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E-Business Secrets

Newsletters can help (or hurt) your e-business
Subscribe/unsubscribe time a big factor

By  Brian Livingston November 12, 2002  

E-mail newsletters, of course, are close to my heart, since I write this one. For that reason, I might be a bad person to give you advice about them.


But Jakob Nielsen, the Web usability expert from the Norman Nielsen Group, is a great person to give you advice. He and Amy Stover have studied the way recipients use and relate to newsletters from e-commerce sites, and they've put together a revealing study that can be valuable if you're thinking about publishing (or you already publish) a newsletter for your e-business.

1. ONGOING RELATIONSHIP. The biggest difference between a site and its newsletter, the authors report, is that the newsletter comes into people's personal mailboxes, so they feel a more emotional connection to it. The downside of this is that if something about the newsletter doesn't work -- its subscribe or unsubscribe procedure, for example -- "users were quick to assume bad intentions by the newsletter providers."

2. SPAM CONFUSION. Some users call spam "newsletters" and newsletters "spam," interchangeably. To avoid being mistaken for spam, the authors recommend that your newsletter be regularly sent on the same day of the week (or, if daily, the same time each day). In addition, use a meaningful subject line that avoids overused words such as "free" and "debt." Place at the top of each newsletter a reminder of its origin, such as, "Here is today's issue of Technology Bytes, a Morningstar.com e-mail newsletter you've asked to receive."

3. SUBSCRIBING AND UNSUBSCRIBING. The authors found that users succeeded in subscribing 78 percent of the time and unsubscribing 92 percent of the time. These are high numbers, considering that only 50 to 60 percent of people succeed in basic tasks at the average Web site. The numbers could still be improved, however. A newsletter with 100,000 subscribers would have more than 128,000 if everyone succeeded who tried to subscribe.

The process of unsubscribing gets special attention in the study. The time it took the average user to cancel the average newsletter was a real drag: 3 minutes and 5 seconds. (People who think spam should be permitted as long as it offers an opt-out feature should meditate on that figure. To opt out from 20 sources of spam each day would require more than an hour a day, assuming the unsubscribe process even worked.)

Partly as a result of the time factor, most users don't unsubscribe from newsletters they no longer want. Instead, the authors found people saying things like, "There's never an easy way to unsubscribe," and "If you hit 'unsubscribe' it just confirms your e-mail address is right and you get more e-mail." The latter statement is factually untrue, because spammers don't care who unsubscribes, much less keep track of it. But the widespread rumor about this means that people block or report as spam those newsletters they're tired of.

Nielsen and Stover's report, "E-Mail Newsletter Usability," is available as a full-color, 186-page PDF file. The cost is $195 for a single copy, or $418 for a copy you are licensed to reproduce within your organization. See: http://www.nngroup.com http://bri.li/4e74

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Now there's a way to carry around a tiny photo printer so you can always get hard copy of any digital images you shoot. The Polaroid P-500IR Digital Photo Printer fits into the palm of your hand and draws power from a battery pack in its print cartridge, so you don't need power cables.

The device is a great conversation piece, even though it only prints on paper up to 2" by 3", about the size of a business card. That's enough, though, to see if your shot came out clearly -- and to leave a memento with a client or a friend. It's just come down in price to less than $50: http://www.amazon.com http://bri.li/B00005A48G

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1. Loyalty programs, like discount cards, help sites sell: http://www.microenterprisejournal.com http://bri.li/43c

2. E-mail combined with site search produces the most impact on purchases: http://www.clickz.com http://bri.li/824

3. Music CD sales online have dropped 39 percent from one year ago: http://www.nytimes.com http://bri.li/c0c

4. Low-cost marketing steps can lead to big wins with customers: http://www.ecommercebase.com http://bri.li/ff4

5. Employers have new ways to monitor and control IM: http://www.wired.com http://bri.li/13dc

6. Macromedia launches Contribute to let office workers update Web pages: http://www.news.com http://bri.li/17c4

7. W3C hopes to standardize Web services before big problems arise: http://www.cw360.com http://bri.li/1bac

8. What's happening on your network? These tools will tell you: http://networking.earthweb.com http://bri.li/1f94

9. HTML tips: How much time should be spent building the prototype?: http://www.builder.com http://bri.li/237c

10. Look up a word and see a cool site design at the same time: http://www.visualthesaurus.com http://bri.li/2764

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Why should TV-watchers have all the fun? We have StupidVideos.com, a convenient collection of short multimedia files (30 seconds or so) that'll have you rolling on the floor laughing.

Set the left pane to "Alphabetical," then select one of my favorites, "Cat Herding," and click the Play Video button. A whole range full of Marlboro Men herds a flock of cats across the prairie, through rivers, and into the horizon. How did they get all those felines to do all that stuff? I don't know, but it ends up with an EDS logo, so you know it's good clean fun without any bad language. (I haven't watched all the videos yet, though, so I can't promise anything.) Check it out at: http://www.stupidvideos.com http://bri.li/c3a4

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E-BUSINESS SECRETS: Our mission is to bring you such useful and thought-provoking information about the Web that you actually look forward to reading your e-mail.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: E-Business Secrets is written by InfoWorld contributing editor Brian Livingston: http://SecretsPro.com

Research director is Vickie Stevens. Brian has published 10 books, including:

Windows Me Secrets: http://www.amazon.com http://bri.li/0764534939

Windows 2000 Secrets: http://www.amazon.com http://bri.li/0764534130

Win a gift certificate for a book, CD, or DVD of your choice if you're the first to send Brian a Top Story or Wacky Web Week he prints. mailto:Brian@SecretsPro.com

Brian Livingston is publisher of BriansBuzz.com. Send tips to him at brian@briansbuzz.com.

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