[Infographic] Email Attention Spans Are Increasing, Fueled by Mobile

The following blog post was written by Chad White, Research Director at Litmus. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadSWhite.

It’s becoming more difficult for brands to break through and earn consumers’ attention. Consumers are skipping ads on TV, blocking display ads on the web, and developing almost universal ad blindness.

At the same time, SMS, push messaging, Twitter, Snapchat, and other channels have progressively shortened message length and our attention spans.

While attention is at a premium in many channels, it’s becoming more plentiful in email inboxes. New Litmus research shows that email recipients are spending more time with the emails they receive. The average time spent reading an email increased by nearly 7% to 11.1 seconds between 2011 and 2016, according to an analysis of billions of emails using Litmus Email Analytics.

Across all six years, there was a fairly steady improvement in the amount of time subscribers spent reading each email they opened. Subscribers have gradually spent less time glancing and deleting emails and gradually more time skim reading and fully reading emails. At the high end of the spectrum, we found that the percentage of emails read for more than 18 seconds grew to 44.4% in 2016 from 38.4% in 2011.

Mobile’s Influence on Email Attention Spans

The biggest factor behind the increasing time spent reading emails is mobile. The average amount of time that mobile users spend reading an email increased nearly 16% over those six years—which, frankly, surprised us.

We’d expected to see the opposite—that mobile was shortening email attention spans. The fact that read times increased on mobile are likely the result of three factors: one driven by email clients, another by marketers, and the last by consumers.

First, mobile email clients have made significant improvements, including Android scaling emails to fit the viewport and, most recently, Gmail finally supporting responsive design. Plus, mobile screen sizes have increased considerably, making email reading even easier.

Second, brands made huge strides in making their emails mobile-friendly, to the point that responsive is now the dominant email design approach. If you’re not ready to make the jump to hybrid or responsive design, then seriously consider mobile-aware or responsive-aware design, which are simpler to implement.

And third, people turn to their mobile devices when they’re bored or have a little free time on the subway or bus, in a waiting room, while watching TV, or even while in the bathroom. They aren’t in a big hurry—at least not compared to when they’re at work. That means that many of the email interactions on mobile devices are slightly more relaxed compared to those on desktops.

Together, these three changes contribute to the growing amount of time that consumers spend reading emails. While this should make marketers less afraid to include long-form content in their emails, it doesn’t lessen the need for clear, efficient communication and clean, thoughtful email design.

To learn more about subscribers’ growing email attention spans and how to optimize your emails for quick consumption, check out the infographic below.