Are you the lucky person in charge of email content? Welcome to the Facepalm Club.
Developing effective emails is no joke. You wrote it. It was inspired.
It was ignored.
In a world of content overload, email consistently stands out as the worst kind of content. In 2015, we sent and received more than 205 billion emails every single day. What’s worse is that these emails often require that the recipient does something. This expectation leads most people to experience a feeling of dread when they open their email inbox, especially when they have a ton of projects already on their to-do list.
But we can’t get away from email. So we — as professional communicators — need to find the best way to get our clients’ attention with limited tools: We’ve got to work with plain text and just a few design elements.
Making this more challenging is the fact that email is read on screens of varying sizes. While a Kindle ebook is read in standard dimensions, email can be read on mobile, tablet, and desktop. This creates a lack of consistency or rules about how emails should be formatted.
A scrolling wall of email text on a mobile device seems overwhelming:
The science on how we read is pretty clear. In his tremendous ebook The Magic of Reading, Bill Hill explains that we read by “jumping” between words and then “carrying out recognition during pauses or fixations.” We recognize patterns across words, word groupings, and sentences, rather than reading the individual letters of every word in an email.
When writing emails, remember to consider how the recipient reads, and think about how you can clue your clients into your message through formatting. Poor layout and styling is about more than making your email look “nice.” Reading becomes mentally taxing when it lacks structure. Hill wrote: “Reading becomes hard work. Cognitive capacity normally available exclusively for extracting meaning has to carry an additional load.”
To improve the structure of your emails — and therefore the readability — follow these three rules:
Follow this common piece of advice: Don’t bury the lead.
The inverted pyramid is a journalistic approach where you detail the most important information first, specifically the who, what, when, why, and how. Your multi-page reports get an executive summary, why not your lengthy emails? For people who want detail, the words are all there, and for those who don’t, you’ve given them the key takeaways.
Sending a wall of plain text is the worst thing you can do. An intelligent application of including white space using the elements below will create easily scannable emails.
Many people believe an email should be five lines or less, but sometimes we have to provide in-depth explanations and picking up the phone isn’t an option. Sub-headers break up large chunks of content and serve as ways to entice clients to continue reading and skim if they don’t want all of the details.
Utilizing text elements well provides your clients with the visual clues to more easily scan your email for the most important messages and takeaways. Consider how you use these text elements in your next email:
Here’s an example of how to apply these best practices:
Aside from some marketing jargon, the email below reads like a fairly standard report summary.
KPI performance in February was up in comparison to January 2016 and February of last year. This is a great sign! We saw a 7% growth in organic traffic and notable movement in keyword rankings after we spent the last six weeks optimizing copy and meta data on low-medium priority pages, fixing 404 errors (outlined in January), and applying the 301 redirects (outlined in January). While I can’t say this up-tick was necessarily caused by our changes, when comparing year-over-year results and Google Trends data, it doesn’t look like seasonality or other demand fluctuations played a role. In March, we plan to build a landing page for your new offer, of which I’ll have a strategy outline by 3/9, and pending approval, a mock-up by 3/15. I’ll also be sending along your updated keyword ranking portfolio report by the end of next week. Please review the attached documents by 3/6 so that we can move forward.
Without a single word change, this email is scannable, guides the reader along, highlights key messages, and provides action items.
We saw a 7% growth in organic traffic and notable movement in keyword rankings after we spent the last six weeks:
KPI performance in February was up in comparison January 2016, and February of last year. This is a great sign!
While I can’t say this up-tick was necessarily caused by our changes, when comparing year-over-year results and Google Trends data, it doesn’t look like seasonality or other demand fluctuations played a role.
In March, we plan on building a landing page for your new offer, of which I’ll have a strategy outline by 3/9, and pending approval, a mock-up by 3/15. I’ll also be sending along your updated keyword ranking portfolio report by the end of next week.
Please review the attached documents by 3/6 so that we can move forward.
Strategy Outline – 3/9
Mock-Up – 3/15 (pending your approval)
Review Attached Documents – 3/6
An email survey by Sendmail and CPP revealed that 64% of respondents “either sent or received an email that resulted in unintended anger or confusion.”Among the reasons for this anger and confusion were “lack of replies” at 51%, “messages that were confusing or vague” at 19% and “too much email in general” at 18%. While consumer email is on the decline as text and social channels grow, emails are still the dominant form of communication in the business world, and that trend continues to grow. As agency marketers, we can expect to rely on email even as we move more communication to project management tools and business messaging platforms.
Using the elements above is a critical factor not just for making your emails enticing, but helping you to craft more clear messages. Simply follow the above best practices for structuring and formatting, and you’ll make it easier for your client to pay attention and act on your communication.