Resources Hub » Blog » 5 Ways Readability Will Boost Your Email Engagement Rates

Quality email and content have never been more critical. Inboxes are overcrowded, and the level of competing emails is astronomical. How are you going to make sure your content is read, and your email marketing hits its goals?

A trap I’ve fallen into in the past is information overload. I was too worried about making sure I got my message across that I over-communicated, which caused me to bombard my audience with information.

Not ideal when it’s an already crowded marketplace.

Customers receive an average of 21 branded emails per week. If your inbox is like mine, that can feel like a daily number some days.

As my confidence grew as a marketer, I was able to cut a lot of the noise I was creating. I began to use plain language, I got to the point, and I wrote content that had readability at its core.

There were plenty of benefits from doing this:

  • Messaging was clear
  • People immediately saw what my email was about/offering
  • Open rates increased
  • As did click throughs
  • Landing page conversion rates went through the roof
  • More sales were made
  • The business made more money
  • My salary went up – always a great motivator

I’m going to share with you today, some of the readability practices I use each day and how you can benefit from adopting them too.

But, just before that, I’ll answer “what is readability and how can it help me?”

What is readability and how can it help me?

Readability is a score that tells you the reading level needed to easily read a piece of text. If the text is too complicated, the majority of people won’t understand it. If it’s too simple, you may be missing out on important detail.

Why is that important to you? Simply put, if your email marketing is written at the incorrect reading level for your audience, you’re not going to connect with them.

The chart below gives you a general indication of where some popular titles sit. The scale they are measured on is the US grade school reading level – equivalent to the number of years of education someone has had.


For the vast majority of online content, I recommend aiming for a grade 8 reading level. Doing so opens up your content to a wider audience.

I have to stress here, I’m not talking about dumbing down what you are saying. Clarity of message is what you’re looking for.

Or as Bernard Kilgore, former Wall Street Journal editor put it, “Write for the expert, but write so the non-expert can understand”.

Right, let’s look at what we can all be doing each day to boost our readability.

1. Focus. Be relevant. Be authentic. Be effective.

Readability and clarity of communications starts long before you start tapping away at the keyboard.

Before you go any further with an email campaign, you have to be able to answer three very simple questions.

  1. Have you correctly targeted and segmented your database?
  2. Is what you’re sending genuinely of use to your target audience?
  3. Does it fulfil a need, solve a problem or provide a solution?

In short, only send to the people that you will genuinely appreciate your content.

When you don’t, you’ll at best be ignored. At worst, you’ll sour any long term relationships.

Always keep in mind that trust and reputations are very hard to build but very easy to shatter.

A DMA survey from 2017 showed that only 9% of marketers said all of their emails were relevant to their customers. 42% could say that at best some of their emails were relevant.

That’s a shockingly low number, but it’s also a great opportunity for those of us who get our act together.

2. Busy inboxes – Does your subject line stand out?

A lot has been written over the last couple of years warning against making your subject lines too long. I couldn’t agree more with that.

Say what you need to say, and say it quickly.

When working in the world of e-learning, this practice was a definite winner for me.

Here’s an example of one subject line that benefited from an edit.

Long subject line: Free MS Project + Prince2 with every PMP or CAPM

Short subject line: Earn over £50k as a senior project manager

The shorter subject line isn’t even that much shorter. Where it wins out is through its focus, it’s ‘what’s in it for me’ value, and its readability.

Readers can easily see there is an opportunity to earn very good money as a project manager.

The long subject line rattles off courses and has a heavy reliance on the hope someone is hooked in by a free course.

It’s also full of jargon, meaning readers need to know what the course titles stand for. That’s a big markdown in terms of readability.

Don’t get me wrong, that subject line did work for a time. But, the quality of the leads it generated was not as strong, or as plentiful.

The shorter subject line worked as it was focussed, aspirational and written in a way that appeals to a wider audience.

3. Make an impact at each campaign stage

Now you’ve started to be clear and concise with your subject line, keep those habits going. You only have a short window in which to make an impact.

This window is very short. 7 seconds, to be exact. That’s less than the average goldfish’s memory…


The best way to make an impact throughout your email campaigns is to tailor the content for that piece of the puzzle.

  • Subject lines – As short and as impactful an overview as possible
  • Email body – Keep copy to a minimum, but don’t leave the reader confused or not fully understanding your message
  • Landing page – Similar to the email in content, tone and length. Resist the need to go into too much detail, but make sure your copy gives enough information to make people want to move through the funnel. It’s all about balance.
  • Supporting pages – Blogs, product pages, FAQs, etc. Go to town on the detail, if needed, but keep readability in mind. Structure your pages in such a way that when detail is being given, you’re avoiding the wall of words

4. Write for the screen, not paper

The internet has changed the way we read, but it hasn’t yet changed the way a lot of people write.

We read books from left to right. On screens, it’s more like an F shape.

The image below shows that people skim reading a page. As content producers, we need to adapt to that and design our landing pages accordingly.


Source: Jakob Nielson

The wall of sound was great for rock music, but the same can’t be said for a wall of words and readability.

It might not seem an obvious thing to do, but read your copy out loud. If you’ve focussed on readability too hard, your copy could be full of with choppy sentences. You may have missed words or transitions, and written in a robotic manner.

5. A helping hand with readability

Marketing is a creative discipline that’s backed up with science. For every piece of brilliantly written and thought out content, numbers help to prove the writing works.

There are effective online tools that can help remove some of the guesswork. Look at the readability scores from these tools and find where you may need to work on improving your emails.

Look for such things as:

  • Are your sentences too long?
  • Do sentences and words have too many syllables?
  • Is your copy full of buzzwords?
  • Are you using passive voice?
  • Too many adverbs being used?
  • Is your tone formal or conversational?
    and more

Wrap up

Creating readable emails is about three things:

  • Keeping your audience and customers at the forefront of everything you do.
  • Looking at the bigger picture and understanding the readability of your content throughout your campaign.
  • Keep it simple.

Simplicity done well can be hard to do but, as with anything, practice makes perfect. The more you work on clear communication the more your audience will love what you’re sending them.

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This blog provides general information and discussion about email marketing and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.
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