Email marketing – a bit of a rant

As developers we hate it. But I have to admit it is an unnecessary evil in my (current) world as an agency web developer. Lets face it – it works.

So here it is, the blog on the dreaded subject of email marketing from a my point of view, why we hate it, how we can make it work, what people can do to make our lives easier and campaigns more efficient and effective.

Why don’t I like building emails?

This is simple. We love accessible, semantic, standards based code. We do not like going back to techniques used over 10 years ago. We have to use out of date layout techniques and the code is long winded, complicated and boring to produce. It wouldn’t be so bad if we could use the same HTML and CSS standards we use for web sites, but unfortunately it isn’t an option. Not if you want your campaigns to include the creative idea that you are so sure will work, at least. And this doesn’t look like changing anytime soon.

If you haven’t seen the problems with Microsoft Outlook 2007 using Microsft Word to render emails, then the internet is full of disgruntled people. Actually, I’ll help you with that. Don’t get me started on Lotus Notes.

It isn’t our fault animated gifs don’t always work. Flash can’t be used. Hell, even background images don’t work. These points ARE NOT OUR FAULT. But it still provides a hot topic of discussion between designers/concept teams and us developers. Trust my judgement, look at how long I’ve been doing this, we do actually know what we are doing, although maybe you and your great idea are more important than everyone seeing it as intended. Or doesn’t that defy the point altogether.

There are hundreds of different software, webmail and operating system combinations for us to work to. If you want your campaign to work in even 80% of them. Please listen to my advice, not just try to replicate your print campaign in an email. They are completely different mediums.

What works?

Again, simple things.

Keep your text to standard web fonts. Don’t rely on background images. Don’t ask for Flash or an animation. Keep the layout simple. The fewer images the better. Yes we can code so things will degrade gracefully, but if the client views the email in their inbox (compared to the signed off HTML file they viewed in a browser) with missing design elements they liked, it won’t be your fault, it will be mine. So please just make the designs possible in all clients.

Unless of course you have stats showing 100% of your recipients use an email client that supports animated gifs or background images – but first of all that is unlikely to be available, let alone likely to ever happen!

Even so what people don’t seem to understand is that everything doesn’t have to happen in an email. We have awesome tools in jQuery, Flash, and even simple HTML/CSS that can impress and prompt customer action better than an email. So a well thought out simple email to get people to somewhere showcasing the creative concept and getting customers interacting will work better than trying to contain everything in someone’s inbox. I find that a simple concept to understand. Why can’t others!

In the words of Columbo…

Just one more thing, if I can get on with building sites because I don’t have complicated email discussions going back and forwards, I will be happier. Of course sites are what I love, so if emails could disappear completely I’d appreciate it.


Finally, here are some good email resources, not that you’ll probably read them anyway. All are from Campaign Monitor, because they are good.

What am I?

The reason I ask is because the variety of job titles for my role astounds me. As Stanton, Ryan and Sarah mentioned on the Boagworld podcast episode 176 the number of job titles is never ending. Consider this, I have seen all the below job titles for my role or roles within my day to day responsibilities:

  • Front End Developer
  • Web Author
  • Client Side Developer
  • Web Designer
  • Web Producer
  • Web Programmer
  • User Interface Developer
  • Digital Strategist
  • Web Manager
  • Digital Developer

What do any of these mean? For my part, I believe that Front End Developer covers all the bases. Web developer will cover front and back end work and server side (or back end) developer will work for,  you guessed it, server side developer.

I don’t know if it is because of the young age of the industry, or if people are trying to create the most impressive sounding titles for themselves or their staff, or if it is HR not understanding what somebody does.

Why would this worry me? I worry because I currently have the title Senior Web Author. What I don’t want is people to read that who has a different definition of the role and immediately discount me from anything that I may suit. If I were offered the role today I wouldn’t expect to be heavily involved in HTML/CSS and Javascript development, but I would think that an author would be more involved in content authoring.

The same works the other way, I may be looking for a role and find that I completely miss my perfect job because it was advertised as a “web designer” role. Would I expect designers to build code? Not nowadays.

This specificity us geeks now show may be a direct contributor to the current job title confusion. Back in the early days a web designer will probably have had to build the site they design, but with technologies needing such attention, people really need to specialise as early as possible. The old saying “jack of all trades and master of none” applies a great deal in our industry.

Of course a lot of companies (including my employers GyroHSR*) are still trying to determine the best structure for their digital department, the job title situation may get worse rather than better, but I hope that anywhere I have influence we can set the following roles, all that should be needed in a web site development process, especially the small to medium builds I am involved with:

  • Project Manager
  • User Experience/Information Architect
  • Web Designer
  • Front End Developer
  • Server Side Developer

And User Experience/Information Architect and Front End developer roles are the ones I look out for. How better to start trying to select something new when you know the organisation has similar structure ideas to mine.

Please comment if you have any job titles I missed, or any suggestions for jobs I might look out for I would normally skip in the listings!

* I had NOTHING to do with our terrible web site, by the way

Thames Turbo Race 2

Monday 4th May: So the time came to beat my rather slow time of 1:14 for my first Thames Turbo Triathlon race in April. I was confident I was stronger in the water and on the bike, and it turns out I was, 2 minutes knocked off the bike and almost 1 minute off the swim. Very good. Problems occurred when I dismounted from the bike and found that my knee didn’t work very well. Hardly at all in fact.

The stumbling back into transition and subsequent struggle to get into my shoes prompted attention from the marshalls around me, and after careful consideration and advice I decided to not even try and start the run. A quick check to the paramedics to check I wouldn’t lose my leg or anything and I was sent on my way. Disappointing end to my race, but caught up with a few people I hadn’t seen for a while and made some progress in the parts I could do. Continue reading “Thames Turbo Race 2”

FOWD 2009

Future of Web Design over with for another year then and I have to say my first conference was an overwhelming success. Started well, with meeting @boagworld, @stanton, @ryanhavoc, @mikestickler, @anna_debenham, @nofont, @BHardcastle and @dkirk (twitter usernames of course) in the Prince of Teck at Earl’s Court, unfortunately had to bail to finish the current Virgin Insider build, but alas it was still fun. Except the getting stick for not having an iPhone, however after the next couple of days I definitely want one. I just upgraded on Orange. Bugger.

Molly Holzschlag on stage at FOWD 2009 - Flickr image from user: vectorfunk
Molly Holzschlag on stage at FOWD 2009 - Flickr image from user: vectorfunk

Continue reading “FOWD 2009”

Google are really annoying sometimes

You know one thing I really hate. When I open a browser window and start typing a web address, only for my Google home page to load and remove focus from the address bar to the search box.

It annoys the hell out of me when I want to got to a web page and end up searching for or and so on. We (well most of us) know you shouldn’t move the user focus with out them expecting it and this is a prime example of this.

It annoys the hell out of me, and there’s nothing I can do. Maybe its time to dump google as a home page. The new Yahoo! home page actually looks quite nice – maybe its time to switch back there after all this time. We’ll see when it launches to everyone if it can fulfil my needs.