Overcome Distracted Reading: How To Write Emails for Short Attention Spans

Goldfish don’t read emails.

But if they did, they would be an easier audience to write for than humans.

According to a recent study, the average human attention span is only 8 seconds, while goldfish average 9 seconds. Yikes!

It should come as no surprise, however, that the attention span problem is related to multi-tab browsing and smartphone usage.

According to Dscout, Americans touch their phones an average of 2,617 times a day. (Yes, you read that right…)

We interrupt ourselves with our devices constantly, and as a result, most people are less likely to read even short emails and articles all the way through.

For anyone writing emails, this reality presents some major challenges.

If you’re not writing and designing emails for readers with extremely short attention spans, you’re likely missing out on one of your best opportunities to drive sales and revenue for your business.

So here’s what you need to know: When writing emails, your writing style has to incorporate tactics that take limited attention spans into account.

You can leverage these to use your readers’ limited focus to your advantage. Kind of like an email ninja!

Still with us? Here are a few tips on how to write emails for short attention spans… emails even a goldfish could read!

1. Write scannable copy

People don’t read online – they scan in an F-shaped pattern. This means that the secret to getting read is to structure your email copy in a way that’s suited to scanning.

Image source

Readers (and that’s using the word “reader” loosely”) begin their scan at the top and left side of the page then move horizontally, then down and horizontally again, giving the first few lines more attention than anything else.

This is especially prevalent on mobile devices, which is where 47% of emails are opened.

F-shaped scanning isn’t great for information retention. The pattern causes readers to miss big chunks of information as their focus darts around the page.  

But there are ways to write around this:

  • Use bullet points and short blocks of copy. Break large blocks of text into smaller, easily digestible sections that can quickly be read and understood. A good rule of thumb is to include no more than 2-3 sentences in each paragraph.
  • Use headlines and bold print for clear formatting. Even headline copy should get right to the point. Start headlines and subheadings with the most critical words, as this is where the scanning reader looks for key information.

Who does scannable copy well? One Design Company.

With bare bones copy, brief featured articles, and plenty of white space used around images and words, the email can be read and understood during a reader’s quick scan.

2. Leverage personalization

Email is personal. That’s why it’s such a powerful marketing tool.

We get so used to it that it’s easy to forget how incredible it is to be able to talk to people directly.

It’s the kind of access past generations of marketers would have killed for. Yet personalization is an area that still hasn’t been widely adopted.

While 94% of businesses claim that personalization is the key to success, data shows only 39% actually use personalization in their marketing strategy.

This is good news, however, because it means you can stand out from the pack with something as simple as the recipient’s name in the subject line.

And the upside of advanced personalization is huge. Research shows that personalized emails have:

  • 6x higher transaction rates
  • 29% higher open rates
  • 41% click-through rates

So how do you get personal with email subscribers?

1. Segment subscribers. Use forms, quizzes, and customer data to gather the info you need to maximize relevance and personalization. From there, build out segments that group your subscribers into more relevant groups. Rather than mass-messaging, this personalized approach makes every email you send feel tailor-made.

2. Use the recipient’s first name in subject line. Collect first names with email addresses from new subscribers and use personalization tags to automatically add them to your email subject line. Why? Because personalized subject lines have a 26% higher open rate than generic ones.

3. Send the right message at the right time. Thanks to automation and customer journeys, you can be sure every subscriber gets relevant emails based on where they’re at within the buying cycle (instead of sending a one-size-fits-all email blast.) You can use automation to trigger emails based on purchase behavior, spending thresholds, account inactivity, customer birthdays, and much more.

All of this helps keep you top-of-mind and engaged with your customers.

3. Put the conversion path front and center

When you need to write emails for short attention spans, it’s a good idea to minimize distraction and increase conversions by focusing on a single conversion path.

If you want visitors to subscribe, ask for that – but don’t also present subscription pricing and an eBook offer in the same post. That’s information overload.

Decide what action you most want visitors to take (and which action they’re most likely to be willing to take, as sometimes it’s a compromise) and then feature it in a location where a scanning reader is likely to notice it (remember the F-shaped pattern).

CTA buttons should stand out from the email too, making it easy and as inviting as possible act on your call to action.

