So now it’s down to the important bit – actually writing it. There’s plenty to read on our blog about making the emails stand out in people’s crowded inboxes, but one question that you might still be asking is whether you should go for long-form emails or short ones. Here’s the long and short of it.
First up, it’s good to define what “long” means in the context of an email. If you go through your emails, you’ll probably notice that it’s a relatively short-form medium.
Most emails will be quick messages of around 100 words, and some will be a bit more explanatory, perhaps reaching 300 or 400 words. None of these would be considered long-form, but there’s no real agreement on where the threshold is.
We’d tentatively put the figure at around 800 words, which would be equivalent to an average blog post, but in some sectors, where detailed accounts are expected, an email might not stand out as being long until it reaches 1,000 words. But it’s in that ball-park.
The most obvious benefit of a long-form email is that you can cover more information. If you’ve got a lot to say and a receptive audience, a long-form email can be a welcome treat in their inbox, whether it’s a coffee-break read or some crucial business intelligence that could argue for a radical shift in direction.
A long-form email doesn’t have to cover a single issue, either. It can read like a newspaper or magazine, that is, with a few short-form stories that just happen to be in the same email.
The main drawback of long-form newsletters is that they might not be read. A certain percentage of your subscribers will look at the length and reckon it’s not worth their time. Some might even unsubscribe.
Whereas visiting a website is an active transaction (you go there by choice, not by accident) emails are more passive (you are alerted to the email’s arrival and you read it if you have the time). If you catch someone at a bad time, even if they like what they see, they might close it and it’ll just get swept away in the torrent of unread emails.
There are ways to “bookmark” email, such as flags and stars, but they’re not the same as web bookmarks, and are quite often ignored.
It’s often best to have a short email that links to a website, so users can visit the page and bookmark it, and that also presents more opportunities for conversion.
Another effect of the passive nature of emails is that recipients will often get them on their phones. A computer screen is good for reading long-form text, but a small phone isn’t always optimal, especially if the user is walking or being jolted about on a train. You can help by ensuring it’s mobile friendly, of course.
There are decisive pros and cons to long-form emails. However, it’s likely that different audiences will respond to different lengths.
As with all email campaigns, testing is everything. Try different lengths, different times of day and so on, and split-test to get good results. You might find it’s best to mix it up, with some short and some long, or to always give the option to read the same message on a web page by adding a link at the start.
Whatever you choose, make sure you have a striking and on-brand HTML email template, so it’ll look great on every device, browser, client and operating system.