Sometimes a client will email me about an urgent problem (for example, if their site is down or students can’t see their courses portal when they log in), and I need to know about that email asap.

The truth is that some emails are more important than others. Maybe it’s a specific person whose emails you never want to miss. Maybe you’ve signed up to a website downtime alerts service and aren’t ready to pay for SMS notifications.

There are a couple problems, though:

  1. We can’t always be in our inbox
  2. The only way in most email apps to get notifications for emails is to get notifications for all emails, which defeats the purpose

Thankfully, there’s an automation for that.*

*Note that it will only work with Canadian and American phone numbers at the time of writing.

Step 1: Create a 2-Step Zap in Zapier

If you don’t have one already, get a free Zapier account. That’s all you’ll need for this.

1a: Set up the Trigger

Next, get your zap started with a trigger. Choose the Email by Zapier app, and select New Inbound Email from the events dropdown.

Create a custom email address that makes sense to you.

And then skip the test for now. It won’t find anything yet, as you haven’t sent anything to the custom email address you just created.

1b: Set up the Action

For your action, choose the SMS by Zapier app, and select Send SMS from the event dropdown.

Now put in the phone number you want to receive texts at. Zapier will send you a confirmation code via text to complete this step. If it doesn’t arrive right away, be patient! Sometimes it takes a few minutes for these texts to show up.

Once my phone is connected, I like to select a specific from number from the dropdown so that I can create a corresponding contact on my phone. It keeps all the text notifications in one, easy to find place.

Then, in the message section, write something that will let you know all the most important details about the emails you’ll be notified about. The screenshot shows an example for a general service alert.

Skip the test here for now as well, since there’ll be no data to work with from the previous step. You’ll be able to test everything soon.

Step 2: Add a Forwarding Address to Gmail (or your email provider of choice)

I primarily use Gmail, so my screenshots here and in the next step will be for that provider only. If you don’t use Gmail, your provider should have documentation specific to them that will help you get this set up.

Step 2a: Add the Email Address from Step 1a

From your Gmail account, go to Settings (click the gear in the top right corner and then “See all settings”). When there, go to the Forwarding and POP/IMAP tab and click the button to add a forwarding address.

Take the custom email you created in step 1a and enter it into the dialogue. This will send an email to that address with a confirmation code.

Step 2b: Verify Forwarding Email Address

Remember how we skipped testing the trigger in your zap? Well, now we’re going to test it.

In Zapier, go to your zap’s trigger and run the test. You’ll see a request in the results with a whole lot of gibberish. Scroll past that until you get to the section labelled “body_plain,” and you’ll find the confirmation code a few lines below the first.

Copy that code and paste it into Gmail to verify your forwarding address.

Or, conversely, copy the confirmation link and paste it in a new tab in your browser. This will also verify the address (and might be easier if you’re using multiple devices to do this).

Step 3: Set up an Email Filter in Gmail (or your email provider of choice)

Now that Gmail is satisfied that this forwarding address is both real and yours, you need to set up at least one filter to tell it what emails to forward there.

Go to the search bar and click the down arrow to get the full search functionality. If you want to get texts for emails from a specific person or service, put their email address into the “From” field. You can use the other fields as needed to narrow this down even further, if needed.

Note that you’ll need to create a separate filter for each person or service, as putting multiple email addresses in that from field will tell Gmail to forward an email only if it or the thread it’s in is from all those addresses.

Once you have this set up to your satisfaction, click “Create filter.” This will take you to where you tell Gmail what to do with these emails.

You can have it do however many things you want, but the action that makes this whole automation work is setting the filter to forward to the forwarding address you set up in step 2.

When you’re done here, click “Create filter” and your filter will be in place! Create as many filters as you need to make sure you’ve covered all the emails you want texts for, or come back later to add more as you find you need them.

Step 4: Finish Testing Your Zap!

Now all we have left to do is test the zap’s action. You can go straight to its testing section, but if you’re including the subject line of emails in your text notification, you’re best off sending yourself an email first. Otherwise, all you’ll have to test with is the Gmail confirmation code email (or not even that if your email provider doesn’t require you to confirm forwarding addresses), and that’s not a very friendly subject line.

I went with an email with the subject line “Let’s see if this works!” and sent it directly to the custom email address in the trigger. Then I ran the test.

When your test is successful, Zapier will show you the text it sent. A few seconds later, you should get that text on your phone.

Once you receive that text, you know that everything is set up and working. Go ahead and turn on your zap and rest easy knowing you won’t miss any more of those important emails!


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