This is a story of how a software company was able to start a conversation with 8x more of their users by cutting the length of their emails by 90%. You could set up a test of this method in less than an hour.

Cartoon About Saying Less

The Problem

One of the most valuable things you could do for your software business is talk to your users. You can help them get more value from your software, learn how they use your product, hear their feedback, and demonstrate the quality and commitment of your support.

However, if you’ve ever tried to talk to your users by email, you probably ran into a problem: Many users don’t respond.

Even if you follow all the best practices around emails, genuinely want to help them, and spend a long time writing a personalized email, people still don’t respond. That can be very frustrating.

Netlify—a platform for static sites—was feeling this frustration, so they brought me in to help.

Knowing that signups don’t matter if new users aren’t starting to use and get value from the software, Netlify was emailing every new user with an offer to help or answer any questions.

By most measures, the email was good: It was personalized, sent within a day, sent by a real person (their head of customer success), and had no flashy design.

Unfortunately it had a reply rate of just 1%. They were missing a huge opportunity by failing to reach 99 of every 100 users.

The Solution: Saying Less

When I saw the length of the original email, I suspected users are:

  • Not bothering to read it because of its length.
  • Assuming it's a template email because of its length, and therefore don't believe the offer to help is sincere.

The first thing I did was delete most of the email text and run an A/B test against the original…

First A/B Test: Original vs Short Email

Long Onboarding Email

This original email had 150+ words and a reply rate of 1% (1 of every 100 users).

Short Onboarding Email

This variation had 37 words and resulted in a reply rate of 4% (1 of every 25 users).

Cutting the original email text by 75% increased the reply rate by 300%.

That’s a terrific result for a few minutes of work. I could have stopped there, but wondered how far I could take this before seeing diminishing returns.

On to the second test…

Second A/B Test: Short vs Very Short

I took the winning email from the first test and cut another 50% of the text, taking out as much as possible while retaining the email’s meaning, then tested it against the previous winner.

Very Short Onboarding Email

This version has just 14 words. It resulted in a reply rate of 8% (1 of every 12 users).

Cutting the email text by another 50% doubled the reply rates from the previous version. Compared to the original, the length was cut by 90% and reply rates increased by 700%.

Email Reply Rates

Imagine you could onboard 8x more people to your software and hear 8x more feedback from new users. That’s the power of saying less.

Try It Yourself

Take your welcome or onboarding email—start here if you don’t have one—and cut out any text that isn’t necessary. When you feel you’re done, take out another 50%. Finally, run an A/B test and measure positive replies to this shorter email versus your original.

Tell me how it goes for you! You may also be interested to read why plain emails work better, why simple systems have less downtime, and more about my work with Netlify.

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