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Built to engage

How do you structure emails for different reading behaviours?

In the West we read from left-to-right, top-to-bottom and this dictates how people engage with email content. Inboxes are crowded, busy places – before committing their full attention people are going to scan-read.

The style and depth of this scan-reading primarily depends on 4 engagement factors:

  1. The content – its perceived value. Is it high quality, useful and engaging?
  2. Its structure – what elements increase sense, accessibility and visual indexing?
  3. The sender – what trust, credibility and brand awareness have you built?
  4. The timing – how relevant is the content and is the reader ready?

In essence: Send high-quality, relevant and well-structured content at the right time to folks you’ve built credibility with.

The scanning pyramid

In order of increasing engagement, these 4 engagement factors determine the reading behaviour of recipients - how much they're just scanning text - and form the layers of the scanning pyramid:

F-pattern – the least engaged readers will scan the start of sentences. Starting top left, these scans quickly shorten so that, after only a few lines, only the first word or so is scanned.

Spotted pattern – here readers have a preconception of specific information they’re looking for. What did your subject line and header promise? Primary focus is on headings, image captions and bullet-points looking for matching text snippets.

Layer pattern – as with Spotted-pattern scanning, readers are looking for specific information. But this time they’re more invested. They will scan for relevant subheadings and then read through that entire section.

Commitment pattern – the reader is all-in. Your email content is engaging and its flow is maintaining that engagement.

How to structure your content

You send high-quality, highly-relevant content to your target segment of red-hot leads at just the right time… how can you structure your content to improve engagement and cater for all these scanning patterns in a single email?

  • Make your opening paragraph a clear and concise hook
  • Use visually distinct, catchy and informative subheadings
  • Create clearly separate chunks of related content
  • Use images to demarcate sections, provide clarity and break-up text-heavy emails
  • Give key words and phrases emphasis through bold and italics
  • Use bulleted or numbered lists to break-up dense information
  • Make inline links descriptive to prompt specific user action
  • Ensure readability by using suitable font size and line lengths
  • Give your content breathing room with plenty of whitespace

Maximise the effectiveness of well-timed quality content by structuring it to engage with different reading behaviours.

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