Email beta smackdown begins

As of today, I am now using the big three email betas: Gmail, Windows Live Mail Beta, and Yahoo! Mail Beta. I have entirely too many email accounts, but it’s interesting using the different clients. I’ve been using Gmail heavily for a couple months, I just switched to the Yahoo! mail beta last week, and to the Winodws Live Mail Beta today. I’ll spend some time analyzing the three over the next few weeks and see which one comes out on top. First impressions are that the Gmail is great, Yahoo! rocks, and Windows Live Mail needs some work.

I hate sounding so negative all the time about Microsoft stuff, as I’m currently working with the .Net technology stack. So, I’m going to try to find some positive Microsoft stuff to talk about as well. I don’t have anything against Microsoft really, but the other guys are just doing a better job right now. I can tell you that Windows Live Mail is still better than Verizon’s webmail product. See, positive already.

The irony: Eye clinic site not accessible

The other night we had an eye emergency in the family, and I desperately needed the phone number for the Oregon Eye Specialists. As you probably know, I use FireFox. Well, guess what happens when you go to that site in FireFox? Nothing! Absolutely nothing. Just a blank blue screen. No alternate content, just blank (Yes, Flash is installed). In my haste I went back to Google to track down the phone number. Later, I gave it a try in IE, and what do you know, it worked. Now if this isn’t the ultimate irony that an eye doctor has a completely flash-based movie (I won’t dignify it by calling it a site), that’s almost completely inaccessible by most definitions, I don’t know what is.

I think someone needs to educate whomever developed this flash movie. Get a clue! For a site that very easily could have site-impaired users, using alternate browsers, it’s unacceptable. Not to mention the search engine traffic they’re missing out on with this design. I don’t even want to think about how much the clinic paid for this site.

Start by reading more of Molly, Andy Clarke, and spending some time at the W3C’s web accessibility site.

Windows Live Favorites

Let me start off by saying this Windows Live branding is dumb. I mean, I guess it presents some consistency. But, like with Windows Live Local, it sounds like a tag line for the evening news, not a web app.

So anyway, I was reading over at Dare’s blog about the release of Windows Live Favorites and the associated toolbar. I thought it might be interesting to try out. But, it’s entirely IE specific. Bleh. Considering this “Live” strategy is about hosted services, I see no reason, other than the fact that Microsoft makes IE, to not support other browsers. I only use IE when I have to to test sites, so this is certainly no reason to switch back. I’ll stick with del.icio.us and the firefox extension for now.

Just to recap online bookmark services/tools that I’ve tried or attempted to try:

I haven’t tried any of the other Del.icio.us-alikes, like Furl, My Web, etc. Does anybody prefer one of these or a different service that works well with FireFox? I’d be curious to take a look.

Busy week for acquisitions

First Consummating, now del.icio.us. What a week for web startups. Though I have no experience with Consummating, I’m an avid del.icio.us user, and think it’s great that those guys made some cash for their work.

I just hope Yahoo doesn’t screw up any account mergers with del.icio.us like they did with Flickr. I still can’t get the my old Flickr account back (and the images in it) months after they forced the accounts to move over.

Google Transit (it’s for Portland!)

News yesterday about the Google Labs release of Google Transit (via SearchEngineWatch). It’s pretty cool that Portland is featured. Being that I live in the Portland area, it’s also pretty easy for me to test it out.

Overall, I was pretty impressed, I could see this being a very useful tool to figure out approximate routes. Considering that most public agencies probably don’t have top-notch web talent like Google does, this could be very helpful. The specifics were a bit disappointing though.

I routed my commute to work, which only has bus service, no MAX. I have taken the bus a few times, so I know it takes about 20-30 minutes (never any traffic). Google says 19 minutes in transit, pretty close. But, it got the bus stop stop wrong, saying I’d have to walk 13 minutes to get on the bus where it suggested, when really it takes about 2 minutes. I’m not against walking or anything, but no need to brave the cold this time of year more than I have to.

Gmail adds delete?

I’m seeing a delete option now in the actions menu in Gmail. Is this new? It always bugged me that the interface discouraged me from deleting anything. Interesting that they decided to go back to the model all other email clients use.

5 tips for email newsletter success

Email newsletters are still an important piece to Internet marketing as part of the “Permission Marketing” game. Along with blogs (and RSS feeds), they are a great way to update customers on the status of your site/product/service. What’s interesting is that for NetworthIQ we have almost 500 newsletter subscribers, but maybe only a couple dozen subscriptions to our feed. This highlights the importance of having another channel besides blogs to communicate with your customers.

I’m no email newsletter expert. I’ve written a total of two so far for NetworthIQ , but I can tell you I’ve learned a lot from those two times and it’s really made me consider the newsletters I read and what makes them effective.

