You’ve Got 51 Seconds

Posted by Stephanie Miller on

Readers spend an average of 51 seconds with email newsletters, typically skimming the contents. Only 19% of newsletters are read fully. (Nielsen Norman, 2006) That’s good news and bad news for B2B email marketers, who are most likely to produce content newsletters rather than tips or pure promotions.

Good news is that 51 seconds is a long time in the email world, as promotional emails get about 15 seconds (Marketing Sherpa, 2005). The average person reads about 200 words a minute, which means, I’m loosely figuring, you’d get about 100-150 words after headlines and images to communicate and engage – or about 5-7 headlines if the reader is skimming.

The bad news is that most B2B newsletters have far more than 7 headlines and 150 words. In fact, we are encouraged to do so: The B2B marketers I’ve worked with who survey their readers find that subscribers report the length is fine and that depth of material is appreciated.

Yet at the same time, response is low for most newsletters, and this “51 second rule” helps explain why so few newsletters earn any clicks below the fold. Subscribers don’t necessarily lie in surveys, they just don’t always act (as tracked by response data) the way they think they do.

I’ve got 10 seconds left to give you some tips for newsletters:
1. Place a table of contents in the preview window to encourage scrolling
2. Use the masthead space to highlight a headline and engage the reader quickly. Think like a magazine cover headline writer — what will get the reader to dive in?
3. If your key success metric is clicks, keep the abstracts/articles short and punchy and offer compelling info behind the click. Don’t frustrate readers by teasing them – provide the full story. But promote deeper info, stats or illustrations to drive the click.
4. If your key success metrics is opens/readership, write the abstracts particular for the email. Tell the whole story, including the punch line. Make the value of your newsletter that it IS a summary – short and sweet and to the point. Think of the What’s News columns in The Wall Street Journal front page. It tells the complete story, but in a very concise way.
5. Promote cool stuff that is deeper in the newsletter. One of our clients puts a Quote of the Day at the very end of a long newsletter. Another uses an image of Dilbert and the guidance, “Scroll down for today’s Dilbert.” Another cross promotes by linking related stories to each other within the email (using anchor tags).

Make the most of your 51 seconds!


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