Knowledge Base & Forums/Useful Tools/Odds & Ends About Google Apps

How Do I Send A Message as High/Normal/Low Priority in GMail?

posted this on July 19, 2011, 3:11 PM

Most Outlook users are used to the ability to send a message with importance (low, normal, high).  In GMail, that feature was removed. Google's idea is that a new feature will help sort out the details of importance, called "Importance" in GMail.  As you use GMail and Google Apps, it learns who you communicate with regularly, and assigns them higher priority than others.  If you regularly send e-mail, hourly for example, to a colleague, GMail will learn this and help assign priority to their e-mail messages.  When Linda in accounting contacts you on a daily basis with budgeting reports, GMail will know that it is important for you to receive Linda's e-mail.  It then scrutinizes Linda's e-mail to you less than others.  It learns that Linda's e-mails are important to you - because you receive them, never mark them as spam, and always open them up quickly.

This removes the need for someone to be able to flag, star, prioritize your e-mail FOR YOU.  Let the system do the work, ON YOUR BEHALF.  Google is all about helping YOU use the systems more efficiently - not someone always trying to game the system by marking their messages as "High Priority".


Comments latest first

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Tony Vullo

ATTENTION Google:  This is URGENT!  The writer of an e-mail needs to exercise the control of declaring its priority.  The recipient(s) can choose to act on the e-mail and its declared priority as they see fit.  What's next, is Google going to craft and send e-mails for us?  Please provide a control for us to declare message priority as we write and send our e-mails.  Thank you.

April 24, 2016, 6:37 PM
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Richard Stepp

I totally agree with Lance.  This is truly an oversight on Google's part, and it pisses me off.  Say I communicate regularly with my brother, sending jokes back and forth.  It happens, and I enjoy it.  However, if Google decides that his messages are not that important to me, how will I be alerted to a true family emergency.  Can Google differentiate?  I DON'T THINK SO.  Therefore, back off Google.  Your users should have the ability to make choices, and your assumptions are arrogant and potentially harmful.  Who do you think you are?

April 20, 2016, 7:22 AM
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Mike Mitchell

Well THAT'S f*cking retarded. I have an email I need to mark as important to the recipients and I can't do that. Back to Outlook. Google isn't smart enough to know what I think is important.

April 10, 2016, 6:37 PM
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Harold Boll

I'm upset that you insulted my Uncle Jim - he's really not crazy you know!

March 22, 2016, 5:09 PM
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Patty Block

I agree with William Butcher (this page is helpful) and Colette Stayers-McDermott. It is incredibly arrogant of Google to think it knows better than customers/users about the importance of any particular email message and not give us a choice. Alphabet, which in October 2015  took over as Google’s new holding company, dropped the company’s “Don’t Be Evil” mantra from its code of conduct.  I wonder if either organization will ever acknowledge that its customers/users are not inherently evil (or ignorant or stupid) because we want to make up our own minds about annotating email message importance. IMHO, Microsoft Outlook is far more user-friendly, elegant and efficient AND rules the world of email messaging apps.

January 29, 2016, 5:41 AM
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William Butcher

this was very helpful

October 8, 2015, 1:06 AM
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Colette Stayers-McDermott

Reading all of these comments - why can't google continue to do what it is doing, but give the user the CHOICE to make a specific message a priority message? The data that google collects can only go so far. Obviously (from the comments and the reason that I joined this discussion!) people would occasionally like the CHOICE to do this. PLEASE???

August 26, 2015, 5:18 AM
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Tom Goldschmidt

This is the (lack of) feature that makes me want to use another mail program. There are moments when you need to prioritize a mail you send to somebody you exchange mail twice a year, and there are people who often send you mail that has no priority at all. BTW, "What is to prevent a spammer from simply using this "marked as important" feature to get the attention of the people it sends its message to?  Nothing." The answer is that Gmail is very good at recognizing spam and sends it to the spam box. 

August 22, 2015, 1:34 PM
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Fulgencio Reed

This is indeed a major flaw in Google's "superior" system which irritates the living crap out of me. The sender is the one in charge despite of the learning ability of Gmail. And that ability completly relies on emails received and not on emails sent. So when a receiver sees that idiotic URGENT HIGH/LOW subject line it immediatly compromises the message that is trying to reach the receiver. Think about a professional line of business whereby priority messages are the only categorizer for emails even being processed due to thousands of low priority emails? As a result Gmail users are often left in the dark. Such a big organisation as Google should just cater to our user need in this matter. 

