Since you're in the television industry, I'm guessing that you don't need a pep talk about how important it is to present information in a visually attractive, and convenient way.
This is true not only for the content you put on the air but also for the content you put online.
Even if your e-mail newsletters tell a targeted audience of voluntary subscribers exactly what they want to know when they want to know it, they won't remain subscribers if the online content you show them is a hassle for them to read.
In the online world, text can be a pain to read if it doesn't paginate correctly or, worse, if the coding required to convert Web-page code into readable text is visible, rather than running in the background.
That's why your decision on how to present your e-mail content will be important.
Your choices will be whether to include the entire alert or newsletter within the e-mail message or to offer a brief synopsis with a link in the message back to a page on your site where an article or more info is available on the topic.
E-mail alerts and newsletters have traditionally stayed away from links because some e-mail programs can read only "plain text" and not Web-page-like HTML messages. As newer versions of popular e-mail utilities migrate down the user base, this is less of a concern. Various estimates place the percentage of Web users with "HTML-compliant" e-mail at 50% to 65% and rising.
A year from now, this question will largely be moot. But as for now, since your prospective e-mail readership will be divided between the HTML-ready and the HTML-challenged, you should give subscribers the option of either. Web sites that do this usually have two check boxes on their sign-up page, one with a prompt for "plain text," the other for "HTML." This puts the power in the hands of your subscriber.
If you are concerned with using your e-mail content to help monetize your site, the rise in the percentage of Web users with HTML-compliant e-mail software is a cause for joy. That's because HTML-enabled e-mail alerts or newsletters allow for banner ads, links to sponsor sites where specials are advertised, and, of course, easy linkage from the newsletter or e-mail alert to various pages on your own site.
If you do HTML e-mail, don't use attachments. Put your content in the body of the message itself.
"Attachments are always a bad idea. Because of the risk of [computer] viruses, corporate firewalls automatically filter them," says Derek Scruggs, permission advocate for Message Media (http://www.messageme dia.com), an e-mail newsletter services and software firm that handles the daily e-mail newsletter Money Mail for CNBC.com (http://www.cnbc.com).
When it comes to e-mail alerts, sometimes the information flows both ways. Wouldn't it be neat if it were possible to constantly "watch" your site for newly posted content that would be of interest to subscribers? After all, most TV Web sites update their content throughout the day: sports, weather, stock prices, even (shhh) wire copy.
You could nag your Web editor to format newly added content into a file queue that could then be dumped into an e-mail alert. That would be quite a labor-intensive task for a Web department that may already be stretched thin. And take it from me personally, "stretched thin" people don't like to be nagged.
Here's a better idea. Some services will actually monitor your site's content "24/7." By use of keywords and key phrases like "tornado alert," a particular stock symbol, etc., they can automatically generate e-mail alerts in minutes if you post a story containing one or more of these programmed trigger words.
Then, after the content is matched to the requirements of a particular mailing list, the e-mail addresses of all subscribers to that list are called up, and an e-mail alert is sent to them. The alert could be something such as "all Washington County schools are closed tomorrow because of snow." An e-mail link could be built in to the alert, which, when clicked, would send subscribers to your main site for the full story.
One such service is Alerts.com (http://www.alerts. com). The company, CEO Michael Jones told me, has built an application for CBS.Marketwatch.com (http://cbs.market watch.com) that will let e-mail-alert subscribers indicate which stocks they want to receive e-mail alerts about and what circumstances-such as a stock price rise or fall by a given amount-should trigger such an alert.
Services such as Alerts.com generally charge $20 or $25 per individual alert for each 1,000 recipients.
Russell Shaw's column about Internet and interactive issues appears regularly. He can be reached at russellshaw@del phi.com
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