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Who to follow: Really Good Emails

Who to Follow: Really Good Emails (@reallygoodemail)

Really good emails is a grassroots collective of email marketing’s best minds showcasing the email industry’s most exciting work, innovations and developments.

Founder Matthew Smith started the project in 2014 as a simple website displaying some of his favourite emails. Really Good Emails has since seen its team quadruple, with the additions of email marketing/design innovators Sean KennedyMike Nelson, and Matt Helbig.

The site’s growth has also seen its mandate shift over time. As the burgeoning #emailgeeks email marketing community began to spread its creative wings and the email marketing renaissance began in earnest, Really Good Emails endeavoured to delve deeper into the emails it featured, asking the tough questions about exactly what was working, what wasn’t, and why.

The dialogue this analysis generated among the email field’s experts and innovators has since proven to be a driving force in the industry’s development and growth. This, combined with a strong Twitter work ethic, self-deprecating sense of humour, and noteworthy gif game, has made @reallygoodemail one of our phavourite phollows for years beyond counting (well, about 3, actually).


But is Really Good Emails worth listening to for more than 140 characters?

Let’s find out…

An interview with Really Good Emails

Who is “Really Good Emails” and how did this project take shape?

Who are we really? I mean we’re just matter and dust swirling in a universe all colliding toward some kind of wild eventuality. But if you aren’t obsessing over metaphysics then I’d just say we’re 4 guys who are obsessed with helping make our email industry better designed with less spam.

Our email love story began 3 years ago when Matthew Smith created a little gallery website to showcase his favourite emails. Since emails are not really available to browse openly, the vision was to create a site that helped email marketers see what other people were doing and provide inspiration to learn and grow as professionals. A short while later, Matt began looking for help growing the site as it had started to take off and that’s when Sean Kennedy and Mike Nelson joined the team. This was around 1.5 years ago. A little after Sean and Mike joined forces with Matthew, we decided one Matt wasn’t enough and teamed up with Matt Helbig to round out the team.

We honestly can’t even remember how we met. It’s all a blur really. We all come from different backgrounds. Matthew is our design guru, Mike leads in marketing know-how, Sean drives our email train, and Matt tackles our social and community development. We each have numerous years of experience in our own expertise and together we make sh*t happen. Not to mention, we couldn’t be where we are without the help of a number of friends and freelance folk we get to help us from time to time. What really makes what we do work, though, is that we’re all super passionate about email and growing the resources available to the community. I think that’s the only reason Really Good Emails has been so successful. We each do this as a side project outside our day jobs and we’re not paid so everything we do is a labour of email love.

As time has gone on, Really Good Emails has grown to be more than just a gallery of inspirational emails we like. This happened pretty organically for us by just trying to be more transparent about our opinions and experiences about what’s really good and why. So what started as a site with examples has now evolved into publications like our Lessons Learned and Email Exploration articles as well. Where things go from here, is up to you Neo. Oh, sorry, getting metaphysical again.

Why is it important to have a “transparent” platform like this for email marketers?

Whether you are just starting out or have been in the email scene for over a decade, there’s always something new to learn or be inspired by. But most of us don’t have the time to research or sift through billions of emails, nor do we have the access to do that kind of thing (unless you work for an ESP – but even then there are probably some types of legal restrictions). We sure don’t have that kind of time either, but by sharing through the masses we are able to elevate the best pretty quickly and learn together. It sounds kind of hippy. On the other hand, it is pretty selfish because what we learn from what we gather we are able to (hopefully) make a better email campaigns that perform better than our competition.

Our goal is to take the personal swipe file full of email examples and build one that was public, searchable and open for anyone to use. Emails are an ephemeral medium that can lack context and intent. Unlike websites with a static URL, emails can be hard to capture, archive and sort. We believe that a transparent platform that email marketers can hack, share and geek out about can be one of the best learning resources out there.

How has this approach been received by the email marketing community thus far?

