Posted by Jane Copland
Many of you have probably set your SEOmoz account settings such that when you comment on a blog post, we email you whenever someone adds a new comment. One thing we don’t do is include the contents of the new comment in the notification email. Why not? Because then you would have less reason to click through to see the comment in its natural habitat and you’d be less likely to reply. The same goes for SEOmoz private messages and replies to Q&A questions.
Some people really don’t like this. Having the message provided in the email is certainly the quickest solution, but it drastically reduces the chances of a person clicking through to a site. In a limited sense, this isn’t too much of a problem, but over time, this surely could result in a noticeable drop in traffic.
I’ve noticed more and more sites steering away from this model lately. Most recently, I have seen photo comments in Facebook notification emails containing the text of what the person wrote. Facebook notification emails already show the text of wall posts and private messages, but up until now, photo comments could only be seen on-site. To reply to any of these messages, one needs to visit Facebook, but people often don’t. Consider this recent conversation I had with a friend:
Jane: Ooh you have a message!
Stephen: Nah, from a mate I used to work with. Read it in Gmail already.
Jane: I always do that and forget to open it. Then I get all excited. "A message!" And I’ve already read it.
Stephen: You should write a book about your tragic life.
Ignoring how tragic it is that I get excited about Facebook messages, it’s true that I read messages in Gmail and, unless they warrant immediate attention, usually resolve to reply later. Later, I’ll go to Facebook and notice that I have a new message. However, upon going to the inbox, I’ll remember that I’ve already read it. Unless I need to reply, I’ll frequently delete it without opening it again. My not clicking through means that Facebook serves at least two less advertisements than it would have otherwise.
Adding the content of blog and photo comments to notification emails seems even more dangerous. If a person is simply interested in keeping up with a conversation and not adding to it themselves, they can easily read everything they need to in their email accounts.
We know what it’s like with sites like Facebook, too. I’ll think I’m just going over to reply to a message or look at a photo comment, and I get distracted. I go to the home page and look at the news feed. I click around. Not following a notification email kills a lot of potential ad views and actions for Facebook or for any site which gives out too much information over email. My eyeball-time is given to Gmail instead.
If this practice is popular enough that companies don’t want to get rid of it, would it be better to include only a snippet of the content? Perhaps a set number of words or a percentage of the text. After all, people are more likely to be interested in reading the rest of the message if they’re only presented with half of it:
Many other sites, including Twitter and LinkedIn, follow this model. I’m not sure about this tactic because it is so convenient to read things via email. This is especially true with Gmail or any email system that threads email messages. However, it just seems vaguely counter-intuitive.
Some have likened these emailed messages as being like the difference between ordering delivery and eating in the restaurant. I disagree, because you still pay for the meal if you have it delivered. In fact, in some places, you pay more. When I receive the message elsewhere, I don’t see any advertising (aside from Gmail’s!), so a website whose revenue comes from ads is essentially giving me my meal for free.
A far better analogy is that of RSS feeds: People who prefer to read articles and posts through feed readers could easily digest everything a site puts out without ever visiting the site for themselves. A similar argument regarding RSS is whether or not sites should provide the full text of their posts in RSS.
Is the mostly positive user-experience of "delivery" messages a good one? I quite like reading my messages in the environment from which they were sent and I don’t view that extra clicks as a bother. What do you think is the correct balance between ease of use for site members and creating an environment where people are most likely to visit a site?
More: continued here