Really Good Emails Team: Straight Talk About Cool Emails And Marketing With Nunchucks

Jun 18, 2019 · 9 min read

Really Good Emails is a service where you can look at cool email designs, its code or upload your own email. Now there are more than 4,150 examples in the collection, sorted by business area and email types (transactional, promotional, informational, congratulations, notifications).

We talked with Mike Nelson and Matthew Smith about how “Really Good Emails” work, what trends to expect in design and what mistakes marketers most often make in email campaigns.

About Really Good Emails

How did the idea of ​​Really Good Emails appear? Where did the first emails come from?

Really Good Emails came out of a hope to see more transparency in the email space. Where do people keep all the best in class emails so we can all learn from them? At the time, they were buried in email inboxes. Not good! We wanted to get them into the wild, so we started a blog that would do that. The first emails came directly from Matthew’s inbox, but submissions really drive the site today and add a lot of variety from places we wouldn’t know about.

Really Good Emails team. From left to right: Mike Nelson, Matthew Smith, Matt Helbig, Matt Cook

What is the main goal of the project now?

Our main goal is to make email a better experience for both senders and receivers, whether that is supporting/building a world class community at the center of all things email or providing tools to get more out of email. We want to inspire and educate at every turn so we’re building products and conducting research that will serve our audience when they come looking for it.

Does it happen that you refuse to accept any emails? What is the reasoning for such refusals?

We refuse far more emails than we accept — roughly 4 out of every 5 on average. There are other galleries out there on the web who collect everything they can get their hands on, but we try to be more choosy about what we publish because our goal is to show off best-in-class emails that will improve and inspire the industry.

Our grading system is built upon more than 20 checkpoints that are summarized by design principles, ethics, strategy, technology/code, accessibility, and execution. The biggest reason a submission doesn’t make it to the site these days is due to the email being only an image. There are so many things wrong with all-image emails that we made a hard stance last year not to accept any more, even if they check all the other boxes.

Really good email checklist. | Source: Really Good Emails

Do you follow email marketing scene/trends in different countries? Can you tell from your experience which country is email originated from?

We encourage all emails that are really good to be submitted, no matter what language or country they come from. Outside of English-speaking countries, we’ve recently posted emails from a variety of places (Korea, Brazil, Italy, France, etc) as our audience grows globally and more emails are sent to us for consideration. We’d love to get some more Russian emails — so keep ’em coming!

About email design

What are the mistakes that email marketers and designers most often make while designing emails? Your top 5.

  1. They use too many colours, fonts, styles. The email gets confusing.
  2. They think the emails have to be long and say everything, but a really good email often says one thing really well.
  3. They often send too many emails and annoy their audience.
  4. They often send the same email to their entire audience instead of doing some simple segmenting.
  5. They use a marketing voice instead of using a more authentic voice in their communication that really connects with their audience.

Not long ago, several major email providers announced support for AMP technology in email. How will emails change with the introduction of this technology?

If this takes off we’ll see the adoption of more robust emails that are super engaging — some known examples being one-click purchases, saving items for later, searching without leaving the email, and the one we’re looking forward the most: dynamic content updates.

Is it always necessary to involve a designer in the creation of the email design? Are there situations when you can do everything on your own?

As emails become more design system centric, we’ll be able to move away from having to have designers and developers in every step of email creation. However, there will always be a necessity for everyone on the team to have a sense of taste before an email goes out the door.

What trends in email design can be expected this and next year?

There are quite a few, but the one that stands out the most is illustrated elements. Using illustrations can bring in a sense of personality and humanity to a boxy and rigid experience like email.

AirBNB’s hosting onboarding email. This is a great illustration to accompany the email that helps me feel at home with the brand. The copy is great and it’s easy to read. | Source: Really Good Emails
A good example of a holiday email that doesn’t overdo things. The illustrations work really well, as does the copy. And it points out the benefits of using Lyft during the holidays as opposed to just offering a discount or something like other brands would. Plus, it’s nice and responsive! | Source: Really Good Emails
This is a beauty! Short content + beautiful illustrations + gradients = really good email. | Source: Really Good Emails

What email design techniques should be abandoned in 2019?

Please, for the love of all things holy, we sure hope lengthy legal footers are killed off. There’s no good way of making those look good. A much better way is keeping your emails truthful and transparent so you don’t need to cite the terms and conditions of every statement. A link should be sufficient if you can convince your legal team to let you do that.

Example of such legal footer in Google’s email. | Source: Gmail

About Really Good Emails newsletter

You have cool emails. How much time does it take to create one email?

On average, about 3,5 hours — that goes up considerably when we leverage profile data for something extra special. The bulk of the usual build is writing and rewriting copy, then editing out a lot of the extra words to make it as short as possible without losing our voice and personality. There’s also the time outside of that which is thinking up ideas, researching and sifting through emails, and reading over what others have published that week — all of which goes into all of the build before we sit down and start the clock.

Source: Really Good Emails’ newsletter

How many people does it take to create one email?

