Setting up email filters, or organizing conversations into folders, is an efficient way to manage your email inbox.
For example, you may want to have a Facebook filter to separate all your notifications from your everyday emails. You could also do this for newsletter subscriptions, messages from family members, or emails related to work. It’s also a great tool to automatically trash or mark certain emails as spam. As you can see, there are a lot of advantages for filtering your emails.
We will show you how to set up email filters to automatically sort your emails in Gmail, Yahoo Mail, and Outlook.
The first thing to point out is that Gmail does not use the tradition “folder” structure. Gmail uses “labels”, but they are pretty much the same thing, it just has a different name.
To get started with creating Gmail filters, open your inbox and click on the little arrow icon on the right side of the search bar. This opens up the advanced search box, allowing you to specify several attributes of the email you’re looking for. You’ll notice in the bottom-right corner of this window, there’s a link that says Create filter with this search. We just need to specify the criteria, then we have our filter!
Be sure to check which folder the filter will be applied to at the top of the window (the default is All Mail), then have a look at the fields:
- Enter an email address in the From field to apply the filter to messages from that address.
- The * character is a wildcard, so you can enter *@domain.com to filter all messages from a specific domain.
- The To field pairs nicely with Gmail aliases. You can add a + after your address and create unlimited alias addresses that all go straight to your inbox.
- So, if you signed up for LinkedIn with John+LinkedIn@gmail.com and know that you don’t want any messages from LinkedIn, you can filter messages sent to that address.
- The Subject field allows you to filter any message containing certain words in the subject.
Has the words and Doesn’t have allow you to scan the email for any words you’d like. You can use Google’s operator words here, like AND or OR, to look for multiple words.
- For instance, let’s say you want to create a filter for all messages with unsubscribe in the message, but don’t want your bank’s emails to be affected. You could enter First AND Bank in the Doesn’t have to exclude results that contain these words.
- If you want to look only for emails with an attachment, check the Has attachment box. Those who often chat with Hangouts in Gmail will probably want to check Doesn’t include chats to cut down on the noise from those.
- Finally, if you like, you can specify a size that the message is greater or less than, or find only emails close to a certain date.
Once you have selected your criteria, you can click the search icon to apply them to your inbox to make sure it’s correct. Click the create filter link at the bottom to move to the next step. Here, you’ll need to decide what happens to email that hits this filter.
If you’re trying to keep a clean inbox, choosing Skip the Inbox (Archive it) is probably a good first step. Paired with this, you can add a star, attach a label so you know what to do with that message later, or mark it as important.
When you’re done, check the Also apply filter to matching conversations if you want this filter to apply to existing mail as well as future messages. Clicking Create filter will complete the process!
You can review or edit your existing filters at any time. Head to the Settings gear icon in the top-right, then choose Settings. Click the Filters and Blocked Addresses tab to see them all and make changes if needed. Gmail also provides an export feature, so you can send your filters to a file to share.
Having trouble thinking of a good filter idea? Gmail can help with that. Tick the check box next to any message, then go to More > Filter messages like these. This will launch the filter window as before, but with some fields pre-filled based on the message you selected.
Failing that, have a look at annoying email problems you can solve with filters, or how to cut down on email overload using filters.
Yahoo Mail has come into some issues lately, after Reuters reported that they have been spying on emails for the NSA. In what can’t be a coincidence, Yahoo also “temporarily disabled” the ability to forward emails to another address for those who wanted to jump ship after this breach of privacy.
If these concerns don’t spur you on to drop Yahoo mail, here’s how you can set up some filters.
Open your Yahoo inbox, then click the gear icon in the top-right and choose Settings. Select the Filters tab on the left, then Add a new one. You’ll probably notice that there’s not quite as much filter functionality as in Gmail — you have four fields to customize. These are From, To/CC, Subject, and Body.
The categories act as they do in Gmail, but for each one, you can choose to filter email that contains, does not contain, begins with, or ends with selected words. You also have the ability to match cases, which could be handy if you’re looking to filter all-caps acronyms. Once you’ve completed the filters as desired, you can choose which folder to move the matching messages to.
Yahoo also allows you to name filters, so you can quickly review them on the main Filters tab without knowing the details of each.
Note that filters are applied in top-to-bottom order. Thus, when you’re back on that main tab, make sure that the most important filter is at the top, as that will take priority if a message falls under multiple filters. You can also edit or remove an existing filter from this page.
That’s all you need to know for Yahoo filtering! Note that they have turned forwarding back on if you decide to leave the service.
Hotmail is no more. Microsoft has taken the Outlook brand that used to refer to the desktop program and brought it to the web. If Outlook.com is your web email of choice, here’s how to set up filters.
Open your Outlook inbox and click to select any message. Then, click the small three-dot menu on the right side of the top bar. On the resulting drop-down menu, choose Create rule… Like Yahoo, you’ll need to give the filter a name. The following fields fill automatically, based on the message you clicked earlier, but you can click the X icon to remove them and start fresh.
Outlook gives you more conditions than Yahoo, and breaks them into groups. For example, one category is It includes these words, in which you can select in the subject, in the subject or body, in the sender’s address, and so on. You can include one or many conditions. There are too many for an exhaustive list here, but some of the most interesting include:
- My name is > the only recipient listed can catch emails that are only sent to you. Of course, this likely won’t catch newsletters. My name is > not in the To box would catch emails in which you were CCed or mass-emailed.
- It’s marked with > an importance or a sensitivity to catch messages using the sensitivity or priority levels specific to Outlook.
- It’s > of the type gives a host of interesting options, like filtering automatic replies, read receipts, or encrypted messages.
Once you’ve set your conditions, you’ll need to choose one or more actions. You can choose to move (or copy) the message to a folder, or delete it. A neat choice is pinning the message, which will keep it at the top of your inbox for review. Marking the message with a certain importance is another useful action.
Finally, Outlook lets you add exceptions using any of the earlier conditions. Thus, you can set up your entire filter but exclude messages from one person, or messages marked as important.
The stop processing more rules check box should be checked if you don’t want messages that run through this filter to be affected by others. For example, if one filter pins all important messages, and a second filter deletes all messages with attachments, you would want to check this box so that Outlook doesn’t delete an important message with attachments.
Now that you’ve got those filters set up, know that you can access your Outlook email from anywhere!
How Do You Use Filters?
Email filters are powerful tools you can use to fight against the onslaught of messages. Hopefully, you can already think of some awesome ways to apply them to improve your workflow. If you haven’t decided on a mail provider yet, and want to take full advantage of filters, you should probably avoid Yahoo. Based on this list, Outlook and Gmail offer far more functionality in filtering than Yahoo does.
Want to go further with email? Rethink it and turn your emails into tasks instantly.
What filters do you use to manage your inbox? Is there another email provider with powerful filters that you prefer? Add your thoughts down in the comments to expand the list!
Originally written by Jack Cola on May 28, 2010.