AMA: Really Good Emails Team

almost 3 years ago from , Marketing Ops at Digitas / Community at Really Good Emails

Hey designers, email nerds, and mom! (Okay, not mom. She wouldn't ever figure this thing out. But grandma, on the other hand, she'd totally be up for this.) This is the crew from ReallyGoodEmails.com, specifically Matthew (aka Whale), Sean (aka Sean), Matt (aka Helbig), and Mike (aka Mevlow).

We take the best emails that hit our inbox, screenshot them, categorize them, and then post them to our strangely popular website. Then we look for trends based on what people are sending or what visitors are looking for on our site. Sometimes we even write about those things or forget about them because the microwave just beeped.

We also have day jobs to pay our bills and speeding tickets, so we'll be in and out throughout the day. But we are all going to dedicate at least an hour of our day towards answering as many weird questions you have for us.

  • Matthew: Founder of a design firm called Fathom & Draft. He also owns a coworking space in South Carolina and has some pretty sweet kiddos.

  • Sean: One of very few authenticated MailChimp Experts and runs the digital marketing for Mobify in the Great White North country of Canada.

  • Matt: Skilled drinker of fine cocktails and snazzy instagrammer of architecture, he is in charge of all those emails that huge companies send to his agency of employment in Chicago.

  • Mike: Freeloader of all the other things that the guys above do. He also speaks & writes articles when he can get work off as a digital director for some international brands in Arizona.

We'll answer all your questions starting tomorrow at 12pm ET (Wednesday July 13). Ask away!

P.S. If you are looking for some inspiration, subscribe to our weekly newsletter or follow @reallygoodemail where we share our favorite email designs and links.


  • Sacha GreifSacha Greif, almost 3 years ago

    What's a random, off-the-top-of-your-head example of a nicely-designed daily newsletter of, oh, between 4 and 6 design links?

    Just kidding, don't really have a question but keep up the great work!

    14 points
  • Sam SolomonSam Solomon, almost 3 years ago

    Hey guys, I love the site—you guys are my go-to source for email inspiration.

    You guys have seen a lot of emails. I'm curious who you guys think the best company is when it comes to transactional emails—design, copy—the whole package?

    3 points
    • Mike NelsonMike Nelson, almost 3 years ago (edited almost 3 years ago )

      Hey Sam! I've been digging the fitibit confirmations lately.

      http://reallygoodemails.com/confirmation/today-is-the-day-fitbit/fitbit confirmation

      Even though this is how I feel when I use mine... fatboy slim

      4 points
    • Matt HelbigMatt Helbig, almost 3 years ago

      Great question! It's a three-way tie between Square, IFTTT, and Airbnb for me.

      • Square has great looking receipts that can be customized be each individual merchant. They also have a great educational welcome/on-boarding emails across their Square Cash and Square Merchant products.

      • IFTTT has big straight forward emails that let you know exactly what you need to do. From letting you know that a channel is broken or recommending a trigger collection, they have done a fantastic job on letting email do one thing really well.

      • Airbnb crams a ton of useful info in all their transnational and promotional emails. I'm always surprised to see how great their templates respond to all the possible dynamic fields to make each message feel like it was just for you.

      3 points
  • Max LindMax Lind, almost 3 years ago

    Hey Guys! - thanks for joining us!.

    • Seems like email is making a comeback, or maybe it never went away, but more so as of late there truly has been some really good emails (pun fully intended)...what do you credit this resurgence to? Better content? Better email services? Something else entirely?
    • How did RGE come about?...what does it look like behind the scenes? (services you use, tools you rely on, etc)
    • What are your thoughts on email services becoming more and more automated? (especially the case with e-commerce / retail based emails)
    • Do you have a preferred email marketing service of choice? :)
    • What's the coolest and/or most random thing on the internet you keep coming back to as of late? (could be a website, tool, service, etc)
    2 points
    • Mike NelsonMike Nelson, almost 3 years ago

      Hi Maxwell! I'll throw my 2 cents at the first bullet and let the rest of the team chime in on your very extensive/laborious questions

      what do you credit this resurgence [in email] to?

