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Edited from the full Ask Leo! Live Event video, available below.
So filters are really nothing more than a way of essentially programing your email service to take action on email as it arrives, which can be incredibly, incredibly useful. And in my way of thinking is one of those features that a lot of people overlook or just don’t really get enough to put it to full use. Now, I do want to clarify, we’re looking today at, like I said, Gmail first and then we’ll take a quick look at outlook.com up. Filters exist in almost, almost every email, service and program.
They’re not always called filters. For example, in Microsoft Office’s Outlook program, not the Web site, but the program. They call them Rules. They are rules that are applied to your email when it’s received or in Outlook’s case, you can also apply rules when email is sent. A very powerful Outlook, the program probably has the most powerful set of rule capabilities of any email program that I’m aware of, but Thunderbird has them and I know that a lot of the other desktop email programs have them as well
The Microsoft mail program that comes with Windows itself does not, which is why I want to focus today on the websites, Gmail and outlook.com. When you even if you use a desktop email program to manage your mail, to download your mail and read it on your PC., the rules that are applied, the filters that are applied, if you’ve set them up in your web interface to that same email account, they will actually take effect immediately as the email arrives and therefore they’ll be done for you before you ever download your email.
So let’s have a quick look at this. This is Gmail, and I’m going to hopefully, I hope this email is very familiar to you, it’s the most recent copy of the Ask Leo! Confident Computing newsletter. One of the easiest ways in Gmail to set up a filter is over here on this vertical ellipses, on the right hand side of the message, you’ll notice I had to open the message to make this appear. If you click on that, you’ll see something called “filter messages like this”. Now,”like this” is pretty ambiguous, but it’s a fine starting point.
What it’s done is it has set up search criteria. That’s really all these are search criteria. And right now, the search is for nothing more than email that is from Leo@AskLeo.com. So any email that comes from Leo@AskLeo.com would match these criteria. I’ll refine the criteria in a minute, but let’s assume that that’s enough. You can see that there are a lot of other options here and I’m going to go ahead and and skip that for now just to get this one basic filter set up quickly. But then we’ll go back and and adjust it.
So you’ll see it says create filter or search. Now, if you just search, obviously you won’t get a filter, but it will actually then show you the results of that search. It’s like having done a search because that is, in fact, all that it is. If on the other hand, you want to just go directly and create a filter we’ll hit create filter. Now, what it’s showing me is that I have a bunch of options. So these are all things that Gmail will do. It will take these actions if we want to. When an email message matching our search criteria arrives so we can do things like skip the inbox, which means just go ahead and archive it.
So I have in my real my real email account, I have a number of things that I am subscribed to that I want the email messages for reference, but they’re not email that I need to process. They’re not email messages that I need to look at when they arrive. They’re just going into my mail system for reference purposes if I want to later on.
So that’s a scenario where I might say, “Skip the inbox”. I might say,”Mark as Read” again so that I don’t necessarily see it as being something that I need to prepare or pay attention to. Star it. Gmail has this concept of stars that you can flag a message if you want to. Labels. Labels are actually beyond the scope of what I want to cover today. They’re very powerful. They are not folders, but they’re very similar to folders. I have an article on how Gmail labels compare to folders. And if you’re at all interested in understanding a little bit better what labels do. I would have you take a look at that article. I’ll make sure to include a link to it in the the notes after this recording is done, has been published, but you can’t automatically apply labels to things. Now this is where it starts to get interesting.
If you like, you can automatically forward it to another email address. The catch here is you can’t just do that randomly. In other words, it’s not a tool for just randomly spamming someone. You actually have to add a forwarding address. And the process for adding a forwarding address actually has you sending a test email to the email address and they then having to accept, they have to be willing to accept email that’s been forwarded to them in this way.
So you can’t automatically forward it to another email address. You can automatically delete it. This is the one that I honestly am surprised more people don’t use. I get a lot of complaints about spam, about messages that people feel should be sent to spam, but aren’t being sent to spam no matter how many times they say that this is spam. This is a way to deal with that. If people don’t do this from Leo@AskLeo.com, please.
