Long Form vs. Short Form Emails

Long Form vs. Short Form Emails: Which Work Best?

As a small business owner, you’ve probably heard by now that email marketing is a worthwhile online marketing strategy. With conversion rates consistently above other advertising techniques, it’s often the go-to source for transforming prospects into paying customers.

To keep the pep in your copy and your conversation rates high, it’s vital to know how to carry out a solid email marketing campaign. There’s more than enough advice out there about long form vs. short form website copy and blog content, but when it comes to email marketing, there are a lot of mixed messages.

Many professional marketers are sold solely on short form copy, shouting its dominance from the rooftops. Others take a more well-rounded approach, encouraging you to diversify anything and everything email-related.

Ultimately, the take-home message is simply to write your email copy—long form or short form—in a particular way so that it achieves the purpose you had in mind. But what exactly does that mean when it comes to fleshing out an email? We’ll review a few key elements that will help you to know exactly how long you need to make every email you write.

Know Your Audience

Know Your Audience

Every marketing intern has the words “know your audience” tattooed on their brain. This information is foundational to executing a top-notch campaign. What this means to you and your online marketing endeavors is that you must get to know your ideal customer.

The best way to get to know your target audience is to talk with them. Of course, it’s not always possible to speak to throngs of customers face-to-face. Having a candid discussion with a handful of potential customers, however, can benefit your thought process tremendously.

To point you in the right direction, talk to them about what they really want. Being a savvy and insightful business owner, you might already know what they need. But, what do they want?

Remember that different professional niches have different characteristics. Individuals in some sectors want lots of details before hitting the “I’m in!” button. Others are perfectly fine handing over their cash after reading a handful of bullet points.

Determine how much a potential customer values your product or service. Take note of the words they use to describe their wants and needs. What value does your business offer them?

Speak to those emotions and desires when you write your emails. This will help you to determine the appropriate copy length. Most importantly, make sure you understand your decision-makers, and market to them.

Stay True to Your Email Campaign

Stay True to Your Email Campaign

Businesses have several reasons for sending emails—post-purchase drip, seasonal campaign, abandoned cart email, newsletter, etc. Each type of email targets a certain kind of person at a specific point in their relationship with your business. To decide on short form or long form, you need to settle on the overall purpose of that particular campaign.

For example, a newsletter is going to reach a much wider audience and have a much different purpose than a post-purchase drip email. Someone in your newsletter pool is hoping for helpful advice, free stuff, and news on upcoming deals or events. A person receiving a post-purchase drip email is mainly looking for updates and details on their order.

It’s tempting to try to sell at every chance you get, but this isn’t a good idea. People get tired of being targeting all the time. For this reason, it’s imperative that you stay true to your email campaign.

Keep it short and sweet when it’s appropriate to do so, such as when you send an abandoned cart or post-purchase drip email. You can teach, inspire, or drop a sales pitch in your seasonal campaign or newsletter.

Let Your Copy Do the Heavy Lifting

With a wide variety of email services at your fingertips offering many cool features, it’s important not to get sidetracked. Trust in your own words rather than in the doodads.

Services like Mailchimp and Constant Contact have amazing features. Still, the main driver in getting your reader to respond to your call-to-action (CTA) is the copy you write.

It’s vital to pinpoint one main CTA per email. The reason is that it’s your job to guide your reader through their purchasing journey by using specific and strategic CTAs.

Some of the more popular CTAs include:

  • Sign up.
  • Learn more.
  • Claim your free trial.
  • Subscribe.
  • Send me specials now!
  • Get started.
  • Join free for a month.
  • What this means for your email marketing to-do list is to ensure that all roads lead to Rome. Or, your copy length must support your CTA—literally every word. As mentioned, it’s tempting to sneak in a few subtle “oh, by the way,” sales pitches. But don’t. To write succinct email copy, remember that the goal of each word is simply to get your reader to read the next word.

    Write as many words as you need to write to get your point across and then stop. Forget trying to reach some made-up optimal word count, and simply write to hit your CTA aim. This might mean writing a 1,000-word case study to layout your business story. Or, it might mean typing up a 3-point bullet list. Again, you’ve got to know your audience and your campaign.

    Make the Email Scannable

    Here’s the thing, people don’t actually read online content as they would the latest New York Times Best Seller. Rather, people resort to scanning the page for valuable bits of information. While this will undoubtedly dictate how you format your email, it will also influence how long you make your message.

    Much like blog posts or website copy, some elements that influence copy length and make your emails more scannable (and thus, more enticing) include:

  • Easy-to-read sentences
  • Bullet points
  • Numbered lists
  • Short paragraphs
  • Headings and subheadings
  • White space
  • Consider that the better you format your email the more copy you’re able to add without overdoing it. In fact, using this strategy, you might need to explain a certain header or flesh out a numbered list a bit more. So long as your copy points back to your CTA, you’re golden.

