Email Peeps 29: Gülben Karaoglu
What attracted you to email marketing, and how did you get to where you are today?
Like many who have made a career in email marketing, the path to my current position was indirect. However, there was a definite moment when I chose email (or did email choose me?), but more on that later. I took the first steps along this path during my college years in Istanbul, where I studied City and Regional Planning and developed a passion for maps. It was exciting and interesting to discover the artistry and amount of information that can be communicated in a visual medium. In 1999, during my last year of college, I found part-time work at a GIS/GPS company digitizing maps. Later that year, a severe 7.4 magnitude earthquake struck near Istanbul and created an urgent need for digital maps that could provide information for earthquake risk management. My company partnered with Bosphorus University and NGOs to help local governments make an inventory of buildings using our digital maps, along with an online component that could be used to identify high risk areas near fault lines and nearby resources such as hospitals. This online component sparked my curiosity about how websites work. I taught myself how to build a website using a HTML book in Turkish!
After graduating from college, I came to the USA and got my first job as a webmaster at a non-profit organization. I managed their website and expanded my front-end development knowledge by reverse-engineering other websites. Soon afterwards, I took a web producer role at Stanford University School of Medicine, and that’s when I first encountered email development. I volunteered to help send an HTML email, unaware of how limiting and frustrating it would feel compared to HTML and CSS common to web production. I purchased a book called “Create Stunning HTML Email That Just Works!” by Matthew Patterson, because that’s what I do: learn from books. One of the cool things about this book is that the back cover reads “Master the Dark Art of HTML Email Design.” How accurate!
After five years at Stanford, I decided there was no going back and it was time to change my career to email. With my newly acquired email development skills, I accepted a role as Email and Web Developer at Responsys (now Oracle). A year later, I accepted another email development role at Salesforce, where I’ve been for over eight years and am now a Sr. Email Engineering Lead who is responsible for Salesforce’s email marketing framework.
What’s your favorite email design or coding hack?
I love most email hacks because I think they allow us to be more creative. But if I had to pick one, my favorite hack would be converting tables into responsive content blocks. It’s not quite a hack compared to more elaborate ones, but as someone who comes from the world of <div>s and CSS floats, the idea of making <table>s responsive and also accessible by using role=presentation/none was so facinatiing to me, and still is.
Maybe I should mention that ghost tables are my least favorite email hack. I think they are very prone to break in Outlook especially when HTML templates are distributed among teams. There has been many situations where I had to start fresh than troubleshooting mis-matching tags. I never felt the need to adopt it since I’m good at coding responsive emails with complicated designs.
What’s your approach to coding visually appealing but accessible emails? Do you work closely with a designer?
I prioritize and follow best coding practices, starting with semantic HTML and accessibility guidelines. This consistently gives me the best foundation to build on. I also love to follow current email design trends and share them with everyone I work with. This education cycle helps me become a trusted partner and get involved in the design process where I can provide feedback before a design is finalized.
I’m fortunate to work directly with a designer on my team. When we collaborate on a design it’s good to start with what is feasible, and what is not. The designer and I each contribute to ideas and design choices, and we work together to adapt this vision to a specific scenario. One important part of this process is to decide how we can progressively advance a design by taking into account our email client share and how to best take advantage of the capabilities they offer for more advanced email features. Keeping a close eye on our email client landscape informs our design decisions about what we should invest time on. I find that we can make even the most challenging ideas work to everyone’s satisfaction by adjusting the design slightly or taking a different approach.
I also work with designers in other teams. We may be on separate teams but it’s just as important to be involved in the email design cycle, especially early in the process before a design is finalized. It comes as no surprise that this really helps improve communication and keeps everyone participating in the production process on the same page. Of course, the goal is to avoid the situation where an email developer has to go back and say “No, we can’t do this” when a design lands at their desk for final production!
What’s in your email marketing toolbox?
- 14inch MacBook Pro M1 (2021)
- Dell monitor
- Apple Magic Mouse
- Apple Magic Keyboard
- iPhone 14 Pro (personal)
- Samsung Galaxy S21 (work phone for testing email clients on Android)
- Dell-Latitude for testing Outlook if needed
- A calculator 🙂 for calculating pixels
- Cubii Go, under desk elliptical
- Sublime Text
- Google Workspace
How can marketers streamline their email production processes?
Modular templates and design systems are essential for streamlining email production. We send millions of emails each month, so it’s impossible to design, develop, and test each email individually. That’s why the success of the majority of our emails depends on these modular templates. Content owners simply enter their copy and upload images to the CMS at specific sizes based on our design system to streamline the email production.
Majority of our event emails on the other hand are individually handcrafted. Although they are not based on a specific email design system or a modular template, they follow the same responsive email framework, and I use code snippets to streamline my own email production process.
Whose email newsletters do you consistently make time to read?
Sometimes it’s hard for me to catch emails in my crowded inboxes but I try not to miss newsletters by Litmus, ActionRocket, and Email on Acid.
I haven’t been following lately but I always enjoy Inside Design newsletter by InVision. I find it very playful and enticing from their subject lines to their CTAs.
How do you manage work-life balance?
I’m passionate about my job and the people I work with. I believe it’s important to love what you do, so I feel fortunate in that regard. Before the pandemic, my daily commute to the office could easily take two hours in each direction. Now I often telecommute, and the extra four hours each day makes it easier to achieve a satisfying work-life balance that works for me, and gives me the chance to do more of other creative activities I enjoy.
Outside of work, I’m a lifelong crafter! While I enjoy many crafts, such as painting and knitting, jewelry making has become my primary focus and a great way to relax. I also love spending time at the beach, visiting flea markets, and socializing with friends. Additionally, I take one to two Fridays off each month for three-day weekends, which has such a positive impact on my overall productivity.