By Brendan Scully

It’s no secret that the internet and smartphones have substantially reduced the average person’s overall attention span. That’s why you may be surprised to learn that the amount of time people spend reading and focusing on emails has actually increased in recent years. According to research conducted by Litmus Email Analytics, between 2011 and 2016, the average amount of time the typical person spends reading an email increased by 7%.

Obviously, this information comes as a surprise to many. Due to the ubiquity of mobile phones, it would seem reasonable to assume that people are spending less time focusing on individual emails, not more. In reality, the amount of time mobile users spend reading emails increased by 16% between 2011 and 2016.

The Reasons Behind the Trend

This may be due to recent technological innovations which make it easier to consume email content on mobile phones. On top of that, fewer people are purchasing desktop computers these days, while ownership of tablets and smartphones has increased substantially.

It’s also possible that the increase in attention spans is simply a response to the growing trend in email marketing of sending longform content to readers.

All that said, while attention spans do appear to be on the rise, the average amount of time people spend reading emails is still fairly low. Thus, it’s important to understand that your audience is going to be very distracted when they see your emails.

You need to take steps to ensure your messages get their attention and keep it. And first, you need to make sure your emails are reaching their inboxes with email address verification.

Optimize Emails for Mobile

Make sure your emails are mobile-friendly, as that is likely how most of your readers consume them. Don’t include huge blocks of text, which are difficult to read on mobile devices, and craft subject lines so the important words are closer to the beginning. Mobile devices sometimes fail to display the entire headline of an email until you open it.

In the text itself, use bullet points, headers, and other ways of organizing your content into easily-readable chunks.

Use (The Right) Images

Because the technology driving mobile email clients has improved significantly in the past few years, you shouldn’t be reluctant to include images. In fact, images can make your content more attractive to readers.

Just make sure you test your email load times before sending them. HTML can help reduce the amount of time it takes to load emails with large images.

Make the Most of the “Above the Fold”

It’s still important to use the “above the fold” space well, but forcing too much content into that small area can be overwhelming. Instead, use this space to lead the reader towards a call to action.

This is the first section your readers see when they open an email, so use it to capture their attention and provide context as to what the rest of the email is about.

Longer Emails are Better

Finally, don’t be hesitant to send longer emails. Data indicates that readers are actually willing to consume longer content if it’s interesting. If trends continue, their willingness to focus on longform emails will only grow in the near future.

Contrary to what you may have expected, your readers are probably paying more attention to your emails now than they were in the past. As long as you tailor your content for mobile devices, you can take advantage of this increase in attention span.

Brendan Scully began his career as an undergraduate research assistant at Dartmouth’s Tiltfactor Labs, focusing on the potential for humanistic design in Augmented Reality. Now he is an Augmented Reality Producer and currently CEO of Scully Creative Labs LLC based in Brooklyn, New York where he oversees a portfolio of internal and client-sponsored product development initiatives.