How long should emails be?

Long emails are similar to large dinners.

Here’s a wildly popular question: How long should emails be?

Every other Internet marketing “expert” is saying that emails should be getting shorter, shorter, shorter, with anecdotes like “People don’t read any more”. (interestingly, these experts rarely, if ever, provide any data to back up their blanket statements) The reality is a little more complex and highly dependent on what you’re sending. Let’s rephrase the popular question in the form of food. How long should meals be?

Sometimes you want a snack. Sometimes you want to sit down for a meal. Occasionally, you’ll want to have a lengthy dining experience (dinner and a show!). “How long should meals be?” is something of a pointless question without understanding the context in which it’s being asked. How long do you have to eat? A fast food meal might be just the thing if the local chain is next to the office and you have 20 minutes between conference calls.

Here’s a better question: how good is the food?

You are unlikely to sit down for a meal if what’s being served is flavorless gruel. Most people would rather skip that meal than eat bad food.

Your email marketing is no different. If you’re serving the digital equivalent of flavorless gruel to your subscribers, don’t be surprised if they pass on it repeatedly (especially when there are other emails in their inboxes that might have more to offer). You can make your flavorless email a five course meal of misery or a bite-sized portion, and no one will want it.

On the other hand, think about how you approach what you know is going to be a great meal. You might dress up a bit, invite someone special along, set aside some money to afford it, buy some special ingredients if you’re making it yourself – all of these little rituals are part and parcel of going out for a great dinner at a favorite restaurant or cooking it at home. You know the meal is going to be great, and so you set aside time, energy, and resources for it.

If your email marketing is truly great – if you’re serving five-star value – then people will set aside time for you. They will set aside space in their brains and space in their inbox to read what you have to offer, because they know it’s great, in the same way they set aside time for a great meal.

The answer to the question of how long emails should be is less relevant than the answer to how great your email is. Make your email as great as your favorite dining experience, and people will make room for you in their schedules.

Christopher S. Penn
Director of Inbound Marketing, WhatCounts

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