Advanced Gmail Filters

Written by Derek Wilson on October 15th, 2011

If you’re looking to stay on top of your email the easiest method is to automate your inbox. One of the most powerful (but unfortunately underused) features of Gmail are the mail filters. Using filters you can match criteria like “to” or “from” and then execute an action like “Mark as read”, “Skip the inbox” or “Apply a label”. Here are some of my favorites that I used to keep my inbox in check.

Note to Self

Sometimes you need a quick way to write down a reminder and have it accessible privately on the web. Often I’ll just create a draft of an email (and never send it) or other times send an email to myself. A neat feature of Gmail is that you can append a + then some text to your email address and Gmail will ignore the text after the +. For example if you own bob@gmail.com you could send a message to bob+note@gmail.com and it would still arrive to your inbox. So if you use the same +note appendage for all your “notes to self” then we can set up a rule to filter them.

to:(email+note@gmail.com)
Do this: Apply label “Notes”, Apply star.

(where “email” is your address)

What it filters: Any email sent to your “secret” +note address.

What it does: We’ll apply a label “notes” so we can find them easier in the future and I like to star it as well so it’s at the top of my inbox so I can “unstar” it when I’ve dealt with the reminder.

I didn’t sign up for this

Similar to the +text trick above you can insert a period “.” into your email address and it will be ignored. That means bob@gmail.com will receive email from b.ob@gmail.com or b.o.b@gmail.com (or any combination of periods and letters). This is especially handy for signing up for sites that you don’t entirely trust. If you’re not interested in hearing from a company after signing up (or you’re worried they’re selling your address) then use a variant of your address with a period in it and set up a rule to filter it out of your inbox.

to:(e.mail@gmail.com)
Do this: Skip Inbox, Mark as Read, Never mark it as important

What it filters: Only email sent to the variant of your address with periods in it.

What it does: By skipping the inbox (archiving) and marking it as read we won’t receive any notice that an email has arrived. But if we really need to find the messages we can use the search function to find them. If you were sure you were never going to read these message you could set it up to delete instead of archive.

Social Media Spam

I like to keep notifications from social media websites as a fallback in case the site is down or as an archive of past events. This, however, would flood my inbox with email I would likely never read. So I apply this filter:

from:(*@facebookappmail.com OR *@facebookmail.com OR *@postmaster.twitter.com OR *@linkedin.com)
Do this: Skip Inbox, Mark as read, Apply label “Social”

What it filters:
First thing you may notice is that I haven’t specified which address the mail is from. I used a wildcard (denoted by a *) which will catch any and all email from those domains. I also used the OR operator which does exactly as you’d suspect and will trigger the filter if the incoming mail matching any of the listed domains.

What it does:
Incoming mail that matches the rule will be automatically archived (so it won’t clutter up my inbox), it will be marked as read (so my phone doesn’t get notified either) and then applies the label “Social” which makes it easy to find these messages later.

That’s it for now. I hope with some of these tips and tricks (the +text, the period trick, boolean operators and wildcards) you can write some especially handy filters to make managing your inbox just a bit easier.

Feel free to share some of your favorite Gmail filters in the comments, I’m always looking for some way to save time dealing with email.