But if you were getting email from an email address consistently that you’d never wanted to get in the first place, you could set up a rule that said if it’s from this email address, just as soon as it arrives, delete it, never send it to spam is the opposite of that. So this is the case where you have email coming in from some service or another and from some email address or another. And for whatever reason, Google wants to always mark it as spam. I actually have a few emails, again, mostly reference emails, but that actually end up, this app happens to me all the time where I will get these messages.
If Gmail were left to its own devices, it would automatically just throw it into the spam folder. I don’t want that. These email addresses are so important that I just never want it sent to spam. If it comes from this email address, never send it to spam. I have some on my personal account, actually have some on the business account. A good example of one is I get notified by email when somebody asks a question at AskLeo.com/ask. I never want those to go to spam. Never. So I make sure that there’s a filter then that is set up to say don’t send this to spam. So I’m hoping you do that with your newsletter. Right? The Leo@AskLeo.com email address.
One thing to do then would be to say, “Never send to spam”, to make sure that the newsletter never gets thrown into your spam folder. You can, if you choose, always “Mark it as important”. You can always do the opposite if you like, “Never mark it as important”. Google uses what they call some form of magic to determine what is or is not important to you. If you use that, you can have a little bit more control over which messages do or do not get marked as being important.
You can categorize it. Now the categories, I really don’t like Gmail categories it’s because they tend to move things out of my inbox that I want in my inbox. While really not providing me the opposite functionality of keeping things out of my inbox that don’t need to be there, so I almost always turn this off. But if it is something that you use and it is something that you find useful, that Gmail is actually categorizing most things correctly for you. You can use this to refine it for those cases where Gmail is getting it wrong or you can categorize things specifically. Now also apply the filter to the two matching conversations. In this case, it doesn’t matter. We’ll talk about a little bit more of what that might mean here in a second.
But for the moment, we’ll just say, “Create filter”- boom. We have now created a filter and the filter is simply this: Any email that comes from Leo@AskLeo.com will not be sent to spam. Yay! So let’s go ahead and find out where that filter is and how we might go modifying it to do a little bit more. We’ll go to Gmail settings and settings. And then here, under filters and blocked addresses, you’ll find a list of all the filters that you’ve created so far and exactly what they do. And sure enough, any email that arrives that matches being from Leo@AskLeo.com will never be sent to spam. Very simple filter.
And like I said, this is a very useful one. If you end up having a sender whose email frequently gets dropped into your spam bucket, you don’t want it to be put there. Now let’s edit this. So edit basically allows you to make changes to the filter that you have setup. It starts again with a search. I mentioned when we started that this filter consists of two parts: The search criteria that messages are going to get compared against are going to compared to, to see if they’ve matched these criteria and then the actions that take place, You – and it is literally just a search criteria.
It is anything that Gmail can search for. If you test, search, all you’ve really done is you’ve performed the search without creating or without, in our case, modifying the filter and it leaves the search in the search box so you can see exactly what this search is returning to to you. And if you remember when we started, it was only this first message that was in my inbox. This second message is one that I had archived, but it’s still showing up in my search because I’m searching for all messages that are from Leo@AskLeo.com.
Once you’ve tested your search, in other words, once you’ve identified the criteria for the filter you’re setting up are the criteria you want, you can then go back (that was the little drop-down downward pointing triangle) that brings us back to the search criteria that we’re setting up. Let’s modify the search criteria.
So this time what I’m saying is that the email has to be from Leo. It asked Leo and have the word “confident”, and if we search on that, you can see that both of those two criteria have been met. Leo@AskLeo is the email address and “confident” is part of the email address of the display name for the email address.
So now we have these criteria that match only Confident Computing newsletter that I send out. Anything else that comes from Leo@AskLeo would not match these criteria. So now we’ll go ahead and continue. This time what I want to do is I want to label those things. I want to choose a label.
