How to Organize and Categorize Messages with Labels in Gmail

Labels offer greater flexibility than a folder-tree structure

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Unlike most email servers that rely on a series of folders to organize messages, Gmail eschews folders in favor of labels — effectively, a tagging system for emails.

The instructions in this article apply to Gmail on Windows 10, Windows 8, Windows 7, and Mac OS X or newer.

How to Add a Label to a Gmail Message

Unlike with folder-based sorting, which sticks emails in just one location, label-based sorting lets you apply several labels to a single message. To add one or more labels to your Gmail messages:

  1. Log in to your Gmail account.

  2. Select or open the message or use the checkboxes in the message list to select several emails.

    Screenshot of multiple emails selected in Gmail inbox
  3. Select the Labels icon in the toolbar above the message list. The Label As dialog box will open.

    Screenshot of Labels icon in Gmail inbox
  4. Select the label you want to apply.

    Screenshot of Label as dialog box
  5. Choose Create New if you want to make and apply a new label.

How to Customize Your Gmail Labels

The pop-up menu includes a link to Manage Labels, which is a shortcut to the Labels screen of Gmail's Settings menu. Either click that link, or visit Settings > Labels, or (if you're already logged in to your Gmail account) use our shortcut link:

At the bottom of the settings screen, you'll see your custom labels. Select the Create New Label button to add a new label to the list.

Each label supports four settings groups:

  • Show in label list: Anytime a list of messages with labels appears in the left sidebar, click show (the default) to show the label persistently, hide to suppress it persistently, or show if unread to appear only when unread messages with that label appear.
  • Show in message list: Select whether the label appears on messages within the message list.
  • Actions: Click Remove to delete the label or edit to change it.
  • Show in IMAP: Force email programs (like Microsoft Outlook) that use IMAP folders instead of Gmail labels to treat labels like IMAP folders.

Unless you've got an unusual use case for hiding messages, leaving Show in IMAP as selected by default is recommended.

How to Manage Gmail Labels

Edit or delete Gmail labels as needed.

  1. Find the label you want to manage in the left pane of the inbox.

  2. Select the More button to the right of the label name.

    Screenshot of More menu on Gmail label
  3. Choose the feature you want to change, such as the label color or select Edit to change the label name or nest it under another label.

    Screenshot of Edit Label dialog box
  4. Select Save to apply the changes.

  5. Choose Remove Label from the More menu to delete a label.