Well, that’s messed up

So in case you missed it, yesterday I tried a little test—

I stuck a line of bolded text near the top of my email, and asked readers to write back with whether the formatting caused their eye to skip around while they were reading.

I made a bit of a miscalculation that I think threw off the results a bit.

The plan was to have the line of bold-face type show “above the fold,” but a bunch of you wrote back with something like:

“No, it didn’t distract me, but I couldn’t see it until I scrolled up a bit on my phone.”


Still, the survey results were pretty interesting:

21% said their eye jumped straight to the bolded text.

Another 10% said the formatting was distracting in some way.

If I’d succeeded in getting the bolded text above the fold, I bet those numbers would have been quite a bit higher.

Here’s what got me thinking about this:

I recently started getting emails from another marketer, and I noticed that he sprinkles 3-5 bolded sentences through his emails.

At first blush this seems like a good idea.

The bolded sentences stand out, and they break up the text into smaller chunks.

What I’ve noticed from reading these emails though is that I’ll start reading the first couple of lines, and then my eye immediately wants to jump down to the first bolded line.

Once this happens, I can’t seem to get back into the flow of the email.

It’s like a one-way switch got flipped in my brain from “reading mode” to “scanning mode.”

This makes sense if you think about how you consume different types of content.

Technical content tends to contain a lot of formatting. Think of a software manual, or a how-to blog post.

The key steps are bolded so they stand out. The important sections are marked with headers.

This kind of content is designed to be skimmed.

When you’re writing emails or other sales copy, you don’t WANT “skimmable.”

What you want is READABLE.

Copy that looks inviting to read.

This means things like sprinkling shorter lines and paragraphs in with slightly longer ones.

Using a good amount of spacing between lines, and an extra line between paragraphs.

Using a “Goldilocks” font size that’s not too small but not so big that it looks goofy.

Setting up the HTML template for your emails so that the text resizes nicely on a variety of devices.

Try this:

Grab the last page-turner novel that you enjoyed and open to a random page.

I guarantee there won’t be a lot of bold text and other formatting sprinkled throughout the page.

But the text will have a lot of the readability attributes I called out above.

Bottom line:

If you’re writing your emails to be read and enjoyed, they should look like things that people typically read and enjoy.

P.S. Another factor that threw off the results of my little experiment is the expectations my subscribers have.

Around 20% of the people who said the bolded sentence didn’t distract them also added something like this comment from Jason:

i probably would have [gotten distracted] in your email too, but i feel almost like i’m trained to read them from start to finish because I expect a story.

When people generally like your emails, they’ll cut you a lot of slack over minor missteps.