Well, I don’t have any labels right now, so I’m going to create a new label and we will call it the Confident Computing Newsletter.
Labels can be whatever you like. You can have a bit of a hierarchy to them, if you like. You can have a lot of different labels, If I remember right, there may be a limit of 100, but most people do well with just having, you know, a handful. So we’ll create that label. So now when we get a newsletter that’s from Leo@AskLeo.com with the name “Confident” in that from address we will apply the label, “Confident Computing Newsletter”.
We will never send it to spam, but we already have one of those. In fact, it’s possible if you’re doing this after the fact, you may have many of these newsletters already sitting around. Wouldn’t it be nice to actually apply that label to all of them that are already here? And that’s what this “Also apply filter to the one matching conversation” is all about.
Not only will any new mail have these actions taken on it, but to the extent that the actions apply to existing email like, say, applying a label that will happen here when we update the filter and you can see now that it has the label, “Confident Computing Newsletter”. And I believe, yeah, you can see the labels here after the subject line.
So I want to very briefly review a couple of scenarios that I think filter’s could be incredibly, incredibly useful to the average user, and we already did the first one. That was my very first example. Let’s say we’ve got an email and Gmail occasionally sends it to spam. So that really is the never send it to spam. If you do nothing else to make sure you’re not missing emails, “Never send it to spam” is probably the most useful use of a filter.
The second most useful, honestly, “Deleting it”. Now, if you never send something to spam, what you’ll notice is there actually is no always send it to spam, which is kind of what I was looking for. But if you are getting email that you don’t want to get saying that it’s deleted, in other words, as soon as it arrives, delete it, then you’ll never need to see that email ever again. It’s one way of, you know, if you have somebody who’s constantly trying to contact you and Gmail doesn’t consider it to be spam, even though you’ve marked it as spam multiple times, setting up a filter to delete it can save you a lot of time.
The other thing about deleting it is that, as I mentioned when we started, if you use a desktop email program to download and look at your email, in other words, if, for example, we’re using Thunderbird to manage my Gmail account, which is a perfectly valid thing to do, in fact, I have an on another machine, Gmail. I’m sorry, Thunderbird is in fact downloading my Gmail as my backup. If I were to apply a filter that automatically deleted email when it arrived, that email would also never show up in Thunderbird because it would be gone by the time the Thunderbird got around to downloading it. So it’s a useful way also of managing what email is going to get downloaded. And as you can see when you go back to the to the search criteria.
This these criteria are fairly simple to search, has words and so forth. There are a vast number of search operations in Gmail that you can also apply here as in as if you were searching email without setting up a filter. And those can then also apply. Size is a good one. If you want to make sure you’re not downloading something huge, you could automatically move it say to, you could automatically label it, archive it, whatever. That’s another way of managing, for example, how much email might get downloaded if you’ve got a slow or capped connection.
So anyway, that in a nutshell is setting up filters in Gmail. It really is very straightforward. And yet it is incredibly powerful and the incredibly powerful part really comes down to what happens when you know, what you do with it. You can – labels and categories and marking this read, and those kinds of operations are wonderful ways that you can use filters to manage the amount of email, not just that you receive, but that you actually have to deal with on my, like I mentioned, on my business account, on my business Gmail account. I get a tremendous amount of email that honestly I never look at because it gets moved out of my inbox.
It gets marked as read, it gets labeled appropriately. If I ever need to find something. I know how to find it. I know that it’s there. But it’s not something that I have to deal with on a day to day basis. So that’s Gmail. I think we’ll leave Gmail there at that and let it carry on here in the background. Now, Gmail probably has the most robust set of filtering options of any online mail service, of any web based mail service. However, outlook.com has them, too. They are competing with Gmail. Certainly they are trying to compete with Gmail. Microsoft has been competing with Google for a long time.
