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Email Newsletters are More Emotionally Engaging than Websites: Study

Posted By Darren Rowse 18th of June 2006 Miscellaneous Blog Tips 0 Comments

While we’re talking about email newsletters – Nielsen Normal Group have done some interesting research (found via an email from Ken – again) that finds that readers of email newsletters have ‘highly emotional reactions to them’ in contrast to the reactions that readers of websites have (where they are more more ‘oriented toward functionality’ and ‘want to get in and get out as quickly as possible rather than “connect” with the site’.

The results are quite long but here are a few snippets (quotes with a few of my own comments).

On the overall findings:

‘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….’

I’d be interested to see a similar study on different type of websites (especially blogs). I think many blogs would have a more relational feeling for readers than more static types of websites.

On How to do Email Newsletters:

The most frequent complaint in our study was about newsletters that arrived too often. And, when we let them vent, the most frequent advice our study participants had for newsletter creators was to “keep it brief.”

Newsletters must be designed to facilitate scanning. In our first study, 23% of the newsletters were read thoroughly. In our third study, four years later, only 19% of the newsletters were read thoroughly. The drop in percentage of thoroughly read newsletters is a good indication of the increased volume of email that users have to process.

It’s actually quite similar to how research find people read websites/blog.

On News Feeds (RSS):

The first, and strongest, guideline about news feeds is to stop calling them RSS. In our most recent study, 82% of users had no idea what this term referred to.

News feeds are definitely not for everybody, and they’re not a replacement for email newsletters. Feeds can supplement newsletters for sites that cater to users who prefer a centralized view of headlines.

Feeds are a cold medium in comparison with email newsletters. Feeds don’t form the same relationship between company and customers that a good newsletter can build.

I’d never considered the advice on not calling feeds RSS but calling them ‘news feeds’. It actually makes good sense and is something I might take a little more notice of, especially on my blogs which are not on bloggy topics where I find most of my readers don’t follow the blog via RSS News Feeds.

It makes sense to me that feeds would be seen as a colder medium – especially because they don’t have comments sections built in and are read out of the context of the rest of the blog, especially it’s design which plays a part in setting the scene for content.

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. A good study, that. I notice, using my personal habits with Problogger, that although I enjoy reading the blog mostly in “real time” (I use a Blogger subscription so most days I read almost all new posts as the happen) I still fin d significant value in the newsletter. Review of posts I may have missed, Darren’s view of something which may have been refined since the post first went out, etc. My own view is a simple newsletter, kept personal, is well worth it.

    The RSS comment (and I could add all sorts of blogging geek-speak, especially from the Technorati brigade)… unless your blog is definitely about blogs and bloggers, knock it off. I see blogs about home business, personal improvement, child care and many other sorts of diverse subject that slip into RSS, de.licio.us (or whatever stupid way they write their URL). Your readers aren’t bloggers! They don’t know an RSS from a Technorati tag and they shouldn’t be asked to. RSS is an acronym that describes a technical service, “Daily Feed” is one possible English description for the results of that service.

    Some good thoughts and meat for good discussion here

  2. It’s the *subscription* that makes the difference, not really the medium that information is delivered in. Whether email, feed or on the actual site, the more of an ongoing relationship there is with the content and the author, the more value the reader places on the content and the author.

    That’s why I put so much emphasis on obtaining — and keeping — subscribers, over such other metrics such as page views, unique visitors, etc. This study proves that point, but once again it’s interesting to note that how a study question is asked can result in conclusions that don’t really catch the *real* point.

  3. I think this would depend on what kind of newsletter we’re speaking of. Many newsletters today are simply intrusive sales pitches, offering little of value beyond overt marketing pitches.

    For newsletters that actually deliver valuable content, this would probably hold true as readers will actually be delighted to see them show up in their inboxes. It’s the difference between opening your front door to find a pushy salesman, and finding a welcome invitee.


  4. It seems difficult to agree with the findings of the study. Many people saubscribe allright but then soon lose interests in the newsletters and thay often land up in spam section.

  5. Thanks for pointing this study, and the NeilsenNorman group, out Darren. The findings certainly make a lot of sense, but I wonder how quickly the ground will shift as RSS technology becomes mainstream. Most people don’t have any idea what feeds are now, but I suspect they will once IE7 diffuses and blogs are more frequently cited in print media. The RSS logo provides a visual link between the feed link and the browser (IE displays the logo in the menu bar), and the more people see references to it, the more they’ll be inclined to look at what it is (presuming, of course, people use the RSS logo in their blogs). Changing link descriptions from something like ‘RSS feed’ to ‘News feed’ still makes sense (I’m all for making things easier to understand), but I would not ditch the feed option because of low use at this point in time.

    On a different note… its ironic that the NeilsenNorman group don’t provide an easy mechanism for keeping up to date with their research on their website. I hunted for a link to an email newsletter but can’t seem to find one!

  6. I have to agree with the commenters above who said that newsletters probably aren’t as effective as the study makes them out to be. I find that most e-subscriptions become intrusive and annoying after a while — particularly those that are from commercial sites that are driven by the need for sales.

  7. […] ProBlogger: Email Newsletters are More Emotionally Engaging than Websites […]

  8. 82% of people had no idea what RSS means?

    I have just changed my RSS feed so that it now reads:

    # Use this RSS feed to send new stories on Lets Take Over to a feed reader like bloglines.com its a simple way to get stories from lots of sites sent to the one place, instead of visiting lots of websites.

    [The # represents the ‘orange loudspeaker’ RSS logo.]
    no matter what the format. Perhaps too many websites are cluttered with ‘fruit
    This is so big that I’ve had to change my headline size a lot to keep the email subscription box (directly below the RSS link) above the fold (advice which I got from this site). Worth it, to make sure people know what I am talking about.

    Not sure about the ‘engagement’ issue – I think that people will read things they find interesting, salad’ and the starkness of the email inbox appeals to people? But that would be bad design, as oppposed to a fundamental feature of web browsing that will always be true.

    I don’t have the resources to check, so make sure people can browse, RSS or be emailed my site – and agree with this site that RSS and email subscription info belongs above the fold, no matter what.

  9. Sorry, the second and third last paragraphs should have read:

    This is so big that I’ve had to change my headline size a lot to keep the email subscription box (directly below the RSS link) above the fold (advice which I got from this site). Worth it, to make sure people know what I am talking about.

    Not sure about the ‘engagement’ issue – I think that people will read things they find interesting.

  10. […] On the note of FileMaker, email, and small business communication – which I brushed upon last week – Darren Rowse of ProBlogger fame is providing some more insight and research with mention of a study on how email newsletters are more emotionally engaging than websites. Some more reading here, here, and here. […]

  11. […] Recently released studies re-affirm that people like getting content by email, and don’t get why they should switch to RSS. Of course when you ask the question “Do you want to aggregate RSS feeds?” and get a negative response, it’s as if you had asked “Do you want to access Web pages with HTTP?” in 1995 (good one, Scott!). […]

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