PR Training

How Long Should Your E-Newsletter Be?

The No.1 advice e-newsletter subscribers have for e-zine senders? Keep it short.

According e-newsletter usability studies conducted by Nielsen Norman Group’s (NNG), people spend just 51 seconds, on average, with an email newsletter after opening it.

“The rule for web content is to keep it short,” writes Jakob Nielsen, principal of the Nielsen Norman Group. “The rule for email content is to keep it ultra-short.”

Why do people spend so little time with e-newsletters?

  • Too many emails: Organizations and individuals send out 269 billion emails a day, according to the The Radicati Group. That’s a lot of competition for attention in the inbox.
  • Tiny screens: More than 50 percent of your audience members now read your e-newsletters on their smartphones. That tiny screen causes enormous usability problems.
  • Audience and sender sophistication: As e-newsletters have become shorter, more visual and more scannable, subscribers have learned to expect more tightly edited e-zines.

The result? Readers want less. So how long should e-newsletters be? The short answer is: It depends. The longer answer requires math. But stick with me. It’s worth it.

Calculating your A.R.T.

People read about 200 words per minute. We can use this stat to determine the Average Reading Time, or A.R.T., a concept created by The Poynter Institute’s Roy Peter Clark.

To determine A.R.T., multiply the number of minutes you think people will spend reading your message by 200. The result: your recommended word count.

We know that people will spend an average of 51 seconds — which we can round up to one minute — with your email newsletter. So multiply one minute by 200 (words per minute) to get the recommended length of your e-zine in words.

The answer: 200 words per newsletter.

This recommendation is borne out by another study. Emails of about 20 lines of text had the highest click-throughs, according to study of more than 2.1 million customers by Constant Contact. Twenty lines is about 200 words.

Knowing your content

The right length of an e-newsletter, according to experts, depends on:

  • Frequency: The more often your send your newsletter, the shorter it should be.
  • Format and subject matter: Too long? Increase frequency or limit information.
  • Audience: B2B audiences may be busier, for instance, so their e-newsletters should be shorter. And millennials prefer short newsletters, according to the University of North Carolina. But more details make them feel better informed.

A final thought: Did you know that, according to NNG, the only e-newsletter that was consistently read was Dictionary.com’s Word of the Day. And it was just a few lines long.

So keep your e-newsletters short. You only have 51 seconds to make an impression before your reader has moved onto something else in their inbox. 

Copyright © 2019 Ann Wylie. All rights reserved. 


Ann Wylie works with communicators who want to reach more readers and with organizations that want to get the word out. Learn more about her training, consulting or writing and editing services at WylieComm.com. Get more of Ann’s tips at FreeWritingTips.WylieComm.com. Email: ann@WylieComm.com

Would you like to learn more proven-in-the-lab techniques for getting emails opened, read and clicked through? If so, please join PRSA and Ann Wylie at Reach Readers Online — a three-day email-, blog- and mobile web-writing Master Class on July 24-26 in Portland, Ore. PRSA members: Save $100 with coupon code PRSA19.  APRs: Earn six maintenance points.

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