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Email tagging in Outlook: Best practices and tips

Explore best practices for email tagging in Outlook and master how to tag emails effectively for enhanced organization and efficiency.

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    By Ilija

    An economist by degree, a marketing manager at heart. Seeing my website on the first page of Google is what excites me most. I write mostly about email productivity, email management and AI.

    As we continue improving email organization, tagging is the best way to create order and find messages easily. 

    Email tags or the so-called Categories in Outlook have an advantage over folders: items can have multiple tags, but only one folder. 

    To put it simply, tagging allows multiple tags for each document, while folders only allow one folder for multiple documents.

    The basics of email tagging in Outlook

    In Outlook, "tagging" is referred to as "categorizing", a feature that enables users to organize their inboxes visually for more effective communication. With email tagging in Outlook, you can create as many tag categories as you want, assign them colors, and then apply them to anything - emails, calendar events, tasks, notes, and contacts.

    Creating categories also makes searching easier and helps you quickly identify different projects or types of emails by their color. For example, you can see right away which emails are for a particular project, without having to read them.

    For better organization, you can prepare a list of common categories, like "project update," "follow-up," "invoice," "personal," or "urgent." This way, as soon as emails come in, you can label them with these categories, helping you manage your inbox more effectively.

    Creating, applying, and renaming Categories

    How to Create

    To create a new category in Outlook, simply go to the Home Tab and select Categorize, then go to the All Categories option, and in the Color Categories dialog box select New and choose a new color. Then select OK. 

    Creating Outlook categories

    Once your categories have been set up in accordance with your needs, you can apply them to your emails, meetings, and tasks. 

    How to Apply

    You can apply a tag to an existing email by opening the message in the Reading Pane, then going to the Home Tab in the Tags group and selecting Categorize. Then simply choose the category you want to use. You can assign more than one color category to items so you can track and sort different things more easily. 

    You can also apply tags using the Categorize option on the shortcut menu which appears when you right-click. And finally, they can be applied automatically by setting a rule. This is done with a right-click on an existing message, then clicking Advanced Actions and choosing Create Rule. In addition, rules can be used to move tagged messages to a specific folder.

    How to Rename

    The first time you assign a category to a message, the Rename Category dialog box will open. In the Name text box, you can write a descriptive name for the category and then select yes. To rename an existing category, select an existing color and choose Rename, type a new name and press Enter.

    How to Rename Outlook Categories

    Advanced tagging and categorizing techniques in Outlook

    Color, Create, Interrelate

    You can use Mailbutler, our Outlook email tags extension, to assign a color category to related items. Mailbutler's Tags elevate the efficiency, versatility, and precision of Outlook's categories, catering to individuals who manage complex projects and lots of tasks.

    Email tag management in Mailbutler

    To track and organize everything more quickly, group your notes, contacts, appointments, tasks, templates, and signatures for easier visual identification. Once you get a hang of the customizing and synchronizing of the categories, it can be quite a game changer, especially if you use multiple signatures and email templates in your daily email correspondence.

    By relying on this email productivity tool, you can zero in on a project’s progress with utmost precision and organization including all emails, tasks, notes, and people involved. You can use it to organize your projects by stages, priority, or team members. This structured approach prevents overlaps, delays, and errors.

    Filter, Enhance, Advance

    Managing and organizing your email inbox is important in any industry or role. When you achieve that, you will quickly improve how you talk to coworkers, clients, and others. 

    Mailbutler’s time-saving filtering feature allows you to tag emails in Outlook and quickly find messages, tasks, notes, and contacts based on their labels. For instance, you can instantly find all emails related to a specific project simply by searching for the project’s tag.

    Advanced tagging techniques in Outlook with Mailbutler

    Mailbutler improves email tagging by offering comprehensive organization. This allows you to filter, categorize, and sort each segment for better communication. 

    When you categorize your contacts, you can merge them into a specific category. You can go to Contacts View and filter or group them so it’s easy to select those contacts you want to use in the mail merge. Mailbutler offers tag suggestions to save you time, based on the first letters you type. You can access these suggestions in a drop-down menu.

