Over the years the “people don’t scroll on the web!” mantra has been both supported and denied. Today I think it’s pretty fair to say the majority of people have figured out how and when to scroll a web page. This has pretty much become a non-issue.
But there’s another scrolling issue worth thinking about: Email scrolling. Standardized emails are too long. These usually take the form of “Welcome to our product” emails or verbose auto-responders that have one line of steak and 150 lines of sizzle.
People don’t read these things. They’re too long, they’re too wordy, they’re too fluffy.
Welcome emails seem to be the biggest offenders. Welcome emails have become the place where copywriters and web designers shoehorn all the stuff that didn’t make it onto the web site. “Ugh, just put it in the welcome email.” They’re the bastard child of the signup process.
Long emails get ignored and filed away. Short emails get read. People see the value without having to get out the reading glasses. A welcome email shouldn’t be a novel.
We used to have a really information packed welcome email for Basecamp. It had everything you’d ever need to know about your Basecamp account. And guess what? We got lots of support emails asking about the things people should have spotted in the welcome email. But they couldn’t see through all the fog we put in their way.
Ever since we cut the welcome email way back we’ve seen significant reductions in basic support questions such as “What is our URL?” and “How can I upgrade” and “What’s my username?” Small change, noticeable results.
Here’s an example of the current Highrise welcome email:
Short, sweet, to the point. That’s everything someone really needs to know right now. And it’s everything they can find later on if they need to. No wading, no translating, no digging through piles of words to find the quick answer.
Richard Birdon 06 Apr 07
Beautiful. Less is always more.
More information inevitablty leads to more questions.
Keep it simple, of course.
Joshon 06 Apr 07
I believe scrolling is determined by attention length, and that strangers cannot have a user’s undivided attention in an email.
Steven Baoon 06 Apr 07
I must agree. Simplicity in emails is always good – sometimes it is possible to put it in the subject itself, if it’s short enough.
I can’t stand HTML email, either.
Tim from bla.ston 06 Apr 07
Another advantage of using a simple text email like that is it’s less likely to be filtered out by spam filters.
The use of capitals to make each item more distinct is a good idea.
I notice there aren’t trailing slashes on the URLs – Sub pages like the ”/help” page need a redirect from the server to add the slash. Is it worth having the slash to avoid the redirect, or leaving it off to make one less character for users to type?
Here’s a similar signup email from my site if anyone has any suggestions:
Hi [username], thanks for joining bla.st.
To add a card go to: http://bla.st/card/add/
Want to earn cash and help grow the bla.st community? Try the bla.st widget on your site: http://bla.st/site/widget/
View all your cards here: http://bla.st/user/my-cards/
If you forget your password reset it at: http://bla.st/user/forgot/
Please contact us if you have any problems, questions or suggestions: http://bla.st/site/contact/ or reply to this email
Regards, The team from bla.st
Anonymous Cowardon 06 Apr 07
Brevity is appreciated when appropriate. I don’t mind a long, thoughtfully written email, especially on a complicated subject. Trouble is, most people don’t take the time needed to compose such an email.
What is awful is a huge, multi-scroll, single-paragrapgh, stream-of-consciousness email that makes you go cross-eyed. Ugh!
Lincolnon 06 Apr 07
Great post. I was just fighting this battle today at work. I’m designing a site for 800×600 users (don’t ask) and have been fighting for them to allow some scroll-ability, along with some pagination to keep them involved on a page before heading off to the next one.
Ben Richardsonon 06 Apr 07
Totally agree. One thing though, do you ever think that HTML emails can make it easier to highlight the most important points?
Of course, the email should be mutlipart (html and text) so those who setup their email clients for text only still get what they’re after.
We’re planning on do a little testing of some feedback emails we send to see what gets a better response – HTML vs Text. We’ll be sure to share the results.
schlarbon 06 Apr 07
Good reminder. I think the same can be said or comments and replies on forums and blogs as well.
clifyton 06 Apr 07
What is funny is that in another post 37 rails against ‘improper’ email quoting:
The fact of the matter is people are lazy. It has nothing to do with scrolling or otherwise. They want everything dumbed down so they don’t think about it.
