How to automatically add labels in Gmail using filters. Get organized!

Label messages in Gmail according to content or sender

Is your Gmail inbox disorganized? Is it hard to find emails you need? The solution is to add labels in Gmail to make important messages stand out. Here is how to automatically label emails.

Labels are very useful in Gmail and you should be using them to highlight important messages based on who sent them, what their subject or content is about, and so on.

Labelling emails makes it so much easier to find the messages you need. Labels not only visually flag specific messages, but they also act as filters and selecting a label in the Gmail sidebar shows only the emails that have it and other messages are hidden.

Labels can be colored and this makes them even easier to see in a busy inbox with a lot of messages. Your eye is drawn to the color even before you have read the label. Bright colors stand out the most.

It is possible to add labels in Gmail automatically as they arrive in your inbox and there is no need to manually apply them. If an email is from work, a Work label could easily be applied automatically without you having to do anything. If an email is from a friend, a Personal label could be added automatically to incoming messages from them.

When emails have labels like Work, Personal and so on, it is easy to see them in your inbox listing. Once set up, automatic labelling just works and no effort is required.

1 Search and filter

Create. filter from an email in Gmail: Screenshot
Create a filter from an email in Gmail

If you want to automatically add labels in Gmail, there are several ways in which to get started. Usually, you want to label emails from a specific sender or emails that contain specific content, like certain keywords.

A great way to get started is to open a typical email that you want to label, click the three dots in the toolbar to show a menu and then select Filter messages like these.

2 Define the filter

Creating a filter in Gmail to select emails: Screenshot
Define the filter in Gmail

If you create a filter from an email, the From field contains the email address. You can remove it, keep it or add extra email addresses. To include more, use email1 OR email2 OR email3 placing OR between the email addresses.

All the fields are optional and you can create a filter by specifying To, Subject, Includes the words, Doesn’t have, Size, and Has attachment. It is up to you to choose the right criteria for selecting the emails you want to label. Any incoming messages that match the criteria you set will have a label applied.

The filters are fine for what I want, so when you are finished, click the Create filter button.

3 Select an action for the Gmail filter

Create a filter in Gmail: Screenshot
Apply a label to emails with a Gmail filter

You have created a search filter in Gmail, now you can choose to perform an action on the results. What we want to do is automatically add a label to emails. Click to the right of Apply the label, and then either select an existing label from the list that is displayed or click New label.

Create a new label in Gmail
Create a label in Gmail

Labels can be nested under other labels, but let’s keep it simple and have a top-level label.

4 Apply the filter and labels

A filter to automatically add labels in Gmail: Screenshot
Create a filter and apply it in Gmail

We have created a filter, chosen to apply a label, selected the label, so what is left? Down at the bottom of this window is Apply the filter to X matching conversations. As it stands, this filter will be applied to incoming emails only. It will add our label to new incoming emails, not existing emails in the inbox.

If you want Gmail to go through all the existing emails in your inbox and add the label, tick this option at the bottom before you click the Create filter button. It is up to you, but usually it is useful to tick the checkbox.

5 Set a color for a label

Set the color for a Gmail label: Screenshot
Select a color to make a label stand out

Labels appear in the Gmail sidebar and if you just created a new one with the new filter you set up. Click the three dots to show a menu and then select a color for the label. This makes emails in the inbox with this label stand out from the rest of the messages.

6 Filters in Gmail settings

Gmail filters in Gmail settings: Screenshot
Filters in Gmail settings

Where is the filter you created? To see it, click the gear icon in the top right corner of Gmail, click the See all settings link, and then select the Filters and blocked addresses tab.

As it says, the filters are applied to all incoming mail. If you want to change the filter, perhaps to add keywords to look for in emails, click the edit link on the right of the filter.

How many labels can you have? Well, according to Google you can have more than 500 Gmail labels, which I can’t imagine having. That is far too many to be useful. I would suggest keeping the number of labels below 15.


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