E-mail newsletter usability 101

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Most e-mail newsletters aren’t read in their entirety, but they’re still an important part of the online marketing mix. Amy Schade, user experience specialist at Nielsen Norman Group, which published a report on e-mail newsletter usability in June, provides a few tips on inspiring devotion from your readers.

  1. Start with the basics. For example, make your sign-up process fast. NNC’s study found that the average subscription process takes about four minutes, which is about three minutes too long. Try limiting your information requests to name and e-mail address. If you require additional information—company name or address—let users complete the sign-up in less than two minutes, Schade said.
  2. Once subscribed, keep them interested. Readers lose interest if they receive your messages too frequently; if you do send often, send extremely relevant information and present it in the right way. People read newsletters differently than they read other Web or interactive content: though only 19% of recipients read a newsletter in its entirety, most people scan the whole thing. Many don’t click through at all, Schade said. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t getting something out of your message. “It certainly doesn’t mean that it’s not successful if people aren’t clicking through,” she said.
  3. Make it readable. If you rely heavily on short blurbs and lots of links in your newsletter, you can optimize your user’s time by providing the key take-away in the e-mail itself; and keep your overall bullet count under five. If your design includes longer, feature-type articles, keep those to a minimum, too, Schade said. “Try to feature no more than one or two in-depth topics,” she said. “Any more becomes overwhelming.”
  4. Consider your design. “People pick up patterns really quickly,” Schade said. “Your newsletter needs to have clear movement; people need strong clues to tell them where a topic area changes over.” You can do this by using different fonts, bolded text, and actual bullets.
  5. Finally, call your newsletter what it is: a newsletter. The term RSS feed may be popular with marketers, but 82% of users have no idea what the term refers to.

“People think that most companies aren’t thinking about them when designing e-mail newsletters,” Schade said. “As a result, people are starting to cut back on the number of newsletters they are reading.”

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