June 30, 2015, 6:39 AM
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What if the recipient is as confused (or more) as I am trying to figure this out.  If they don't understand (or agree with) what Google deems important, then the important tag bears no weight.

What if the recipient is an Outlook user? Outlook does not make the presumptions that Google does so how can I alert someone that this is a Very Important email that requires immediate (deadline driven) attention?  

My company is in the process of moving to Google Apps.  I have the option of receiving my email in Outlook but I choose to use Gmail so I can learn it and be able to assist / support co-workers, clients, friends, etc.  My advice so far...use Outlook.

May 14, 2015, 8:44 AM
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Peter Colen
what I want to know is how to stop the Low Importance tags. It just happened again and I had to explain that out was Google, not me putting tags on the emails.
August 6, 2013, 7:38 AM
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Peter Colen
I just emailed a lawyer about a fax that was important. I looked today and saw it had a low importance tag on it. I find that to be intrusive and wrong. why complicate something, especially when this robot is incapable of doing the job it is assigned?
August 6, 2013, 7:09 AM
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Jim Duke

What is to prevent a spammer from simply using this "marked as important" feature to get the attention of the people it sends its message to?  Nothing.  The point is, what you think is important is not the same thing as what the receiver thinks.  If a particular email receiver gets messages where 80% of them are marked as important - then how do they decide what is MOST important from that list?  If that email receiver gets 1000 emails a day - they need to find a way to filter though that and deal with the overload.  I think Google is trying to help people make sense of the overload they are having to deal with.  All that being said, I do think that having an "importance" or "priority" attribute is useful.  But with all things - you need to use it prudently.  And it's easy to conceive how Google could factor into its filters the use of these attributes.  And also, I think it works well with the way people think; which would make human guided filtering work better.  I think definitely is a mistake to not include the feature.  But I don't think they should toss out their drive toward aiding email users in making some sense out of the information overload that can be associated with email these days.  They have some good thoughts on how to guide you in seeing what "you" think is important by monitoring the way you work.

July 26, 2013, 5:31 AM
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I am currently overseas and need to send an important email to a business that I have not emailed before. I don't see any way to get that business to recognize that my email is needing to be looked at and answered ASAP. I havve put important in the subject line but a lot of SPAM that I have seen does this, too.
Having a priority option is a much easier and cleaner option. Your premise for removing it seems flawed in my opinion.
I use Gmail while traveling so I can keep in contact. But I don't always contact the same people so your reasoning does me no good.
please bring back the priority options.


July 25, 2013, 10:47 PM
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Jinny Fisher

Google is getting far too clever for its own good IMO. We need to get back to simple things like human decisions. Google is growing tendrils, suckers and feelers where before it was clever enough to be useful without ruling your online life!

June 30, 2013, 11:32 AM
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James Zhou

this is classic example of arrogance evolves into stupidity. Google, you suck!

June 3, 2013, 7:23 AM
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Jed Pearson

What a crock, I'm not trying to game the system if I need to mark a message as high priority because I'm chasing a payment. At least if I can do that there is a chance person receiving it might give it more attention withotu me having to put the word urgent in the title and possibly look a bit pushy...

January 23, 2013, 2:06 AM
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Jim Duke

John, I think you misunderstand what I was saying.  The concept of Google using information in the message plus my behavior to determine priorities is a good concept.  The problem is, they - like you apparently, consider the effective priority to be determined either by the receiver (in the Google stance) vs the sender (the Outlook stance).  What I'm saying is that it's both.  The sender may set a message they set to be "Important".  The "importance" tag is simply another attribute of the message - call it "sender importance".  The resulting importance, as reflected through the way Google mail presents and decorates the message is based upon how the receiver reacts to the message as a whole - which includes information about what the sender importance was set to.  Obviously the sender importance would need to be displayed in some fashion to the receiver otherwise the receiver wouldn't/couldn't react to it.

