Automatically Move Gmail Messages from Promotions to Primary Tab

I recently received a question from a T4L reader who wanted to know if there was a way to make sure important emails go to the Primary tab in her Gmail account instead of Promotions.

Some Background

Gmail was introduced to the public in 2004. I’m not sure whether I’m surprised it was that long ago since I remember the hoopla around its launch or that it’s only been that long since it’s now so ubiquitous. There have been a number of updates to the service since then, but one of the biggest ones was a redesign that created Inbox tabs for different types of messages: Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates, and Forums.

Unfortunately, determining which category a message falls into is determined by Google’s algorithm. And, as anyone who has ever experienced Facebook’s algorithm for showing you items that they think you want to see, they don’t often get it right.

The Promotions tab is meant for different types of marketing messages and a lot of the original concern with this redesign was from the senders of these messages, who quickly realized that it meant their emails would be less prominent and therefore less read. But it can also be a problem for recipients when there are certain messages they consider important but that Google classifies as promotional so they get buried under that tab.

You may already know that you can turn off any tab in Settings > Inbox and all the messages that would have gone there will be added to the Primary tab.

But that doesn’t help if you only want some of messages to go to Primary instead of Promotions. So here are a couple of options for that scenario.

Move messages based on sender’s email address

This is probably the most common scenario and, fortunately, it’s also the easiest to do. However, you have to set it up in Gmail on a computer, not in the Gmail mobile app or even through a mobile browser. (You may be able to do it in the latter IF it lets you request desktop settings AND you’re able to do right-clicks or drag-and-drop on the device.)

UPDATE: At some point in 2018, Google removed the ability to use the following method to move future messages with the same email address to a different tab, but you can still use it for moving individual messages. To move future messages, use the Filter method described in the next section.

Move an individual message to a different tab

There are two ways to move a message from the Promotions (or other) tab to Primary (or other) tab:

  • Drag and drop it from the message list to the desired tab.

  • Right-click the message and select Move to Tab > Primary.

Move future messagaes automatically to a specific tab

If you want messages to go into your Primary tab based on specific criteria, e.g. email address, name (if they have multiple email addresses), subject line, etc., you’ll need to create a filter.

  • Go to Settings > Filters and Blocked Addresses.

  • Click Create a New Filter.
  • Fill in the criteria for moving items to your Primary tab and then click Create Filter with This Search.

  • Check the Categorize As box and select Personal from the dropdown box beside it.

  • Optional: If you want all messages you’ve received that currently meet this criteria to be moved to your Primary tab now, check the box for Also Apply Filter to [x] Matching Messages
  • Click Create Filter.

Voila! Now the messages that are important to you will be sent to your Primary tab instead of Promotions.

You may also be interested in:

Stop the Email Threading Madness

Send and Receive Non-Gmail Email from Gmail

Fix Email Issues Caused by Upgrading Your iPhone/iPad to iOS 10

Elizabeth Kricfalusi

View Comments

  • Yep, Gmail did remove the über-cool one-click option to 'move all future messages from the same sender to a given destination tab' and that is a pity because now creating a filter each and every time is so much more tedious.

    Reading this thread suggested by Elizabeth Kricfalusi, it seems the folks at Google (or at least Rachel) were investigating back in March '18 and now, 6 months down the line, it's not fixed.

    WHAT THE HECK GOOGLE, GET THE FEATURE BACK!

  • I am no longer receiving that pop-up question that asks if I want to do this for future emails. Not sure why?

  • I am taking an online business class and all the email I receive goes right to Promotions. Every day I have to go wade through my crappy promotional mail to make sure I didn't miss anything important. I do use the search bar and type in the name of the person I'm looking for mail for but that doesn't always bring everything up. Every time I find a new message from the instructor, I use the "move to" option but I never get a box that prompts me to make that permanent. So I'm stuck doing it all manually.

  • When I drag messages as suggested into my Inbox, I absolutely do not get that popup telling me it's been moved and asking if I want future messages from sender to go to my Inbox. Any suggestions? Thank you!

    • Hi Debbie.

      I just tested this out myself using Firefox, Chrome, and Edge browsers, and I got the popup message each time. However, I found this thread on Gmail's Help Forum from someone else who is having the same problem as you. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a solution yet but you may want to subscribe to updates (under the Action dropdown) to get notified if one is found.

      https://productforums.google.com/forum/#!topic/gmail/JXy713BqW4A

      - Elizabeth

    • Hi Freida.

      Unfortunately, you can't do this on a tablet. You need to do it in a web browser on your computer.

      - Elizabeth

  • This is far to complicated for a computer illiterate 71 year old person like me. Do you really think that I would take the time to try and read the impossible small print. You should have made the process of signing up to continue to get the emails just a simple information and a send button. You must have hired some computer obsessed geek to create all this bullshit. I do all my shopping at the Waxhaw HT. I am so irritated by this that I think I will go back to Food Lion which is only five blocks from my house instead of HT three miles away. This was so pretentious of HT to produce such a unnecessary task for the average aged user.

    • Hi Robert.

      I'm sorry Harris Teeter's change in email providers is causing you problems, but I just wanted to let you know that I have nothing to do with them so they won't see your comment.

      Good luck!

      - Elizabeth

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