Email Newsletter Usability (Executive Summary)

The most significant finding from our usability research on email newsletters is that users have highly emotional reactions to them. This is in strong contrast to research on website usability, where users are usually much more oriented toward functionality. Even a website that users visit daily seems to feel like a tool: users want to get in and get out as quickly as possible rather than “connect” with the site.

Users tend to glance at websites when they need to accomplish something or to find the answer to a specific question. In contrast, newsletters feel personal because they arrive in users’ inboxes, and users have an ongoing relationship with them. Newsletters also have a social aspect, as users often forward them to colleagues and friends.

The positive aspect of this emotional relationship is that newsletters can create much more of a bond between users and a company than a website can. The negative aspect is that newsletter usability problems have a much stronger impact on the customer relationship than website usability problems.

For example, in one of our studies, a user received an error message that read “Email address is not valid.” This would be a poorly worded error message in any user interface, but the emotional aspect to newsletters increased the user's anger: “Mine’s as valid as the next person's! ... It's questioning my validity as an entity in cyberspace.”

Sixty-nine percent of users said that they look forward to receiving at least one newsletter, and most users said a newsletter had become part of their routine. Very few other promotional efforts can claim this degree of customer buy-in.