How Much Information Is Enough?
Another issue an enewsletter producer faces is just how much information to put into each issue. Usability expert Nielsen emphasizes, "It has to be short. People are stressed and they need to get on with it now." He says that enewsletters should be only a few screenfuls and "use links to get to more and more information." Says Nielsen, "the Web site is the place for infinite depth." That said, if the article is short Nielsen suggests it is better to put the whole thing in the newsletter. If it is long, he suggests that you use a headline and a summary with a link back to the Web site.
Further, Nielsen says if you can use HTML, you should, since HTML offers better layout and allows the use of graphics Still, if possible, you should offer a text version for mail systems that won't allow HTML or for users with slower modems. Nielsen says if the newsletter takes too long to download, it could mark the end of your enewsletter for some users.
One Size Does Not Fit All
One of the advantages of the enewsletter is that you can customize it to fit the needs of your audience. Nielsen says that in a B2B context, the enewsletter should be customized and very specialized for each individual. According to Goodwin, it is important to understand segmentation, breaking down the audience into specialized chunks. She suggests thinking of 5 or 10 specialized job categories and thinking about how they influence the purchasing and buying decisions in the target organizations. Mary Corcoran, vice president and lead analyst at Outsell Inc., says of enewsletters, "However you package it, unless it is highly relevant at a point of need, it will be perceived as Spam." This means you have to look carefully at your audience. One of the ways to do this is to use analytical tools provided by many enewsletter vendors including imakenews. com and Email Labs. These tools provide a way of tracking how often your enewsletter is opened, who opens it, and what articles interest them.
Dave Sousa, the CEO of Email Labs, a firm that helps companies distribute and analyze enewsletters, says, "Our business is doing well because so many other companies aren't tracking clicks and opens. Our technology gives our customers the ability to know what works." This means, according to Sousa, "that content decisions can be data-driven, rather than a guess." Goodwin agrees saying that when publishers send out a print publication, they have no way of knowing what articles people read or what advertisements they look at. She asks, "How do they understand the ROI? How do they understand how people are using the magazine?"
Goodwin points to the advantage of digital delivery saying, "It's very much about tracking things." For her, this makes enewsletter distribution much more of a conscious decision. "It should not be an email blast" (random distribution), she says, "it should be personalized." Reshare's Southam says it is essential to track what people are reading, then focus and customize email to find better and better data. Southam says, "It's difficult, if not impossible, to achieve this [data collection] in print."
For the Records
Once you get into the enewsletter business, managing your distribution list becomes a key part of a successful effort. Enewsletters are usually delivered in an opt-in/opt-out model. This means that readers volunteer to receive the newsletter and they can back out at any time. Southam says, "If it's not opt-in, then it's a complete disaster" and it will be perceived as invasion of your email box. Goodwin further suggests that when someone opts-out, the person should be removed immediately without further contact, not even an email informing them they have been removed.
Nielsen also points out the importance of having a good archive of newsletters. He says, "You don't want to force your subscribers to keep copies." Therefore, you have to have a newsletter home area on your Web site where subscribers can look through back issues. imakenews.com includes an automatic archive site as part of its package. All back issues are maintained on what it calls a micro site set up on the imakenews servers. These often have a similar look and feel to the company Web site and have links back to the company's site.
Go Forth and Publish
Today's tools certainly make it easier than ever before to produce your own enewsletter and maintain an entire operation, but you have to keep your eye on why you're doing it, and that your objective in taking on the role of content producer is to maintain strong relationships with your customers. Usability expert Nielsen says, "The main purpose of enewsletters is to maintain and deepen relationships." He says, it allows a company to continuously ping customers and apprise them of what you're doing. And, as long as your business focuses on keeping the relationship with the targeted readership strong, wise decisions about content and delivery should follow suit.
Nielsen Norman Group