When users first switch to Gmail from an older email service, it is hard to understand the concept of labels and an All Mail folder. With Gmail, you wouldn’t typically delete email, but simply add or remove labels. These labels look like folders when you use Apple’s Mail program, but understanding how they really work will help you use your Gmail account.

Video Transcript (Click to Expand)
Hi, this is Gary with MacMost Now. On today’s episode let’s look at how Gmail works and how it is different than email you may be used to.

So a lot of people when they switch over to something like Gmail they are not used to exactly how it works. Now Gmail in particular has some very special characteristics. Once you understand them they can be very useful. But they can be confusing if you have just used traditional types of email that you might have at work or have gotten with your ISP.

For instance, one of the important things about Gmail is the you never really delete email. You can if you want to but you don’t have to. As a matter of fact you shouldn’t. You simple archive email. There is plenty of space and they are always giving you more space. So you don’t have to worry about clearing out space to store more emails.

Instead every piece of email you get is labeled with different things. For instance, it can be labeled as an inbox email or it can be labeled something that you set specifically like having to do with a particular topic. Then you look at emails based on the labels it has. So if you get a new piece of email it is automatically labeled inbox. You are probably looking at all your emails labeled inbox. If you don’t’ want to see the email anymore, you are done with it, you simple remove the inbox label and it won’t be in your inbox anymore.

So looking at the web based version of Gmail that you may be using this is how it works. You have all your labels here on the left. When you have one selected, like I have inbox selected, you see all the emails labeled with that. So these are all labeled with inbox. Now I look at one by clicking on it and you can see here the label is listed and there is one label “inbox”. I can read the email, I could get rid of that label, or I can simple archive. Archive is kind of a shortcut for getting rid of the inbox label and removing it from your inbox. It throws me back to the inbox here and I see that the email is removed and I simply have this one here.

If I look at my labels I can see all sorts of different things like personal and travel. But I also have All Mail. All Mail is a special label. If I click on that it’s basically everything I’ve got whether it has a label or not.

So there is the email that I just removed the inbox label from. Here is one that still has the inbox label on it. It is not very useful to look in All Mail because it has everything you have ever gotten.

But you can search it which is very useful. The idea is to use Search. You may think, Wow if I’ve saved everything I’ve ever gotten how am I going to find anything. So you search for it. You search for the name of the person, contents of the email. It basically does a universal search through everything about that email to find it. It is very easy and quick to use. Much better to do it this way than to spend all this time trying to organize things by folder. I just throw everything into All Mail by getting rid of the labels and I can just search for it later.

Now how does this work using the Mail app on your Mac. Well, I’ve set up a Gmail account here as one of my inboxes. It is one of three accounts that I have got. When I click on it here I can see what is in my inbox. Now it acts as a folder, it acts as a mailbox, but actually just showing me everything I’ve got with the label inbox. Now I can go down here and see under Gmail the special labels all listed here as folders. They are not really folders but I can click on All Mail and it will show me a list just like I saw before that has all my mail in it whether it has a label or not.

I can also look and see other labeled things. So if I create more labels, say I label an email as Important or something like that, it will appear under one of these. So I am clicking on these basically to have it show me things by label rather than show me things in a folder.

For instance let me go back to this test email here. Let me add a label to it. I can do it here and I can label it as Label 1 and it will create it as a new label. So you can see it is there. Let me add Label 2. The interesting thing I can do here is that I can actually have more than one label on an email.

Now I can actually look at everything labeled Label 1 and everything labeled Label 2. If I switch to regular mail here after it updates, it will actually add the labels here to Gmail. So let me go to Get Mail and you can see that it has actually added two here and since they aren’t special Gmail type of labels, they are things I’ve created myself, they are here and when I click on it they will load in everything labeled Label 1 and Label 2.

So the same email only present once on the server is available in two different folders really labels here in mail. So it is kind of a little more useful than the traditional folder thing where an email can only be in one place at one time.

