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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Email Newsletter Usability Information - A true treasure of email newsletter data

As usual, Jakob Nielson and his usability team deliver a goldmind of information. This time on email newsletters. Email Newsletters: Surviving Inbox Congestion

It evens dares to dive into how RSS feeds should be treated (and called- and I agree, RSS is too techy for mainstream adoption).

Some highlights:

-Strong advances in user interfaces' ability to support users in getting on or off mailing lists.

-Subscribe: The average time it took users to subscribe to newsletters decreased from 5:04 minutes four years ago to 4:03 minutes in the new study, for a productivity gain of 25%.

-Unsubscribe: The average time it took users to unsubscribe from newsletters decreased from 3:05 minutes four years ago to 1:38 minutes in the new study, for an impressive productivity gain of 89%.

-The success rate for subscribing to newsletters was 81%. While higher than the 66% we found when testing a broad range of websites, a success rate of 81% implies that a newsletter with 50,000 subscribers could gain an additional 11,700 subscribers by improving the usability of its subscription process.

-We found that users are extremely fast at both processing their inboxes and reading newsletters: the average time allocated to a newsletter after opening it was only 51 seconds.

-"Reading" is not even the right word, since participants fully read only 19% of newsletters. The predominant user behavior was scanning. Often, users didn't even scan the entire newsletter: 35% of the time, participants only skimmed a small part of the newsletter or glanced at the content.

-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.

- Heatracking discovered much emphasis on reading the first two words of the headlines.

-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.

-Many users are getting quite skilled at managing email, since it's such an important tool for both business and personal use. (Email is the Internet's true killer app -- websites are a poor second as far as most users are concerned.) On average, users maintained 3.1 email accounts each, using different accounts for different purposes.

-RSS 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.

Bottom line, the inbox is more crowded than ever but companies are progressing in their treatment of all user related newsletter aspects. This is nice to hear as many companies seem to forget that the subscribe and unsubscribe process are critical! Of course, don't forget that readers won't "read" your newsletters. They may scan it briefly and if you are lucky, click or read one article or section in more depth (i.e. actually digest it).

Check this out - a must read!

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