      1. Email marketing software has gotten smarter and ESPs have updated their archaic looking templates.
      2. Email marketing software companies have more money than they used to, and with that has come more research into how much email is a good expense due to its ROI and marketing the hell out of new features.
      3. The latest ROI reports haven't hurt either, encouraging those to embrace email as one of the best channels to invest in.
      4. Those that were put on email because their boss told them they had to do it have learned over the years what works and what doesn't.
      5. Marketing Conferences and websites like ours (or design websites in general) that openly talk about email's influence/impact or show off new looks.

      good answer

      1 point
    • Matt Helbig, almost 3 years ago

      Behind the scenes Really Good Emails can get a bit crazy. As a fully remote and distributed team we try to collaborate on stuff as much as possible. We currently do a bunch of stuff by hand including editing code, screenshots, categorization, reviewing submissions, etc. Here are some of the tools we use on a daily basis:

      • Litmus Scope : We use this tool to easily see the code behind any email. Very sneaky.
      • Codepen: This is where we throw code to manipulate it and see if other coders find it interesting.
      • Sketch
      • Tweetdeck: Lots of keyword searches set up so we can see what is popular in the email design world.
      • Buffer + Audiense: Scheduling tweets to have the most impact.
      • Slack: All of our strangeness gets thrown up here. Plus it doesn't bug us in the middle of the night like a text does.
      • Grammarly: So we know that our copy is readable and we don't use a semi colon in the wrong place.
      • Google Analytics + GAget: Insight on what pages people are visiting and traffic growth.
      • SumoMe: Email capture and list growth. We also use their Heatmap tool to see what is working on the site.
      • BuzzSumo + Feedly: Looking for the best links for twitter and our newsletter.
      • Campaign Monitor: Our ESP of choice for our emails.
      1 point
    • Matt Helbig, almost 3 years ago (edited almost 3 years ago )

      The coolest website I keep coming back to is Pieratt's link archive Daywreckers: Works and URLs so good they fuck up your day.

      Plus Vine Popular Now TV mode. It's the fastest way to watch the top 100 vines of the day.

      1 point
  • Kieran RheaumeKieran Rheaume, almost 3 years ago

    It feels like content online is becoming ubiquitously visual. Almost every tweet has an image, and Slack has made huge, pretty link previews the norm.

    That said, can copy - and only copy - make an email really good? In aggregate, have ya'll seen a sharp decline in plain text emails?

    Thanks gentleman, keep doin what you're doin. For the record I'd eat up a plain text email with your copywriting ;-)

    2 points
    • Matt Helbig, almost 3 years ago

      I think a well designed email will usually beat out a plain text email for B2C. That is just my personal opinion.

      I love a well written email. I'm a fan of the Just Good Copy and great email copy sites.

      Joanna from CopyHackers is also currently hosting an Email Copywriting Challenge with some amazing entries so far.

      2 points
    • Mike NelsonMike Nelson, almost 3 years ago

      If it is B2B, then I haven't seen much of a decline at all. I have probably seen an increase in plain-text email from people who are knocking at my door to introduce their services - probably because it makes it look like that personal touch until you notice that the reply email address isn't readable.

      sneaky email

      But most of the emails that are submitted to the site are definitely in HTML, so that can make the site look like it prefers HTML with images. In clarity, we usually do. But we would feature more if the copy was good and it caught our attention (this email from mailchimp comes to mind.)

      3 points
  • Steve Bryant, almost 3 years ago

    What are your thoughts on countdown timer services such as MotionMail, to create a sense of urgency for promotional e-mails? Are they worth the extra investment for a small business to increase their ROI?

    Love the site by the way, use it all the time for inspiration!

    1 point
    • Mike NelsonMike Nelson, almost 3 years ago

      I personally think that they look cheap. That doesn't mean that they aren't effective. I would see if any of those companies would do an A/B test (one with a countdown, one that just tells when the deadline is) to see if it is cost-effective for your company (since I don't know the size that you are dealing with).

      Also, I would check out this timer that doesn't rely on images - built by stylecampaign

      1 point
    • Sean Kennedy, almost 3 years ago (edited almost 3 years ago )

      Personal opinion here. I think the rise in times is really nice. However, for the extra work and costs I'd be interested to see the data from A/B testing vs. an email with just a "12 hours left" type heading.

