Good question, which I’m going to rephrase as “What’s the best length for my e-newsletter?”
The quick answer is that “too much” varies, but you’re best off keeping your e-newsletter short. With attention spans shrinking and many people reading on their cellphones, keeping it short is just smart. In most cases, a newsletter that goes on and on will give the impression that it’s going to take too long to read. You don’t want to make clicking “delete” too appealing.
But as with many questions, the more thoughtful answer is, “It depends.” It depends on the readers. It depends on your relationship with them. And it depends on the value of the content you provide.
I’ve done a bit of research to find the latest thinking to go along with my own advice. Here are seven tips for content that will be worth the read, no matter what the length of your e-newsletter:
1. Understand what’s in it for your reader
Look at your e-newsletter from the perspective of your readers. Content Marketing Institute’s Joe Pulizzi suggests you answer one question: “Why would anybody read your information?”
2. Offer value
“The baseline for content should always be: Is this something that will be valuable to my users?” says Kevin Gao of Comm100 Email Marketing (link no longer available). He suggests blocks of text of 100 to 150 words are often “more than sufficient” to convey your message or information. This works if you want to use teaser copy and then drive people to “read more” on your website.
But what if you don’t have a website where you can house this content? Don’t worry. If your content is valuable to your readers, they’ll read it within the newsletter itself. For several years, IABC/Toronto’s Professional Independent Communicators used Constant Contact to mail an e-newsletter that contains a few lengthier articles (roughly 500 words) of interest to solo practitioners. Open rates consistently ranged between 39% and 50% compared to Constant Contact’s average of 20.56% for associations and 15.59% for professional services customers.
3. Be relevant
Among the top reasons people unsubscribe is irrelevant content (after emailing too often), reports Pam Neely for Campaign Monitor. She recommends testing how often you send messages, being sure to provide “helpful content so your subscribers get more value from receiving more emails from you.”
4. Be concise
“People never read: they scan for content that is of interest to them,” says Chui Chui Tan for the SailThru marketing blog. “Make sure your content gets straight to the point, and write short paragraphs and bullet points.”
5. Know what action you want readers to take
After analyzing some 2.1 million customer emails, email marketer Constant Contact found that three or fewer images and about 20 lines of text — or about 200 words — resulted in the highest email click-through rate for most industries. However, they qualified that; it depends on the action you want your reader to take. Short is all you need to create interest if you just want the reader to click through to a website; other actions may need more explanation.
6. Survey and test
Ask subscribers what they do or don’t want to see, says Sujan Patel for Content Marketing Institute. You can also test response to short or longer pieces and the number of subjects covered, along with subject lines, design and sender name.
7. Be choosy
MailChimp sends e-newsletters themselves as well as for their customers. Their advice: “As devices shrink and the inbox evolves, our oldest tip is still the most important: Only send when you have something to say.”
The bottom line, as I said, is it depends on your readers, your relationship with them and how much they value the content you provide. As Constant Contact advises, make your e-newsletter as long as it needs to be.