How to Organize & Categorize Messages in Gmail with Labels

Labels offer greater flexibility than a folder-tree structure

What to Know

  • Add a label: Open a message or select one (or several) from the inbox. In the toolbar, choose the Labels icon.
  • Customize labels: Go to Settings > Labels to create a new one or choose options to decide how labels function.
  • Delete labels: Select the More button next to a label name, then choose Remove Label.

Unlike most email servers that rely on a series of folders to organize messages, Gmail replaces folders in favor of labels. These labels are a tagging system for emails. Learn how to use labels to organize messages using Gmail on any operating system.

How to Add a Label to a Gmail Message

Folder-based sorting stores emails in one location. Label-based sorting can apply several labels to a single message.

To add one or more labels to Gmail messages:

  1. Log in to your Gmail account

  2. Open a message, or select the check boxes in the message list to select several emails.

    Email checkbox selected in Gmail inbox
  3. Go to the toolbar and select the Labels icon.

    Labels icon in Gmail
  4. In the Label As dialog box, select the label you want to apply. Choose Create New to make and apply a new label.

    Work label in Gmail

How to Customize Your Gmail Labels

The Label As dialog box includes a link to Manage Labels, which is a shortcut to the Labels screen of the Gmail Settings menu. Either click that link, or go to Settings > Labels. If you're already logged in to your Gmail account, you can go directly to your Gmail Labels Settings.

Labels and Settings gear highlighted in Gmail

At the bottom of the settings screen, you'll see your custom labels. Select Create New Label 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, select 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 in the message list.
  • Actions: Select 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 there's a need to hide messages, leave Show in IMAP selected by default.

Create New Label in Gmail Settings

How to Manage Gmail Labels

To edit or delete Gmail labels:

  1. Go to the Folders pane and select the label you want to manage.

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

    Three dot menu to the right of Label name in Gmail
  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.

    Edit label dialog in Gmail
  4. Select Save to apply the changes.

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

  • How many labels can you have in Gmail?

    You can have up to 500 Gmail labels. However, you can create additional labels within those labels.

  • How do I merge labels in Gmail?

    In your Gmail inbox, select the search bar and enter label:name OR label:name (replace name with the names of the folders to merge). Select all messages in the results and create a new label for the selected messages.

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