So this means simple emails, and regardless of whatever was posted a year ago in this blog, replying out of sequence at the top, quotes underneath, when replying to a message.
Fabianon 06 Apr 07
I wished you were right about scrolling on websites is a non-issue today. I still have to fight this war much too often. I cannot understand how people like news articles broken up over several pages where you cannot use browser search.
From a usability standpoint aiming at pagination links is much harder than using the mouse wheel or pageup/pagedown.
And then there’re the marketeers who want to generate additional page impressions by splitting articles. Stupid.
Amie Gillinghamon 06 Apr 07
This post was pretty timely; we’ve been debating what to do about our current welcome letter. There’s no question it’s been getting shorter and shorter the longer we’ve been in business. I think you’ve given us the impetus to make another whack to its bare essentials. Thanks for the kick in the pants!
Dave Rosenon 06 Apr 07
Jason, I really love your short, sharp email style. Very valid as more of us are reading email via mobile devices too.I wonder just how few words can be used. Here’s one with a third of the words of the current.
Welcome to Highrise, John.
https://johndoe.highrisehq.com USERNAME: johnny
UPGRADE or CANCEL your FREE account anytime: https://johndoe.highrisehq.com/account
Need HELP? http://www.highrise.com/help
-37signals http://www.37signals.comYou can’t downgrade a free account, one path leading to help might be better than 3 options? and I’d rather get an email from 37signals than Team Highrise any day :)
Jansen Priceon 06 Apr 07
Sorry, I only read the first three paragraphs of your article, because that is all I could see without scrolling.
Hal!on 06 Apr 07
Awesome post and very timely. I am about to write one of these emails this weekend.
anonon 06 Apr 07
It’s still odd to me that you can’t log in to 37s products from the product home pages.
joshon 06 Apr 07
In response to clifyt – I don’t think people are necessarily lazy or stupid. That’s simply a way to justify lazy, uninteresting or stupid messaging or interfaces. I really subscribe to the Don’t Make Me Think rule which is in my opinion, quite high on the ladder of intellectual design.
Jon Nicholson 06 Apr 07
Same here. At first, it feels like you should have a really catchy pretty email in HTML, but we’ve since reverted to very simple clean text-only mail.
However, as others have mentioned, we haven’t completely abandoned HTML email. There was one case where we thought that we should just use a text link to an html page… the email itself would be pretty useless. In the end, we felt like an HTML email would actually be more efficient, since it would prevent having to take this extra step. The information could be conveyed much easier in HTML.
As for the scrolling issue, while in general I agree, I think you still have to design for it. While people will indeed scroll, they still have to have a good faith belief that there is something to scroll to. A long story, for example, wouldn’t be a problem, but we had a problem, in some very early testing at SteamStreet (our new financial portfolio manager), where the sign up button was ‘below the fold’, and more than one person didn’t find it. In our case, there was nothing that would cause the user to think that there was anything there, so they missed it. We just needed to clean up the design to better direct them.
Neil Wilsonon 06 Apr 07
I have to say that if you end up having to scroll on a web page then you seriously need to ask whether there is too much information on that page and whether it can be collapsed in any way.
Certainly anything that you want to have their immediate attention (like the ‘signup’ button) needs to be within the first sphere of view – or failing that their last.
David Son 06 Apr 07
Wy are you using capital letters in parts of your e-mail? It looks like you are shouting.
Des Traynoron 06 Apr 07
I think they’re going for eye-catching. Certainly at a glance you’ll immediately see all the important words.
The Easy To Read standard, developed by Information Architects Japan also argues that scrolling is pretty much acceptable these days… This is definitely worth a look if you haven’t seen it before. http://www.informationarchitects.jp/100E2R/
Martinon 06 Apr 07
An important note: use an actual email as the sender, not some firstname.lastname@example.org sender.
Quite some people will save the email, and whenever they have a support issue, they will retrieve it, hit reply and write away. How do I know it? Got enough of them top-quote style.
Coudalon 06 Apr 07
Guilty as charged. “Sorry this is letter is so long, we didn’t have time to write you a short one.”
Erikon 06 Apr 07
It’s not about the length of emails, it’s about its relevance. People want to read alot as long as they’re getting interesting information.
