In Defense of the Really Long Email

When companies begin formulating their email strategy, this question always comes up: How long should our emails be?

Surely, with decades of emailing under our belts, our society has figured out some formula, some equation, some something to help determine an ideal email length.

Yes, friends. You’ve come to the right place.

The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and ideal email length is 42.

(Just kidding.)

Typical marketing “best practices” would say that emails should be as short as they can be — short and pithy like a Seth Godin blog post.

But is that always the best approach? What if you’re trying to sell B2B sales software, a field where prospects open less than 24% of emails? Or you’re trying to convince someone to book the trip to Paris they’ve been dreaming about since they saw Aristocats? What if your message can’t be conveyed in 5 sentences or less?

Like Deep Thought says in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “Once you do know what the question actually is, you’ll know what the answer means.”

Instead of asking how long an email should be, ask yourself these more insightful questions:

  • What’s your goal for this email cadence?
  • How does this email fit into that plan?
  • Who is your audience?
  • What do you know about your audience?

So now that you know the actual question, you’ll understand that the answer is: Emails should be as short or long as they need to be, in order to meet their intended goals. That might mean you send a really, really long email every once in awhile. Joanna Wiebe of Copyhackers says this:

Your worry should NOT be that your copy is “too long.” Your worry should be that your copy “doesn’t sell for shit.” Make it sell. Make it close. Use as many words as it takes to earn your cup of coffee.

If the idea of hitting “send” on an email over 500 words scares you, here are some seriously successful examples of emails far longer.

Exhibit A: Close.io’s Sales Pitch in an Email

Close.io offers a free email course for people wanting to learn more about sales in startups. Check out this insanely long email, the longest in their sequence, which happens to get the highest number of free trial signups for their sales CRM tool.

Insane, right?

Why It Works:

You might think: Why so long? Why not break this email up into more digestible chunks of information? Isn’t this overwhelming to the reader?

No — because that’s what the reader intentionally signed up for. People join with the intent of learning how to sell. They aren’t looking for a daily quote and a link to a relevant blog — they want the value to come from the emails themselves. They are looking to learn — so learning they were given.

Here’s what the Close.io team has to say about it: “At that point the engagement level of our average subscriber is so high that they want to read it, and it would lose its effectiveness if we’d break up the narrative flow.” While an average email reader’s eyes might glaze over after the first paragraph, their intended audience gets hooked with the relevant, informative stuff they need to commit to a trial.

When we asked Steli Efti CEO of Close.io if he was still on Team Long Email, the answer was yes. “Most people hate long emails. I get it, because we’ve all got enough going on in our lives already. And yet, every month we craft and send out a very, very long email to all our subscribers asking them to try our sales software,” he explains. “The reason why that email is always so long is because it needs to accomplish specific things: it needs to convey what’s in it for them, why they should read the next sentence, how what we’re telling them relates to the issues they’re dealing with.”

The lengthy emails provide an opportunity to field objections: “So if you want people to try your software, ask yourself: what could make them not want to sign up for a trial now?” Some people don’t want to deal with having to remember to cancel a subscription. So, Steli points out, “That’s why we tell people that our trial expires automatically, and they don’t even have to put in their credit card information.” Think getting set up with a new CRM takes hours? “We tell them that they can literally can get started emailing and calling their leads in just a few minutes.”

“Ultimately, it always comes back to understanding your audience, putting yourself in their shoes, and communicating with them in a way that is actually meaningful,” he concludes.

It’s worth noting that this email isn’t one giant block of text. It’s broken up by headings, bold text, numbered lists, and bullet points that make the email scannable — so readers unwilling to read every word can get what they need at a glance. The Close.io team suggests: “Structure your email well, make it easy for readers to scan and find what’s relevant to them, and then you won’t have to worry about your email being too long.”

Exhibit B: Journy’s Drip Campaign About Trips

Journy, a travel concierge service, started by writing traditionally short emails — until they realized they weren’t getting the engagement they were after.

The team decided to test this email “best practice”, using A/B testing in Customer.io to compare engagement with a traditionally short email, with a quite long one.

Claire Zhang, Journy’s Growth Lead, said, this about the test: “The results — it was like whoa! The conversion rate was three to four times better for the long email. Longer copy actually worked better for us, which runs counter to conventional marketing wisdom, but is a very valuable insight to us.”

Long Email for the win!

Why It Works:

Although Journy’s customers come from all backgrounds, they share a few common denominators. They’re generally:

  • Consumed by wanderlust
  • Excited (and perhaps a bit anxious) about their upcoming trip
  • More interested in the experience of travel than the logistics of it

Journy realized that because users demand a high degree of trust from a travel service, they actually respond well to emails with lots of information. Although shorter emails might be more digestible, they wouldn’t satisfy the emotional need for peace of mind that customers might have when trusting their travel plans to someone else.

Longer emails also feed into the reader’s excitement about their trip. If someone has wanted to travel to Paris their whole life, a long email about where to find great baguettes, which museums to see (and which to skip), and whether the excursion to Versailles is worth it is an exciting way to prepare for the trip. It becomes a craveable part of the experience of traveling. A short email reminding them to bring their passport wouldn’t have the same… je ne sais quoi.

In a world where companies like Close.io and Journy are finding ways to speak directly to their audiences in meaningful ways, the days of the email blast are (over) numbered. The secret isn’t in an email’s length — but in its substance and intention.

Have you had success with sending really long emails? Share with us in the comments!

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