Create Distribution Lists in Gmail

Sometimes Gmail’s simplicity makes people think it is missing features. A case in point is distribution lists or group lists. Many people think that it’s not possible to send an email to a group of contacts or email addresses. The truth is that you can create personal Gmail distribution lists in a couple of easy steps by using Gmail groups. 

Distribution lists have long been a favorite feature of power email users. They allow you to use a single list name that equates to the email addresses of the people on the list. For example, you could have a personal distribution list called “family” that includes the emails addresses of all your relatives. Rather than typing or selecting each address, you just use the list address. One caveat is that these lists work for your Gmail account, but not to others even if they’re on your list.

Google Contact Manager and Gmail Groups

Gmail does allow distribution lists through “groups”. A group is just a collection of contacts. There are several ways to create groups you can use with Gmail. Google is equally flexible when it comes to adding contacts to a group.

An important point to remember is if you create a group based on search criteria, the group isn’t dynamic. For example, if I create a group based on contacts with the address @timeatlas.com and add another contact with the same domain, it will not join my existing group. Conversely, if I change a group member’s address to @gmail.com that won’t delink the contact from the group.

You can get to your contacts by clicking the Gmail menu to the left of your screen and selecting Contacts.

Accessing Contacts from Gmail

The Google Contact Manager is divided into two parts as shown in the screen below.

[1] This left section shows your existing groups and functions. Some groups are automatically created based on your activities and other Google services such as Google Voice and your Android phone.

[2] The right section displays the contact’s name and email addresses. In some cases, you may see incomplete entries. As example, you may have a contact as a starred entry on Android phone, but you don’t have their email address.

List of Google contacts

There are two basic ways to create groups. One method is to pick and choose the members. These folks tend not to have a common denominator. An example of this might be a family distribution list where people have different names, locations, email addresses and so on.

The second method is where there is a common denominator that you can use the search feature to find these contacts. For example, maybe you’re in sales and placed the term “prospect” in the notes section of selected contacts.

Adding Contacts to a Group

  1. In this scenario, you scroll the list of contacts and check the ones you wish to include. Once you check a contact, the Groups button appears.
  2. Selecting Google contacts for group

  3. Click the Group button and select Create new.
  4. Create new group in Contacts

  5. Give your group a distinctive name and click OK.

Your new group should show on the left side with an indicator of how many contacts are in this group.

contacts group list

Creating a Distribution List from Search Criteria

In this example, I’m going to create the group first. I wish to create a group for each member of the city council. In each of these fictitious contact records, I had added the text “city council” in the Notes field.

note inside Google contact record

  1. Open Google Contact Manager.
  2. In the text box at the top, enter your search criteria and click the Search button with the magnifying glass.
  3. searching Google contact record

    You should see the contacts that match your criteria.

  4. Click the checkbox above your search results to select all the displayed contacts.
  5. filter Google contacts

  6. Click the Group button and select Create new from the drop-down menu.
  7. create gmail group

  8. In the New group text box enter a descriptive name and click OK.

If you click a contact, you should also see their group labels. You can click the down-pointing triangle and remove someone from a group.

contact with label

Emailing the Group

Once a group is created, emailing the members is simple. Although you can email from the Google Contact Manager, most people do it from their Gmail page.

  1. Open Gmail
  2. Click the Compose button
  3. In the To: text box, type the group name. It should appear once a match is found.
  4. gmail group name

  5. Click the Group name and all the members will show individually in your To: field.