    A tagging match - Outlook vs Gmail

    When it comes to inbox management, both email platforms offer sophisticated filtering and labeling tools for sorting and organizing emails. 


    In Outlook, users can set up rules and filters to automatically organize incoming messages. These rules can sort messages from certain senders or with specific keywords into designated folders.

    Outlook takes automated inbox management a step further with a focused inbox, which instantly separates important emails from less relevant ones. Users can easily transfer important emails to the focused inbox by flagging them. To customize the focused inbox, you can mark certain senders or subjects as high, medium, or low priority.

    Gmail Labels

    Similarly, Gmail offers a filtering and labeling system for organizing where users can categorize emails with different labels. They can also apply filters to automatically sort them into the specified folders. Gmail can sort emails into categories like updates, social, or promotions using machine learning. It looks through all the emails in a user's inbox and categorizes them.

    Suggestions for choosing  email tagging tools

    When choosing email tagging tools, think about what is intuitive and easy for you to use and navigate. If you mostly use Gmail, it might be easier to keep using it instead of switching to Outlook or another tool. Outlook is easier to use because it has a simple, blue-tinted design that is easy to understand.

    But, if you need better tagging, use a third-party tool like Mailbutler. Some tagging systems are complex, but others are easier to use. No matter which platform you use, Mailbutler's tagging tool can improve your inbox's potential.

    Mailbutler vs Outlook email tagging 

    Transform Your Inbox with Mailbutler Tags

    Create and add multiple tags (labels) to your emails and Mailbutler items.

    Outlook has categories that refine your workflow and help organize and color-code your items. However, Mailbutler Tags can be used on other email clients like Gmail and Apple Mail - they have a wider use.

    And more importantly, they enrich Outlook’s existing categorization by allowing you to:

    • Categorize, prioritize, and organize your emails. 
    • Label, sort, and identify your contacts. 
    • Tag, find, and reference your notes. 
    • Prioritize, manage, and track your tasks. 
    • Organize, categorize, and access message templates and email signatures.

    It’s safe to say that Mailbutler's tags provide a higher level of organization than Outlook's categories. They are especially useful for people managing elaborate projects or many tasks. 

    Mailbutler helps manage tasks better and makes organization clearer and more visual. Its features are most useful for managing projects and collaborating with teams because you can tailor them to your needs.

    Troubleshooting common categories (tagging) issues in Outlook

    Tags can help with organization and working together, but sometimes there are difficulties. Here are some common issues and the most appropriate solutions:

    Common email tagging issues

    Tags Not Appearing

    If you can't see your tags in Outlook, you should check if tagging is turned on. Simply go to the Settings or Options Menu and check if the option is activated. To avoid problems, use an Outlook version that supports tagging.

    Tagged Emails Not Syncing

    Sometimes tagged emails may refuse to sync across devices or platforms. If this happens, check your internet connection and make sure you're signed in to the same Outlook account on all devices. If this doesn’t solve the issue, test restarting Outlook or refreshing the email client.

    Related post: How to create a distribution list in Outlook

    Incorrect Tagging

    It is not uncommon for users to accidentally tag emails with the wrong category or label. To rectify this, you’ll need to remove the incorrect tag and re-assign the item with an appropriate one. In order to ensure accuracy, always double-check your tag selection before applying.

    Problematic Add-ins

    Conflicts between Outlook add-ins and tagging can cause unexpected issues to arise. To fix this problem, try turning off the add-ons and see if the tagging works better. If this fixes the problem, you can start enabling the add-ins one by one to find the one causing the issue.

    Final tips

    To ensure Outlook works well, keep your version updated for proper functionality. To prevent mistakes in tagging, regularly check for updates and install them promptly. 

    Please be aware that various versions of Outlook may have differences in tagging and compatibility. Newer versions usually have better tagging capabilities. Older versions might have limited or no support for this feature. 

    To find out if tagging works in your version of Outlook, check the documentation or visit Microsoft's website.

    Outlook email tags FAQs

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