It has long been known that an e-newsletter is a useful addition to your marketing and public relations efforts. They are, after all, a warm, powerful communication medium that encourages a strong, lasting relationship between you and your readers. There is some new clarity in the world of online newsletters thanks to research coming from the Nielsen Norman Group in their latest report, E-mail Newsletter Usability. They conducted three rounds of user studies with 93 participants in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, and Sweden. The three studies were as follows:


First Study. This study focused on testing e-newsletter usability in subscribing, unsubscribing, and maintaining the user’s account. It was primarily done in a laboratory setting (with other parts being done through phone calls). Researchers observed subjects as they read e-newsletters and tried to subscribe and unsubscribe.

Second Study. This was a remote study that detailed the users’ experience receiving and reading e-newsletters that they’d already subscribed to on their own initiative. A total of 101 newsletters were studied over a four-week period, 65% of which were of personal interest, and 40% were for business purposes. The 5% that overlapped these categories were counted twice.

Third Study. This study used an eye tracker to record where users looked when they looked at Web sites, tried to subscribe and unsubscribe, checked their e-mail inboxes, and read their e-newsletters. Also, the researchers compared Real Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds to e-newsletters and observed participants in their offices during a normal workday to learn how newsletters and news feeds are used in a demanding, information-rich environment. The results of this study are both interesting and useful to anyone who either has or is contemplating an e-newsletter for their business.

Justify Your e-Newsletter

Three of the four main reasons that the study participants mentioned why a given e-newsletter was the most valuable had to do with relevance and timing. The e-newsletters that fell into this preferred category were all able to justify their place in the inbox with highly relevant and timely information. Past relevance and generally interesting content don’t cut it. There has to be a purpose behind the e-newsletter, and it has to offer something important to the reader today. According to the researchers, the top reasons for preferring a given e-newsletter (given by over 40% of the participants) are:

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