How to structure emails so people will read them

It’s no secret that people read emails differently than a book or magazine. And when it comes to email structure, F apparently stands for fantastic.

According to a Nielsen Norman Group study that tracked subjects’ eye movements across the screen, readers typically view Web content in a F-shape pattern. The average reader scans the top of the screen and then moves down the left-hand side, with a shorter horizontal scan of content further down the page. That means you have a limited amount of real estate to make your point and pique the reader’s interest. Here’s our guide to structuring emails that will catch your audience’s attention.

  1. Write killer subject lines. The subject line is the first thing your recipient reads and the main factor that determines whether or not they’ll open it. Use action-oriented language, be concise, convey a sense of urgency and clearly spell out the benefit to the reader. Words like “new,” “sale,” “video,” “free” and “today” can all help to spark interest.
  2. Get to the point. Put the most important information in the first two paragraphs (i.e., the top of the F), which are the most likely to be read. Concentrate on one point per paragraph and keep paragraphs short so readers can skim the content easily.
  3. Use bullet points. Break information into lists to make it more readable, and start each bullet with a short headline. As people scan down the left side of the email, they’ll pick up on the key points.
  4. Add visuals. Incorporating photos or videos helps to break up the text and gives readers another entry point into the content.
  5. Create a strong call to action. Focus on one call to action, whether you’re directing them to visit your website, call you or sign up for your newsletter. Keep your message simple to avoid confusing the reader and support the call to action through your content. For example, if you want them to call you about product X, your email copy should contain reasons why that product is a good match for them.

Are you creating the F shape in your emails? Tell us how you structure your content in the comments below.

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