P022: On Modals and Messaging

As a proprietor of a weekly email newsletter and enthusiast of two-party communication models, it is my duty to not only send but also receive newsletters on the regular. Every day my inbox is the scene of many a message, each with their own collection of objectives and calls-to-action. If I were to group these emails into three categories they would be:

  1. Editorial Missives – The #longform of the newsletter world. Some more frequent than others, these typically go deep on a subject near and/or dear to the author. Often conversational and occasionally featuring multi-issue continuity, the Editorial Missive is an old-school soapbox for email-based pontification. Examples: Things That Have Caught My Attention, The Sunday Dispatch, Roden Explorers Club, Robin Sloan’s Newsletter, Periodically (ha).
  2. Links With Commentary – Pretty much the simplest way to stay up to date on the very latest in a particular niche. The selection of the links says as much about the author as the interstitial bon mots. Easy to digest, these are the gateway drugs of newsletter addiction. Examples: NextDraft, Today in Tabs, The Weekly Wunderkammer, MediaREDEF, Benedict’s Mobile Newsletter, The Slurve.
  3. Updates From a Site – What it says on the tin. If you didn’t swing by their site in the past day, this email will let you know what has been published. Great for people who don’t suffer from email overload and those still mourning the loss of Google Reader. Examples: Quartz Daily Brief, Narratively, Hodinkee Daily Updates.

Of these, the the first two categories favor the independent publisher while the third has primarily been the domain of larger operations – typically those that are either ad-supported publishing concerns, a retailer or some modern hybrid of the two. The first two focus on sharing content from a wide range of sources and starting conversations on specific topics, while the third focuses on driving traffic to a single source.

Now, I don’t want this to sound cynical – I find much value in Update-type newsletters. If you want to read every story on a particular site, an e-blast alerting you to new stories is a good fit. But let’s be clear here: if the value of the website is tied to its traffic statistics, the value of that newsletter is tied to the number of subscribers. And in the never-ending drive to acquire subscribers, publishers and retailers alike fall victim to the same error:

Modal Madness

Here are five cherry-picked examples of the first thing that I see when I visit a particular site via a link in an update or retail newsletter:


Jack Spade



Four Pins

So let me get this straight:

  1. I signed up for the newsletter.
  2. I clicked on the link in the newsletter.
  3. The very first thing you do is ask me to sign up for the newsletter?!?


Free advice to these brands and all the other sites that have modal windows that interrupt the user: Don’t have modal windows that interrupt the user. But if you’re going to go ahead and do it anyway (and you know you are), for the love of pete, don’t show me the newsletter signup form if I came from the newsletter! We have the technology, people. It’s like two extra lines of javascript – probably less if you are better than me at javascript (which is basically everybody still reading at this point).

Anyway. Moral of the story: give a crap about the people who have signed up for your newsletter. And if you really want to grow your list of subscribers, beg the 86 people who do subscribe to your weekly newsletter to forward this on to a friend who might find it interesting. Let’s see if we can’t break a hundred subscribers by next week.

Periodically yours,

Bob Sherron