Expand on, but don’t exceed, the subject line
When a Toyota dealership wrapped up its car-maintenance-and-new-models e-zine with information about getting more protein into your diet, subscribers were surprised.
They’d signed up for the car information, but not the diet advice. And since when was their dealer an expert in nutrition?
That’s one of the most interesting findings among the Nielsen Norman Group’s 199 usability guidelines for e-zines and email blasts:
Focus your e-zine. Don’t give subscribers any extra bonus material. They don’t want it.
Indeed, the most highly rated newsletters in NNG’s usability studies all contained highly focused content with no extraneous information. Users don’t want extraneous irrelevant information to get in the way of relevant, targeted information they can use.
To give subscribers what they’re looking for:
1. Focus on your area of expertise.
If you’re sending out a car dealership e-zine, tell me about cars. I don’t want to hear about your grandchildren, your vacations or your high-protein diet.
2. Cover a single topic.
Subscribers in Nielsen Norman Group studies often felt overwhelmed by the number of topics in email newsletters. They preferred newsletters to focus on one story or offer short, focused snippets of information on each topic.
“There’s pretty much a ‘don’t waste my time’ phenomenon at play,” write the Nielsen Norman Group researchers. “If newsletters … overloaded a message with unrelated topics they were generally disliked by recipients.”
3. Hew to the subject line.
ClimateNexus.org sent out an e-zine with the subject line: “Planet’s Cool New Agreement, Navy’s Biggest RE Buy, and More.”
With an emphasis on and More: The message itself included links to 105 stories.
“The newsletter contained a number of news stories that were not encompassed by the subject,” a subscriber kvetched to NNG researchers. “The amount of content was overwhelming. I would prefer a shorter, more curated list. I feel like the subject line opens up the door for them to take the email anywhere.”
So drop the and more. E-zine subscribers want relevant, targeted information wrapped up in a pithy subject line. If a story doesn’t hew to that subject line, take it out.
And if a quote doesn’t hew to that subject line? Take it out.
When The New York City Parks Daily Plant newsletter delivered a Quote of the Day that was unrelated to the rest of the e-zine’s stories, one subscriber grumbled to NNG researchers, “‘Quote of the Day’? Is that supposed to relate to the information in the newsletter?”
Yes. That’s supposed to relate to the information in the newsletter. So make sure it does. Choose stories — and quotes — only if they hew to the subject line.
4. Be focused … but not too focused.
Are you so focused that some of your subscribers feel left out? Even for a single issue?
As you remain focused, don’t get so segmented that subscribers question whether your newsletter is for them. Examples from NNG research:
- One subscriber felt alienated by a grocery store newsletter, which, he felt, focused on mothers instead of young men. “We eat too, you know!” he told NNG researchers.
- A Parenting.com e-zine greeted subscribers, “Dear Mom” — leaving out the fathers who had also subscribed.
- When a BNET.com newsletter, Business Tools for Busy Leaders, covered hiring practices and other HR topics in one issue, some subscribers felt it was not aimed at a general business audience.
- A single special issue about California wine made subscribers to a WineLoversPage.com e-zine think the newsletter focused exclusively on California.
- Indicate your broader focus in each issue: Include next week’s topic in one line at the bottom on the message, for instance, or quick images and links to the last three topics.
- Consider offering segmented e-zines to California wine lovers or HR managers.
- Mostly, though, counsel the folks at the Nielsen Norman Group: “Know who your audience is and work to create well balanced content in each edition to satisfy your entire customer base.”
5. Offer focused … variety.
While subscribers demand focus, they don’t want to be bored. And while it makes no sense to try to offer something for everyone, you might reach more people with a little extra variety.
So steal a tip from History.com’s This Day In History e-zine. It focuses on one historical item in each issue. But it also provides links to other several events that occurred on the same day.
That’s variety. And focus.
What techniques do you use to focus your e-zines?
Sources: Kim Flaherty, Amy Schade, and Jakob Nielsen; Marketing Email and Newsletter Design to Increase Conversion and Loyalty, 6th Edition; Nielsen Norman Group, 2017