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:

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Elizabeth Kricfalusi

View Comments

  • Interesting, frankly speaking; I do not use this interface and all my emails lands into same interface :) I know it may waste some time but I already filtering data and stop receiving emails from social media websites.

    I am still not clear about how gmail is determine whether the email is promotional or not. Do you have any idea?

    • Hi Henry.

      I'm like you. I like to get everything in a single Inbox and decide myself what's important/promotional, etc. As for how Google decides, I'm sure there are a lot of factors. For example, I suspect that if you add an address to your Contacts, it's less likely to go into Promotions. But as with all algorithm-driven software, most of it is just a big mystery... :)

      - Elizabeth

      • Agree. Now everything is different and its really hard because of that. I think that they should change it back.

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