Karl Non 06 Apr 07
Re: scrolling, I hate news articles that make you scroll AND page. I scroll down about 3 screens thinking I’m almost done, then I see there are 2 more pages of the article. Either put short pages on the screen and make it easy to flip, or put the whole article on one page and let me scroll through it.
andrew hon 06 Apr 07
you have love “common sense”.
Scott Meadeon 06 Apr 07
Steven Bao – hopefully you have your email client set to plain text – if you do not like html emails. To those preferring text because of mobile devices – again your device should be able to pick the text part of emails.
To me, email and web pages are both forms of communication to the customer. Both are scanned – not read. Both are likely to contain information that is ignored. This post hasn’t really explained why web pages should be HTML and email should be plain text. Besides the obvious – “they’re different” – why are they different? I agree with keep it short and less words = better. I don’t get the point about text vs. html.
Long Time Listener - Repeat Calleron 06 Apr 07
Congratulations! Thank you for sharing this wisdom with us.
Seriously, this was worthy of a blog posting? I know this is your site and all, but posting stuff which is just straight up common sense which seemingly was lost on you until recently is not a news-worthy epiphany – it’s an embarrassingly late realisation, in my opinion.
I and many other people appreciate the insight you guys often provide in how to run a business or whatever, but sometimes there are some bits of minutia which may be better left undocumented…
(Expects serious flame-age for this contrary view.)
Bon 06 Apr 07
Speaking of Highrise, one nice addition would be a Division, or some other subgroup within a company. For example, I am working with the TV Industry. There are some people who work for an entire studio, and others that focus just on one show. It would be nice to be able to group together everyone who works at Disney, but also to find my contacts at a particular show.
Right now, I am using the show title for the Company field (if applicable). If there were a Division or Department field, I could put the show title there and save Company for the studio I’m working with.
JFon 06 Apr 07
B: You may want to consider using tags. Here’s an example.
Anonymous Cowardon 06 Apr 07
LTL-RC, aren’t comments about subjects you refer to even more extraneous? Even my comment on your comment is, but I did it more briefly. (not a flame)
Aydenon 07 Apr 07
You’re kidding me. How long did it take you to establish that short emails are a good thing? Do you really need to try telling us readers something so basic and, really, common sense?
Long Time Listener - Repeat Calleron 07 Apr 07
AC, True… But, my remark (unlike their entire post about brevity) didn’t need scrolling. _
Andrew Conardon 07 Apr 07
Jason – Thanks for your thoughts in this area. I think that it has a lot of applications for business, non profit, churches, etc. Thanks!
A. Casalenaon 07 Apr 07
How completely smart. I’m revising our Squarespace welcome email this weekend.
You’re very right about what people want from these emails. We see so many support questions that really can be answered from our initial message, but it’s a bit too dense (though we did highlight out important URLs). We might as well just drop 90% of the text.
Dianaon 08 Apr 07
It might be common sense, but sometimes those of us that have it aren’t writing the emails. This post gives us something concrete to forward to those that are, and to say “See? Don’t write long emails!” :)
Scott Meadeon 08 Apr 07
Diana – I see your point and I agree that shorter is better in these emails. Yet the question remains, why do you need a blog posting from 37s to forward to your email authors? Why not just tell them yourself?
Scott Meadeon 08 Apr 07
(p.s. I don’t post comments like the one above to be inflamatory – but truly just to better understand where folks are coming from)
tomon 08 Apr 07
I think that sentence and paragraph length matters a lot, too. I am much more willing to read/skim bullet points or two-sentence paragraphs (like in your example) than large blocks of text. So writing concisely and using smart formatting so that your copy can be easily skimmed (using bold and capitals for emphasis where appropriate is great for this, too) is vital.
Jesus A. Domingoon 09 Apr 07
Ok, I think this is the second time you posted about (welcome) emails. Great point, and very true. Which leads me to ask, did you guys recently signed up for something online and got annoyed by a disorganized/fluffy welcome mail? :)
Gal Josefsbergon 09 Apr 07
The welcome emails I keep are the ones that have useful information. The rest get a quick scan and then deleted. If the author can include some information I think is useful (customer service contacts, log in link, help link or similar items) I’m much more likely to read the rest of the email.
This discussion is closed.