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Eagle River Partners
Online Communications News March 3, 2004

This Issue:
Email Newsletter Usability and DiscoverNLCS.org Launches

If you're sending out email newsletters, it can be hard to tell what folks are taking away from your missives. By tracking message opens and click-thrus you can get a sense for how many people are at least taking a look and being affected by the text.

But are you doing what you can to make email newsletters user friendly? Usability expert Jakob Nielsen recently released an updated version of the Nielsen Norman Group's report on email newsletter usability. What are the basics of a well-built newsletter? Is there a future for email newsletters in the Spam era?

Also, Eagle River Partners is pleased to announce the recent launch of DiscoverNLCS.org - a new site profiling many of the greatest lands of the American West.

Email Newsletter Usability Report

In 2002, the Nielsen Norman Group released one of the first and most thorough reports on email newsletters. At the time, Jakob Nielsen predicted that legitimate email newsletters may have no future after being increasingly undercut by spam.

In February, Nielsen released the findings of an updated study on email newsletter usability. And the conclusion is that in spite of spam, email newsletters are used and appreciated by subscribers. View Nielsen's executive summary here.

Make it Easy to Subscribe

As many as one in four users still find it too difficult to subscribe to the average email newsletter. The usual culprit is a form with too many fields or a complicated subscription process.

The average subscribe process took five minutes. How many people want to spend five minutes subscribing to an email newsletter? Not having seen the newsletter before, subscribers are reluctant to invest an unknown amount of time to get a newsletter of unknown value.

Test on Different Email Programs

Despite the pervasiveness of Microsoft Outlook, there are at four other email programs getting at least ten percent of the market: Yahoo! Mail, Hotmail, AOL and Outlook Express. These and other programs all have different methods of displaying From and Subject lines as well as rendering HTML.

The moral of the story is to test on different email programs.

Make it Easy to Scan and Use Newsletter Text

Nielsen reports that just 11% of subscribers thoroughly read email newsletters. We thought it would be fewer, actually.

Many recipients scan headlines and may not spend much more time with your newsletter. It is important that you create headlines and highlighted content that is easy to find and digest. Even your 'scanners' can still take enough with them when they move on to be some of your most loyal readers and best informed advocates.

Write Timely Content

This may seem obvious but most newsletter recipients will be thinking "what have you done for me lately" when deciding to open and review your most recent edition. It's important to keep in mind the immediate needs of subscribers as individuals.

But how do you remain 'timely'? A product or company related email newsletter can report on sale prices and new products. Likewise, a non-profit advocacy group should ensure that their content is as current as possible. Draw on events that readers are hearing about in the media. Tie content and subjects to the seasons and events in the calendar.

Our experience indicates that email newsletters often strive to be timely but can be undercut by an organization's inability to maintain timely content on their web site. An email newsletter isn't a good place for details and it is often best to link to web pages providing greater detail and opportunities for engagement. But when organizations struggle to create and maintain current web content they often balk at putting timely, relevant content in email newsletters that usually have a tighter and more frequent publishing schedule than their print counterparts.

Quick Tips

-- Be brief and make your text easy to read;
-- Think about your audience and be informative to their needs;
-- A principle strength of email is speed; ensure that your content is timely.

Email Newsletter Usability

New Site Launch: DiscoverNLCS.org

Cool Stuff
Links and Stories and Generally Good News

Compare Yahoo and Google Results Side-by-Side
For years, Yahoo paid Google to power its search engine. Until last month, that is. This site lets you search both at the same time and compare results. Great for seeing how your site ranks in the two search engines.

So you have a site and want to run a forum where folks can chat with each other, ask questions and build relationships. There are some great tools out there for this and the lot of them are worthy of their own thorough comparison. But we like what we see in PunBB. It's lightweight, creates valid code and doesn't come pre-built with design elements that will clash with your site.

Bush in 30 Seconds
Check this out if you haven't already. The MoveOn.org Education Fund sponsored a competition to create a 30 second commercial about the problems of the Bush Administration. We would like to say that these are remarkably well-done regardless of your political leanings but that's probably not so true. But we like them.

New Site Launch: DiscoverNLCS.org

We are proud to announce the recent launch of DiscoverNLCS.org. This site was built for The Wilderness Society on behalf of the National Landscape Conservation System Coalition - a confederation of about 80 local, state, regional and national non-profit organizations.

Just to be clear, we're not talking about how to install water-efficient sprinkler systems or choosing plants for your next flowerbox. The National Landscape Conservation System was created in 2000 to tie together public lands overseen by the federal Bureau of Land Management. These are crown jewels of the American west but often overlooked (and poorly managed) by the BLM, which isn't often considered to be in the same league as the National Park Service or Forest Service when it comes to having and managing stunning natural places.

Ah, but how mistaken this premise is. The Coalition behind this site is building the public recognition of and support for (we could say the 'brand image') the lands of the National Landscape Conservation System. These lands include Wilderness areas, wilderness study areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers, National Monuments, National Conservation Areas and vast expanses of still wild yet threatened natural places.

This site was put together by a few folks, none of whom were dedicated to it full-time. Eagle River Partners was responsible for overall project management, design, information architecture and developing the content management tools that power the site. We used CommonSpot, a content management tool built in Cold Fusion. This tool also powers the main site of The Wilderness Society: Wilderness.org.

In addition to a unique and consistent look and feel that integrates well with content and site structure, we developed tools using CommonSpot that enable a widely dispersed group of content authors to maintain timely content - including news releases and action items.

Take a visit to the National Landscape Conservation System now.