Why I Don't Read 90% of the E-mail I Get

And Yet Marketers Keep Making the Same Two Mistakes

By Published on .

B.L. Ochman B.L. Ochman also writes the popular What's Next Blog.
Let's face it: We're all drowning in e-mail! We could spend most of our time just managing our inboxes. So why do advertisers and marketers of all stripes keep making the same two stupid e-mail mistakes?

Approximately 90% of the 12,000 or so e-mails I get every month are zapped unread for two simple, maddening reasons:

  1. The message is buried.
  2. The entire message is a graphic. Doh.

Space wasters
The first mistake has to do with the physical limitation of e-mail, which is not a printed page that the eye can scan all at once.

At most, the recipient of an e-mail sees 10 lines of text on the first screen (less if they're reading it on a mobile device). If you don't get your message in the first three or four lines, it won't get read.

Why, then, do so many e-mailers expect us to scroll through three and more screens just to find they want?

Asking a reader to scroll through more than one screen just to find out what you want to say is not unlike taking five minutes to introduce yourself every time you call your sister. Neither practice is necessary nor makes sense.

Between glitzy HTML mastheads, lengthy letters from publishers, boilerplate about privacy policies and just plain garbage prose, it's the rare e-mail that spills the beans in the first few lines.

Ways that publications and advertisers waste space and time include:

  • Having an HTML masthead take up the entire first screen of the e-mail then expecting us to read through advertising to get to the table of contents.
  • Taking up the entire first screen, and sometimes as many as three screens, to remind us that we actually subscribed to this publication so we are not being spammed and that the mailing list will not be shared and that new subscribers are welcome. Only then, as many as 40 lines later -- that's four screens in Outlook, etc. -- are we told what the issue contains. Of course I'll never know because I won't still be reading and I bet you won't either.
  • Using lots of white space between paragraphs introducing the issue of a publication, then making us plow through a 10-line ad, a few paragraphs about the newsletter and a privacy statement before we get to the beginning of the first article.

All-Image email
Dunno about you, but I have my e-mail set not to download images unless I manually determine that I want to see them.

Downloading images to find out what someone wants to tell me is just damn annoying and it wastes my time. All-image e-mail is simply a ridiculous idea, for which there is no excuse. None. I don't need pretty e-mail. I need fast e-mail.

Which brings up a third pet peeve: attachments. Do not send attachments without saying: "If you are interested, I can send you the report, photos, PDF, press release, etc."

Rant complete. Want to add to it?

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