e-Newsletters: What works and doesn't work
Useit.com posts a summary of their findings from their most recent study of email newsletter usability. Some highlights include:
1. Usability is an important attribute of your e-newsletters, not just your web site.
Our main conclusion remains the same: Email newsletters are the best way to maintain customer relationships on the Internet.
Compared with previous newsletter studies, the biggest change we found in our new research was that users are even more flooded with information than in the past. As a result, people are getting extremely choosy about which newsletters they'll allow into their overflowing inboxes. Of course, this again increases the need for publishers to pay attention to their newsletters' usability and to design for scannability and fast access.
Users often deliberately trade off newsletters against each other to reduce their email volume. A good newsletter might be booted if a better one comes along. People are conscious of the need to protect their time, and they try to identify the best newsletters for their various information needs.
2.Choose your words carefully - subject lines, headlines and link need to be well-worded. The eye-tracking studies show that people scan e-newsletters, just like they do web content, and their eye tends to only see the first two words of each headline.
People were highly inclined to skip the introductory blah-blah text in newsletters. Although this text was only three lines long on average, our eyetracking recordings revealed that 67% of users had zero fixations within newsletter introductions.
3. RSS Feeds are not a replacement for e-newsletters.
News feeds are definitely not for everybody and they are not a replacement for email newsletters. Feeds can supplement newsletters for sites that cater to users who prefer a centralized view of headlines. This will primarily be newspaper sites and other sites that focus heavily on news and breaking stories, as well as sites that target Internet enthusiasts. For sites that target mainstream business users or a broad consumer audience, news feeds may be less important. Such sites might be better off emphasizing higher-quality newsletters and a choice of publication frequency.
Our eyetracking of users reading news feeds showed that people scan headlines and blurbs in feeds even more ruthlessly than they scan newsletters. When you appear in somebody's newsreader, your site has a diminutive footprint that's rubbing shoulders with a flood of headlines from many other sites. Under these conditions, users often read only the first two words of a headline, so it's crucial to have brief headlines and to start them with the most information-carrying words.
Feeds are a cold medium in comparison with email newsletters. Feeds do not form the same relationship between company and customers that a good newsletter can build. We don't have data to calculate the relative business value of a newsletter subscriber compared to a feeds subscriber, but I wouldn't be surprised if it turns out that companies make ten times as much money from each newsletter subscriber. Given that newsletters are a much more powerful and warm medium, it is probably best for most companies to encourage newsletter subscriptions and promote them over website feeds.