Time Saving Tuesday

One of the reasons that I love Gmail the most is the remarkably powerful filter system that is integrated into it. With the filtering system you can analyze emails as they hit your Inbox, and then perform certain actions on them. If you spend the time to setup quality filters it can almost be like having your own personal secretary to sift through emails, but it’s a lot cheaper. ;)

Google doesn’t limit the amount of filters that you can create in Gmail (although just 20 of your filters can forward emails to another address) so you can go as crazy as you would like. Today we’re going to take a look at some of the various ways that you can put the filters to work for you.

–Using Gmail Filters–

Setting up Gmail filters can be as easy or as hard as you would like. Some filters that I’ve setup are rather simple and are just based upon the from address, while others took a little more thought. Lets start with an overview of how you would setup a filter:

  1. Click Create a filter (next to the Search the Web button at the top of any Gmail page).
    Gmail Create a Filter
  2. Enter your filter criteria in the appropriate field(s).
    Gmail Filter Fields
  3. Click Test Search to see which messages currently in your account match your filter terms. You can update your criteria and run another test search, or click Next Step.
  4. Select one or more actions from the list. These actions will be applied to messages matching your filter criteria in the order in which the actions are listed — for example, you could choose to Forward matching messages to a specific email address, then Delete the messages.
    Gmail Filter Options
  5. If you’d like to apply this filter to messages already in your account, select the Also apply filter to x conversations below checkbox.
  6. Click Create Filter.

–Tips & Tricks–

Using the filters can be pretty easy, but here are some things that might help you out along your quest for a cleaner Inbox:

  • When blocking email addresses in the From field you can keep things a bit more general if you would like by specifying just the domain. For example, if you receive a bunch of messages from Orkut users instead of blocking each individual address just enter * in the From field.
  • I’m able to use only one filter for blocking dozens of spam addresses thanks to the OR operator. For example, entering in OR will block emails coming from either of those addresses. There’s no need to create separate filters for each address.
  • If you use Google Talk’s chat history feature you’ll soon realize that your conversations are also analyzed against your filters. To exclude chats from a particular filter enter is:chat into the Doesn’t have field. This will ignore all of your Google Talk conversations in the filters.
  • You can scan filetypes in an email by putting filename:type in the Has the words field. Just replace “type” with the extension of the file that you want to filter. For example, to filter for Windows Media Player videos you would enter filename:.wmv into the field.
  • Gmail supports what’s called “plus addressing” meaning the email address is still sent to the email address. When signing up for services use this method so that filtering is even easier. For example, you could use an address for all of your Amazon purchases. Then in the To field use the to filter the emails sent from them.

–Useful Filters–

To get the ball rolling I thought I would list out some of the ways that I’ve put the filters to work:

  • Anti-phishing – I use the plus addressing technique that I mentioned above for all of my financial accounts. Then when the emails come in I check the To address to see if it is from someone like eBay. If it is I’ll apply a “Financial” label to it. This coincidentally happens to serve as an anti-phishing mechanism as well, because if you think about it almost no scam artists are going to guess the “plus addresses” that I’ve created. When I see an email from eBay that didn’t get my label I know something fishy (no pun intended) is going on.

    Note: It’s not enough just to analyze the “from” address of an email when dealing with financial companies because those are often spoofed by the scam artists.

  • Bacn – Remember Bacn? We talked about it last year when it was introduced as the “almost spam” emails we often receive on a daily basis. They refer to things like notifications from Facebook or newsletters that you’ve subscribed to. These are emails that you want to read, but don’t want cluttering up your Inbox. I have a ton of various filters set up for things like this, but my main one just applies a “Notifications” label to the email messages and then they skip the Inbox.
  • Forwards – I receive quite a few forwards on a daily basis, and I normally never even open them up. Unfortunately the text “FWD” doesn’t show up in the subject line for most of the ones that people send, so I had to take a additional steps to block them all. Here are the two methods that work well for me:
    • If you can see every person that they send the forward to go ahead and pick one of the email addresses that you’re not familiar with. Then just create a filter blocking all emails being sent To that address. That way you should still receive any of the personal emails that are directly sent to you while removing all of the ones that are mass-emailed.
    • If the BCC (blind carbon copy) was used the previous method won’t work since you can’t see anyone else’s email address. But you likely won’t see you’re email address in the To field either. To get around this create a filter using the sender’s address in the From field, and then enter into the To field. The minus sign before your address is crucial because this filter will check for any messages from the sender that aren’t addressed to you.


There’s a lot more that you can do with the filters, and the advanced operators guide by Google will definitely help you out on setting up extensive filters. I’m sure there are a lot of advanced Gmail users out there, and so we want to turn the stage over to you now. Let us know in the comments how you use Gmail filters to cleanup your emails.