It may come as an unpleasant surprise when you consider the hours that you spend poring over the content of your email marketing campaigns, but most of your customers never read that text word by word. They just scan the body of the email, selecting individual phrases and sentences at will!

90% of Your Readers Scan Your Email

Research has shown that nearly 9 out of every 10 email users simply scan any incoming message. If you have composed your content in conventionally literate paragraphs, your text is just appearing as a big gray block to the vast majority of your readers. To maximize impact and comprehension, email messages should implement easily scannable text:

  • Keywords in bold: Never use underlines as that indicates that the word is a hyperlink.
  • List everything you can: Bullet lists are preferable over numbered ones.
  • Use Numbers: 7 trumps Seven.
  • Edit mercilessly: Stay up nights trying to say more in fewer words.
  • One concept per paragraph: Distill your key ideas down to their lowest denominator and pack each into a single paragraph.
  • Keep your paragraphs short: Sixty words is pushing it.
  • Relevant sub-headings: Keep it straightforward and to the point. Don’t get cutesy.
  • Write upside down: Start with your conclusion, as online writing is preferred as The End, The Middle, and The Beginning.

Crack Open the Nut Graf.

(Far too cutesy sub-head) The “nut graf” is a journalistic term that is basically an abbreviation of “the story in a nutshell paragraph.” While traditional writing is structured so that concepts are explained linearly and then summed up at the end, online “upside down” writing takes that summarization “nut graf” and sticks it at the very top. This allows your reader to grasp the message’s essence in a few quick lines at the beginning of the message.

Shun the Frumious Marketese

(Did it again) The literary style of your content can seriously affect its comprehension level as well. Boastful marketese (overhyped sales language) is to be shunned at all costs in email marketing messages, as research has shown that incorporating it into a sentence can cut the response rate by over 80%. Therefore, if your email message has this sort of sentence:

The revolutionary new iWidget: the greatest invention since fire is now the ultimate elite personal fashion statement you must possess today!

…you’ve lost the battle before it has begun.

Condense War & Peace to a Sentence

(Better sub-head!) It may indeed be true that in order to write proper email copy you have to condense the 1,463 pages of Leo Tolstoy’s War & Peace to:

5 Russian families are having a good time until a height-challenged Corsican messes everything up.

Although this policy goes against the entire history of English literature, where grandiloquent texts were set in consistent typestyles throughout hundreds of pages of books, we now live in an age when we writers have to compete against a myriad of media distractions that are relentlessly vying for our customers’ time and attention. Gaining insight into the dynamics of the online reading experience will soon translate into improved conversion statistics.

Editors note: Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll invented frumious as a combination of the words fuming and furious. The made up word appeared in both “Jaberwocky” and “The Hunting of the Snark.” Benchmark Blog writer Hal’s point is that if your subhead needs explanation, it’s not a good subhead at all. Great job, Hal, you are gifted, sir.