Hi, I'm Christina Nghiem.

Modernizing Emails

for Zillow




Email was becoming one of the leading traffic drivers at Zillow, given the importance of getting updates in the fast-paced realm of home buying and selling. Our goal was to redesign the email experience to be mobile-friendly, modern, smart, and personalized. This was a large, collaborative undertaking that we called, Modernizing Emails!

Seeing the Bigger Picture

When our user research and design team refreshed our Zillow personas and customer journeys, I saw it as an opportunity to step back and look at our email experience as an entire ecosystem. How can email be smarter and better support the needs of our users? How can it be more than just “transactional”?


I led a series of cross-product team brainstorm sessions in which we analyzed all of our customer journeys and highlighted opportunities for email to better support the needs of our users. First, we started off documenting the existing emails we sent throughout the buying and selling journeys of our personas. With what? Good ol’ post-it notes.

Once we stepped back and looked at the greater picture, we had deeper discussions on the opportunities that existed in which email could better and smarter by meeting the needs of our personas throughout their journey of renting, buying, maintaining, or selling their property.

What we learned from this exercise was that while email was one of our biggest traffic drivers, we weren’t doing enough to make our emails more personalized and incentivized for our personas. In particular, we lacked emails that helped our personas prepare for their next transition. For example, there was an opportunity for us to better prepare Beth the Buyer into Harriet the Homeowner by letting her know how she can settle into her home and set up services with companies serving her area.

Creating the Style Guide

When a user opens an email, it only takes them 3 seconds or less to decide on if they want to read or abandon it. It’s a short attention span. That’s why simple and clean design is so important in this platform.


It was time to transfer the updated, modern styles from our Zillow website and products to our emails. In building this email style guide, I wanted to make sure that we were:


  • Maintaining visual and language consistency with our Zillow brand to as much as email platforms could technically support it
  • Improving the usability and performance of our emails by using HTML imagery and elements and simplifying operational emails
  • Personalizing our emails by having more humanistic copy and bringing in what we already know about the user's context


To start, the email header and footer was the first element we wanted to modernize in our existing emails because it was an important piece of branding in our emails. I started off with sketches and did a few rounds of designs while gathering feedback from the Design and Marketing teams. We eventually landed on the simplest version that had a strong branding yet also allowed the content of the email to be the main focus. From there, I designed the rest of the email style guide.

Designing Smarter, Better, Faster, and Stronger Emails

In the words of Kanye West, that is what we did. We modernized over 30 emails and continue to do more. With each email, we tied the design back to our goals of making it consistent in visuals and tone, improving the usability and performance, and personalizing the email with what we already know about the recipient. Here are a few of our core emails that we modernized.

Saved Search Email

Our Saved Search email sends instant, daily, or weekly updates on listings that match the buyer’s search criteria and has our highest email open rate.


In this redesign, we found that users who viewed a listing from this email would abandon the site after they viewed the listing’s details page. We assumed they needed an easy way to get to their list of results from the email and explored different treatments. Since this is an operational email, we still kept it simple while giving users more ways to access their search results list.

After a month of A/B testing, we found that repeating the “See all results” call-to-action at the top of the email yielded the best click rates and didn’t negatively affect our contact rates once the user landed on the listing’s page.

Saved Home Reminder Email

The Saved Home Reminder email reminds buyers to contact an agent about a saved home they haven’t inquired about yet. We decided to tackle this email because it was working well on our partner real estate sites. However, we believe in the power of personalization in our emails and made sure ours was different in that way.


At our brainstorm, we explored ways to bring in this personalization. What if we highlighted a buyer who was one of the first to save the home or could be one of the first to contact? From our customer journey exercise, we learned we could be better at incentivizing our users.


After a few rounds of feedback, our final design touched upon personalization, incentivization, and usability.

Contact Email

The Contact email is sent to agents when a buyer sends an inquiry about a home on the site. It was in need of a major redesign.


That’s where the power of UX comes in! The goal of this email was to simplify, simplify, simplify. Agents are always multitasking and time is of the essence, so it was important that it was quick for them to respond to inquiries about their listing. I brought the main call-to-actions to the top.

In reviewing with the team, we knew that we could simplify even further. Multiple calls-to-actions are good when they are the primary action and visually distanced from each other, but can be confusing when they’re close together. I realized it was important to keep the two main calls-to-actions: calling and emailing. Depending on whether the agent was viewing on their phone or desktop email client, calling was higher priority on the phone and email was on desktop.


Since agents get use many different tools to generate leads from the contact email, it was a collaborative effort between design, marketing, development, and sales to make sure our design worked well with their tools.

The Future of Zillow Email

I loved modernizing our Zillow emails because it showed that email, which traditionally has been considered transactional and “spammy”, can power the user experience by driving users back to their core tasks. When email is triggered at the right time in the journey, personalized to where the user is at, and incentivizes them to connect back to our product - it’s a powerful thing. This undertaking also taught me how important is, as a designer, product owner, and team member, to take a step back and look at a feature as part of the bigger picture. Then you know you are designing an experience, and not just a feature.