I would say well to quite well? Hard to gauge these kinds of things based on what we think of ourselves. But in terms of acceptance by looking at the numbers, it appears that people like what we are putting out there. Here’s just a glimpse of what we mean by that:

  • We’ve had over a million visitors since we started tracking visitors over a year and a half ago, and growing 10% month over month. Plus, of those visitors, more than half return on a consistent basis to check out new additions or look into a different category.We’ve also increased our Medium blog readership from the previous year by 7x.
  • We’ve added over a thousand new emails this year to RGE – which is nearly double the amount we had last year. We are pretty strict on what makes it to the site, but we are seeing people becoming more loyal in submitting and the amount of submitters increase each month as well.
  • We’ve had our email subscription base grow 10x since this time last year, averaging around 50% open rate and clicks around 25% per email (in a very niche market too!). Our email subscribers rock, often personally replying with commentary or thanks. We’ve never sent an email into the wild in any other industry where a reader responded to it by saying: “You guys f***ing rock.” We get those kinds of emails every week. And while growth, opens and clicks are good metrics, those responses are really telling of what people think of what we are doing.
  • We’ve focused our efforts on Twitter as one of our main channels and saw our follower base more than triple in the last year. We love being part of the email design conversation online and have received so much support from people sharing our content.
  • After seeing more interest from web developers and designers on how the submissions are coded, we’ve been archiving the code of each email on Codepen. We’ve built a developer following who are liking, forking, and interacting with our pens.
  • Going to TEDC was kinda like being a celebrity. We had lots of people approach us — so that was different and unexpected. It’s been awesome to see that we’re helping people and they love what we’re up to.

What developments have you seen in email design in the last year that you expect to have a big impact in 2017?

We are just starting to see the phantasm of interaction in email. It always starts like this. I think it’s akin to Apple releasing computers without disc drives before everyone was ready. Within a year or two disc drives seemed unbelievably obsolete—of course that is not the case with earbuds, that’s just silliness. With interaction in email the older clients like outlook (okay just outlook) aren’t ready for this adventure, but the opportunity cost for them not to get on board is too high.

We will buy directly through email. We will interact and manipulate content through email. Companies will tangibly connect with their customers in more personalised ways than the web offers through just cookies. Like being in a living room rather than the front door, email is more personal than the web because of the data available—you’re always “logged in”. If a company’s email serves me well as a customer I’m much more likely to give them my interests in the form of information through clicks because the payoff for more personalised service is valuable to me as a customer.

This is the number one reason that companies should be working on having a modular email design system now, not later. Only with that flexible responsive system will they be ready to start treating the email client more like a web that comes to you. Email should be indexable and searchable. People will expect the same things of email that they expect in the web—that it works, that it’s simple and fast.

Who are some of the companies that are ahead of the curve currently and delivering email marketing that meets these standards? 

Definitely Pinterest is ahead of the curve. We’ve been following them for a good while and even got an insider scoop on how they run their email from a chat with their head of messaging and email, Seth Weisfeld. The details they put into personalisation and the tests they run are what you’d expect from a top-notch team with a global product.

I think as there are so many standards to look at it’s hard to pin one company down over another. A company like Handy is doing an incredible job with their drip campaigns and beautiful accessible emails, but they are all images, so that breaks some of our standards, but exceeds others.

Email takes a lot of time. It’s a tough platform and a giant dung heap of data to comb through to find the golden nuggets (that’s a weird metaphor, but we couldn’t let an interview go by without bringing up poop).

When the rest of the field catches up and every company is delivering top-notch marketing emails, is there a danger that consumer inboxes will become oversaturated and well-crafted emails will lose their power? 

Fantastic question. Best answer is “who knows”, but I think that email still has the benefit of being something that is essentially requested by the customer. Either we request it through a purchase or we request it explicitly through entering our email address and requesting information. We’ve started some kind of relationship and now that relationship can burgeon or sour. I think that’s different than the window shopping that is the “logged out” web. With email, you’re essentially in a persistent “logged in” state and this changes the nature of the relationship.

Do you think there will come a day when the work of the email marketing world will progress to such a high standard that you can say “our work is done here” and move on to the next digital platform that needs your help?

Email isn’t going anywhere for the time being. It’s possible that when VR really takes off and we are totally absorbed into a digital lifestyle à la Ready Player One, then email will be replaced by brain pings and shocks to our buttocks.

Final question, for branding’s sake, who is your favourite superhero?

My Daughter Lucy. The quote above her bed reads, “Though she be but little she is fierce”. This has never been truer of any human being.

Lucy: who to follow: really good emails

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