Last week the Nielsen Norman Group released an updated version of their E-mail Newsletter Usability Study. It's a must-have for anyone that is serious about "getting it right". So I purchased it and I'm reading the 544-page pdf as fast as I can. So far it's been pretty interesting.
Here's a short summary that I took from their website:
The positive emotional aspect of newsletters is that they can create much more of a bond between user and company than a website can. The negative aspect is that usability problems have much stronger impact on the customer relationship than they normally do.
Users spend 51 seconds reading the average newsletter. The layout and writing both need superb usability to survive in the high-pressure environment of a crowded inbox.
Averaged across our study, newsletters lost 19% of potential subscribers due to usability difficulties in their subscription processes and designs. People often stay subscribed to newsletters they don't want (cursing the sender with every new issue that clutters their inbox), so the unsubscribe process is also worth improving.
Newsletters need to be smooth and easy: they must be seen to reduce the burdens of modern life. Even if free, the cost in e-mail clutter must be paid for by being helpful and relevant to users - and by communicating these benefits in a few characters in the subject line.
This report shows what happened when real people used a broad set of real newsletters: trying to get on and off the subscription lists, maintaining their subscriptions, and receiving issues in their inboxes (sometimes opening the newsletters and sometimes scanning or reading them).
The 165 design guidelines in the report are based on usability tests of 228 email newsletters. User testing was mainly conducted in the United States (in 12 states across the country) but we also studied users in Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. 101 newsletters were studied in the users' own environment, focusing on the user experience of receiving and reading newsletters. These newsletters were about equally divided between business newsletters and personal newsletters.
The report is richly illustrated with 353 color screenshots of newsletters and subscribe/unsubscribe screens that worked well or caused problems in user testing, including eyetracking heatmaps showing where users looked when reading newsletters. The screenshots show examples and best practices from 118 different newsletters and websites.
Price: $398 for the PDF file (544 pages)
You can purchase the report here.