Anne Tomlin is the Founder of Emails Y’all. She has a celebrated expertise in HTML email coding, and she’s a designer who’s been nominated as the best in the market. Staying abreast of all the latest trends, her testing techniques for email responsiveness are the most-spoken ones.
Expert Diaries from Zoho Campaigns connects avid email marketers to the experts in this space, and help them learn some best practices and tips. Our aim is to connect email geeks and form a community that learns email marketing from one another. Check out our amazing line-up of Season 1.
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Aishwarya: Gone are the days when emails were designed with just single width and plain layouts. Responsive emails shape today’s email marketing design, and help you get your brand’s message out there to your target audience. So, as marketers, it’s important to understand how to design these responsive emails that convert. Shall we get ready to hear some best practices?
Welcome to The Zoho Campaigns Expert Diaries. I’m Aishwarya, your host, and today we’ll be speaking to Anne Tomlin, the Founder of Emails Y’all. Anne has a celebrated expertise in HTML email coding, and she’s a designer who stays up-to-date with all the latest design trends.
Welcome to our show, Anne! It’s wonderful to have you here today.
Anne: Well, thank you for having me!
Aishwarya: So, why don’t we start with the basics?
Can you tell us about how you got into email coding and development?
Anne: Yeah, sure! I’m completely self-taught. I taught myself HTML and CSS, and got a job in web development. And, one day someone asked me to do an email, and I fell in love with it completely, like from very moment.
Aishwarya: Interesting! I love the way you said you’re self-taught because I think that’s the greatest driver for most of us. So I think that would have paved a very good platform for you to learn a lot of new things and then get on to a totally interesting field and grow in love with it.
Aishwarya: So, you have experience in hand-coding PSDs and sketch files to responsive emails. That’s great to know!
What’s the interesting email campaign that you worked on recently, and who was it targeted at?
Anne: Well, currently, the most recent thing I’ve been building has been for Dolls Kill. They’re a fashion brand and their target market is like young women. And, I’m taking them from baked-in text to live text which is exciting.
Aishwarya: That’s great! So live text as in you pull in the feeds from Twitter and Instagram and all of your social handles—something like that?
Anne: Oh, meaning that they used to have the text baked into the image which is not practiced, though. I’m taking them to text that can be loaded without loading the images.
Aishwarya: Oh, great!
What are some trends that you find in these fashion brands because you say they’re targeted at young women, so is there a trend that you notice here?
Anne: Well, umm, I definitely think that fashion brands are more image-centric, so even though they do have, you know, there are certain circumstances in which one has to have baked-in text, I think that the the industry is really moving towards live text. Because some email clients don’t load images on, by default, so you still want to have your message out there—even though the main parts of your emails are going to be images because of the fashion market. Yeah, you can do a lot with live text even if your main idea is images.
Aishwarya: Yeah, that sounds good, actually! And, can you elaborate a little bit on these—what you call as live text—because I thought maybe that would be interesting for the listeners to know; what are the different forms?
Actually, one of the recent formats that I encountered with for live text was how emails were able to pull in live social feeds of brands, and show the various offers and purchases that were there on the feed, and just stock them up in the email. So, are there some trends or are there some formats of live text to be used in the emails?
Anne: I have seen what you’re talking about, with the live feed of the Instagram and Twitter. I have done the the Instagram one on this, on Dolls Kill. But I think the one that I’m most impressed with is the Twitter feed—of the live Twitter feed on Litmus’ email from a couple of years ago. I’ve seen a lot since then; a lot of people do that.
Aishwarya: Certainly! Now that we’re talking about this,
What are some ways that you would suggest to emails more interactive?
Anne: The easiest way to make you know email more interactive is to use hover states so they’re a simple you know little thing that you can do, sort of a progressive enhancement, that you know really brings a little bit of power to the email clients that that support it.
Aishwarya: Nice! That’s a good suggestion that most of the listeners today can pick up. So, let’s talk about your love for emails and languages.
I recently read an article where you’d mentioned that languages involved you more in emails, so is there a connection between these two for you?
Anne: Yeah, I definitely think so! My degree in classics like flattening proof. I studied Latin for 10 years, so I think it might be easier for me to pick up programming languages because I knew a couple of their languages. Yes, it makes a you know me aware of the syntax of programming languages.
Aishwarya: Yeah, that’s a nice tie there, to know the languages both ways both classical and the the actual programming language. That’s nice to know!
How do you ensure better inbox preview and responsiveness when designing multilingual emails, now that we’ve spoken about languages. And, are there any special aspects that email marketers need to keep in mind?
Anne: Yeah, umm, definitely multilingual emails can be a challenge. The main thing is there’s going be difference in like word length; and an email designed in English sometimes doesn’t allow for long compound words like in German or phrases is that take longer to say in Spanish or French.
Anne: Yeah, it’s most efficient when I’m brought in to advise on the design so I can look for things that might become issues in mobile and that sort of thing. If the design is already complete, I play with font size and weights, padding, margins etc., and this gets even more complicated in modular systems. So in that case I have to code the structure to work in all languages without any special changes for the different languages. I take all the languages and test them in the structure one by one, and then code for the longest language.
Aishwarya: Wow, that’s an optimized way to know how do you test because, I totally agree with the point where you said when in English it’s like little words and when it gets translated or seen in another languages it’s too many words because I’ve literally seen knowing French the difference between how a text looks in English and how it looks in French.
Anne: I agree with you. I think one of the best things to do with languages is—test, test, test!
Aishwarya: (laughs) I know! It’s like the code that you should remember when you code multiple languages.
So, you’ve helped perform testing on 46 email clients. Whoa! What are some challenges you’ve encountered along the way?
Anne: Well, I test in every single email. I test with the 46 most popular email clients.