And sure enough, they do, in fact, have filters. Now, I’m not talking about this filter. That filter is simply filtering what it displays. In other words, right now, obviously, I have it set to show me all email I can choose to filter, to show me only the unread email, only the mail that’s to me, only mail that’s been flagged and so forth -not really what we’re talking about here. That’s only a view option, something that changes your view on the message as you happen to have. Once again, I’m looking at again what I hope is a very familiar email newsletter that I hope everybody here is getting regularly, and on the right-hand side of the top corner of the message is this time of horizontal ellipses for more actions, clicking on that, then all the way down at the bottom, over or underneath Advanced Action is this thing called Create Rule.
Rules and filters are the same thing for the topic of this discussion. They are the things that happen to messages as they arrive. So the most basic rule that outlook.com is optimized for is that when a message arrives, move it to a folder and you can move it to any number of folders. So in this case, the rule that would be set up if we did anything with this would be messages from Ask Leo! Confident Computing, would, when they arrive, be automatically placed in the folder that we suggest. We could. if this were mail that we didn’t want, this is how you would automatically send something to junk. In other words, mail from sender who is constantly sending you things you didn’t want, you would simply move to the junk mail folder.
You could also archive it. You could also move it to a different folder. Get the idea? This is a way to very quickly just sort of organize your email into buckets where those buckets are the different folders that you may or may not have setup. Instead, however, I want to look at more options because this actually opens up a little bit more of a window into what kind of filtering options are available in outlook.com.
So same rules here: We’ve got for all messages from Ask Leo! Confident Computing – we can add a condition and those conditions are things like are there other people? Are there specific people on the “From” or “To” line? Is my name on this message, for example? Yeah. Or is my name on this message? Is am I on the CC line? If I’m on the CC line, well then it wasn’t a message that was sent directly to me so maybe I would move that to a folder for looking at later; it’s not quite as important.
If the subject includes certain words, if the subject or the body includes certain words, again keywords in the message body, the addresses that are involved. If the message comes in with certain types of markings, your messages can be marked as important, they can be marked as being sensitive and so forth. There are “message includes” – does it have a certain flag associated with it? Is it of a certain type? Does it have an attachment is a big one. If messages have an attachment, maybe you want to move them to a different folder – maybe you want to act on them in some way. Same thing here.
You can see that there’s message sizes available here – at least this big – not most that big. If they’ve been received before or after a date and then finally apply to all messages simply means that any actions we’re about to define would apply to every message as it comes in. So for the moment, I’m going to leave this fine. I’m going to add, you know, the condition from Ask Leo! Confident Computing works great for our example here. These are the actions you can take. You can move it somewhere to a folder.
You can copy it, you can delete it, you can pin it to the top of your inbox, which, you know, if it’s a message from your boss, maybe all the messages from your boss need to get into the top. You can mark it is read. You can mark it as junk, which more or less is the same thing as moving it to the junk folder. You can mark it as being in an important message to get your attention if that is something you use importance for in outlook.com.
Same thing with categories; you can decide you want to categorize the message in the ways that they make it available to. You can forward the message to; you can forward it as an attachment to someone. If you forward the message to, it’s exactly like forwarding it manually. If on the other hand, if you forward as an attachment, what’s really happening is you’re creating a new message that’s from you, of course, to your recipient.
But the message that you’re forwarding is actually encapsulated as an as an attachment, and I believe it then includes all of the original headers in that message that would allow the recipient to actually see exactly all the details of the message, not just those that are traditionally forwarded. Traditionally, you’re only forwarding things like the from, to, the CC lines, but some of the other headers that are hidden in the email message that you don’t normally see, I believe they get bundled up in the attachment, if you do forward it as an attachment. Redirect to, I’m not exactly sure what they mean by that.