      ESPs can detect where someone is by their IP so you could just as easily send an email based on their time zone with a static specific time left. I've also seen GIFs that have a timer on a 60sec loop (most people won't see the full loop before closing or clicking something).

      So are they cool? Sure. Worth it? Hard to say without testing — every list is different. MotionMail has a free version and has a $10 version for unbranded that you could test before investing more resources into it.

      If your test shows more people engage from the small investment then I think it's a no-brainer.

      Thanks for the kind words! :D

      1 point
    • Matt HelbigMatt Helbig, almost 3 years ago (edited almost 3 years ago )

      Hey Steve! I'm a big fan of MovableInk. Take a look at their gallery and see what other brands are doing.

      There are many other ways to have a sense of urgency in your emails (subject line, preview text, offer, CTAs, etc.). A countdown timer is just one way to make your email stand out.

      It might be worth it for your company. You won't know until you test!

      1 point
  • Walter VANROOYEN, almost 3 years ago

    Shouldn't AMAs be done on reddit? :p JK. My question is– I've been doing email marketing for six years, but have always have had a designer do the coding OR used the ESPs Drag and Drop system. Starting my own company, I really want to get into coding emails, I love the flexibility - What's would be your go-to resource for coding email for a brand new n00b? Thanks guys

    1 point
    • Matt Helbig, almost 3 years ago

      Hey Walter! I'm not sure if r/emailmarketing likes us. Designer News is way more friendly.

      I would check out the Courses and Tutorials/Guides sections on our resources page.

      I think Fabio from MailChimp does one of the best intro courses on Skillshare. I would start out with that one and use some frameworks like Salted to see how things are laid out. Best of luck with the new company!

      0 points
  • Scott ThomasScott Thomas, almost 3 years ago

    Thanks for the time your team for creating such a great resource. I refer your site to majority of my clients.

    Off the wall question.

    Do you have any tips, advice, or problems that you came across while bringing this amazing side project to life?

    1 point
    • Sean Kennedy, almost 3 years ago

      Time!!! :P

      We're all working on RGE from the side of our desks and burned our share of midnight oil. Fun fact — most of our emails are made between 10pm and midnight.

      But we love what we do and it's our subscribers and fans that keep us going. :)

      I think the other problem we face is keeping our content fresh and interesting. We're always asking ourselves if this is something our subscribers would want. We feel like we've got a good grasp of who our audience is (we have lots of designers, which is why we're on DN! :D) and use that to guide a lot of our decisions.

      For you or any email marketer, you really need to know who you're marketing to. It's common sense for marketers but many forget. Especially with email when many emails are an after thought and just "blasted" to the masses.

      Lastly, best piece of advice I can give is to make something you would want. We love email and built RGE around what we would want as marketers. This has helped us build a community of like-minded people also passionate about email. Not to mention, it makes it easy to write for. Do we like it? Great, then everyone else will too! :)

      Thanks for the question Scott! <3

      2 points
    • Mike NelsonMike Nelson, almost 3 years ago

      Biggest problem that I see is lining up everyone's schedule. We are all remote and have other day jobs that keep the lights on. So that means a lot of timezones that we have to consider for our meetings (like me doing this on my lunch break, for example). That also means that we do a lot after work, which cuts into our sleep or time away from people we love.

      To deal with that, we have ongoing meetings set up and try not to bug each other on the weekends. Then we check in and out on Slack so we are up to date on what everyone is working on. But like Sean said, sometimes that means getting together after we've put our kids to bed and then work on projects.

      Speaking of projects, we started with Trello, moved to Asana, and are now trying out Todoisit to keep us organized. When it comes to documents, it could be on dropbox, quip, or google docs. That part of the backend is still a little messy. I would recommend getting everyone synced to one software and just stick with it.

      As for real problems, I think the only one we've had in the past year was that our bandwidth charges were getting super expensive for us. Luckily, Flywheel helped us out with that. Our other partners have been pretty good to keep us motivated too.

      2 points
    • Matt Helbig, almost 3 years ago (edited almost 3 years ago )

      Time and prioritization. We all want to build all the fun stuff all at once. We try to make sure what we are working makes sense and is what people want.