And, I don’t skip; I do all 46 every single time. And, the biggest challenge I’d say is that email clients will make changes to the CSS they support and the code that they insert around my code without any prior notice at all. They just change things and don’t tell us. So yeah, our email developers are just left to scramble and come up with hacks to combat those changes, and there are so many hacks.
Aishwarya: That’s tricky and challenging at the same time for you, to identify these additional elements, sort of troubleshoot, and get the thing out there.
Aishwarya: In fact, I read up where you send all of these 46 screenshots to your clients—is that true? Do you actually test in each of these platforms and actually send them a proof, or the screenshots for them to refer to?
Anne: Yeah, I personally use the Litmus platform and that has all the 46 renderings. And, yeah, every time I’m finished with a project, I send a link to those Litmus results of all the email clients to my client, just to make it and show them it’s absolutely sure that this looks great on every popular email client.
Aishwarya: Wow, that’s transparency to the maximum level, I should say!
You develop emails using Fluid/Hybrid method. We’d love to know more about this. Could you elaborate on what’s involved in this design technique?
Anne: Yeah, sure! Yeah, that technique combines like the rigid structures of fixed-width responsive email with the flexible fluid emails of ghost tables and divs. It was originally created to combat Gmail, way back when it didn’t support media queries.
Anne: It’s, yeah, essentially a way to just stack you know columns without having to use media queries. And, I still use it for the few email clients that don’t support media queries because I have control issues like that (laughs). Yeah, having my email look the best again and in every client is really important to me, and it’s the most in my business.
Aishwarya: That’s a smart work there because now that there are most of these clients that support these media queries, you can go around doing the straight-way backwards for them. And for these that doesn’t support you can still go ahead and do your hybrid or fluid method.
Anne: Yeah, I think so!
If you had to share with us the top three email marketing best practices, what would they be?
Anne: Well, I think the number one would be live text. And I know we’ve already covered it, but just it’s really important.
Aishwarya: Yeah, we’ve more emphasis now.
Anne: Yeah, having the text as part of your images is going to make that text not visible when those email clients that hide images by default.
So, the alt text—you definitely should use alt text and it works okay, but really nothing replaces the impact that you know live text makes.
Aishwarya: That’s a valuable point that our listeners can pick it up today because it’s on a trend and it’s important to understand how to set this up in emails.
Anne: Totally! Let’s see…the other one that I would say is accessibility. And that is a hot topic right now and for good reason. So all sorts of people are going to interact with your email and you need to make it easy for everyone to interact with it. And, that includes like high contrast, alt text, you know role presentation on your tables, etc.
So, is there like a challenge or or you know rather something very difficult for you to access with emails, when you are designing it for accessibility?
Anne: I think the ability to test is quite difficult at this point. There are so many screen-readers available that you know it’s sort of like the email client situation where there are tons.
But, also, we have things like Litmus and Email on Acid to see how the email renders, but we don’t have the ability to test or easily test how an email sounds.
Aishwarya: Mm-hmm. Yeah!
Anne: And, that’s super important, how an email sounds with accessibility. I think there are some things within Litmus or Email on Acid which allow testing in like high contrast, and people with maybe visual difficulties—that’s super helpful; but the listening part is important as well, and I wish there was an easier way to test that.
Aishwarya: Very true, because now I see an increasingly-popular usage of conversational AI. So, it’s not just the people with disabilities that use screen-readers, but more often than not, even normal people do use conversational AI or the voice bots to read out their emails. I think there should be an effective method in the times to come to actually test how this listening experience of emails is.
Anne: I completely agree, 100%. I wish that would be done.
Aishwarya: I think people would pick it up from our conversation and start building on something like that. So 2020 is the year to look out for something that gives us enough optimization methods for listening experiences in emails.
Anne: Yeah, that’d be great!
You’ve been mentioned by Email on Acid as one of the developers making emails better. Congratulations, this is such a great news! How’s it to be recognized as a top email developer, and how do you plan to take your work forward?
Anne: Well, I definitely admire all the other developers that were on that list, so it’s super flattering to include in. I really think the dedication and perseverance to making an email as pixel-perfect as they possibly can be and in all the email clients is like the reason why I was listed. I never take shortcuts, I always follow best practices; so you might take a little bit longer and it might be a little bit harder to code live text like in a weird format, but I honestly believe it’ll give my clients like the best ROI on their email.
Aishwarya: Spot on for such positivity!
Aishwarya: So, we’ve come to the end of this session, Anne! Let’s conclude this session by looking at the future of email marketing.
We already did discuss a little bit about that with our listening experience, but do you have any predictions, thoughts, or trending phrases to describe emails’ future?
Anne: I think, well, the email development is so volatile, that the only prediction I can really make is that it will continue to be a minefield. Email clients are going to totally continue to change things without warning, the best practices are going to evolve, and developers are going to come up with like really awesome email that are going to awe us all. I personally would like to see the global adoption of accessibility like we talked about you know since it’s desperately needed. So I’m going to say I hope that accessibility will continue to be as hot of a topic as it is now.
Aishwarya: Yes! Email geeks, please listen to our conversation today and please pick up that listening experience of emails as the next best trend of 2020.
Thank you very much, Anne! Your whole talk today gave the listeners some important points to remember when it comes to designing their email marketing campaigns. You’ve simplified the whole concept of email coding and development, and I’m sure the listeners today would takeaway relevant design tips, even if they’re not designers, as you’ve made it easy for all of us!
Today’s session highlighted key things one should remember while designing email campaigns for their brand. Subscribe to the Zoho Campaigns Expert Diaries on SoundCloud, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and YouTube, to learn more about email marketing. See you all, until the next time we bring another interesting session!