You've probably heard the now debunked statistic that human beings only have an eight-second attention span. While we are still able to keep our focus longer than a goldfish, it's true that our ability—and desire—to pay attention has evolved.
As you might imagine, our devices are largely to blame. As screens spread our attention thin, email marketers need to adapt to win their readers’ increasingly scattered attention.
Old email tactics that resemble print newsletter copy are now a one-way ticket to the trash.
That may sound discouraging, but our attention issues contain an opportunity for content creators, too. Readers will tune out more and more content, investing their attention in what really captures it—which is good news for those who know how to do that.
Let’s take a look at 10 ways you can make your email content stand out in the first eight seconds.
1. Have a sensational subject line
In real life, when you want someone's attention, you call out that person’s name. It’s the same with email. And data shows that putting the recipient’s first name in the subject line can increase your open rates by as much as 26%.
People scan their inboxes at lightning speed, making decisions about what to delete and what to read in just fractions of a second. The subject line is arguably the most critical part of an email—because it determines whether or not the email gets opened.
Since most people now read email on their mobile devices, it’s important to keep subject lines short. Mobile screens truncate subjects at just 50 characters, so you’ll want to keep them shorter than that.
Above all, your subject line should explain what’s in your email. Don’t use misleading or irrelevant subject lines.
Here are a few more subject line best practices.
2. Write scannable copy
People don’t read on screens in the traditional sense. They scan. Write your copy with this in mind.
Use short paragraphs and short, declarative sentences.
Use bullet points if that suits your style.
Break up topics with bold headlines and subheadings.
If you’re unsure about the clarity of your writing, paste your copy into the Hemingway App. It highlights overly complex sentences and assigns your writing a reading level.
Writing for the internet, you should be aiming for 6th grade or lower. That doesn’t mean your writing is over-simple or unsophisticated, but rather that it’s clear and easy to understand.
3. Be mobile friendly
Data shows 54% of all email is opened on a mobile device. If you want to grab mobile users’ attention, everything you do in terms of email design needs to be optimized for small screens and email apps.
Why? Because mobile users won’t put up with bad formatting. 80% polled in one study say they delete emails that don’t read well on their phone.
Make sure to test your emails on a mobile device before sending them out using a tool like Litmus. Don’t assume your design will translate flawlessly.
4. Use visuals
From images to infographics, visuals are one of your most powerful storytelling tools and a proven way to get attention and keep it.
According to Fast Company:
- 65% of people are visual learners.
- 90% of online shoppers consult videos when making a purchasing decision
- We process images 60,000 times faster than text
- We retain 80% of what we see and only 20% of what we read
Don’t stop at static images: Gifs, buttons, and interactive content al grab instant attention and drive engagement as well.
5. Say one thing per email
When designing an email, always begin with the end in mind. Ask yourself what you want readers to take away or to do after reading—and design around that.
Each email should say one thing or drive one action. You can send an ebook offer, or you can send a birthday discount code. Just don’t try to send an ebook offer and a birthday discount code. If you have two things to say, send two emails.
6. Make personalization visible
Many personalization tools like segmentation work behind the scenes. They’re often effective, but not attention-garnering in and of themselves.
Think about how you can use personalization in a reader-facing context to instantly give subscribers the feeling: “This email was written for me.” Use customer data to include personalization by name, location, or via relevant products in your subject lines and email copy.
It works: One pet retailer achieved a 10% higher than average open rate and a 410% higher than average click-through rate by segmenting their emails based on the kind of dog the customer owned.
7. Use dynamic content
You can send unique, customized content experiences from a single email with dynamic content. Using this tactic, your readers will be able to see, even at a glance, that your message is relevant even at a distance.
We’ve mentioned the effect of visuals—dynamic content lets you deliver the right visuals for each subscriber.
8. Feature product recommendations in your subject lines
Relevant offers are attention-grabbers. The subject line is your first and best chance to get readers’ attention. Why not bring these two together?
Airlines do this all the time with subject lines advertising cheap flights to destinations you may have researched or places that sound appealing in the middle of a long winter. You can do something similar by promoting something like an abandoned cart item in the email subject line.
9. Perfect your call to action
The CTA is the backbone of your email. Build everything around the action you want readers to take.
Your CTA should be clear, concise, and completely obvious. This is no time for subtlety—it should take the reader way less than eight seconds to figure out what it is you’re asking them to do. A nice, big CTA button never hurts.
10. Timing is everything
Well, maybe not everything…but timing matters.
Different types of content are better suited for different times of the day. It makes sense to email business clients during business hours, for example.
Find out when your past campaigns got the highest open rates, and then model future send times around that. Just remember: There’s no hard and fast rule here. You’ll need A/B testing around different send times to see what works best for you.
As attention becomes a scarce commodity, the line between the trash folder and a click-through can be measured in seconds or even fractions of a second.
Personally, I decide if I am going to open up an email really quickly. Usually, my decision is mostly based on the sender. If it is a store or restaurant — those typically get deleted as soon as I see them unless I am planning to visit them soon. Or maybe if they are giving me something for free 😉 For other emails, like work-related or personal emails, they pretty much all get opened. Business has to go on and family is important!
By optimizing your email marketing for evolving attention spans, you can break through the noise and distraction and set your brand apart with content that’s so blatantly relevant, you can see its value in the blink of an eye.