Monday, March 23, 2015

Importance Markers in Gmail Explained

I recently got a question about marking an email as important:
"Michael - You've probably already told us this, but how do you send an email and mark it "high priority" or "urgent" for the receiving person to see?
Thanks!"
You can't. Thanks for reading the blog. Have a great day.

;-)

There's more to this post, including bacon.
I understand the request, so let me do two things:
  1. I'll explain why it doesn't work, with a brief analogy involving BACON.
  2. I'll explain what Gmail is doing to try to help you with this.

1. Why it doesn't work...

Many users have been using a "non-Gmail" account for many years - programs like Groupwise, Outlook and Zimbra - in which you had the option to mark an email important. That works great AS LONG AS THE OTHER PERSON IS USING THE SAME PROGRAM
Think of it like a club.
We start our club and let club members know that when we each say, "BACON!" that means you raise your left hand and listen carefully. If you say, "BACON!" to a non-club member they don't know the norm. They will just say, "Yum. Where?". But it means something different to a club member.

Now think about your email - an "Important" marker is much the same. If an email is marked "Important" in your Zimbra account then it will be marked "Important" in my Zimbra account. (They are both part of the same "club.") That "Important" marker doesn't necessarily mean anything in Outlook, or Groupwise, or Google (different "clubs".) 
Imagine this scenario:
You were using Outlook to send an email, marking the email as important.
The recipient has their email account set to forward their Gmail account.
The email has now moved "outside the club" and the "Important" marker is ignored - it's just another word in the message.

So, the reality is, in today's world much of our email is sent to some other "email checker" - it could be your phone, home computer, etc. 

One more piece to consider. When you mark an email as important, it is important to you. That doesn't mean that it is important to the recipient. You may want it to be important to the recipient, but only the recipient gets to decide it's importance. That's right - you are not in control. It's okay. Take a moment if you need to.

Now let's look at what Gmail does to "suggest importance" to you.

2. What it is doing...

Gmail is watching how you use your email and will suggest importance to you.
In the image below you will see the message importance indicators in yellow.

I have the option of "starring" a message (click the little star), and google is suggesting that some of these messages might be important (the little yellow label). If I hover my mouse pointer over the yellow marker I can see why google has marked it important.

As you can see from the black dialogue box, Google will tell me why it is marking it as "Important" and allows me to change the important status.
I can try to explain it all, but Google has a great page that explains the details here:

So, now you have an idea of how to handle "Important" labels in Gmail.
Enjoy!

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