      My advice with side projects is to just start doing it. Putting something out in the wild is 1000% times better than just having that idea in your head.

      1 point
      • Scott ThomasScott Thomas, almost 3 years ago

        Thanks Mike, Matt, and Sean for all your input and words of wisdom. I think everyone has a side project noodling in their heads. Helps hearing from people that were successful and love it.

        0 points
  • john Cooper, almost 3 years ago

    Thanks for AMAing today guys!The question is REALLY responsive email. As an industry we talk about responsive email alot. However it only works kinda sorta. What are you reccommendations for truly responsive email solutions either by a vendor like MailChimp/Campaign Monitor and then for in house dev teams. Thanks!

    1 point
    • Mike NelsonMike Nelson, almost 3 years ago

      Yo, John! Because more than 50% of emails are opened on something other than the desktop, responsive is something you have to consider. In Yesmail's responsive report put out q4 of 2015, it shows that responsive emails perform better on Clicks and Click-to-opens. So if you have the resources or can use a template from your ESP, I'd definitely go with those.

      0 points
    • Matt Helbig, almost 3 years ago

      MailChimp/Campaign Monitor and most good ESPs should all have responsive templates.

      Email designers and coders should be thinking mobile first and outputting a responsive/hybrid email if possible.

      I don't think there is a "truly responsive email solution" while also supporting all common email clients. Working with a developer and testing to get the best experience on most devices is likely as close as you can get. Most ESP templates should be good enough with some tweaking for your content.

      0 points
  • Ngoc Anh Vo, almost 3 years ago

    Hi guys,

    I love your site a lot. I have learned many things from it Then I want to know how to set KPIs for email marketing? I mean types of information I should concern to set KPIs.

    1 point
    • Matt Helbig, almost 3 years ago (edited almost 3 years ago )

      Thanks so much! I like this post from Chad White: The Pitfalls of Email Marketing Metrics & A/B Testing. He is the smartest email person out there.

      Revenue Per Subscriber seems to pop up a lot when I talk to other email marketers. I personally think open rates/click rates are good indicators that you are not messing up in your emails. Email marketing should't be all about conversions. It should be about providing value to your customers and building a relationship with your audience.

      1 point
      • Mike NelsonMike Nelson, almost 3 years ago

        Ditto. I'd also add unsubscribe rate. Keeping an eye on that is always a good indicator if the message/frequency are on point.

        2 points
    • Sean Kennedy, almost 3 years ago

      Beyond click and open rates, it's also good if you pull together an engagement rate. For example, people may not click or open every email you send them. So it's good to know how many have engaged with you in the last 6 months. How active is your list or is it the same 40% week over week?

      Having a 40% open rate is one thing, but knowing that 80% of your list have opened or clicked in the last few months at least tells you your list is active and maybe refine what causes some to open one week vs. another.

      Personally, I've been look at this a lot lately with ideas to build re-engagement emails for those who haven't engaged lately. And if someone hasn't engaged for a long enough period, don't be afraid to unsubscribe them from your list either. I'll take a quality list over a big list any day. ;)

      2 points
  • Andrea Bridges-Smith, almost 3 years ago

    Hey guys! Huge fan of your work! Which brands do you think are doing a good job of using humor in email? There's you guys, of course, Chubbies, Moosejaw, The Skimm - any others?

    1 point
  • Ryan Coyle, almost 3 years ago

    My company is in the process of designing an email newsletter template. It is very important that there are a lot of visual components, but it needs to be HTML and responsive to help open and deliverability rates. Are there any other best practices we should use to help with deliverability rates? Also interested in hiring a designer and coder for the template.

    Thanks, RC

    1 point
  • Andrew Hernandez, almost 3 years ago (edited almost 3 years ago )

    I'm hoping this isn't too much of a rookie question. I was wondering if you could put the div vs table debate to rest. I am fairly new to email coding, I have done email designs for a couple of years now and I am trying to get into the coding side. I've read a lot of articles about why tables are best for email but have also noticed when scoping other peoples email code that more often than not I see div's all throughout the code.

    Thanks for everything you guys do.