    Remember, it’s important not to waste their time with chunks of text or a hard-to-read message. It might seem like a no-brainer that short form would be the best way to deliver any message. Yet, a reader will more likely absorb a scannable long form email rather than nibble on a messy bite-size one.

    Keep Your Links in Check

    Keep Your Links in Check

    Keyword stuffing is a negative SEO term tossed around in the marketing world nowadays. However, consider that link stuffing could be just as nefarious. Over-optimizing your emails works in the same way that over-optimizing your website does. What it looks like is an email full of hyperlinks, causing confusion for your reader and drawing them away from your ultimate CTA.

    One particularly unsuccessful but common strategy is to increase the email length to fit in as much information as possible. While the information in itself isn’t bad, per se, writing scattershot copy is. To make matters worse, that type of lengthy email often includes numerous links to this or that new product or service.

    As you may have guessed, the over-written and over-optimized email marketing strategy typically flops most of the time. To avoid a “certain flop” situation, be mindful about how many links you’re including in your email. In short, avoid over-optimizing because it simply doesn’t work anymore.

    Moreover, be aware of the copy surrounding your links. Of course, some links will require more foundational words than other links. To sum up, it’s important to let your copy and the link serve as pillars for your online marketing strategy.

    Be Aware of the Timing

    Be Aware of the Timing

    Unsurprisingly, very few people admittedly enjoy a crowded inbox—especially when most of it is junk mail. As a goal-oriented business owner, it’s easy to get delete happy with hundreds of emails competing for your attention. Your readers are not unlike you, and it’s important to remember that when you write your emails.
    With that said, there are a few different approaches regarding how often to send emails. Plus, your professional niche will dictate your chosen frequency.

    Many retailers, for example, play the part of the pesky housefly by relentlessly showing up in your inbox. Some like to call these short, little messages rapid-fire emails—they just never quit. Their goal is to stay in sight and in mind, which many successfully accomplish, landing customers along the way.

    Another approach is to rely on a less frequent but more purposeful email. Plenty of newsletters or weekly “free advice” emails fall under this category. They do well with longer and more personal copy. Mostly, because the business has already established trust with the customer, and the email content reinforces that trustworthiness.

    Yet, as with many things in life, timing is everything. Plus, it’s vital to know your audience and know the mindset of your audience at different points in your professional relationship. This information, as well as your timing, will inform you on whether to choose long form or short form emails.

    Deliver on the Subject Line

    As alluded to earlier, engaging content builds trust. People like to buy things from people they trust. When you deliver solid content to your customers, they will view you as an authority in your industry. Naturally, that leads to organic referrals and plenty of free “word of mouth” advertising.

    But, the first step in building trust with your customers is to do what you say you’re going to do. One commonly overlooked way of doing this is not to mislead them in the subject line of your email. Your email copy needs to be long enough to deliver on the subject line completely as it leads up to your CTA.

    Keep in mind that email advertising has such a high success rate because it’s not competing with much else. Basically, a potential customer either chooses to open an email or they don’t. An email isn’t plastered on the side of a busy interstate or hidden in the widgets of a favorite blog. It’s delivered right to your reader’s inbox—which, is a very personal place to be.

    On the one hand, if your monthly newsletter needs to be 1,200 words that follow through on what you promised in your subject line, then go for it. On the other hand, if a brief 300 words can do the trick, make it happen. Give your readers what they want, and what they want is what you promised.

    When in Doubt, A/B Test


    There are times when even the right information leaves you unsure of which path to take. Settling on long form vs. short form can be quite an involved decision, after all. This is especially true if you’re the one tackling a list of to-write marketing emails.

    When things are still blurry, consider how A/B testing for email marketing can benefit your business. In short, A/B testing allows you to create two email campaigns—one for group A and one for group B—so you can let your email open rate enlighten you on the most successful approach.

    Check out all of the articles in the ‘Email Marketing’ series:

  • Email Marketing Isn’t Dead & Here’s Why
  • How to Write Emails That Convert
  • Does Your Click-Through Rate Really Mean Anything?
  • How to Understand Your Conversion Rates and Improve Them
  • Long Form vs. Short Form Emails: Which Work Best?
  • Why Your Email Open Rate Is the Key Analytic
  • Stephanie

    Stephanie is the Marketing Director at Talkroute and has been featured in Forbes, Inc, and Entrepreneur as a leading authority on business and telecommunications.

    Stephanie is also the chief editor and contributing author for the Talkroute blog helping more than 100k entrepreneurs to start, run, and grow their businesses.

    StephanieLong Form vs. Short Form Emails: Which Work Best?