Like rats learning a new pattern of a maze, humans are changing their behaviors in using e-mailed newsletters because of the unebbing tide of spam, said a Fremont-based company that studies how people use technology.
Two years ago, the intermingling of legitimate e-mail newsletters and spam in users' email in-boxes thoroughly confounded and frustrated newsletter subscribers, as well as undermined the efforts of serious marketers, say researchers at Nielsen Norman Group. In a study released Feb. 17, the researchers say email newsletter subscribers now accept spam as a fact of life and have developed behaviors that enable them quickly to identify and benefit from legitimate newsletters.
"Email newsletters are no longer at war with spam, as we observed two years ago. Today, users know spam, and can identify the qualities of well-designed email newsletters," said Jakob Nielsen, a principal of the research company. "The bad news, however, is that poorly designed or ineffective newsletters that fail to keep the interest of users risk getting blacklisted and possibility prevented from being delivered to other subscribers."
Other findings of the study:
- While users show a better ability than they did in the past to differentiate legitimate opt-in newsletters from unsolicited messages, they're feeling increasingly stressed dealing with their inboxes, and now have even less tolerance for newsletters they think waste their time;
- Rather than un-subscribing to newsletters they no longer want, users will use their spam filters as a shortcut to avoid the newsletters;
- Users have a "what-have-you-done-for-me-lately" attitude about email newsletters, which means that newsletters constantly have to justify their space in the inboxes;
- The three most frequently mentioned reasons that users subscribe to email newsletters are that they are informative, convenient and timely, qualities that often are lacking in newsletters put out by big companies.
The study focused on the user experience of receiving and reading email newsletters. Over a period of four weeks, Nielsen Norman Group researchers used a diary methodology that tested participants in 12 states across the United States as well as in Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, Sweden and the United Kingdom. In total, the study participants subscribed to 345 different newsletters, of which 101 were included in the study.