    1 point
    • Mike NelsonMike Nelson, almost 3 years ago

      Unfortunately, I don't think that this debate will be killed because one of us says one thing or another. My answer is to do just what seems easiest for you to build. If it doesn't break (use Litmus or Email on Acid to check that), then all is good in my book.

      2 points
    • Sean Kennedy, almost 3 years ago

      Hey Andrew!

      If you're coding your own template, stick with tables. It's the most stable and trusted way you can ensure your email will work in the ever growing list of email clients. Especially Outlook (sigh).

      If you're seeing divs in emails, it's most likely built by an email builder like MailChimp's drag n' drop editor or Campaign Monitor's builder. Both are excellent and they use divs with a ton of CSS to style and support them in the different browsers. But save yourself the headache and just stick with tables. :)

      Thanks for the questions!

      3 points
  • ron palejwala, almost 3 years ago

    What are some good tactics for managing frequency at a bootstrapped startups (advance analytics is not an option) aside from blanket limits to the number of email sends per week?

    1 point
    • Matt Helbig, almost 3 years ago

      I think Elliot Ross from Action Rocket tweeted something a while back basically saying "The best send time is when you have something to say."

      When managing frequency just ask yourself: Is this email actionable? Would I want to receive this email?

      Most of the time people don't care about all the little changes in your startup. Show a sneak preview, have a CTA to spread the word, or ask for feedback. Don't flood your user's inbox before they get a chance to try out the product.

      0 points
  • ron palejwala, almost 3 years ago

    When is it better to have ah single welcome email vs. a welcome series? Vice versa? What are the tradeoffs between them (unsub rates, customer understanding, engagement, etc.)?

    1 point
    • Sean Kennedy, almost 3 years ago

      Hey Ron!

      This really comes down to what you're offering. If you have a complex product like a SaaS tool or something where you want to educate your subscribers with all you have to offer or how to use it, doing so in a weekly series might be a good option. This helps with not overwhelming your subscribers with too much info upfront and getting them onboarded.

      At RGE, we've actually been talking a bit about this and everyone should have a good Welcome email (yes, even us — something I'm working on right now!). But the welcome series we've classified as more of an onboarding type of email and not something everyone needs.

      And if you're getting unsubscribes from your welcome email or series, then there is definitely something wrong if people leave as fast as they join (ie. subscribing people without them knowing). ;)

      2 points
    • Matt Helbig, almost 3 years ago

      I agree with Sean! I think one general welcome email can work. A set of 3-5 nurture or onboarding emails can also help people understand what your product can do.

      If you can figure out what actions your customers must do in the beginning to be more engaged with your product (hook up more accounts, add team members, etc.) it can be good to nudge in that direction.

      As long as you are providing value in your emails and your product, don't worry too much about early unsubscribe rates.

      0 points
  • Mike Kelly, almost 3 years ago

    In a world where one has to compose a bunch of type into a graphic in an email, and where we also want decent readability on mobile, is it reasonable to think that one could swap out a different graphic (containing said type) with media queries?

    1 point
    • Matt Helbig, almost 3 years ago (edited almost 3 years ago )

      Hey Mike,

      Great question! That world does exist. You can use @media queries to basically show or hide the different images at different breakpoints. So on desktop you should hide the mobile, and on mobile you should hide the desktop images.

      That technique isn't supported across all clients, so I would also suggest making the text live (all image emails kinda suck) if possible or making the text larger for mobile.

      I would play around with some of the emails on our Codepen to try some different responsive views. We also have a resources section with lots of guides and tutorials.

      0 points
  • Hendrik Laubscher, almost 3 years ago

    Guys, thanks for a superb newsletter and for providing a place of email inspiration. How do you all see pop ups to drive newsletter list growth? Is it okay or what do you use to grow your list?

    1 point
    • Sean Kennedy, almost 3 years ago (edited almost 3 years ago )

      Hey Hendrik! No problem. Glad we're able to inspire you. :)

      With pop ups, it's a love hate relationship. No one likes a pop up but you can't argue with their results.

      We currently use SumoMe for our lead gen tools on the site but there are others like Hellobar, Optin Monster, etc.

      I think it's OK to use those tools but important to make sure you're not annoying people with them. There's a balance.

