How long is a piece of string? I’m yet to meet anyone who has been able to answer that particular question, so let’s change tack… How long should an email be?
In many ways, its not that dissimilar to the string question. It could be considered un-answerable. And there isn’t a clear cut answer, I’m afraid – it depends on what you’re trying to say and what your audience expects from your email marketing, but there are a few rules of thumb you can follow in order to ensure your emails are neither too long, nor too short. You don’t want to bore people, but, equally, you don’t want to leave them feeling short changed.
Learn from print media
Much of what we do in email and on the web can trace its origins back to the humble, printed page. Newspapers and magazines still live firmly by the ‘above the fold’ rule, which refers to the area of the page whose content is most likely to be read. Keep your most important story within this section and it turns into absolute gold dust. The exact same principle can be carried over to email and it can help dictate the overall length of the message itself.
Email marketers often refer to this as ‘above the scroll’, which aptly describes what we’re trying to achieve. Long web pages are becoming increasingly common and, when done correctly, work very well. The same cannot be said for email. Forcing the user to scroll too far down an email is still seen as bad practice. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with placing less important content down there, but the central message and call-to-action of your email needs to stay very much in view, without the subscriber having to do anything in order to read or interact with it.
Don’t try and cram the entire story into this space, though. That’s making bad use of gold dust. Instead, include snippets and teasers. There’s nothing wrong with using an excerpt of a larger piece and linking to the full content in your email. This will create interest and engage your subscribers. What’s more, it directs people to landing pages and offers you more relevant metrics on click-throughs.
Short can be effective
Email is a powerful medium. It is also something which is consumed quickly. Mobile devices have fuelled a craving for fast digital media which can be quickly digested yet ultimately enjoyed. Your emails need to do just that. Waffle on for too long and you’ll instantly lose people. Your subscribers are starved for time – it is a fact which you can’t escape, but one which can be used to your advantage. You have just a few seconds to grab someone’s attention and many will take a quick glance at just how long the email is before deciding whether or not to read on. If they scroll down (you’ve already made a mistake – see above) and see acres of text, you’ve got no chance. If they see some short, snappy paragraphs, and if the first paragraph is well written enough to make them want to continue, they’ll do just that. You can say an awful lot in very few words. Tame your email copy.
The content sweet spot
We’ve all got one. As email marketers, we can find the sweet spot which works for us and our subscribers when it comes to the length of our emails. There’s only one way to do this, and that is to experiment. See what effect the length of your emails has on subscriber engagement; the short one you sent last week – did it yield more clicks? What about the slightly longer one with the short paragraph introduction? Did they click that ‘read more’ link at the bottom of the last paragraph? You’ll find your balance and it will make itself known quicker than you think.
Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane / freedigitalphotos.net