News and tips from the industry leaders in email compliance.

We’re kicking off a new blog series with some Email Marketing Q&A. You might think that after over 40 years, email marketing is pretty cut and dried by now, right? Well, as any marketer knows, every channel evolves constantly and what worked last year may not work this year. So, it’s never a bad idea to take a step back and reassess your strategies and tactics to make sure you’re staying ahead of the curve.

For our first article in the series, we’ll tackle a question that email marketers have faced since the inception of the channel in the 1970s. “How long should my marketing email content be?” You’ll be shocked to learn that the answer starts with “It depends…” It’s a bit of a running joke in the email arena that if you as an email marketing pro want to find the best way to approach just about anything in the channel, the answer will virtually always start with ‘it depends’. But, all humor aside, let’s dig into this question a bit and figure out what the answer depends on.

Marketers are typically taught that you have mere seconds (if that) to catch your audience’s attention and even once you have it, you only get to keep it for a short time. So, it’s logical to think that your email content should be short and sweet. Grab attention, get to the point, close the deal. There’s a lot to be said for this approach. But, is it really universal? Nope. Not by a long shot. 

If your product or service is fairly straightforward and the decision process to buy or not buy is also relatively quick, then a shorter is better approach may make a ton of sense. If you’re putting together an email for a baseball hat company, promoting a 25% off sale on all hats this weekend, you can likely create a relatively short email that hits the high points and gives your audience an easy way to decide and buy right then and there. I picked this options because I bought a new baseball cap last week, based on just such an email. An online hat store I’ve purchased from before was having a sale. The email they sent me highlighted the special offer and included a few hats that were similar to ones I’ve bought in the past (I’m a big Chicago sports fan, so I’m a sucker for new hats from my favorite teams). I saw a hat I liked, clicked on the link, and completed the purchase. No muss, no fuss.

Question answered then, right…? Shorter is better? In this instance, 100%. But, let’s consider another type of email.

A friend of mine in the marketing arena found himself drawn to the info products niche years ago. He focused on things like do-it-yourself solar panels and other survivalist types of products. Email was a big part of his marketing strategy, and he tested all kinds of content. One of the main areas he explored was long-form content vs. shorter. In this case, something very interesting happened. He found that the longer his emails, the better his conversion rates were. Shorter content might grab the attention of the audience, but it couldn’t close the sale. Instead, the longer content (MUCH longer in some cases) held his audiences’ attention, and they seemed to be scrolling down through multiple pages, reading all of it, and then making the decision to purchase whatever product he was promoting. Shorter was definitely not sweeter.

So, what’s the difference between these two situations that seem to suggest the opposite approach to email content length is the right way to go?

That first email offer was a fairly low-effort buying decision. I didn’t need to be convinced to buy a Chicago Bears hat. I just had to be alerted to a special offer and then see an image of a hat that I liked. Decision made. 

In the second email, the audience is likely coming at a buying decision in a very different way. Buying an e-book to teach you how to build and install your own solar panels is part of a much more lengthy and extensive buying decision. Are you putting them on your house? How many panels do you need? What kind of energy output are you hoping for, and what can the system you want to build deliver? How do you connect everything to your electrical system? Are you off the grid or will your solar panels have to integrate with a public utility electrical system in your house? There are endless questions and possibilities and chances, and your audience is pretty invested in finding answers to all of them. 

Considering building your own solar power system is not an off-the-cuff decision. You’re likely going to research it – a lot. And, it’s likely that you may even enjoy that research process. A project like that appeals to people who are wired (no pun intended) to enjoy diving into the details. With an extremely engaged audience, with lots of questions they are looking to answer, it’s possible that your content literally can’t be too long. That’s what my friend discovered. The more information he included in the email, the better his results. 

So, the answer to the question of how long your email content should be to drive the best performance is going to be directly tied to key questions about your product, offer, and audience. 

  • Is a purchase of your product fairly quick/impulsive and low-effort or is it a longer decision involving research and lots of considerations? 
  • Is the offer simple and easy to understand or is it more involved?
  • Is your audience deeply engaged in the niche your product or service falls into or is their interest more casual and in the moment? 

Answering these questions should give you some initial guidance on which approach is most likely to drive the best results. That said, always remember the most important tenet in email marketing. Test, test, and test again – then repeat. Constantly test your conclusions because over time, they are bound to change. 

For more articles like this, check out our blog!

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