Joanna Wiebe, an expert copywriter, says this about minimizing distractions around the conversion path:

“Magicians manage your attention by compelling you to notice what they want you to notice. Once they have your attention, they can adjust your perception to make you focus on something or to make something quite important seem perfectly shrug-worthy – visible, but unnoticeable. Marketers do the same thing. We manage attention, not necessarily by misdirection but by focusing attention.”

OKcupid shows you how to keep it simple and puts all the focus on a single path to conversion. (Note the first name in the headline, too!)

As a rule of thumb, just remember: Keep it simple. One email, one task. If you have more than one thing to say, send more than one email.

4. Recommend relevant deals and products

A Barilliance study found that 31% of eCommerce site revenues are generated from personalized product recommendations. Using data to recommend relevant offers can be one of the most lucrative things you do with customer information.

So how can you skillfully offer up product recommendations in emails for your constantly distracted readers?

  • Create customized “customers also purchased” emails. These recommendation emails are a simple way to offer up products that have already proven of interest like-minded customers. You’ll catch those scanning eyes with hyper-relevant suggestions.
  • Follow-up with customers that abandoned carts. Cart abandonment is estimated around 60-80%, so consider sending automated emails to customers with abandoned carts to help remedy one of the most frustrating aspects of online retail. Plus, you already know they’re interested in those specific items. Sendlane has a Shopify integration that makes this ultra-simple.
  • Monitor search behaviors on your website and retarget accordingly. In the age of Amazon, most email subscribers are used to retargeting practices – and it’s something you should take advantage of. Remind potential buyers to come back to your site and complete a purchase as they continue to browse online.

Travel site Last Minute does a great job recommending relevant deals to their customers. They know where subscribers want to go and offers deals to destinations they’ve expressed interested in:

5. Use your P.S. line

One seriously undervalued email tactic that dates back to direct mail is adding a postscript, also known as the “P.S.” line.

It’s the very last line of text your subscriber sees when he/she scrolls down to the bottom of your email, so it’s prime real estate for a last chance call to action or a reinforcement of the key message in your email. For readers with short attention spans that just want the gist of your message, you can give them what they want (and need!) with a short 1-2 sentences right at the bottom of your email.

In your P.S. line, you might consider:

  • Reinforcing your CTA for a last-chance conversion path. Emphasize urgency. If this is their last chance to take you up on your offer, let them know in the postscript and remind them that there’s scarcity (limited time or limited quantity) around what you’re promoting to drive clicks and sales.
  • Making it pop. Add scannability by putting your P.S. in bold so it stands out from the message body. Be sure there’s also plenty of white space around this message to so to boost readability.
  • Showcasing testimonials. After your offer and your copy explaining it, follow your message with a few words from your happy customers as a final reminder of what problems you can solve. This is a great way to reinforce elements of social proof that convince readers to take action right away.

Check out how FilterEasy uses their P.S. line to reinforce their free bonus offer:

Write emails for short attention spans & overcome distracted reading

Even though your subscribers may not have goldfish-level attention spans, with the right email practices, you can leverage their short attention spans to your advantage with scannable text and calls to action that actually get noticed.

Let’s do a quick recap of the tactics we discussed for when to need to write emails for short attention spans:

  • Write scannable copy for easy consumption
  • Leverage personalization for greater relevance
  • Focus on a single, clear conversion path
  • Recommend relevant products by integrating your e-commerce platform
  • Use your P.S. line for last minute reinforcement

If you follow the tips and tricks outlined here, in no time at all you’ll boost the effectiveness (and results) of your email marketing efforts.

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Caitlin Haines

Caitlin Haines

Social Media & Content Manager at Sendlane
Born in Honolulu, Hawaii and raised in San Diego, California, Caitlin has a passion for developing creative marketing content and is primarily responsible for overseeing development, execution and delivery of digital content across all of Sendlane’s channels. After putting in years of work experience in the marketing world of luxury real estate, Caitlin decided it was time for a change and that’s when she found her “home” at Sendlane! She has enjoyed being a part of a powerhouse team where she has had the opportunity to wear a variety of hats and take her knowledge and creativity to the next level. When not focusing on increasing Sendlane's online presence you'll find Caitlin playing music or spending time with her Fiancé.
Caitlin Haines

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