail markup. Then, if you want to control what image gets displayed for an individual email, in that email's editor, simply replace the image URL that's already in your template with the one you want to be featured. (If you use HubSpot, because you initially enabled your template to "Allow the default contents of this module to be overridden by the content editor," you'll be able to designate a new image for that email send specifically.)


Remember how ugly our email looked in the Promotions tab before? Here's how it looks now ... 


Aaah ... much better. And it looks like we need to add Domino's to the list of companies to share this post with ;-)

How to Control What Logo Shows Up in Gmail's Promotions Tab

Gmail will also automatically pull in the logo used on your company's Google+ Page in the Gmail Promotions tab -- as long as you have the Google+ Related Pages Widget enabled. See how the screenshot of our email above also includes the HubSpot sprocket logo? That's because it's the same logo we have on HubSpot's Google+ Page. And when you click into the email itself, you can see the Google+ Related Pages Widget to the right.


To enable this for your emails, follow the instructions on Google's support page here.

How to Optimize Sender Name & Subject Line 

The last couple steps to making sure your emails display nicely in Gmail's Promotions tab are to optimize your email's sender name and subject line. Here are Gmail's guidelines:

  • Sender Name: 20 characters or fewer to avoid truncation
  • Subject Line: 75 characters or fewer to avoid truncation

That's it! Follow these guidelines for beautifully optimized emails in the Gmail Promotions tab, and you'll be good to go.

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