How many people does it take to screw in a lightbulb? It can become as complicated as you make it, but we’ve got it down to one person who does the building. The team helps out prior to that in gathering links, designing graphics, and segmenting the audience if we need it.

Is there any checklist you use to check email before you send it? Can you share it? :)

We’d love to say we came up with something that will blow your mind, but what we do is quite simple once a template has been created: update content blocks where necessary (usually text and images), check for spelling and grammatical issues, send a preview and check the links one last time.

When things go off the rails it is because someone (not naming names) is tired and skips checking those things so he can go to bed earlier. The best emails we create are the ones that have had a lot of time put into them and aren’t created last minute with a rush job.

About additional services: for grammar we use Grammarly (mostly because it is installed on my laptop and I use it for everything I check). We may check Litmus with the first build, but not every subsequent send since the code doesn’t change

What metrics do you pay attention to primarily?

If you’ve seen us talk about metrics, you know that we really hate people paying attention to open rates. Of course, they should be considered, but optimizing only for opens doesn’t do any good.

So what do we use? We’d probably focus on repeat purchase metrics with attribution from email if we were selling something, but the biggest thing we look at is our list health. We’d rather send to a small set of people who are highly engaged than a large set who rarely interact. Thus, we keep an eye on the number of people who are active, how long they have been active on average, and the average number of positive behaviors they have had with our emails over a given period, where “behavior” is rolled up from opens, clicks, and replies.

We’d rather send to a small set of people who are highly engaged than a large set who rarely interact.

You have funny subject lines. How do you come up with those? Is there a secret? :)

Our secret: sleep deprivation and watching comedies right before sitting down to write. We also write our subject lines last after everything else is done (which goes against some core copywriting law written down somewhere).

About the email marketer career and the future of the newsletters

What skills should a cool email marketer have?

  • Knowledge of basic design principles.
  • Powerful prose and a sense of humor.
  • Spreadsheet mastery and analytics.
  • HTML and CSS experience.
  • Understanding of accessibility.
  • Ethical and future-thinking.
  • Nunchuck skills.

We are following the email marketing market and even launched our own research about the marketer’s salary. But we know almost nothing about the life of an email marketer in the US. It would be interesting to know how much does an email marketer earn in the US. What is the maximum and minimum salary?

We don’t track this. We attempted to get this data from a survey we ran last year, but not enough people filled it in to determine statistical reliability on the data. What we know is that your location and experience are the biggest factors, such as living in San Francisco with 8 years of building complex journeys vs Memphis with only a year of organizing an email.

We often hear news that email marketing is dying — it is being supplanted by other communication channels and it’s, supposedly, won’t win this fight for users’ attention. We disagree with this point of view, and have shared our opinion about it on numerous occasions. Are there such trends in America? How do you feel about the news that email marketing is dying?

That news was big about 6 years ago or more in the States, but that is no longer the case. On Business TV Shows, investors will now ask about a company’s email strategy instead of how many followers they have. Because email is an “owned-audience,” it is much easier to track and target while keeping costs low.

On Business TV Shows, investors will now ask about a company’s email strategy instead of how many followers they have. Because email is an “owned-audience”, it is much easier to track and target while keeping costs low.

We often hear that American companies are turning to email marketers from Russia, Ukraine or Belarus because their work is cheaper. How common is this approach?

I personally have heard of India and Poland, but not Russia, Ukraine, or Belarus. But overall, offshoring email is not a common practice.

Who would you suggest following in social networks in order to be aware of email trends?

Chad White: @chadswhite on twitter.
Action Rocket: @actionrocket on twitter.

Blitz: 2 possible answers, you need to choose one and explain your choice :)

HTML or Plain Text?

HTML — you have so many more choices.

Email: Dead or Alive?

Alive — easier than ever to target an audience and show an extremely high return on investment.

AMP or static emails?

Static — we think AMP will pick up, but ESPs will need to build it into their platforms and marketers will need to learn how to use it. So static for now.

Shortreads or longreads in email?

Longreads — an email that can keep our attention for over a minute is one worth reading.

Subject line: creative or straightforward?

Creative — It is harder to do and has the ability to increase curiosity and memorability.

Useful content or promotions and discounts?

Useful — the email should always serve the reader, not the business. If it serves the reader, then their loyalty will increase and the company won’t need to use as many promotions or discounts.

We’d like to thank the team of Really Good Emails for this interview! :D

Please, hit those “recommend”, “follow” and “clapping” buttons, so ‘UniSender’ can see which stories really stand out to you.

UniSender Blog

UniSender is a simple service for email campaigns. We connect you with customers and help your business grow since 2008.


Written by


UniSender Blog

UniSender is a simple service for email campaigns. We connect you with customers and help your business grow since 2008.

More From Medium

More on Email Marketing from UniSender Blog

More on Email Marketing from UniSender Blog

How to improve the effectiveness of email marketing. Part I

Also tagged Email Marketing

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade