Sure you’ve asked Alexa to tell you the temperature outside or the final score of last night’s big game, but did you know she can also read your emails to you?
Amazon’s Alexa can currently read, delete, archive, and reply to emails, with the ability to read emojis up to Unicode Version 10. However, note that Alexa can’t read Alt tags.
In addition to Alexa’s availability as an app for portable devices, Amazon currently dominates the American smart speaker market, with a 61.1% share compared to Google’s second-place 23.9%. By the end of 2018, there were 66.4 million American adults with smart speakers, comprising 26.2% of that population.
With that in mind, here are 7 things to consider when creating emails that could be read by Alexa, as well as other virtual assistants. While Alexa is currently leading the space, Apple’s Siri can read emails, and it’s not hard to imagine that Google and other companies are working hard to catch up.
1. Consider how your brand voice will sound when read aloud
You’ve likely created a standard for the tone you use when communicating with customers. Whether it’s breezy and informal, serious and business-like, or something in-between, it’s important to maintain consistency in your writing across all channels, especially email.
However, how will your messages sound when read aloud? It’s never a bad idea to read your emails out loud before you finalize the text, to see if you catch any errors or if anything sounds wrong, but doing so is even more imperative now. Ideally, you’ll want to also send a test email to yourself and have Alexa read the message so you know how some of your customers will hear it.
2. Watch your email length
You may discover that emails you think are short actually feel a bit tedious when read aloud. When Alexa reads a long email, it stops part way through, tells the user that it will take X minutes to finish, and asks if they want to continue. That’s a good reason to keep your most important information at the beginning of the message, so it doesn’t get lost if the recipient declines to keep reading.
3. Pay even closer attention to your subject line and preheader text
Writing an attention-grabbing subject line and complementing it with engaging preheader text is Email Marketing 101, but even if you feel you have that area dialed in, you need to revisit it if you think many of your subscribers will have their emails read to them.
One key concern is the fact that Alexa only reads the sender and subject line of an email when going through the user’s inbox, so you can’t rely on preheader text to help increase your open rates. However, Alexa does read the preheader text if the recipient says they want the email read to them, so that’s where you can help ensure that the listener pays attention to the whole message.
That’s particularly important if the email is long enough that Alexa will stop and ask the listener if they want to continue. If you know that’s going to happen, you could, for example, ensure that the preheader references information that will be read in a later part of the email.
Note that Apple’s Siri does read preheader text when introducing an email, so if you find that many of your subscribers are using that virtual assistant, you might want to try presenting your preheader as a question. Doing so will create a natural lead-in to Siri asking “Would you like to reply?”
4. Use a from name that makes sense and a reply-to address that’s functional
From names are another part of Marketing 101 that you’ve probably thought about, debated, and settled on, but they can take on a new dimension in auditory emails. Whereas many recipients may focus more on subject lines and preheader text and only give from names a cursory glance, having the from name read to them will change that mindset.
If you’ve been sending emails with an individual’s name on them, you might want to add “on behalf of,” or similar language, so it’s clear what company sent the message. For example: “Sparky on behalf of SparkPost.”
In addition, the reply-to email address you use is key because Alexa won’t read it. If the recipient decides to reply, they will end up with a frustrating bounce-back, or no response at all, if the reply-to address isn’t valid.
5. Watch out for image-heavy and image-only designs
Sure, an email that’s one nicely designed image is always appealing, but since Alexa ignores HTML and only reads what’s left, your message won’t come through to listeners. The same principle applies with emails that are heavy on images with text on them, as well as call-to-actions that are in images.
6. Use punctuation strategically
In addition to using proper punctuation because it’s important, you’ll also find that you should employ it in certain circumstances. For example, if there’s no punctuation in your header, Alexa could read the beginning of an email like this: “SparkPost News Update Hello! Here’s the latest news from SparkPost.” It will run everything together until it hits a punctuation mark. (Note that it doesn’t actually say “Hello exclamation mark.”)
Of course, you likely won’t want to put punctuation in your header, so that’s where you can employ some hidden punctuation. For example, you can add HTML like this. The recipient won’t know the period is there, and it won’t show up if they read the email, but it will cause Alex to pause at the end of your header.
<span style="display: none; max-height: 0px; overflow: hidden;">.</span>
In addition, you’ll want to tread cautiously with abbreviations. For example, if you write, “This deal is only available in the US,” Alexa will read “US” as “us” because of the lack of punctuation. You’ll want to either write “U.S.” or use a hidden punctuation hack to make Alexa read each letter individually, rather than run them together as one word.
7. Put these tips in a file and revisit them later
While virtual assistants are a new trend, they’re in the early stages of their existence; many people have expressed the kind of skepticism that accompanies any new technology. For example, while 26% of marketers surveyed by Voicebot.ai are enthusiastic or very enthusiastic about virtual assistants, 33% are interested but not fully on board yet, and nearly 40% are either not interested right now or have no opinion on the matter.
Unless you see a surge in subscribers using virtual assistants now, you should keep an eye on the macro trends and revisit these tips later. It might not hurt to include a question about virtual assistants in any surveys you do, so you can track responses over time.
Finally, keep in mind that when Alexa reads an email, it doesn’t trigger an open in your email analytics, so a drop in open rates could mean that many of your subscribers are having their emails read to them. If you can’t explain the decline any other way, maybe it’s time to revisit this blog post.