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Mike Nelson

The need for Really Good Emails: adapt, learn and improve

‘Having worked in digital marketing/design and managing email programs for a long time, I and the other founders of Really Good Emails have always been sharing good examples of emails with each other, team members, clients, and event audiences,’ Nelson explains. But they noticed that all this creative inspiration wasn’t very accessible. Nelson: ‘All these e-mails were locked up in their inbox folders, not viewable by people, who just wanted to browse to get some good ideas. That’s when we started capturing emails, categorizing them, and uploading them to a blog called ReallyGoodEmails.com. Over the past 8 years, the site has transformed into a platform where users can upload, search, collect, share, and collaborate.’

Nelson states that the aim of Really Good Emails is to make email better. A pretty lofty goal, but definitely necessary. Nelson: ‘We still get a ton of really bad emails. We want users to be able to see what the best emails look like so that they can learn, adapt, and get better results out of their own messaging.’

The real importance of email design

How essential is the design of an email? According to Nelson, it is very essential, but maybe not always in the way you think it is. ‘We often say that email is “relationship designed,” but not every email needs to be “visually” designed (for example, it can just be text),’ Nelson claims. ‘Each email, however, needs to be designed in some way. What we mean by that is that there needs to be a purpose, a strategy and a desired outcome. Well-designed emails have to meet all those points. This could be accomplished by having concise, punchy copy and a strong call-to-action. It could be accomplished using the inverted pyramid that utilizes strong imagery and supporting copy to draw the eye to a button. It could be a series of emails that help someone become a better customer or user. If you aren’t thoughtful about the design, you shouldn’t expect better results. Similar to any relationship, the more thought you put into it, the more you will get out of it.’

A fresh view on the most important email metrics (spoiler alert, it is not just CTR)

Data is becoming more important in the email industry. When it comes to design, CTR is considered an important metric. But opinions on how to boost CTR differ. At Really Good Emails they will not tell you that changing the colour of a CTA button will increase your CTR. According to Nelson, the best way to increase engagement (often measured by CTR) is to include content that is relevant and timely to the subscriber – and omit the extra information that blocks them from taking that action. Nelson: ‘Often the most simple emails are the most direct. If you’ve ever watched any of our Feedback Friday videos, you’ll learn that we’re big fans of something we call design golf. As you streamline your fonts, colours, spacing, buttons, text length and imagery, you increase the scanability of the email which helps readers make actions. The more variables you add to your emails, the more complicated it gets for readers to figure out what they should do.’

‘In addition to design golf, we are big fans of watching what content blocks recent subscribers click on. This gives a good indication of what value they are looking for in the email; it can tell you if you need to redesign an email to show off other values that resonate better with them. Some more sophisticated ESPs allow you to tag links based on their category. You can measure clicks by link number reference (such as newsletters that have multiple article links), hero image vs product image, navigation link, social link, etc. Over time you will get a sense of what elements are driving the most engagement.’

‘We also like to look at design metrics by segmentation. Using dynamic content can show if something is tipping the scale when everything else is constant.’

Ultimately, the most important KPI in email design is Unsubscribes, Nelson claims. Nelson: ‘If you are seeing an increasing amount of subscribers leave over time, it will tell you that you are not delivering an email that they want to engage with. Again, design isn’t just how “pretty” something looks, but everything down to the cadence, content, and clarity (the 3 Cs).’

The paradox of WYSIWYG Editor and templates

Working in a tech-centralized industry that likes to stay ahead, email marketers aim to work as efficiently as possible. But striving to work efficiently often inhibits us in our creative thinking, Nelson claims. That is why Nelson coins WYSIWYG Editors and templates as two of the biggest challenges the email industry is currently facing when it comes to design. Nelson: ‘WYSIWYG Editors and templates are great to increase the speed to build an email, but often make emails look homogenous and constrict creativity. You want to stand out in the inbox and an ESP template isn’t going to do that automatically.’

The technical constraints

In email design, code and creativity go hand in hand. Without proper technical builds, we can’t fully make use of the creativity of designers. This relationship is exactly what is holding us back from having great experiences inside our inbox, Nelson states. Making inboxes more flexible and giving email creators additional technical tools will mean a whole new email experience: where people can watch videos, purchase items, change their reservations – all without leaving the email app. ‘as long as ESPs and inbox providers can’t help email creators with making technical emails more accessible, they will look much like they do today. The goal is to get to a point where the email itself is the destination, not to where the email points you.’

Maybe that is why the question of the durability of email often comes up. ‘Is email dead?’, critical thinkers even ask themselves. Apparently, email is considered a channel that has outlived its time, at least to some people. Nelson claims the opposite, at least, if you know what you’re doing. Nelson: ‘Consumers are getting way savvier and can spot spam emails from a mile away. But if you are responsive to readers’ needs, your email program will be very much alive. That is why large open rates and list sizes do not equal successful email programs (unless you are a publication and you are still selling against those archaic metrics). Stop making emails that are one-size-fits-all and make emails that are built based on segments. You will have much better results.’

Where is email headed? Find out at the DDMA EMAS 2022

Email trends can tell us where email is headed (and also what to avoid). Every year Really Good Emails analyses the emails that are hitting their collective inboxes to give them a sense of the elements that brands are adopting to drive engagement. Their research focuses on a lot of visual analysis, such as how an element is replicated in similar formats across a lot of brands. There’s also some quantitative analysis of how many emails we see that have that element.

Nelson: ‘Based on what we know about these elements and their ability to drive engagement, we can extrapolate their effectiveness for each trend. And that’s what I’ll discuss at the EMAS 2022. A lot of people can fall into the trap of copying others. I will tell you when it is a good idea and when it isn’t.’

Reasons why you should not miss Mike Nelson’s presentation at the EMAS 2022

On the 23th of June Mike Nelson will share his insights and thoughts about email and his vision on the future of email. This is an unique opportunity to get inspired. Nelson also added ‘If you don’t come you won’t see this big, strange American.’ No need to say more.

Note: the Email Marketing Automation Summit will take place on the 23th of June 2022 in Amsterdam. Buy your tickets now to ensure your spot in the audience. Get inspired & connected: emas.nu.

Bob Younge

Contentspecialist

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