Newsletter Usability

February 6, 2011

I just spent the last few minutes reading Jakob Neilsen's Alertbox on newsletter usability. I always find the Alertbox fascinating and insightful, but this one is particularly informative. For me, it put into words exactly how I feel about a few topics in web design, not just newsletters.

Use good subjects

Probably the most important part of your newsletter is the subject. It's the first thing your users see, and you never get a second chance to make a good impression.

But while dashing through their inboxes, people simply don't have time for word plays, puns, and the like.

Be clear and concise, and avoid wordplay. You might think it's clever, but your users will treat it like spam and are more prone to ignore the entire newsletter.

In addition to subject lines, users now pay more attention to message previews

Technical and usability improvements have lead to showing the first few words of an email along with the subject. The first few words of any email are very important to users when they decide whether or not to open the email at all.

Newsletters or social media?

I've had a few people ask if they should start a newsletter, or just use facebook. Data from the Neilsen's study shows that newsletters are vastly more important to loyal customers than social media:

In our latest study, we asked users to "receive updates" from companies. Only 10% elected to do so through Facebook, while 90% opted for a newsletter.

Social media should be seen as engaging with potential customers, to entice the to try your business or service whereas newsletter are better for communicating with current customers.

Your newsletter subscribers are usually your most loyal customers and fans, so it's important to treat them better than the more fickle audience on social networks.

But you should also make sure to send out the newsletter announcing, say, sales or new products before tweeting such news.

Video on the web

I'm quoting a quote here, but this perfectly sums up how I (and I would guess a large number of people) feel about video on the web.

As one study participant said, "I probably wouldn't watch this. It's a video, not text. I expected an article, not a video. With video, you have to watch the whole thing. Even if it's just a minute, I'm not into watching video."

Users were hesitant to click on videos within newsletters if they weren't sure what they would get.

It's not just newsletters, it's the web in general. You can't scan a video, so users have to make he choice to read it or not before seeing any of it. Most of the time, hey choose to not watch. Essentially, users will watch a video only when they know why (for example a friend suggested it) they should watch it in the first place.