To summarize with Gmail you are using a “labels” metaphor rather than a folders metaphor but you are adapting that when you are using mail to make the labels look like folders and you can attach more than one label to a piece of email by using the web based interface.

When you are viewing stuff in mail whether it is a web based interface or in the App, then you can actually see everything you have ever had in All Mail and you should leave the stuff there instead of trying to manually delete it. It creates a nice record and you have plenty of space that Goggle is giving you so you don’t have to worry about that. Just keep things in your inbox until you read them or use them and then remove the inbox label by hitting the Archive button and now it will be available in All Mail. Likewise, you can apply another label to it by simply dragging it to a folder that you have created. Create it in the web based interface as a label and then you will see it appear in Mail so you can create something like a work document or something and then drag the email there and it will add a label to it and take it out of your inbox at the same time.

Play around with it a bit. If you are new to using Gmail with the Mail app, play around with it and see what happens when you move email around in different folders and see how you search through All Mail to see everything that is there. You will get the hang of it after a while and it is very useful good system for using email.

I hope you found this useful. This is Gary with MacMost Now.

13 Responses to “MacMost Now 734: Understanding Gmail”

  1. Rhonda says:

    What happens when you hit delete in mail on your gmail acct? Does it go to archived? also, I don’t see those folders on the side bar – how can I find them?

    • Delete should remove all labels, so you will still find it in All Mail — but check. You should see all of those folders in the Mail app. Look for it on the left sidebar and you might need to expand the [Gmail] category.

  2. Henry says:

    How does this work if one has MS Office for the Mac?

  3. Kris says:

    Hi Gary – I’ve been using Gmail for about 6 months and my big disappointment is that when I want to forward an email (e.g. a joke) and I want to select the people I want to send it to (I don’t want to have to type in the name or the start of the email address of the person and let it automatically complete, but instead choose from a list of contacts, as you can in Hotmail), is this possible in G-mail? Have I missed something basic?

    • If you are talking about using Gmail in the Mail app, then it is no different than using any other email system. You can create a group of contacts in the Address Book app and add them to a Group, and then send to the grounp.

  4. R J Reynolds says:

    This is the most complicated convoluted way of dealing with a hundred emails just come in. 98 want immediate deletion. On a PC running Outlook Express (yes that old dog), hold down the shift key, select the whole batch and zap they go into the deleted folder, so repeat and they’re gone, You know the drill. So why use the GMail way you just described, as though some significant part of your inbox was worth paying attention to? Most is SPAM.
    I simply don’t get it…why Apple and Gmail invent these convoluted systems. I won’t be using them.

    • You can do the same thing with Gmail in Mail, or any email system in Mail. You can select multiple and delete. I’m not sure what you are getting at with your comment.

  5. zenaugie says:

    I have more than one on-line email account. Gmail is my primary account used with Mail and stand alone(I use Fluid, so email is in my dock as well). It’s a rare day when I get spam and it’s never in the inbox. It’s in the Spam folder. What a novel idea.

    Incidentally, my other online account gets hundreds of spam emails a day.

  6. Andy says:

    Gary, so the only way to add “folders” in the Gmail segment of Mail is to create new labels in Gmail? Also, if you delete the Gmail label/folder in Mail, will it delete it and its contents for the web Gmail account too?
    Thanks, Andy

    • No, you can do it in Mail by creating a new mailbox under the [Gmail] mailbox. If you remove that label from all messages and delete it, I suppose it should disappear from Mail once everything syncs up.

  7. Linda Jacks says:

    Gary, The thing I’m not clear on: In Gmail can something like messages from an online book group be pre-labelled (in other mail apps they get rules), so that they automatically go to their labelled “folders”? Or would I have to label everything that comes in again and again?

    • You can do it one of two ways. If you only use Mail to read your Gmail, you can use Mails rules just like you would with any other email service. In addition, you can also go into Gmail’s web interface and use Gmail’s “Filters” function which works in a similar way.

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