1) Opt in is the only way
This goes without saying, but if you offer a newsletter subscription as part of a site registration, make the newsletter optional and leave it unchecked by default.

2) Use a good tool or service
I’ve spent (wasted is maybe a better term) a good deal of time researching various newsletter products and services. I examined the following options:

  • Listserv setup with host ISP. Low-cost approach, but there was no way to mass import subscribers.
  • Open source. The best I could come up with was PHPList, which I tried unsuccessfully to get running on a WIMP host (Windows, IIS, MySql, PHP). I’m sure I could have got it to run, but I had spent too much time already, and from I saw it looked to be overly complex for what we needed. Interesting that with PHP scripts, it’s always so much easier to find something open source. I couldn’t find any open source .Net newsletter products out there (at least unless you wanted to use DotNetNuke).
  • Commercial Packaged Applications. I didn’t look too far down this road, as my budget is limited, and if I was going to pay, I might as well go with a hosted solution so I don’t have to worry about installing anything.
  • Google Groups. I saw this suggested by Nick Denton in his startup kit. It’s definitely the cheapest hosted solution, but I was concerned that the service sent confirmation emails when I tested adding subscribers. This seemed like it would be a little disconcerting to users that they were signed up for some Google service without knowing about it. So, I scratched that idea. I think they’d be great for cheap internal list management though.
  • Build. I haven’t ruled out building something simple ourselves, especially so that I can store archives. But, at this point, I’d rather not take the time to learn the intricacies of sending bulk email, what with ISP support and CAN-SPAM regulations. I think this is something that’s better to buy than build, but I reserve the right to change my mind.
  • Campaign Monitor. There is an endless list of outsourced email providers, but most of them were prohibitively expensive for us and our needs (monthly email to 500 subscribers and growing). I’ve used Campaign Monitor both times and have to say it was one of the best web application experiences I’ve ever had. It was so simple and the app provided valuable help and insight where needed. I felt it was reasonably priced.

3) Write an interesting subject line
This is rather obvious once you think about it, but I learned it the hard way and still see other newsletters with poor subject lines. Having “Company/Product Newsletter #1” as the subject is not very effective. Give a good tease or lead-in, entice the user to open it. Otherwise they’ll go right on by it in their inbox.

My first newsletter subject was “NetworthIQ Newsletter #1,” and the response generated from it was so quiet, you could hear a pin drop. Now with newsletter #2, I had “NetworthIQ Newsletter – Net Worth Stats Released.” Newsletter #2 featured similar content as #1, but I highlighted the Net Worth Statistics we had just released in the subject. The response was overwhelmingly better. Referrers lit up with email clients.

4) Keep it short
There’s a lot of noise out there these days. Between reading blogs, emails, etc., people just don’t have time to read a bunch of copy. Include short snippets and link to your site to provide more detail. Provide as many calls to action in the fewest words you possibly can.

5) Stick with text, don’t bother with HTML
If you follow #4, there’s really no reason to have HTML. It just adds complexity. Most HTML newsletters utilize images extensively, but in case you haven’t noticed, Outlook 2003 and Google Mail both disable images by default. Why bother dealing with this? Need a link? Well, most email clients turn a textual URL into a link anyway. Keep it simple and keep it text. Besides, what are most blogs syndicated as? Text. I’d argue that’s what makes them successful since it cuts out the crap and gets right to the guts. Now in the event that you want to do some tracking and place a web bug, HTML is probably fine. Just stay away from images.

What do you think? What’s effective for your newsletters?

Additional tips you may find useful:

Getting re-acquainted with WordPress

I’ve pretty much wrapped up the move over to WordPress here from my old home. I think I’ll leave the Blogger posts over there for now, as WordPress’s blogger-import process is less than ideal. Isn’t there a Blogger API? Why do I need to publish all of the Blogger articles to my WordPress server and give up my blogpot address that gets some decent search engine traffic? Maybe there is a better import script out there? Of course that’s as much of a problem with Blogger’s either/or publishing process (once you switch to ftp publishing, you lose the address) as with the import script.

I used WordPress for a project over a year ago, and had no complaints about it. But, that was before I started blogging publicly, so it’s interesting to see it again. Blogger has a better entry interface and better template editing (one file, as opposed to a number of files in WordPress), but WordPress still feels like a much more robust blog system with comment feeds, trackbacks, categories and plugins.

The final task will be to select a different theme.

Update
I’m using the Almost Spring theme now. It’s very clean, and has the sidebar on the post page, which was missing from the default. I know it’s still a pretty common one, but it’s a step up from the default one, uniqueness-wise.