TL;DR: Building HTML Email Templates Sucks
Back in the day, I worked for O’Reilly Media. As I was the only one on the public relations team who knew anything about coding, I was quickly tasked with creating our HTML press releases.
Sidenote: It’s important to understand that everything I knew about programming was self-taught. My dad had encouraged me to learn HTML in high school when I grew tired of the 1990’s plug-and-play website setup that Yahoo offered. I wanted colors and designs and buttons, all things that were difficult to do with their minimal settings. My rudimentary skills grew throughout college as I worked on my poetry website — learning about fonts, columns, tables, and styles.
These skills treated me well, so long as I had the basic templates to follow. But email was a new world. Suddenly I needed to worry about how the email looked in someone’s inbox, whether they were using Thunderbird, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, or the relatively new (at that time) Apple Mail. Not only that, but as I learned new HTML skills to update my website, I had to forget those in order to go back to coding our emails, because HTML for email is a whole different ball game. It was (and still is!) stuck in the ’90s, with everything from table nesting to client-specific CSS properties.
We know how hard it is to build HTML email templates; to handle all of the code exceptions, table structures, and get the result to be responsive. That is why we have built a tool on top of MJML, where we are an active part of a vibrant community. We have built another layer on top of it to allow anyone to use a drag and drop builder to create MJML-backed HTML emails.
Basically, it’s like Yahoo’s plug & play websites from my childhood, but way better, and for emails, which were always infinitely harder. My mind was blown.
Tell Me More
I sat down with Jan Tlapák last week (virtually, since he’s based in the Czech Republic) to talk about this awesome new email template tool.
Who is this awesome web app built for?
We have built an app for anybody in need of building beautiful HTML email. And by anybody we mean your assistant, copywriter, designer, or even web developer. Maybe even you will use our editor to build HTML emails! With our drag-and-drop tool you can easily build beautiful emails in a matter of minutes. Simply choose a pre-designed layout and start building your own.
Why did you decide to build Topol?
There are only one or two tools available publicly and we aim to be the best solution there is when you need to build a HTML e-mail. Our editor is not only easy to use, but fun! It’s also easy to test your emails with Litmus to make sure things appear correctly in various email clients.
What’s the tech stack?
Our tool is sitting in AWS cloud on Elastic Beanstalk, backed by several Lambda functions and S3. And of course, it’s built on top of MJML, where we contribute to the creation of bulletproof e-mails.
As this is a free service, we aim to keep costs to a minimum. Lambda allows us to move compute-heavy requests out of servers and pay only for what we use. And Sparkpost allows us to completely forget about maintaining email servers and the infrastructure around it — you can test the email template you’re building from within the app, making it a completely seamless operation.
With this tech stack we were able to completely focus solely on the editor itself.
Find Your Specialty
You may be wondering why we at SparkPost don’t take this challenge on ourselves — why we don’t simply build out a WYSIWYG editor of our own. Mr. Rogers has wisdom that resonates in this particular situation (as much of his wisdom does):
Discovering each one’s specialty is the most important learning.
Our speciality at SparkPost is the sending and delivery of email. As our VP of Product Amie Durr says, “We’re really awesome at email, and we’re going to keep focusing on that — along with great developer-centric features like the requisite APIs, data, etc. — as our core competency. WYSIWYG editors and email templates? We could fake it, I guess, but we actually want to help people use the best tool for the job, whatever the job. So you bet we’re really excited to share and support initiatives like Topol.”
As for me, I’m grateful that creating HTML email templates no longer has to be my specialty. These days, I can depend on other people on my team to send stylish emails to our community. And on the rare occasion that I do need to send a newsletter myself, I can rely on email template tools like Topol to create beautiful emails for business and pleasure.Let me know what you think of the template that I built, or if you’ll be at any of the upcoming events that Ember and I are attending! We’d love to connect with you (in person, via Slack, or Twitter) to chat more about email — whether it’s html email templates, delivery, or any other issues you’re running into. In the meantime, happy template designing!
— Mary Thengvall,