Take this example.  I interact with person A and person B.  Messages from person A are almost always sent with importance = High.  But I really don't care a whit about what person A sends me.  I sometimes open their mail up; but half the time I delete it.  Mail from person B on the other hand, is sent to me with importance = Normal most of the time.  I actually read person B's mail fairly frequently; but not urgently.  However if person B ever sent me a message with importance = High; I would look at it right away.  It would be great if Google could distinguish between those two different scenarios and present my messages in a way that is consistent with the importance I think about them.  And what the sender thinks is important matters to me; so it is part of the equation.  But my behavior is what really determines importance.  In the above example, normal mail from person B would show up at a higher effective priority than ANYTHING from person A.  But high importance mail from person B would REALLY show up as important.

January 16, 2013, 10:26 AM
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John Meise

-scratches head- Jim, you started out sounding like you supported google's decision to make e-mail priority decisions based on mail traffic and trends, but then you said some things that seemed to conflict with that..

Either way, I understand why google's doing this, but while it is solving one problem, it's causing another (like most solutions).  You see, I (being the good and honest person that I am) do not mark, nor have I ever marked any e-mail as high priority, because nothing I've ever sent has BEEN high priority (until recently).  High priority to me means an emergency, or urgent business matters that need to be addressed the same day.  Now, you might be tempted to say, "If it's that urgent, why don't you just call?".  That doesn't work when the only means of contact you have with someone is via e-mail.  Now you might be saying to yourself, "well if the only means of contact you have with someone is e-mail than they probably aren't a very important contact anyway".  You'd be incorrect again; it just so happens that I am in a situation where I need to be able to flag messages as high priority with someone because SOME of my mails to this person ARE high priority, but many are not.  Regardless I do send a lot of e-mails his way.  Now if I understand this Google's system correctly, it is going to start flagging my e-mails high priority BECAUSE of all the exchanged traffic with this contact, but hold on just one second Google!!!!!!  Many of my messages to this contact are NOT high priority!!!!  But because they are being flagged based on trends and traffic, non-important e-mails will begin to get flagged and my receiver will not know what is and what isn't important .

So this is really not a good idea.  I love Google and their ideas overall.  And I have a lot of respect for them as a company (even though a lot was lost when they unjustifiably banned my ad-sense account) but this is one of the things I'm not so crazy about.

January 16, 2013, 6:05 AM
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Jim Duke

I understand Google's philosophy on this and it's the right one.  It is up to me as the receiver to determine what is important to me.  But part of that determination is what the sender thought about the priority of what they are sending me.  For example, my wife has a tendency to send me all sorts of interesting things to read.  It's just that it isn't urgent for me to deal with.  If she marks something as "Important" - I'll look at it right away.  I find that I can filter most things just by looking at the subject; but not always.  So I end up looking at the email just to see if it's something I need to address.  Allowing my wife to mark important messages as "Important", allows ME to react to it better.  The paradigm of the sender setting a priority is not in conflict with the idea the receiver ultimately determining what is a priority to them.  In fact, it enhances that approach by giving the receiver more information about the message to help them behave in accordance with their real priorities and for Google to then observe and react to that behavior.

January 16, 2013, 5:34 AM
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John Meise

I have to disagree with you on the organization factor Dorothy; in fact, I'd even go so far as to say it's not even an opinion, googles organization and search system is superior.  However, I just recently found myself having to send a high priority e-mail only to find out I am not able to.  Google usually does things very well, with very few exceptions to this rule, but this is a major flaw.  Gmail is still, hands down, the best solution for e-mail, but the inability to mark e-mails as high priority is something that MUST be addressed.

January 2, 2013, 2:05 PM
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Dorothy Li

I found this "feature" a failure.  I open almost all my emails as soon as I get them.  No wonder gmail treats all my emails the same.  Gmail is not helping me with this feature.  With their lack of features and chaos of a mailbox with folders, I stopped using gmail web app.  I bring it back all down to Outlook.  Much faster and easier.  Better organization too.

December 27, 2012, 1:24 PM
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G-Apps Masters

Jim, you're right about it can cause more effort.  However, using a web client is a BENEFIT of using Google Apps, really.  Sticking with outdated/outmoded client/server apps can be a performance hinderance.  Web removes the barrier of instability, patches, updates, upgrades, cost.  Bring your own browser is the best model - even Microsoft is trying to keep up on their next iteration of Outlook (HTML 100%).

