How long should email newsletters be? [Data!]

People average 51 seconds on e-zines

The No. 1 advice email newsletter subscribers have for e-zine senders? Keep it short.

How long should email newsletters be? [Data!]

What’s the right length? Email newsletters of about 200 words get the greatest clickthroughs. So why not write 200-word e-zines? Image from iStock

This according to the Nielsen Norman Group’s 6 rounds of email newsletter usability studies conducted over 16 years.

People spend just 51 seconds, on average, with an email newsletter after opening it, according to an NNG study.

Indeed, participants in these surveys (and, presumably, your audience members) put their eyes where their mouths are: People spend just 51 seconds, on average, with an email newsletter after opening it, according to an NNG study.

“The rule for web content is to keep it short,” writes Jakob Nielsen, principal of the Nielsen Norman Group. “The rule for email content is to keep it ultra-short.”

Why so short?

Why do people spend so little time with email newsletters?

The result? Readers want less.

“Users basically said that newsletters are bad if they take too much time or demand too much work of the user,” Nielsen writes. “Newsletters are good if they … are quick reads that do not feel frivolous.”

So how long should email newsletters be?

How long should email newsletters be?

The short answer is, it depends.

The longer answer requires math. But stick with me. It’s worth it.

People read about 200 words per minute. So figure Average Reading Time, or A.R.T., a concept created by The Poynter Institute’s Roy Peter Clark.

To figure A.R.T., multiply the number of minutes you think people will spend reading your message by 200 words per minute. The result: your recommended word count.

Figure A.R.T.

Figure A.R.T. Multiply average reading time by 200 words per minute to get your recommended word count.

We know that people will spend an average of 51 seconds — let’s call it a minute — with your email newsletter. So multiply one minute by 200 words per minute to get the recommended length of your e-zine in words.

Write a 200-word email newsletter

Write a 200-word email newsletter If people average about a minute with newsletters, they’ll read about 200 words. So why not write a 1-minute —200-word — newsletter?

The answer: 200 words per newsletter.

Aim for 200-word email newsletters.

This recommendation is borne out by another study.

Emails of about 20 lines of text had the highest click-throughs, according to study of more than 2.1 million customers by Constant Contact. Twenty lines is about … 200 words.

Less is more

Less is more Email newsletters of about 200 words get the most click-throughs, according to Constant Contact.

The Constant Contact research also showed that 3 or fewer images get the highest click-throughs.

But maybe your e-zine should be longer. Or shorter. …

The right length of an email newsletter depends, say the experts, on:

  • Frequency. The more often your send your newsletter, the shorter it should be, according to Campaigner. Keep dailies to a page or less, weeklies at 5 to 7 pages or less. Monthlies can be longer, but only if you have truly fascinating information.
  • Format and subject matter as well as frequency, according to NNG. Too long? Increase frequency or limit information.
  • Audience. Business-to-business audiences may be busier, for instance, so their email newsletters should be shorter. And millennials prefer short newsletters, according to the University of North Carolina. But more details make them feel better informed.

Or maybe it should be really, really short.

The only email newsletter that was consistently read in an NNG study was Dictionary.com’s Word of the Day. It’s just a few lines long.

Would your email newsletter be twice as good if it were half as long?

Learn how to write short email newsletters.

  • Get Read

    Make it valuable, interesting, easy

    Assuming your audience members do open your message, people spend an average of just 11.1 seconds on each email they review. That’s enough time to read about 37 words.

    Get Read: Make it valuable, interesting, easy

    No wonder the No. 1 piece of advice email readers give email writers is to keep it short.

    Because people read, on average, just 37 words of their emails.
    At Inside the Inbox — our two-day hands-on email-writing master class on Nov. 7-8 in Washington D.C. — you’ll learn to beat those odds to get your message read. Specifically, you’ll learn to:

    • Solve the Goldilocks Conundrum. Recipients are turned off by e-zines with too much information — and by those that don't offer enough. So how much is just right?
    • Choose between three "most valuable" e-zine formats. If you're struggling with opens, click-throughs and unsubscribes, bring one of these formats to the rescue.
    • Tap the No. 1 reason people find newsletters valuable. And avoid the No. 1 reason they quit, which is responsible for 67% of unsubscribes.
    • Decide when to personalize. Yes, slapping a name in the subject line may boost opens. But it can also creep readers out and make them worry about their privacy — unless you also do these two other things.
    • Make it clever … but not too clever. Readers complain when your email isn't clever, edgy, insightful or witty enough. They also complain if it's too cutesy. Find the fine line between interesting and silly.

___

Sources: Mike Renahan, “The Ideal Length of a Sales Email, Based on 40 Million Emails,” HubSpot, July 11, 2018

Kim Flaherty, Amy Schade, and Jakob Nielsen; Marketing Email and Newsletter Design to Increase Conversion and Loyalty, 6th Edition; Nielsen Norman Group, 2017

Alex Moore, “7 Tips for Getting More Responses to Your Emails (With Data!),” Boomerang.com, Feb. 12, 2016

Jason Fidler, “New Data: How the Amount of Text and Images Impact Email Click-Through Rates,” Constant Contact

Jakob Nielsen, “Email newsletters: Surviving Inbox Congestion,” Alertbox, June 12, 2006

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