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Emails built for short attention spans

You can't stop readers from skimming your emails. You can, however, create campaigns that can effectively appeal to skim-readers. Learn more on how to do that here.

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Emails built for short attention spans begin with skimmability


Did you know that, on average, only 37 - 200 words of your email campaigns are likely read by your email audience?


So how do you prevent your subscribers from skim-reading your emails?


You can't. 


We're in a world of short attention spans and instant dopamine gratification. There's so much else vying for your audience's attention.


What is crucial is answering how you can get your message across as quickly as you can.


But how? 


This question plagues many email senders because so much time is spent curating content, designing the perfect email, and monitoring email results. We believe it begins by building skimmable emails.


According to a Nielsen Norman Group eye-tracking study, the email recipients they tested consume email as follows:

  • Skimmed - 69% of the readers

  • Thoroughly read - 19% of the readers

  • Read all content - 6% of the readers

  • Glanced but did not read at all - 6% of the readers 

There's also research by Litmus that states that the average email attention span is around 13.4 seconds long and that the ideal email copy consumed is around 50 words in total.

These stats highlight what we already know. You have such a short time to capture a reader's interest before you've lost them.


A person laying in the dark, their face illuminated by their phone with a cup of coffee on the night stand next to them

How to build emails for short attention spans


Here are a few tips, that may seem obvious, but continue to help drive your message home quickly:

Left-align your email's copy

Reading relies on a multitude of visual cues to make sense of where you're situated on either a screen or a page.

We need an anchor for our eyes as we navigate through content, and a crucial visual cue in email readability is the beginning of a new line in a paragraph.

While the centred text may look good, it detracts from readability and concise comprehension of your content.

There's also a rule of thumb that any copy that is longer than two lines must be left-aligned.


Make it legible


With the majority of emails being opened on mobile devices, you're going to want your copy legible on a small screen.

A font size of 14px and bigger for mobile is non-negotiable.


You'll also want to check that your line spacing and line height are appropriate for both desktop and mobile view email reading.


Make it easy to understand


The popular Flesch Reading Ease test analyses how easily someone can read your text, and bases this on your sentence structure and word length.


The score ranges from 0 to 100, the higher your score, the easier your readability.


Aim for a score of 60-70, considered plain English easily understood by 13- to 15-year-olds, especially for most marketing copy. For effective marketing copy, your aim is in the range of 60 to 70 to be considered English that's easy enough to be understood by 13 to 15-year-olds.


There are a few tools out there, but we use this one by GoodCalculators.


Interest in the content of an email diminishes as the email extends below the fold, so cut the copy and keep the most important points of the message near the top.


Person sitting on the floor, back to the couch, looking bored at their laptop screen

Design matters a great deal


Visual hierarchy is your focus when it comes to design that needs to cater to quick consumption.


We've discussed this in a previous Volume, but this can't be overstated - The visual structure of your email needs to lead your readers' eyes well enough for them to take action (or, at least, take notice).


Use these tips to tweak your designs to cater for quick consumption:


Contrast colours and text


Contrast is essentially the distinction between your text colour and whatever is behind the text. If you can't see where the text ends and the image begins, then you're going to miss a chance to impart your message.


A good rule of thumb is to use a light text colour on a dark background, or vice versa.


There's the added benefit to your readers of enhanced accessibility. You can check your colour contrast using this tool by WebAIM.


Use white space


White space is your friend. Don't cram your email with text and images while not leaving any 'breathing room' between these elements.


This will make your email appear less cluttered and easier to digest quickly, which is precisely what you want when capturing attention quickly.


It also helps keep your reader focused and not paralysed by too many components jumping out from your email at once.


There are various aspects to tweak in your email designs such as your calls-to-action and email layout pattern, but begin with colour and white-space, and iterate as you go.


This should help you decide how emails built for short attention spans can help you win at email.


Footer image and link to mail us to let us know what you'd add to this list in terms of email skimmability

Before you go! If you're looking for a place to begin growing, this is for you. Learn the fastest ways to grow your email list today by using the tried and tested Email Database Growth Playbook.


Click here or on the image below to get your FREE copy👇

Preview of The Ultimate Database Growth Guide for Email Marketing by Email Expert Africa

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