The short answer is no; they’re not like folders, and here is the difference.

Characteristics of Folders

I will focus on Microsoft Outlook compared with Gmail Labels for this post. Outlook has a vast user base and is one of the most popular email clients and is a great comparison for Gmail labels and email folders

Folders are a great way of organizing email. I work with clients to establish their folder system to represent their roles, such as spouse, parent, volunteer, etc., or by subject—work, home, hobbies, travel, etc. From there, add sub-folders as necessary. Using this structure can make it easy to locate an email quickly.

Limitations of Folders

The limits of folders are relatively simple. There’s no way for an email to live in more than one folder located in more than one folder. I work with clients on organizing Outlook, and there are often when an email is valid for two different folders. This makes organizing by folders more challenging. You can use Categories in Outlook for other organizations but require another step. The one exception to this is the use of Smart Folders. You can create a Smart Folder with any search you carry out in Outlook, and an email that matches the criteria will live in the Smart Folder and the inbox folder.

Gmail Labels Explained

Many discussions with Gmail clients about Gmail labels and email folders often refer to “Folders” in Gmail. In actuality, labels are very different from Folders. You can also think of Labels as categories or tags. The beauty of Gmail Labels is that an email can have many various labels. 

Practical Use

You’re a small business owner, and you receive invoices for payables in your email system. You can assign the labels “Current” and “Invoices” or perhaps “Unpaid” and “Invoices.” This strategy allows you to view all current items that might be invoices and other items that would be current in your organization by selecting the “Current” tag. You’ll see all paid or unpaid invoices by clicking on the “Invoices” label.

Next Post

My next post will detail the difference between the “Inbox” and “All Mail” in Gmail. Also, if you’d like to read my take on “Inbox Zero” you can read it at this link.

Until then, if you’d like to chat about labels in Gmail, reach out today. You can reach me on my contact page. You can schedule a complimentary meeting on my calendar at this link:


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Todd Allan

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Todd Allan

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