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Hope for the Future of Email: Thoughts from Mark Robbins at Email Camp

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What does the future of email have in store for senders, subscribers, and email geeks like you? It’s a question we seem to ponder on a perennial basis. But this year at Email Camp, we heard from one of the most respected thought leaders in the industry on the topic of where email is heading next.

To be more specific, Mark Robbins from Parcel joined us to provide some thoughts on what a brighter future for email could look like.

We kicked off Day 2 of Email Camp: Mission Control with the always-insightful email developer/software engineer. Mark Robbins’ keynote presentation took us on an email odyssey across email development’s present and future…or you could say, to infinity and beyond.

Check out an on-demand presentation below and keep reading for more insights on the future of email.

The future of email accessibility

For the second year, Mark and the team at the Email Markup Consortium tested over 300,000 emails across multiple languages, industries, and geographic locations through Parcel’s Accessibility Checker.

And for the second year… 99.9% of the emails failed. We can do better.

In fact, only five brands passed every one of the 56 checks in the test. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of the dynamic duo of Megan Boshuyzen and Julia Ritter, we’re proud to say that Sinch Mailjet and Sinch Email on Acid were among those brands

The most common coding failures the Email Markup Consortium found:

  • Missing lang attribute, which allows international campaigns to be read and rendered by screen readers in the correct language for the subscriber
  • Missing dir attribute, which determines the direction of language, so that right-to-left languages like Arabic or Hebrew can be read and rendered correctly by screen readers for international audiences
  • Missing alt attribute, which describes the images in an email for screen readers to read aloud

“These are simple, quick things to add. It’s a very small amount of code that makes no difference in rendering. We always like to blame email clients and technology, but most of the time, it’s our attitude that’s the problem.”

Mark Robbins, Software Engineer and Email Developer

The future of email accessibility doesn’t have to be time-consuming, or add lots of code to your emails. It starts with thinking more deeply about accessibility—even if you’re using a drag-and-drop email editor—and coding in a way that works for everyone.

“We need to take it back to basics. Something I think we’re going to see a lot of in the future is better accessibility tools, and I’m seeing more and more people moving into semantic-first email coding, which is well-supported and fully accessible.”

Mark Robbins, Software Engineer and Email Developer

You can read the full EMC accessibility report to learn more about the 2023 findings.

The future of Outlook email development

One thing that’s constantly on the minds of email developers is coding for Outlook. Mark Robbins thinks it’s time to reconsider our priorities. And that’s a big mindset shift for many email geeks, but it makes lots of sense. Here’s how he explained it in terms of accessible email code.

“Stop putting Outlook first. When I first started building email, I was always thinking about Outlook and adding all of these workarounds to make it work. If you flip that on its head and start prioritizing semantic code, you can add fallbacks for Outlook later, which ends up with much less code, much more reliable code, and much more future-proof code that just works.”

Mark Robbins, Software Engineer and Email Developer

There are some good reasons to be Outlook obsessed, especially for B2B email marketers with a large percentage of Outlook users. But if 10% of your email opens happen on Outlook, you shouldn’t compromise the other 90% of your users.

There’s good news about the future of Outlook email development. As you might know, the desktop version of Outlook use Microsoft Word as a rendering engine. This is why coding for Outlook is such a headache – and why we’ve been shaking our fists to the sky asking “Whyyyyyy???” for years. Finally, 2021 is the last year for Outlook to use this wack-a-doodle rendering engine, and support will be dropped October 2026.

But don’t think you can stop previewing emails in Outlook and adjusting your code just yet. Mark reminds us that it takes time for old technology to ride off into the sunset.

“Realistically, we’re probably not going to see it drop off suddenly, but I’m optimistic that by 2030, we can start cutting off support, and we’ll start to see a downturn in Outlook client usage from previous versions.”

Mark Robbins, Software Engineer and Email Developer

The future of email and AI

Of course, we can’t talk about the future of email development without mentioning that sci-fi elephant in the room: Artificial intelligence (AI).

“We have to talk about it. Is it good? Is it bad? I’m still split on this. You can ask AI anything and it will confidently give you an answer that could be completely made up, which is a big risk. I think one of the things with the growth of AI is that we should also see the growth of QA, because AI makes mistakes that people don’t make.”

Mark Robbins, Software Engineer and Email Developer

Ask any generative AI about email code and the answers are pretty laughable. While AI is an exciting development for so many parts of our jobs right now, coding isn’t one of them. But the biggest issue Mark takes with AI is that it’s learning from the loudest, biggest voices on the internet, not necessarily the best ones. And since we already know that 99.9% of emails fail a basic accessibility test, using AI to code email is likely going to lead to broken code that won’t be making your emails better.

That’s not to say AI for email developers is completely useless. So far, Mark has used AI to help him brainstorm campaign ideas, find simple errors in code like a missing bracket or comma, and reduce repetition. It helps to use a developer-focused AI program like GitHub’s Copilot to do this, since it learns from the code you’ve already written instead of all the public code available.

“I think AI is here to assist us, not replace us. There’s a lot that you can do with it to speed up our processes and get inspired with new ideas. The more efficient we can be, then the more we can spend time doing cool stuff right? As developers, we like to build cool stuff, not the boring stuff. It’s evolving so fast, everything I said here today might already be out of date a few weeks later.”

Mark Robbins, Software Engineer and Email Developer

In addition to email coding, artificial intelligence can also make life easier for email marketers. For one great example, check out the new AI Copy Generator from Sinch Mailjet.

Future-proof your emails with testing

Email continues to evolve. The best way to avoid the pitfalls of inconsistent email rendering? Future-proof your templates and campaigns with regular email testing. Mark Robbins recommends a mix of automated and manual email testing, especially when it comes to accessibility. That’s what helps you come as close as possible to understanding how your subscribers experience what you’re sending them.

“I think people have this coding mindset that you should code like it’s 1999. And to be fair, this was true for a long time, but we’ve moved past it now. We need to be coding like it’s 2024.”

Mark Robbins, Software Engineer and Email Developer

Whether you’re experimenting with semantic-first email coding, still struggling with workarounds for Outlook, or want to try fun interactive features for your email campaigns like interactive email or countdown timers, you’ll need a testing platform that can do it all. 

With Sinch Email on Acid, email marketers get unlimited testing and accessibility checks, plus previews in over 100 different email clients and live devices, from Outlook 2016 to the new iPhone 15. (That includes dark mode email previews, too!).

Join us at Email Camp in 2024

We’re already psyched to start planning next year’s Email Camp. Keep in touch when you sign up to receive updates and notifications about our 2024 live event.

Missed this year’s out-of-this world email marketing and coding presentations? No worries. Head over to YouTube to view all Email Camp 2023 sessions on-demand. Hear from speakers like Anne Tomlin, Emily Benoit, Greg Zakowicz, and many other email geeks.

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