How long is too long?

A client recently asked me if their emails are too long. They were concerned that they were featuring too many messages and, especially on mobile, that the overall scroll height was getting a bit out-of-hand. It’s an interesting question and it would be convenient if there was a straightforward answer like ‘2,000 pixels’. Alas, it’s not as simple as that; there are a few important factors that need to be weighed up before we can make a judgement. 

Managing expectations

Before we get too involved, it’s worth mentioning that the average time spent reading a marketing email is pretty short. Less than 12 seconds. Roughly 25% of opens get a cursory glance of less than 2 seconds. When creating content for attention spans comparable to that of a toddler, there’s a lot to be said for keeping it short and sweet. Sure, some emails will buck the trend but, as a rule, particularly for B2C campaigns intended to drive conversions (as opposed to awareness or engagement), less tends to be more. 

Balls all over the place

Say I throw you a single tennis ball. Assuming I don’t launch it at your head like a Scud missile, there’s a good chance you’ll catch it. Say I then simultaneously throw you three tennis balls - you might catch one of them, but there’s a risk you won’t be able to decide where to put your attention in time, and they’ll all go sailing past you. The more I simultaneously throw, the less likely you are to catch any. 

You get the idea - single-minded messages are easier to absorb and typically result in greater response rates than the same message bundled in with a load of competing noise. 

Don’t get clipped

There is one area where we have a clear-cut limit that should not be exceeded. Gmail (which accounts for 26% of all email opens at the time of writing) and Yahoo! Mail clip emails that have a message size (by which we mean HTML payload, not your images) greater than 102kb. The rest of your message will be hidden behind a ‘view entire message’ link. What’s more, Gmail and Yahoo! aren’t remotely considerate about the code they chop off, and they certainly don’t helpfully close any HTML tags that are left open as a result, resulting in a high propensity for wonkiness. And if that wasn’t enough, your tracking pixel is usually right at the bottom of your code, so that gets clipped too and you don’t record an open. Clipping is no bueno. 

Fortunately it shouldn’t be hard to keep your HTML below the threshold, provided you (or your developers, or your agency - need a new one?) put appropriate energy into crafting clean, minimal code. And your emails aren’t too long…

Images, images, images

Linked to, but distinct from, the point above, is the issue of how long your emails are taking to load. This really comes down to your image payload, more than the size of your HTML file. There are many arguments for keeping the number and file size of your images as low as possible and I plan to rant on this very subject in the near future. In the context of this discussion, if your emails are already image-heavy, extra length equals extra load time and a greater risk of a recipient getting bored of waiting. 

What do the stats say?

Ultimately, you’ll get the best measure of whether or not your emails are too long by taking a look at your analytics. We would expect a drop-off in CTR from top-to-bottom, but if the content at the bottom of your email is still getting clicks and your broader trends indicate a healthy list (ratio of active to inactive subscribers, unsubscribe rate etc) why not include it? Just make sure you’re happy with the idea of it playing second fiddle to (and potentially diluting) the content a bit higher up, that you aren’t overdoing it on the images, and that you aren’t going to get clipped.

Would you like us to help?

At Wax Media we create email that inspiresTM (not actually TM). With more than a decade’s experience working with some of the biggest brands and agencies, whatever your goal, we can help you get the most out of the email channel. For a no-obligation chat, give us a call on +44 (0)1189 778578 or email - we’d love to hear from you.