According to the report “Email Newsletter Usability: 165 Design Guidelines for Newsletter Subscription, Content, Account Maintenance, and RSS News Feeds Based on Usability Studies” by the Nielsen Norman Group, a firm that helps companies develop customer-centered strategies and processes, individuals have stronger reactions to e-mail newsletters than they do to Web sites.
For one thing, e-newsletters are more personal than Web sites because they arrive in recipients’ inboxes. They also have a social aspect in that they can be forwarded to friends and colleagues, according to the report. Because of this, e-newsletters present an opportunity to create a greater bond between recipients and a company or organization than a Web site can. On the flip side, problems with your e-newsletter can have a greater impact on your relationship with the recipient than Web problems.
The report is based on three rounds of studies of a total of 93 Web users, most from the United States. Its findings offer advice for both for-profit and nonprofit e-newsletter senders.
For example, the study found the e-newsletter subscribe process to be an average of four minutes, and cited a direct correlation between the time it takes to subscribe to an e-newsletter and the users’ overall satisfaction with the newsletter. The report recommends e-newsletter senders aim for new subscriptions to take less than a minute when the subscription requires just the user’s e-mail address. If more information is needed to subscribe, the report advises that the process should take no more than two minutes.
While the Web is a pretty consistent environment, with most people using Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox or Safari, e-newsletters are delivered to a multitude of e-mail service providers, all with differing platforms. How your e-newsletter is displayed by each service provider may differ. Therefore, the report recommends testing the e-newsletter to ensure delivery and proper display, that the “From” and “Subject” lines appear as you want, and that the subscribe and unsubscribe processes work correctly.
Competition in the inbox is fierce. Study participants spent an average of 51 seconds reading each e-newsletter they received. With e-mail service providers offering greater inbox storage space, there’s a good chance recipients, if interested in your e-newsletter, will save it. Because of this, the report stresses the importance of using descriptive and enticing subject lines so that recipients not only read your e-newsletter when it’s fresh, but hold on to it.
Participants in the study also advised e-newsletter creators to focus on brevity. E-newsletters should be created in a way that allows for skimming, as the study found that most participants skimmed the newsletters they received rather than reading them completely.
To view an executive summary, or to purchase the third edition of the Nielsen Norman Group Report “Email Newsletter Usability: 165 Design Guidelines for Newsletter Subscription, Content, Account Maintenance, and RSS News Feeds Based on Usability Studies,” visit www.nngroup.com/reports/newsletters