Not long ago I had a work-related realization that probably should not have surprised me, though it did. Why is it, I have often wondered, that when I send an email to a colleague containing several questions or requests, I so often get back one of three things: (1) responses that only address the beginning of the email; (2) responses that only address the end of the email; (3) responses that don’t seem to address the content of the email at all, or do so only vaguely. And often enough I don’t get a response at all.
I work with some great people and I don’t mean to call any of them out in making this observation. Plenty of good communication takes place over email every day, but it’s interesting how much still gets lost in the shuffle. In fact, this phenomenon happens frequently enough that I began to suspect some larger truth was at play. And then it hit me: Nobody is actually reading your emails. Or at least not always and not very carefully.
The movement to shorten emails to three sentences (or four, or five) is born of a similar realization. As investor Guy Kawasaki has said, “Long emails are either unread or, if they are read, they are unanswered.” Email, says Kawasaki, should balance politeness with succinctness: “Less than five sentences is often abrupt and rude, more than five sentences wastes time.” The short email movement likens the ideal email to a text message or Twitter post with built-in length limitations that will not tax anyone’s attention span, and ultimately will be much more likely to get the desired response.
But there’s another reason long emails are problematic. As studies have shown, most people – between 65 and 85 percent – describe themselves as visual learners. Lengthy text-based communication is simply less effective for many people, who will retain more if the same information is presented in an image-based format.
The impact of images in social media is remarkable. Just consider the following statistics (with props to Kari Pritchard at Search Engine People for pulling them together):
- 93% of the most engaging posts on Facebook are images
- 65% of users prefer emails featuring images (only 35% prefer text)
- Posts on Google Plus are three times more likely to be shared when they contain images
- People remember only 20% of what they read but 80% of what they see
- 60% of consumers are more likely to consider businesses whose local listings contain images
That last statistic comes from a survey conducted by Bright Local a couple of years ago, confirming one of the common recommendations in local SEO. For instance, in a recent article on local search marketing for multilocation businesses, Jason Decker recommends using photos to “differentiate your listing, increase engagement, and encourage interaction.” He continues, “Local landing pages with no photos generally have a much higher bounce rate. Use a storefront photo as well as interior photos if possible.”
It’s possible in fact that this aspect of local listings management has a greater significance than we’ve realized. The aforementioned statistics, not to mention the runaway success of Instagram and Pinterest, demonstrate that images are more compelling to the average user than any other medium of communication. Though users may visit local search sites and apps with the conscious intent of seeking out text-based information such as phone numbers, hours, and addresses, visual content encountered along the way may have a greater influence than textual information on deciding which businesses to visit.
We’ve seen the big players in local search turning increasingly toward visually compelling presentations, whether it’s Google Plus, Facebook, and Twitter with their splashy cover photos, Google Maps with its recent ceding of screen real estate to a much larger map view, or more daring experiments in recent memory such as Monocle, the augmented reality tool in Yelp’s mobile app. In particular, compelling cover photos on Facebook and Google are now core to an effective local search optimization strategy. But each and every site that offers businesses the ability to add photo content represents an opportunity to capture user attention in the most effective way possible.
Damian Rollison is vice president of product and technology at Universal Business Listing, a company dedicated to promoting online visibility for local businesses. He holds degrees from University of California, Berkeley and the University of Virginia, where he worked at the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities. He can be reached via Twitter.