How much content should it sport?
by Meryl K. Evans, editor, eNewsletter Journal
How we dress for the day depends on the season and our tastes. During hot days, most of us tend to wear short-sleeves and light-weight material — I’m partial to shorts and a t-shirt. A few daring folks wear less, and when you go to the beach or the pool, more skin appears than clothing.
With cold weather comes more laundry thanks to the layers of thick clothes. Yet the chill doesn’t stop a handful of people from wearing the kinds of clothes we wear during the dog days of summer.
What’s with all this silly weather talk? Email newsletters don’t have to worry about temperatures, as they’re born to handle weather of every kind. So the decision falls on newsletter publishers who have to decide how much content the newsletter should wear.
Newsletters that come fully dressed have the complete articles within their email. Others are clothed for spring and fall by having partial article contents, typically with a summary along with a link that takes you to the rest of the article. Some of these have one or two complete pieces (this includes editorials) while the bulk of the articles requires a drive to the Web site for the rest of the story. The ones hanging by a thread (think summer) come with nothing but a link to the Web page for the full content. (This is referencing the newsletter’s main version, regardless of whether the newsletter is HTML- or text-based.)
One link is a lonely link
As expected, all these formats have their good and bad sides as well as fans and critics. Considering the newsletters you currently subscribe to, do you lean toward one dress style over another? Of the ones with the format you dislike, what about them keeps you subscribed?
The dress style isn’t as important as the content or whether you offer HTML, text or both versions of the newsletter. However, I admit disliking the “link to the full newsletter” approach: No summary. No introduction. Only a brief note along the lines of, “The newsletter is now on-line.” It means taking action and opening the browser, if it’s not already opened. A little load time occurs between the click and landing on the page.
I’d like to get a taste of an article from the comfort of my email box before going to the site for the whole thing. If a newsletter is a keeper, I’d like to have more information in the email than a lonely link. Having more content helps when you can’t recall the name of the article, so you can use the email client’s search tool to find it. Newsletters with a single link and little text won’t get found.
One newsletter’s story
AbsoluteWrite.com produces one of my favorite newsletters. Every text-based issue comes packed with a list of articles from various categories including interviews, book reviews, freelancing, weekly columns and so on. In the issue, each article receives a title, a byline, roughly a three-line summary of the item and the link. This makes it easy to scan the summary and decide.
When the editor-in-chief was busier than normal, she temporarily switched to a different format. Every article was fully included within the newsletter instead of summaries and a links. The first time this occurred, the editor explained what was happening and why. About four or five issues came out in this format.
I preferred the old format. I didn’t read every article of every issue, so the ones I skipped over required scrolling through the entire article within the confines of the email body window. My email client was formatted like most: one column on the left with folders, the top half with the list of emails and the remainder for the currently selected email. So it was wearisome to read the whole thing in that little window. Why didn’t I open it and expand it? Habit. (Did you see that coming?)
Although I preferred to get this newsletter with summaries of articles, it may not work for another newsletter, especially one that publishes one article per issue. In this instance, the article appearing in its entirety is safe, since it doesn’t require scrolling through the article to get to the next item.
One little hint?
The nice thing about having a clue of what’s in the current issue is that if nothing appeals to you, you can delete it. When a newsletter contains only a link to get the whole thing on-line, you can’t decide whether or not to delete it. Sure, you can click on it right there and find out whether or not it’s worthy.
Some people want to address each email as they read it rather than get interrupted to go to the browser. Or maybe they don’t have time to read the newsletter, so they leave it in the email box. Have you ever decided to read an issue later because you weren’t in the mood for the topic? A newsletter with nothing but a link doesn’t give you an idea of what an article is about. When you do check it out, you discover you’d rather read it later — so when returning back to the email with the lonely link — do you remember the topic?
One fake Ms. Blackwell provides the final word
If a friend or colleague asks me what layout I recommend for an email newsletter, my answer is, “Depends.” It depends on how many articles you publish. It depends on how often you publish. It depends on your content, whether it’s original articles, links to others on a topic, both or something else. It depends on your target audience.
The target audience may not matter much. But some professions have shown a preference for one format over another. People in information technology (IT), where money and time are lacking, often prefer the summary version because they want to scan and decide. But, ask any IT person, and you might find out she has no preference. You can always conduct a poll and see what readers think.
I regularly open the door to readers to provide feedback for all newsletters in which I’m involved. Occasionally, I receive comments regarding the formatting. If there is a frequently appearing request, then I investigate it. So far, the comments have been too varied and too few to justify a change.
I guess when it comes right down to it, I don’t have a preference between a newsletter with the full articles and one with article summaries, but again it depends on whether or not I like the way the newsletter is presented. One recommendation is to shun mailing a newsletter with hardly any clothes on.
Remember those portraits with subjects wearing nothing but leaves? Unfortunately, when you receive links acting as leaves, they tend to have the opposite effect of the portraits — they leave a little too much to the imagination.
by Meryl K. Evans is the Content Maven behind the eNewsletter Journal and The Remediator Security Digest. She is also a PC Today columnist and a Web design tour guide at InformIT. The Content Maven is geared to tackle your editing, writing and content needs. The Texan has three children and a husband to keep her on her boots.