How Gmail Marks Mail Important for the Priority Inbox

Gmail studies specific criteria to determine which emails are important to you.

Gmail doesn't have the priority inbox feature turned on by default. This feature splits the contents of your regular inbox into sections on the screen: Important and Unread, Important, Unread, Starred, and Everything Else. You can choose which of these to use. Gmail decides what you're likely to classify as important and places those emails in the Important and Unread section using criteria such as how you treated similar messages in the past, how the message is addressed to you, and other factors.

Importance Markers

Each email has an importance marker immediately to the left of the sender's name in the Inbox list. It looks like a flag or arrow. When Gmail identifies a particular email as being important based on its criteria, the importance marker is yellow. When it is not recognized as being important, it is just the empty outline of the shape.

At any time, you can click the importance marker and change its status manually. If you want to know why Gmail decided a particular email was important, hover your cursor over the yellow flag and read the explanation. If you disagree, just click the yellow flag to mark it unimportant. This action teaches Gmail which emails you think are important.

How to Turn on Priority Inbox

Here's how to turn on Priority Inbox in the Gmail Settings:

  1. Open your Gmail account and select Settings (gear icon).

    Gmail inbox with Settings gear highlighted
  2. Select See all settings.

    Gmail settings with See all Settings highlighted
  3. At the top of the Settings screen that opens, click the Inbox tab.

    Gmail settings with Inbox tab highlighted
  4. Next to Inbox type, select Priority Inbox.

    Gmail settings with Priority Inbox highlighted
  5. In the Importance markers section, select the radio button next to Show markers to activate it.

    Gmail Inbox settings with Show Markers highlighted
  6. In the same section, select the radio button next to Use my past actions to predict which messages are important to me.

    Gmail inbox settings with "Use my past actions" highlighted
  7. Select Save Changes. When you go back to your inbox, you'll see the sections on the screen.

    Gmail Inbox settings with Save Changes highlighted

How Gmail Decides Which Emails Are Important

Gmail uses several criteria when deciding which emails to mark as important or not important. Among the criteria are:

  • Which emails you open
  • Which emails you reply to
  • Who you send emails to and how often
  • Keywords that occur in emails you usually read
  • Which emails you star
  • Which emails you archive
  • Which emails you delete
  • Which emails you mark important manually
  • Which emails you mark unimportant manually

Gmail learns your preferences from your actions as you use Gmail. 

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