When you prepare your newsletter, probably the last thing on your mind is if its design and contents adhere to usability principles. This approach is wrong because poor usability means your newsletter ends directly in the trash folder and most likely its subsequent issues will end there, too. Basically, this kills all your efforts to use your newsletter as a sales and promotion tool because it drastically reduces your readership.
This is why you need to prepare each volume of your newsletter with usability guidelines in mind. Though there is much more to be said about newsletter usability guidelines than what can be included in a one relatively short article, here are some basic tips to get you started.
image by ~vesthar
Make It Easy to Subscribe
Obviously, the battle for usability starts much before your latest issue lands in the inbox of your subscribers. It starts with subscription. You need to make sure your subscription form is as user-friendly as possible. Generally, this means it isn’t cluttered and you are asking only for the data you absolutely must have (i.e. email address and optionally a name). With the great WordPress subscription plugins that are available, this task isn’t difficult but still you need to pay attention that you subscription form is as minimal as possible.
Identify the Sender Clearly
Another usability tip that will help to retain your WordPress newsletter subscribers is to identify it clearly who the newsletter is from. This is especially important, if it is a txt newsletter where your branding options are very limited but even with HTML newsletters, where you can include your logo and other branding elements, web marketers do forget to make it very clear who the sender is. Don’t make this mistake because it will lower your open rate substantially.
Emphasize the Most Important Stuff
When a subscriber opens your WordPress newsletter, he or she will hardly have the time to hunt for the most important stuff you have hidden somewhere. If the user doesn’t see something interesting right away, most likely he or she will hit the Delete button right away. This is why you can’t afford not to emphasize the most important stuff.
The ways you can do it are trivial – include a table of contents in the very beginning with links to the items you list, use bold or different colors/font sizes (if it is a HTML newsletter) and this should suffice to attract (and keep) the readers’ attention.
Make It Easy to Contact You
One of the purposes of a newsletter is to promote your site, products, and services. You can include all the info you deem important in your newsletter but there will always be questions users will ask, so you need to make yourself available for them. This is why it is vital to include in a visible place in the newsletter all the ways in which you can be contacted.
Don’t Overstuff It with Ads
You might be tempted to fill all the empty space in a newsletter volume with ads because you hope this will make you money but from a usability point of view this isn’t wise. It is much better if you leave air (i.e. empty space) here and there than stuff every pixel with as many ads it can take.
First, ads, especially is they are images, load for ages, which delays the loading of your newsletter as a whole and for a text-only newsletter they are absolutely useless.
Second, many users are irritated by ads, so if you want to achieve a maximum effect, keep the ads to the minimum.
Test Multiple Versions Before You Mass Release It
Even if you are a usability genius, you can never know in advance if the design and content you have prepared will work. You might have followed all the usability best practices and still have low open rate and even lower conversions. To avoid this, you may want to test multiple versions of the newsletter with a limited sample of subscribers and only after you see which version works best, to release it to all your subscribers. Always keep yourself open to readers’ feedback and be prepared to make new changes, if necessary.
Don’t Forget the Opt-out Link
One tiny bit of every WordPress newsletter you mustn’t forget about is the Opt-out (or Unsubscribe) link. In some jurisdictions you are legally bound to include it, otherwise you will be labeled as a spammer right away but even if you aren’t legally obliged, you should always include such a link.
The usability guidelines for a WordPress newsletter don’t end here and there is a lot that can be added but since chances are many newsletter managers don’t follow even these simple tips, it isn’t pointless to mention them.