Email newsletter best practices on word length

Three main questions

We live in an impatient age. Once, attention spans were challenged by 10-second sound bites, and now we’re moving toward a word-free, Instagram-driven world. Since no one reads nowadays anyway, that means your newsletter should be heavy on visuals and light on text, right? Well, maybe. What are email newsletter best practices? How many words are too many? Just because people are reading less on the whole doesn’t mean you should limit yourself to subheads and photo captions. It all comes down to your brand, goals, and audience.

Does your brand rely on verbal expression?

If you run a sporting goods store or a computer repair business, you probably don’t need to wax poetic about … well, anything. Stick to a few relevant sentences and feel free to lean on the photos. But if you sell vintage jewelry, telling the stories of newly acquired items can support your nostalgia-driven brand. If you run an ad agency, including a cleverly phrased company update reminds your customers how expressive and incisive your copywriting can be. If, like me, you run a website or blog that regularly publishes in-depth, long-form writing, sending out a photo-driven newsletter will actually work against your brand. You needn’t drone on and you should certainly include visuals regardless, but if you have engaging stories to tell, tell them.

What are you trying to accomplish with your newsletter?

Email Newsletter Best Practices

Some newsletters exist to disseminate coupon codes, highlight new items, or describe new services. If you’re using your monthly emails to drive sales, keeping things short and sweet makes perfect sense. However if your newsletter is meant to make your brand or business seem more personable and authentic, or used to cover topics that customers or readers have asked about, more text makes more sense.

Who is your audience?

Your readers subscribed to your newsletter, and by doing so they’ve told you that they want to hear from you. So even if they don’t read every word, you’re unlikely to drive them away by providing too much content. That said, if you know that your audience is comprised mainly of c-level execs or brain surgeons — people who are both busy and under constant, intense pressure — be as concise as possible. An audience of fellow moms, fans of your novels, or customers who rely on your expertise will both want and expect you to go a little more in-depth.

Still worried about inundating your readers with too many words? Rely on succinct informational subheads to divide up your text; even newsletter skimmers will get your gist. Utilize bullet points to break up your paragraphs; someone who skips a block of text may still hone in on a broken-out list. And, of course, use hard breaks between your paragraphs to give your text some air.

Email newsletter best practices

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but sometimes you still need a few sentences to get your message across. Email newsletter best practices are to find what works for your brand, goals, and audience, go ahead and write a little more.

Image by: Etenil Flickr via Compfight cc

Sally McGraw
Sally McGraw is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer, editor, and blogger. She is the creator the popular daily blog Already Pretty, a columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, a Huffington Post contributor, and the author of several books about style and body image. Sally is also a ghostwriter and editor who specializes in non-fiction books and book proposals. She believes that writing is like solving a living, breathing, ever-changing puzzle, and finds the challenge exhilarating. Her favorite word is "crepuscular."