December 19, 2012, 12:17 PM
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Jim Critz

As for the best (so far) workaround, there should be a better one and maybe Google should be creating the flags since they seem to be forcing companies to use the internet instead of a mail client. With putting the words in the subject line the subject could get lost with other emails. Also, this will require more effort on the folks who are sending the message to make sure they have put in the priority flag in the subject line instead of just pressing a button. 

December 12, 2012, 6:41 AM
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G-Apps Masters

The best (so far) workaround is to simply put it in the SUBJECT line before the actual messages subject:

Subject: URGENT - Message subject
Subject: HIGH - Message subject
Subject: LOW - Message subject

Not what you're all asking for, but sufficiently denotes the messages importance and should make it stand out in a long list of subject lines.

July 11, 2012, 9:53 AM
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Daniel Martin

The issue is NOT that I can't prioritize someone else's email for them with the priority flag.  The issue is that Outlook uses use the flags to create rules that notify them when a high priority email arrives, therefore without being able to set the flag, I can't necessarily get their attention.  Just today, I sent an email without a high priority due to the lack of the feature to someone who requested that I send the message with the high priority flag on if I want them to respond today.  Their instructions can't be followed because I can't set the flag that almost all other mail applications recognizes.  So the issue is not with me wanting to prioritize someone else's email for them, it is with setting a flag that says, "Hey, this is more important that the normal stuff I sent you and needs your immediate attention."  In the business world, this is important, given the shear volume of email I send "routinely" to some people due to process.  It's about honoring THEIR request to have a flag set that indicates that this is not just another process email and they should actually look at this one.

July 10, 2012, 9:20 AM
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Amber Stanley

Will Google ever create a priority option for users to choose?  My place of business sends and receives emails constantly that should be tagged as High Priority, but they may or may not be to the same contact.  We deal with State Agencies and may only send an email once or twice a year to that particular contact.  How fast does Google "learn".  This could be detrimental to grant deadlines/state reporting/etc.

We have only recently switched from Outlook to Google Apps.  Most of the features are so much better, but not allowing users to set a Priority on an email (especially in the field I work in) can cause serious problems for us. 

I honestly cannot believe that Google does not have this option!  It's so common and expected that it wasn't a question we had when resarching hosted mail.  It's like buying a car with no blinkers, because the car "learns" what roads and streets you use to determine when to turn the blinker on.

June 5, 2012, 2:29 PM
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G-Apps Masters

It's not so much that Google will define "how important" your particular message is...  The recipient actually does...

Example: Every time you receive an e-mail from Sergey Brin or Larry Page you open it within 1-2 minutes.

Google's algorithm sees that every time you receive a message from one of these senders (regardless of content) you jump on it and open it.  It gives this sender a +1 mark - saying that you think they are important. This bumps the message to the "important" level if it gets weighed heavily enough.

Example 2: Every time you receive an e-mail from Sergey Brin or Larry Page with pictures of cats in it, you open immediately

Google sees that you receive these pictures and open them within 5-10 seconds - super important e-mail from Brin & Page with some funny cat pics.  It then sees that this message not only matches the sender's importance, but also matches the content to say this is VERY IMPORTANT.  

Example 3: Every time your crazy Uncle Jim sends you an e-mail with cat pictures doing not-funny things, you delete it right away

Google learns that even though cat pictures are important to you, Uncle Jim is a little off his rocker and wants to scare you, so you don't want any part of it. Google learns that and will not mark it as important.

While these are extreme examples, it underlines the basic ideas...  The system is constantly learning what the RECIPIENT (you) consider important... Making it much more efficient for the person who is managing their INBOX.  This keeps Uncle Jim from marking his crazy cat pictures as HIGH priority, when in fact they aren't...  Keeping you able to sit at the same table as him during Holidays.  :)

P.S.  Please note these are just examples.  

P.P.S.  Please note that when I say "Google Learns" that I am not talking about a human being - but rather a machine - which does not make water-cooler talk about what it finds in your Inbox.  

May 18, 2012, 10:24 AM
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Lance Milleson

But sometimes I send a funny picture of a cat and other times it something actually important (like, I need this information by the end of today).  I don't think Google can (or should) make that determination for me.  I (as the sender) know if it is important. 

April 30, 2012, 11:55 AM