I Sent Only 100-Word Emails for One Year and Here’s What Happened
Keeping your emails short and concise has some major benefits
By Michael Smith February 14, 2018
Last year, my wife Lindsay and I launched a writing experiment together. As busy parents trying to raise two young girls, we wanted a way to capture our thoughts and reflect on life rather than just watch it pass by.
We decided to send 100-word emails three times a week for one year straight.
Why such short emails? Nowadays, people have the attention span of a goldfish. Litmus, an email testing tool site, found that the average time spent reading an email is 11.1 seconds. That’s it!
With Twitter, texting, and skimmable Facebook feeds, people are no longer accustomed to reading long-winded posts. You need to grab people’s attention—fast.
That’s why Lindsay and I promised our readers quick, to-the-point short emails that could be read in one minute or less. We assumed subscribers would regularly open and engage with these shorter emails.
We hosted the email list sign up form at 100-words.com. When people signed up, they received a 100-word welcome email that set the expectations for the series. It looked like this:
(You can find the archive of all the 100-word emails here.)
The very first email went out on January 2, 2017. Here were the outcomes of our little year-long experiment.
1. We are better writers now.
At first, it seemed easy to write 100 words. Then, suddenly, you’re staring at 500 words on the screen.
That’s when the real work begins.
Lindsay and I had to be tough editors to get exactly 100 words every single time. We had to be concise (which was hard for us—we’re both ramblers!) without stripping away any context.
Over the course of 12 months, this got easier and easier. Now, whenever I write, I carefully choose my words. If I can write a sentence in 10 words instead of 15, I do it. I’m a more succinct communicator since ending this experiment.
(Try it for yourself! Go to wordcounter.net and begin typing a sentence. See how how quickly 100 words can flow from your keyboard to the screen?)
2. Our open rates were extremely high.
The typical open rate—the measure of subscribers that opened your message—will vary depending on your industry, but 20% to 40% is the average. Our average open rate was 57%.
Our high open rates were due in part to our small list (approximately 80 people because we didn’t do much promotion). As your list size goes up, your open rate typically falls.
But our high open rates was also due to our short-and-to-the-point content. Our subscribers knew exactly what to expect from us. We never wavered. We never sent a 90-word email or a 105-word email. We never tried to sell them anything. We never took advantage of the fact that we were invited into their inboxes.
Every single individual on that list was important to us. At the end of the day, I’d rather have 80 highly engaged subscribers than 1,000 that never open or read our emails.
(Is it time to purge your list of subscribers? Find out here.)
3. We had a low unsubscribe rate.
Because our emails were just 100 words and super conversational, we ended up building relationships with a large portion of people on our list. Many of our readers would email us back and give us their thoughts, suggestions, feedback, and advice. If we missed a post, they would email us to ask why we were slacking. (They kept us motivated!) We only had a handful of people unsubscribe over the course of the year.
I was recently reminded of a video by American author and marketing guru Seth Godin. In it, he says, “permission is the privilege of being looked forward to and being missed if you were gone.”
I think this list of subscribers gave us that level of permission! They invited us into their inbox. They liked our content, opened it, engaged with it, and continued to invite us back week after week for an entire year. When you get to that point with your audience, you know you’re doing something right.
4. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive.
At the bottom of our emails, we always included a hyperlinked question “Did you like this email?” If the reader clicked the link, they were taken to a form to tell us why.
These micro actions allowed for a feedback loop. People clicked through and left their reactions to our musings. They told us they looked forward to the short, snackable content every week, and their comments sometimes spurred new email topic ideas.
Plus, the affirmations helped keep us energized to make it the full 12 months.
If you want to set up something similar on your own emails, you can embed a sentiment widget. It allows you to track feedback on every message and learn what your audience likes and dislikes about your content. It’s a great way to constantly hone your emails and improve your open and click-through rates. Click here to learn how to embed your own sentiment widget.
Should you shorten the length of your emails?
One hundred words is an aggressive constraint, but it really forces you to edit yourself. Turns out, you don’t need as many words as you think you do to write well.
Now, I’m not saying you need to commit to a year of 100-word musings. But give it a try every now and then. For instance, if you send a weekly newsletter, keep your intro to 100 words or less. Your readers may appreciate the brevity.
You can also send 100-word emails over a shorter timeframe, like two weeks or one month. Then track open and click-through rates and sentiment widget feedback to see if there’s a change in your subscribers’ behavior. They may start interacting more with your content than they did when it was longer.
If you’re looking for more email writing tips, check out this FREE What to Write course. You’ll get 45+ email content templates to help you craft the perfect message every single time.