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Janet Roberts

Dirty Tricks and Format Changes
By Janet Roberts

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A few tips back, we played a dirty trick on our loyal readers:

We had been covering format changes in a recent series of Ezine- Tips and wanted to see what readers would do if we fiddled with our own format.

So, on a low-readership day, we sent out an Ezine-Tip with just the bare outline: newsletter name and date in the subject line, and in the message body just title, author and terse directions to click the link in order to read that day's tip on the Web site.

Would they click through to the story? Would they send us nasty notes? Would they unsubscribe in protest?

The results:

  • Some did click, but the rate was pretty dismal: 521 clicks out of 13,000 deliveries.
  • I wouldn't say nasty; more bewildered and pleading against a format change, although a few told us they knew what we were up to and wouldn't play along.
  • Nobody did; at least, not that they told us.

Now, this was not a scientific test. Nor are we planning to change our format -- and if we were, we wouldn't spring it on readers the way we did.

However, it did present some insights if you're planning to change your format, either from text to HTML, from copy complete in the message to digest format, or from any format to a link- only format.

Here are some strategies to consider:

  1. Review all the reasons for and against changing your format. People really dislike change, especially if the change delivers less value or inconveniences them. See if you can accomplish your goals through other means.

  2. For example, to reduce your exposure to spam filters that block mailings based on content, try running your content through any of the free content-analysis tools available on the Web first to spot any potential trouble areas.

    If you're trying to keep your ezine to a manageable size, either publish more often -- twice a month instead of monthly, or monthly instead of quarterly -- or stash some content at the Web site while keeping your main story in your ezine.

  3. Test your format change first on a subset of your mailing list. Test it several times, on different subsets, and track the results by comparing click and open rates (for HTML newsletters; for text versions, create a unique link for your test audience).

  4. Then, follow up with a mailing targeted just to your test group, asking for their reactions. You'll hear from the ones who feel strongest, and their feelings might not represent the group feeling, but you should be able to detect a trend.

  5. Don't spring it on your readers (the way we did). People don't like change; they especially don't like surprises that deliver less than they previously received.

  6. If you decide to change your format, explain it first in your current format.

  7. Should you let readers choose their format? Absolutely yes, if you're switching from text to HTML. Maybe, if your readers demand it. However, you're making extra work for yourself. Will you get any return on your effort?

Background information:

Were you one of the multitudes who didn't click on the link in that previous Ezine-Tip? Here's what you missed: "3 Newsletter Format Alternatives"

Need a content analyzer? Try Lyris Technologies' free tool.

Ezine-Tips for April 10, 2003

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