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TL;DR: Creating Effective Emails in a Low Attention Span World


person checking email on phone

Much like LOL or BAE, TL;DR is the new abbreviated phrase taking the world by storm. Standing for “Too long; didn’t read”, this phrase not only appropriately uses a semicolon, but also provides a chillingly accurate description of how consumers feel about the various email marketing messages coming into their inboxes each day.

While technology has given marketers more opportunities than ever to reach their audience, it has also contributed to decreasing attention spans and marketing overload for consumers. Because of this, it’s important to make sure your emails are created in a way that is easy for your subscribers to digest in the shortest amount of time possible.

How do you increase email marketing engagement in this low attention span world?

Have One Driving Goal (For Every Send)

Every email you send should have one driving goal that shapes everything in the message. Maybe that goal is to inform customers of a special deal or sale and drive clicks back to your website. Or maybe that goal is to introduce a new product to your audience and drive them to a landing page for more information. 

Whatever your goal, keep it simple. A complex goal often leads to a complex message. A simple goal paves the way for a short, to the point email your readers won’t need much time to absorb.

Have One, Direct CTA (And Make it Visible)

The goal for each email you send should have a relevant, correlating call-to-action (CTA). Like your goal, you want that CTA to be clear, direct and simple. If you want a subscriber to read more about a new product you’re introducing in your email, tell them to “Read More”. If you want consumers to click over to your site to view a special sale, tell them to “Join the Sale”.

Essentially, if you want someone to do something, tell them in the CTA.And remember, clear, direct and simple doesn’t necessarily mean boring and standard. Sometimes those out-of-the-box CTAs have the biggest impact. Don’t be afraid to mix it up. Just always make sure that CTA matches your brand’s overall tone and style in both that email and as a whole.

Finally, make sure your CTA is easy to find. This may seem obvious, but many brands still believe their audience is fully reading every email they open and bury their CTA in an easily-missed link in the middle of a sentence. A clear CTA in a large, clickable button is your best bet.

Tell a Unique Story (With Words and Images)

There’s a lot of noise in the inbox. In order to get through it, you need to tell a unique story with every element of your message. It starts at the subject line and the pre-header, which together give a summary of what subscribers will find inside. These elements also begin whatever story your message wants to share.

The body of your message will continue the story, carefully using words and images to support each other and drive subscribers to your CTA.

It may be tempting to use a fully image-based message to reach your audience. However, many email clients automatically block images, so image based emails can be difficult for some subscribers to view. For both deliverability reasons and user view-ability, it’s recommended that you use a healthy balance of plain-text and images.

Use Content that Can Be Easily Scanned (Over Easily Read)

Your email content should be short and concise. In other words, your audience should be able to scan it in order to pull out the main idea—they shouldn’t have to actually read it.

In order to get your point across in the shortest amount of time possible, avoid long, lengthy descriptions and utilize short headlines and headers. Again, the goal of your email content is to get subscribers to follow your CTA, not to sell a product or service. Keep this in mind as you’re writing.

Make it Mobile-Friendly (But Don’t Forget Desktop)

Mobile is one of the largest contributors to the formation of this TL;DR mindset. As more consumers move to mobile devices as their main form of viewing email, the more brands will find themselves optimizing for mobile.

The trends don’t lie. A recent report from Movable Ink shows that 68% of emails received in 2015 were opened on a mobile device. 52% of those opens were made on smartphones.

It’s important to note, however, that desktop, while no longer the leading source for opening emails, continues to drive 53% of all conversions. For email marketers, this means insuring that the mobile to desktop user experience is seamless.

Segment Your Audience (And Speak to Their Unique Preferences)

Personalization and segmentation aren’t just buzzword—they’re a strategy for better reaching your audience by providing them with content that’s more relevant to their preferences and past behavior. 

Good, clean data is an email marketer’s best weapon against TL;DR. The more you know about your audience and their interests, the more you can shape each of your campaigns to reach them.

When information is relevant and targeted, the more attention someone is willing to give it.

Is the above setting off your TL;DR trigger? Let me break it down for you—

  • The era of TL;DR isn’t likely to end anytime soon, particularly when it comes to email.
  • You always want to tell a unique story with your brand, and email is a great way to do that. But keep it simple.
  • If you see important email marketing metrics such as open rates and click through rates dropping, take a look at your last few campaigns and consider the following:
  • How much text you’re using
  • Whether or not the CTA is clear and easy to spot upon opening the message
  • How your email rendered both on mobile and desktop
  • Who you are sending to and how relevant that message is to them

And one final takeaway—

Both the layout of your email marketing messages and the content you provide in them will vary based on your audience and your industry. It’s important to take the time to A/B test things like CTA placement and content to learn more about what your audience responds to, and most importantly, what they don’t. Consider this strategy as you are preparing your next email campaign for a TL;DR world.