Nielsen’s Trustworthy Summary Text


Not too long ago I considered email merely to be one of the communication plumbing devices of the internet. Then when I worked at a startup where so much of our business was dependent upon an audience’s response to an email list, I finally woke up and realized the beauty—and the tremendous responsibility—of the format. As a result, I now really care about email and I believe it’s still one of the great untapped opportunities for internet entrepreneurs. I tend to care too much about the emails I receive and I save good ones (and especially bad ones).

Lately I’ve realized that one of the top gurus in user experience, Jakob Nielsen, has one of the best email formats I’ve ever seen. Nielsen has made a name for himself by teaching people how to create more usable web experiences (and it should be noted that a lot of people disagree with him) and his free AlertBox” email newsletter is really a great resource to have if you have an interest in how people interact with the internet. It’s well worth your time to sign up and the emails arrive usually about once a month or less.

Why his emails work His emails have a simple beauty about them because they are consistently trustworthy. When you’re sending information to people over email (whether to send them to a website or any end state), you need to remember you’re interrupting them. This means you need to be a) really good and b) respectful that they might just be too busy to read and click on your email.

What you always get in Nielsen’s email:

The hugely important nugget in this whole thing, in my opinion, is the summary text. The small-minded marketer would leave out the summary text, saying something like Why would we do that? It will ruin the click-through rate.” This is extremely short sighted because when you manage an email list your fundamental mission is to build trust at each opportunity. Little trust layers, wrapped around your recipients each time like a blanket from the storm. The storm, from an email manager’s perspective, is unsubscriptions.

If what you’re sending over email is high quality information matched to the right audience (If you haven’t mispresented yourself this is actually the least of your worries as most people self select to email newsletters these days), your life’s mission should be developing things akin to this summary text–or directly copying it as a tactic. There are other things that work really well as trust builders—and all provide a win for the user because she can decide (pre-click) if it’s worth her time or not.