How to Specify the Email Address to Use in a Google Contacts Group

google-contacts-logoSo how many users do you think are on Gmail now? A quick Google search reveals roughly 500 million (that’s about 1/8th of all email users in the world right now).

So how many of them do you think use Google Contacts? Given that it’s Gmail’s default address book, I’d guess 90% plus.

So how many do you think use the contact groups feature? Given that it’s the easiest way to email the same group of contacts rather than typing their addresses over and over, I’m guessing at least 25%.

That means there’s a good chance that at least 100 million people have this simple problem: if a member of a contact group has more than one email address…how do you specify which email address(es) to use for that contact in that group???

It turns out this is a must-have feature of a contact group. I work in high tech, so maybe my contacts are an exception, but nearly 100% of them have more than one email address. And it’s very important for me to use the right email address in the right context, or else I run risk of at least sending the email to the wrong inbox and at worst sending my contact a signal that I’m an idiot and don’t respect his/her boundaries.

And what is exquisitely ironic is that almost nothing establishes context better than a contact group. A company board of directors contact group obviously should use a work email address. A book club contact group obviously should use a personal email address. Of course there are exceptions, but that’s the whole point: you must to be able to precisely control which email address to use for each contact group or you might as not use contact groups at all.

Which is exactly why I have NOT used contact groups with Google Contacts for the last five years. They just didn’t support that feature.

Or at least I could not for the life of me find it. I tried searching at least a half-dozen times.

I finally got frustrated enough again tonight to decide that Google MUST have fixed this by now. So I did another search for it. And by god, this time I actually found it. At the bottom of this three year long discussion of the problem on a Google product forum.

Look at the second-to-last entry. It reads:

Ed, they didn’t make it obvious, but it’s there.  Open a contact.  At the top, under the contact’s name, you should see a list of contact groups that the contact belongs to.  To the right of each group’s name, there should be a small triangle.  If you click that triangle, it will give you a list of email addresses for the contact, and allow you to check the address(es) that you want to belong to that particular group.  Make sure you click “Apply” when you’re done.

Here’s a picture to show you exactly how this works:


Now here’s the supreme irony. The entry was dated 2/3/11.

Unbelievable. The fix has been in place for over four years and I was never able to find it.

So how many of those 100 million Google Contacts group users do you think have been able to figure this out?


Postscript: logging into my personal Gmail account tonight, I noticed they have a new UI for Contacts. And guess what? The group member email address selection feature is gone again.

What is Google thinking?


About Drummond Reed

Internet entrepreneur in identity, personal data, and governance frameworks
This entry was posted in Addressing, Email, Google, Tips and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to How to Specify the Email Address to Use in a Google Contacts Group

  1. If you switch back to the old contact interface, that option will be available again.

  2. Adrien says:

    How to see your “old” contact look:
    1- On the left-hand tab (of “contacts” page), click More.
    2- Click Leave the Contacts preview.

    • Carlo says:

      Thanks, this was very helpful

    • David Stott says:

      Ditto. Thanks. Much easier as well as can simply list beginnings of each recipient in same input box so very quick to set up a new group. Cf weird and inefficient way of setting up a group in Contacts preview.

      Now we just need to be able to access groups from Gmail. Seriously, Google has now removed all reference to contacts from Gmail other than using To: etc to access individual email addresses. It cannot see any groups. Can anyone explain why one would set up a Contact Group OTHER than to email them? Who is in charge of their interface and why are they asleep at the wheel?

      • I completely agree that Contacts seems to be disappearing for Google. Possibly it is due to Google+, which IMHO is no substitute (and has huge issues of its own). I don’t know why they don’t take Contacts as seriously as we their users do.

      • Heather Gilmer says:

        One can type the group name in the contacts to email the group, but NOT from the phone app OR from the mobile version of the website–and the name of the group doesn’t show up in contacts from those interfaces either. One can only use the group from a computer via the website. Because of course if you’re on the road, that’s exactly when you want to go scrolling through and selecting by hand who you want to be emailing to. WTH, Google?

    • This is low located under “Go to the old version”, at the bottom of the left-hand menu.

  3. Conan says:

    Thank you Thank you Adrien. I have disliked what I now know is called the “Contact preview” ever since it showed up. Searching outside my contact list was a major annoyance, and having to add people to a group one at a time, exceedingly frustrating!. Tonight, trying to get my group to use the proper email, I found your reply. I had never seen the “more” way down at the bottom of the list of groups, and didn’t know there was another view to go back to. I have many groups so it was off the bottom of the screen and I almost missed it again, but your reply made me look more closely. Immediately this has fixed three big frustrations for me. So long “Contact Preview”, as far as I am concerned “Contact Preview” is backwards and I am happy to never see it again! Cheers!

  4. Drummond, I just did a test and the first email listed for that contact will show up in the group. Which means that you can create a single group for your contacts but not put their different emails in different groups. Its like we just need one more click and we would switch them per group but I don’t see that feature.

    Click on the triangle next to the user when viewing the group
    It will show you the email being used for that group. Make this email first in their contact.

  5. Richard Marshall says:

    Thanks for going to the effort of creating a blog post. This has been a niggling frustration of mine for years now. Great to have it sorted!

  6. Fredrik says:

    Thanks for this post. However, it would be great if you added a second postscript about switching out of Contacts Preview to re-enable the feature. I thought there was no way to access it, and didn’t scroll down to read the comments, but found that one by chance myself.

  7. Nick says:

    It’s dumbfounding that this can’t be done, or requires so much work to do it.

  8. Patrick says:

    Great blog – thought I was going crazy not seeing a way to achieve this from the modern UI. Even apart from the Group issue, would be nice to flag a preferred email address for a contact so that when you’re creating an email and beginning typing out their name to add them to the “To:” field, the preferred address come up at top of list so that a simple Enter key press selects it. Lasty, someone above mentioned to just reorder the sequence of email address a contact has (since it’s the first one that Gmail works with by default)….I’ve not found a way to reorder.

  9. Michelle says:

    Thank you so much for this. I am finally able to have my contacts the way I want.

  10. EJH says:

    OMG, OMG, OMG thank you so much. This too has always aggravated me. Thank you for the fix (I have gone back to the old view so I can activate this option).

  11. Kurt D says:

    I still can’t get it to work right.

    I can easily create a group, and select a group from the new email TO box, where the group properly consists of only the selected members.


    The group list contains ALL the email addresses for each member, not just the address you would want associated with that group. So whenever I try to send a group email, I must select the group, then further select only desired address from each group member.

    It should not be this hard.

    Group list A, consisting of group members 1 thru 5,
    should contain ONLY each member’s email address which is

    NOT each member’s full set of email addresses, which have to be properly selected for each group email.

    Am I still missing something?

  12. Heather Gilmer says:

    Maybe it’s because I switched to the old contacts view so long ago I don’t remember, but what’s in the screenshot in the original post still works for me. If you go to the contact, each group they’re in appears with a dropdown, and you select which address you want to use for that group.

    Last I checked, though, I still couldn’t send email to groups from my phone.

  13. Christa says:

    The control is gone; I can no longer switch to the old version and so I cannot manage which email address (one or all) should be associated with the group for my contacts. In my case, end user wants emails from me to both work and email, and it is only sending to the default email address

  14. Karen says:

    This has forced me to maintain separate contact lists in a text file for different groups of senders. Thanks, Google, for making more work for me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s