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51 Seconds to E-Newsletter Success

  |  April 16, 2008   |  Comments

Tips for engaging a reader -- in 51 seconds or less.

You know that e-newsletter you and your colleagues slaved over for hours, writing, designing, broadcasting, and tracking?

Well, I'm sorry to say the average reader will scan it for less than a minute. Fifty-one seconds to be exact, according to the "Email Newsletter Usability" study from the Nielsen Norman Group.

The same study shows only 19 percent of people read an entire e-newsletter.

While this study was issued in 2006, the word clearly hasn't gotten out to B2B (define) marketers yet. My inbox is full of lengthy, multi-article e-newsletters that would take hours to read -- if anyone actually did read them!

Now that you know you have only 51 seconds to engage a reader, how should you reinvent your e-newsletter?

It Starts With the Subject Line

E-newsletter subject lines are tricky. You want your reader to know they're getting the e-newsletter they subscribed to. That means you must put the publication title in the subject line.

You also want to entice the reader to open the e-newsletter, so you must give yourself room to highlight what's new and exciting inside.

The best way to accomplish all this in a mere 45 characters is to rename your publication something short. When you think about it, the most iconic names in print magazines are brief: "Life," "Time," "People," "Self," even "O." So make yours short and snappy.

Then, put the name of the publication in brackets. For example: "[Publication] Recession-Proof Your Copy."

Put Everything Important in the Initial Screen

Quick: how do you use the remaining seconds of readers' short attention spans to catch their attention and build instant rapport and credibility?

Here are some ways to maximize the moment:

  • Offer a "View in Handheld" version for busy executives on the go. Sixty-four percent of decision-makers regularly view e-mail using a mobile device, according to MarketingSherpa. Give them an easy way to use the spare minutes between meetings or in transit to read your messages.

  • Create a real publication masthead with the name of your publication, a subhead summarizing its editorial focus and value (particularly important if the publication has a short name), the date, and an issue number. This masthead should instantly telegraph to readers that this is a must-read publication that will help them do their jobs better.

  • Engage 69 percent of at-work readers who screen e-mail through their preview pane. Write a compelling note that draws them in to read the rest of the content. This can be a brief editorial welcome or an executive summary. It should highlight the hot button issues your audience cares about most.

  • Don't turn off readers who have image-blocking turned on. Since 59 percent of consumers routinely block images in their e-mail, an e-newsletter should contain mostly text with images used only for graphic interest. When you do include an image, write engaging alt-text tags, such as "See how much your sales will go up."

    Consider adding a "View Images" link at the top of your page, next to the "View in Handheld" link. This is a clearer directive than the usual, "Right click here to download images" that appears in place of blocked images. In addition, you should have a "View Web Version" link for those people who experience trouble viewing your e-mail.

  • Add a short table of contents at the top of the screen with anchor links to the articles. You can't expect readers to scroll past the initial screen to see articles that appear lower on the page. If you review your CTRs (define), you'll invariably see that top-listed articles generate the highest readership, while lower articles are rarely even opened.

Also remember that busy executives don't read, they scan. Keep paragraphs short and use lots of subheads, callouts, and bullets.

Finally, and most important, think about what message you want readers to take away from their 51 seconds with your e-newsletter. If you start with the end goal in mind, you'll make things a lot easier on your reader, and on yourself, since it will limit the extraneous content you have to write.

E-newsletter experts -- particularly those of you who write and design corporate e-newsletters -- please share your best techniques and samples with Karen for future columns.

Want more e-mail marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our e-mail columns, organized by topic.

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Karen Gedney

Karen Gedney, an award-winning creative director and copywriter, shared her insights as a ClickZ Experts contributor from 2000 through 2009. She was known for her successful track record of achieving high e-mail response rates for Fortune 1000 companies and leading organizations. She died Nov. 16, 2010.

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