Inbox Investigation: Inside Microsoft Outlook’s Varying Views

HIPB2B delivered approximately 48 million emails last year. We’re always trying to understand what happens when our emails hit the inboxes of our customer’s audiences.

What works? What makes it to the inbox? Where else could the email get sent? How can we make sure our emails hit the inbox? Those are the questions the “Inbox Investigation” series will answer in the coming weeks. We’ll hit on all the most popular inboxes, unboxing how and where email is delivered.

That brings us to our first email client. Today, we dig into Microsoft Outlook.

Did you know that as many as 10% of emails are opened in either Microsoft Outlook or That’s according to Litmus’ latest count, which tracks email opens from all over the world.

According to the study, which covers from December 1, 2018, to January 1, 2019, there were 890 million email opens in that month. That means 89,000,000 emails were opened between the two Microsoft offerings. In one month.

We started these Inbox Investigation with Microsoft Outlook because it’s a popular tool in business (as many companies use Office 365, which includes Outlook.)

This post and the rest in the series will dig into each of the most popular email client’s inboxes, examining how mail is sorted, then offering conclusions and tactics for making your marketing emails more visible in today’s inboxes.


Two Views, Two Filtering Methods

In Outlook, there are two different views you can choose.


Traditional Inbox

In the traditional inbox, you have three main folders your mail is sorted into.

They are:

  • Inbox
  • Clutter
  • Junk

Inbox is where the good stuff is supposed to go, Clutter is where branded messaging and other nonessential email goes, and junk is where the stuff that you didn’t want in your inbox in the first place ends up.


Focused Inbox

This feature appears to be the direction Microsoft is going with Outlook. The switch to toggle between the focused inbox and the traditional is only lightly buried. More on that later.

The focused inbox also has three folders your emails might end up in. They are:

  • Focused
  • Other
  • Junk

This “new” feature works similarly to inbox and clutter in the traditional inbox. But you get notified for both Focused and Other messaged.

Junk works as it did before.



Let’s dig a little deeper into each of these sorting parameters…



Focused or Traditional: Traditional

This is where the majority of personal emails come into. You may get some marketing messages or cold emails in here, but it’s mostly relevant one-on-one emails from coworkers and other humans.

Microsoft assures us that the following senders of messages will never be IDed as clutter:

  • You
  • Anyone in your management chain
  • Your direct reports



Focused or Traditional:

This is filtered out before it ever reaches your inbox. Microsoft uses a series of parameters to determine what you read, what you don’t, and how to sort your mail. They include:

  • The sender
  • Your participation in a conversation
  • The number of recipients
  • Its importance/priority

Clutter is supposed to change and adapt according to your reading habits. This seems like it might be useful, but it tends to be heavy-handed with its sorting. Some users end up turning Clutter off after it relocates too many important messages.

Users also have the option to move emails to Clutter or back to the inbox. This will be remembered the next time an email is received from that sender.



Focused or Traditional: Focused

This is a super personalized, slimmed down version of Outlook’s classic inbox. It’s unlikely you’ll see many marketing messages here unless you have a high rate of opening them or have marked the domain to “always send to Focused.”

To turn on Focused inbox:

  • Desktop (Windows; most recent) — Go to View and then “Show Focused Inbox.” Click the button. You’ll see Focused and Other inbox replacing the current view
  • Web app (Most recent) — Click the gear in the top right corner, then press the switch that says, “Focused Inbox.”



Focused or Traditional: Focused

This is the latest version of the “Clutter.” In fact, much of Microsoft’s content talks about how Clutter is still an option for users but will eventually be replaced by the Focused Inbox and Other.

The difference between using the Focused Inbox is that it will still notify you about stuff that comes into Other, you just won’t see it on your main viewing tab. You will be able to toggle between the two tabs easily.

Please note that anything in Clutter that you’ve already received will remain there. It will not go away just because you switched Inbox views. So, if you want to be done with Clutter, be sure to clean out the folder.



This is filtered by domain and by user preference. The user can set how aggressive this junk filter is. That is accomplished by going to Home > Delete group > Junk > Junk Email Options.

You’ll then get the following options:

  • No automatic filtering (default)
  • Low — Only obvious spam is filtered into Junk
  • High — Best fit for users who receive a lot of junk
  • Safe Lists Only — Only your Safe Senders List or Safe Recipients will reach your inbox. Everything else will be filtered as junk.

Here is a graphic that breaks down how email is sorted in Outlook.


Red indicates that the user doesn’t receive a notification when this type of mail is delivered. Green represents a notification.


What does this mean for marketers?

The slow shift from the traditional inbox and Clutter is a mostly good thing for email marketers. Instead of burying your messages, they’re now back in the inbox, just a click of a tab away. They’re still buried, just not as much when they were shuffled into “Clutter.”

But what can you do to get your content into the promised land of the “Focused” inbox?



Literally. If you are sending quality content, consider asking your subscribers to add your domain to their safe senders list or to move your messages to their main inbox.

Not all of your subscribers use Outlook, so it’s better to keep the language general.


Be Valuable

Provide content that’s worth clicking. It will need to stand out over the rest for someone to find it in their “Other” Inbox. Your readers likely won’t scroll far in Other. Send targeted, enticing subject lines and you’ll have a better chance of capitalizing on this limited attention.


Pick Perfect Send Times

Send at the times when you know your audience is looking in their inbox. This will require some testing on your part. And for everyone’s sake, don’t send your emails on Tuesday at 10 am. Your email will get lost in the flood of messages and end up buried in their Other box.

Test and optimize your email send times. Figure out when your audience wants to receive your content by how much they open it.



Now you know the landscape your emails face when they hit an Outlook web address. What can you learn from this?

Looking forward, Cortana (Microsoft’s virtual assistant) will start reading user’s emails. How do you think that will change how your marketing messages are received?

Let us know what you think.



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