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My website is a bit similar to StackExchange sites in regards of user interaction, but additionally it has a private messaging system. A message has a subject and a body.

Every time a new message or a reply arrives, an email is sent to the user (if he enabled email notification for messages).

My options are:

  1. Should I include the body of the message in the email, so the user will be able to read the subject and the body in the email without having to open my website unless he needs to reply.

  2. Or I should only include the subject with a link to the message thread in my website, so that user will have to open the website if he wants to see the content of the message, regardless he wants to reply or not.

The disadvantage I see in including the message body is that: If user can know everything about the message in the email, he will not open the website unless he wants to reply, which will result in less activity on the site. However, if I made him need to open the site to read the message, he is more likely to move around and make some activity, which is exactly what my website needs.

I'm leaning more not to include the message body, and to send only the subject + sender. But is that a good choice or there's something I'm not taking into consideration that might spoil my plans?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

As you said - including message body in the notification will be user-friendly but also may lead to users not enter the site. If this is ok from the strategic point of view, you can send the message body.

Otherwise, there are still several options:

  • You can send subject and sender only - however subject may give not enough information about what the message contains, so for users it may be annoying and not have actual value.
  • You can send subject + sender + fragment of the body - this will give user receiving such message more information about the message, so he/she may be even more interested in visiting the site and reading the full message.
  • You can send summary of all the messages on daily/weekly basis (based on user preference) - this is my favourite one, as multiple messages can be received daily, which may lead to user being mailbombed with notifications. In this summary, you can include summary (number of answers, grouped by all topics created by user) for all messages received, and for each of the topics: subjects, senders and possibly parts of messages (like first 100 characters).

I would go for the last option with a user settings allowing him to choose if he wants to get summary on daily/weekly basis or receive notification every time the message arrives.

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When the full private message is included in the email, users might try to answer per email, too.

This would work if:

  • the sender’s email address is used (which might be a privacy issue resp. undesired for your site)
  • your system uses proxy email addresses, e.g. username@example.com where example.com is your site (which might be unneeded overhead for your site)

So unless you use one of these options, I wouldn’t include the full private message in the notification email.

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I personally think that, not adding the content of the message in the email is such a great idea.

If your site is genuinely good, no matter what, users will logon to your site and this would translate into activity that you are looking for. If you are tricking the users/ forcing them to open the site everything there is an activity by hiding information, I don't see how far this kind of activity would be helpful for you. Maybe you'll generate some traffic with such led on users, but most probably in the long run, it might do more harm than good.

Think about ways you can retain/engage users and do not trick them, let them decide with their free will.

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