And I’m not going to use this as an opportunity to explore. So what we’re going to do here is we are going to mark mine as important and I’m going to say it’s of high importance. So now all I’ve done is I’ve said that if something comes from Ask Leo! Confident Computing, mark it with importance being high; it’s a message that I want to pay attention to when it arrives. “Add an exception”, now, exception is something that Gmail doesn’t necessarily have, but you can say, you know, you can say if it’s from me, but it if it has the word something in the subject line don’t apply these rules, in other words, you can actually get a little bit more refined about exactly what the filters are going to do. You know, if it’s this, but not that. If it’s this, but this other condition doesn’t exist, you can then set up these these exceptions to the rule that you’ve that you’ve created so far. And you can see that these are the same set of criteria that we had before.
So, for example, if it’s from my boss, see if it’s from my boss, I can say up here, but I’m if I’m on the CC line, well, it’s not as important if it’s from my boss and I’m on the “to” line those kinds of scenarios. You get the idea – fairly powerful as a set of exception processing rules with Google mail to talk about it for just a second, I believe that their search syntax is that you could just use in the search bar is sufficiently strong that you could actually do all of these exceptions by providing negative conditions in the search.
So I could do things like if it’s from my boss and I’m not on the CC line. It’s not as obvious from the create a filter interface that we were using a few minutes ago. but like I said, because Google’s search syntax is fundamentally so powerful, it’s their way of approaching the same problem. Here at outlook.com, it’s not search based. They’re not using an underlying search engine necessarily to create this interface. They’re using a user interface, they’re providing you with dropdowns to make the choices that you’re looking for.
Stop processing more rules is an interesting one. And I’m going to just mention it very briefly. Generally, you want this to be checked. If you have more than one rule, if you have more than one filter setup for a message, then the outlook.com will process each one until it finds a match. In other words, once you’ve you’ve matched a message, then you have the option to say, OK, that’s good enough; you don’t need to look at any more of the rules that I’ve setup for my email. This is the one.
On the other hand, if you uncheck this, it will perform the action defined by the rule. But then having done so, we’ll continue to process any additional rules. An example might be in this case, I’ve said that if it’s from Ask Leo! Confident Computing, mark it as high. If we then set a second rule, right now, that’s the only thing that would happen. As soon as that got triggered, that’s exactly what would happen and that would be the only rule, it’s the only rule I have, but if there were more rules, it’s the only rule that would apply. I could choose to say don’t stop processing more rules, continue to process more rules and include things like, oh, if the body of the message includes the phrase I don’t know, Windows 10, then also move it to my Windows, move a copy to my Windows folder.
In other words, you can actually have multiple rules, perform multiple actions on on an email message as it arrives. Most of the time you don’t need to do this. Most of the time what people are interested in doing with rules is very, very simple. And as I mentioned, with respect to the Google mail rules, the same two rules that I think you care about the most are marking something as junk automatically based on who it’s from and a special way and marking as not junk messages that outlook.com seems to be putting into the junk mail folder, even though they’re not junk.
And even though you’ve repeatedly told it not to do so. In a nutshell, that really is filters for both Google mail and outlook.com. At its simplest, it can be incredibly useful to correct the mail service’s mistakes – junk versus not junk, spam versus not spam. In its most complex, it can be an incredibly powerful tool for managing your email, for labeling or foldering or tagging or marking as important or categorizing email according to whatever criteria you happen to have.
Whatever criteria you want to set based on not just who the message is from or who the message is to, but also who was CC’d, what words are in the body of the message. I mean, certainly, you know, a very rudimentary spam filter is really nothing more than a set of rules. If the message has these words in the body mark it as spam, that’s what spam filters do. That’s what spam filters do automatically.
They use a much, much more complex analysis of your email than is available to us here and these interfaces. But if you found something that to you was personally offensive, you could certainly add that and say, you know what, any email message that comes in with this word in the message. Yeah. That’s gonna get moved to spam automatically.
I want to thank you, who are here for attending. I hope you found it helpful. I hope you found it informative. Hey, go out and set some rules if you’re using some of these outlook.com or Gmail. It’ll help you manage your email a little bit better until next time, I’m Leo Notenboom. Take care, everyone. Stay safe, stay healthy. Be kind. Bye Bye.
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