The day has come folks. I truly didn’t think I’d make it here but I caught myself red handed last week & I just need to fess up.
My confession: I skim long emails.
I know, I know, I know: everybody does it, right?
Well, Lucy Barber didn’t use to.
I use to either not read an email (because I wasn’t interested) or read emails in their entirety (because it made me feel accomplished).
Now, though, I will read just about anything that makes its way to my inbox and will skim just about everything.
The thing is, I finally understand why so many people skim through emails: 75% of what we’re writing is fluff.
Utter, useless, taking up digi-space, your-mama-should-have-told-you FLUFF.
You know you’re not innocent (heck, I’m sure as all get-out a perpetrator of heinous email word-stuffing).
I don’t want to waste more words describing how we got here. Instead, I want to focus on 4 small steps that you can take to shorten your emails so I can go back to feeling accomplished and you can get the crime off your record.
Here are 4 easy ways you can edit your emails for brevity:
1. Why are you sending this email? Emphasizing the point
No one sends emails just for the sake of sending emails. That would be a waste.
Whatever email you’re sending, you undoubtedly want the recipient to do something.
Perhaps you want them to check out information on a new service you’re offering. Or you want them to get their hands on that new freebie download you’ve placed on your website. Maybe you want them to click on the link to book an appointment online with you.
Whatever it is, identify the main goal of the email, the goal that if achieved, you’d call sending that email a success.
After you finish writing the email, read through it from the perspective of the recipient. If you were receiving the email, would you be enticed to follow through on its point? If not, figure out why. Most likely, you’ve distracted the point with superfluous fluff.
Elizabeth Yin of LaunchBit goes into detail about the placing of links in your emails. According to the (undoubtedly hundreds of) email campaign analytics she’s seen, your first and second links on any email are going to receive most of the clicks.
“The obvious conclusion of this,” she says “is that you never bury your call to action as the 7th link down the page.”
When emphasizing the point, also make sure that the link is obvious. Don’t color it to be the same color as the rest of the text and don’t shove it in the middle of the paragraph.
Intercom.io has a 2 minute video on improving your email messages. They explain in it the best placement for links in your emails (as well as going into some good personalization techniques).
2. Use the formatting tools you’ve got in your toolbox text editor bar
Formatting means a lot when it comes to writing.
Nora Landis-Shack of Customer.io makes a great point on creating scannable emails people really want to read. Use headlines and short paragraphs to make your emails easy to scan. Create bold headlines which stand out and attract attention. When you can, use lists instead of paragraphs to make the content even more scannable.
Even if your email, as written, doesn't have something which could be formatted naturally into a headline or into a list, see if you can re-purpose it to fit into some common formatting standards. Make sure that the formatting doesn't look forced, but don’t disregard formatting options because the content you’ve already written doesn’t adhere to it well. (Hey, you’re not lazy, are you?)
Also, just a word of warning because it has to be said: Emails that are just one (really long) paragraph are the worse things to receive. No spacing, no pause, no formatting at all.
I’m sure you, dear reader, are not the type of person that sends these emails, but I couldn’t conclude this section without mentioning it.
3. Using summaries to drive click throughs
Although we know that we shouldn’t, we live in our inboxes. If you send someone a long email, they won’t keep it open on their email screen for a long time because they want to get back to their list of emails.
I hear what you’re saying, “But, Lucy, they could just pop it out in another window and read it whenever they want.”
Hear me when I say: No one does that. No One.
So if you have a blog post you are sending to your list serve, use an introduction or summarize it so that the recipients don’t have to sit, read it in their email, and fight the itch to click back to see if they have new emails. At the end of the summary put a link to “continue reading” or “read the post”.
The other thing about summaries is that they don’t necessarily have to be the first few paragraphs of your blog post. This is what most people will do as it saves time (they don’t have to write a click-worthy summary) and it gets the reader into the post already.
Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes it does make sense for the email summary to be the introduction of the blog post with a link to “continue reading”. Just be careful that you don’t fall prey to thinking this is the best thing to do every time.
4. Edit. Edit. Edit.
Please. Do this for the good of humanity (okay, that may be extreme but indulge me for a moment).
I admitted above that I’ve been an offender of emails that were way too long. When people would sign up for a new TimeTap account so that they could have appointment booking on their website, I used to send emails that were around 800 words.
Now they may have been a wonderfully composed 800 words (I mean, what comes off the desk of yours truly without sounding wonderfully composed :), but no one was reading it and worse still, no one was clicking through to the guides I created on how to get their account setup.
I want to smack that girl upside the head for having that many words in an email to new users. I probably scared their britches off!
When I went back to the drawing board, I realized that the better way to help with onboarding is to provide a series of short emails over the course of the 30 day free trial.
Sending 1 email a day with a single action item got way more opens & click throughs than sending a single mass email on the first day. Having several touches with a new client or user serves to build the relationship and keep your business top of mind for the new user.
The takeaway here: cut down the length of your email and make it only have a single point, if possible. Don’t send emails where you’re wanting the recipient to do 8 things and praying that they do them in a specific order.
So there are 4 easy strategies to get emails down in size and contribute to a world where we no longer have to skim and feel unaccomplished.
As you start implementing these strategies into your daily email writing, it may take some time for them to feel second nature. Nevertheless, I’m trusting you to stick with it!
Eventually you’ll emphasize your point with intentionality, format things the proper way, use summaries like a champ, and edit with the best of the red-pen brandishers all without needing to think about it.
Maya Angelou once said, “Some critics will write ‘Maya Angelou is a natural writer,’ which is right after being a natural heart surgeon.”
The point here is that writing with purpose and brevity is a skill that takes time to master. Not one person is naturally gifted at it. It’s not something you can start practicing and be immediately brilliant at, but it will be a huge benefit to you down the road.