      We've been happy with ours though and have helped us grow our list a lot over the past year.

      2 points
    • Matt Helbig, almost 3 years ago

      No problem! I think popups can be used tastefully to drive list growth. We've seen some nice results using SumoMe. It doesn't hurt to let people know that you are sending relevant content in a newsletter. Be clear on what your newsletter is about and the frequency so people know what to expect.

      We have a list growth section on our resources page with some of our favorite links.

      1 point
  • Giovanni HobbinsGiovanni Hobbins, almost 3 years ago (edited almost 3 years ago )

    Question for Matthew. What are your thoughts on doing the design firm thing vs. working for/starting a product company? I know you've seen both sides of that. Interested in hearing your idea behind starting Fathom and Draft? Why now?

    1 point
    • Matthew Smith, almost 3 years ago

      @giovanni. Great questions.

      1) I'm currently doing both in a sense. I'm working hard on Really Good Emails while running and building Fathom & Draft which is a full service design firm. I think the choice for me came down to what made me happiest. I did about 6 years of running creative for other companies with exciting possibilities of payouts, but that never happened for me. I like being closer to the steering wheel. I'd ask yourself what makes you feel the most happy, most free? What makes you feel like you get your best work done? Ask your friends. Ask your spouse. I'm SUPER happy doing what I am now and making twice what I was making at those product companies :D

      2) Starting Fathom & Draft is the culmination of all that I've learned in the last 10 years. I am taking on giant and medium projects alike—but nothing I don't love. I get to build teams based on who I want to work with and who fits the challenges we're facing. We are working with companies in the Fortune 10, and we're working with small startups. We love making meaning, and creating real value. I hate doing design that's not getting business done. It's just not for me. I'd rather be valuable than sexy.

      Plus to my point before I just love doing my own thing. I like knowing that if the shit hits the fan it's on me. It's either in my control or it's in God's hands. It's either something I did well, something I did poorly, or it's a volcano or the flowers coming up that I can't do anything about.

      Are you thinking of starting something? Are you thinking of working for a startup? When you're making decisions I recommend reading "Decisive" https://smile.amazon.com/Decisive-Make-Better-Choices-Life/dp/0307956393?sa-no-redirect=1

      Great question man!

      2 points
      • Giovanni HobbinsGiovanni Hobbins, almost 3 years ago

        Thanks for the insight!

        We spoke on the phone a few years ago. I was asking for advice on my startup's product (campusbubble.com). You had great advice. Since then, we sold the business and I've joined the team at FullStory - a more established analytics startup here in Atlanta. Definitely learning a lot from my experienced coworkers and finding a lot of value in being around a great product and internal company processes.

        Still, it's hard to ignore the itch to be doing my own thing again eventually. We've been hearing a lot of negativity around the future of design agencies (vs. in-house design) so I wondered why you went that direction. I get it, though. I definitely identify with a lot of the reasoning you mentioned.

        p.s. Would love your feedback on the FullStory product. I imagine it would be valuable for your work at Fathom and Draft.

        1 point
        • Matthew Smith, almost 3 years ago

          @giovanni! I recognized that name but couldn't place it. Good to hear from you again :)

          I've used Full Story when I was at Relay Foods. I think Chip Lay is good friends with those guys. Congrats on joining the team and congrats on the sale of the product!

          The people who are feeling negative about external design teams in my opinion are either feeling that way because they didn't know how to run a business and make money making meaningful business for their clients or they may not understand the value of a group that is not as tied to the product. As I go to a counselor or coach for outside insight, so to our clients come to us similarly.

          Not every product deserves a team. Not every product needs outside insight. There's SO many ways to do things and lots of business getting done on the internet :)

          Maybe we could figure out a way to use Full Story for Really Good Emails and you all could help us use it wisely and write about what it's doing for RGE? We love helping others grow!

          1 point
  • Vipul. MishraVipul. Mishra, over 1 year ago

    Hey Guys, glad to see Really Good email AMA here.. The entire discussion is very insightful and engaging.

    There's so much knowledge here that someone should Do a blog on this.. (May be our friend Mike will take the lead here.. :) )

    Great job!! Keep up the great work.. :)

    0 points