Email copywriting: Are you writing for 4th graders?

This is your audience
This is your audience

Email copy must be simple. This is especially true of B2C email copywriting, but it still applies to B2B. Simple copy is essential in retail emails.

While it might be tempting to wax poetic about a new product, consider this: The average American reads at a 7th to 8th grade level.

What 7th grade reading looks like

To give you a clearer idea of what that means, consider the following paragraph. It is an example of what 7th graders read and take comprehension tests on in school:

The coyote is a relative of the dog, wolf and jackal. Like its relatives, it is a predator and mostly eats other mammals. It will, however, eat a wide variety of foods, including insects, fruits and vegetables.

Coyotes are found throughout most of North America, from Mexico and Central America to Canada and Alaska. The color of its coat depends on where it lives. Mountain coyotes are darker than those living in the desert.

Notice the simple sentence structure. There are some advanced words, like predator and throughout. Consider, too, that is this homework. This is passage is supposed to stretch 7th grade reading skills.

Your readers don’t want to stretch their reading skills

But wait – if the average American reads at a 7th grade level, why should you be writing your emails for 4th graders?

Because you don’t want to make them think. In that sounds snide, look to one of the best books written about online conversion, titled “Don’t Make Me Think” by Steve Krug. It’s a great book, and it directly applies to email copywriting.

Steve likes the metaphor of billboards. He tells us people read our copy about as closely as people read the billboards they drive by at 70 miles an hour.

NEVER confuse your reader

Confusion is the arsenic of marketing. It kills conversions. A confused shopper will not buy. Someone who has to stop to think is, at least for a split second, confused.

Back to your email. You don’t want your reader to have even a whiff of confusion when they read your email. You can not strain their reading skills. You want them to roll through those words without any hesitation. I don’t want to see even one furrowed eyebrow.

Emails are read in terrible conditions

This is more true now than ever. Very few people are will read your emails with full attention.

Half of them will be reading on their phone.

That means those words will be in tiny type. Your reader may be walking down the street or ordering coffee while they read. They will have to focus on those little words, instead of looking at the pretty pictures, or even that person – BONK – in front of them.

Easy copy

Here’s what 4th grade copy looks like. This is from a school assignment:

You flip through the channels for the fourth time and realize
that once again there’s nothing on television that grabs you. Not a
problem! Throw on some running shoes and comfortable clothes
and go for a run.

One of the coolest things about the sport of running is that
you don’t need expensive equipment. All you need is a good pair of
running shoes and a safe environment. But just because you don’t
need much equipment don’t be fooled into thinking the sport of
running is easy.

Notice: there are no commas in this passage. None of the sentences is longer than 19 words. Personally, I would have trimmed that one. The biggest word is “environment”.  And remember, this is homework. 4th grade kids are studying when they read this. These paragraphs are written to stretch their reading skills.

What’s your copy’s grade?

You can simplify your email copywriting. Notice I said “simplify”, not “dumb down”. Do the usual: Omit needless words. Pare sentences. Cut what does not need to be said. And then, if you want, you can run your words through a grading tool.

Sarah K Tyler’s Writing Sample Analyzer lets you paste in your copy and see how it scores on several systems, including the Flesch, Fog and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level. It even explains what those scores mean.

Perry Marshall’s Readability Test will do pretty much the same thing.

Now your readers won’t frown when they read your copy. You deserve a gold star.