Jakob Nielsen ruled the web design world back in the 1990s, and he ruled it using long pages of text and default blue links. A lot of things have changed since those days, but Mr Nielsen is still producing some really helpful research and guidelines.
In his October 20th column, “Transactional Email and Confirmation Messages“, he comes to the same conclusion we did recently, that emails are often a last minute add on to a website or web application.
Judging by many of the messages we tested, email design often seems to be a side effect of the software implementation and consists of copy written by the programmer late at night.
The Nielsen Norman Group tested 92 different transactional email messages, mostly order confirmations, shipment notifications and the like. Overall, usability was judged as very low, with the messages poorly designed and confusing.
Some key points from the full report:
- The subject line is crucial: “Participants deleted email with subject lines that seemed too much like spam”
- Your from address matters too: “People simply don’t open messages that don’t have recognizable sender information”
- Prioritize information: “Email that begins with marketing messages or other seemingly irrelevant information runs a major risk of being deleted”
Jakob closes out his article with an excellent point that is too often forgotten: “Email is a user interface”. We need to design our email just as much as our websites.
You can purchase the report to see the full results of this study, but you’ll probably find plenty to work on before you even need to read it.