At this time of year there’s a plethora of year-end summary posts and predictions for the upcoming year. I’m a little reluctant to join in because it feels to me like a click-bait exercise. However, I do enjoy reflecting on things I’ve noticed while working on a broad range of websites this past year. I’ve also found these insights quite useful when looking back over the years to see how things are changing.

Based on the conversations I’ve had with numerous bloggers, business owners and entrepreneurs, here’s the first of my reflections: mailing lists are trendy (again).

Social media buttons and sharing are still seen as important, but there’s much more of a renewed focus on mailing lists. There’s widespread awareness of the fragility of relying on social media platforms to get traffic as rules and algorithms are regularly changed. People realise the underlying drive is to force or encourage people to advertise on these platforms to get the results they once saw for free.

A few years ago, almost everyone requested that their blog or website had “social media integration”. When I asked clients what that actually meant, many didn’t know the specifics but knew they wanted “it”. I’d point people to this post I wrote which helped break down ways in which sites were connected to social media platforms.

The main social media channels listed on sites today are Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram. Lesser ones are: LinkedIn (on business sites for those looking for an online CV), YouTube (for those who are investing into video) and Google+ (barely getting any traction but some still like to include it). While there was some fuss about Ello, it didn’t grab me. Not one client has mentioned the site to me.

A consequence of this emphasis on mailing lists means more and more sites are using tactics like pop-ups, slide-ins, and gimmicks to get you to try and subscribe. A few years ago, email subscription was regularly driven through the “Hello Bar” tool but it is reasonably limited in design options and doesn’t appear to be as widespread now. I’m not sure about you, but I’m not a fan of being asked to subscribe to a site as soon as I get there when it is a roadblock (e.g. a lightbox pop-up) in the way of me getting to see the content I came for. I don’t believe I’ve ever filled in a subscription form prior to checking out a site. (Have you?)

Most websites collect name (and often first name, last name as separate fields) along with email address. I always wonder why they do. It takes more time and effort to complete the form, and I know it’s only going to be used to try and personalize emails in a very basic way: “Hi Rachel!” I’m yet to see a really good reason to collect names for online mailing lists. Perhaps it’s a hangover from physical mail which needs a name above the address or a requirement of CRM software hiding behind the scenes.

One of our clients, Jenn Segal has had incredible success with her mailing list. Not only is her website recipe content incredible, she provides exclusive content weekly via her newsletter – seasonal menus. Her website provides a sample offering so you know exactly what to expect when you subscribe. This is the type of newsletter I like subscribing to.

I’m not enjoying all mailing lists I subscribe to. I find store-based email newsletters far too overwhelming and incessant. I sign up for a brief period of time (e.g. to get a coupon!) and then unsubscribe. They feel like junk mail arriving in my inbox when it’s daily or even multiple times a day – especially if you sign up to multiple interest lists on their site. If you stay on their lists long enough, you realise how frequently everything is marked x% off – it starts to feel like every day there’s a sale.

I recently saw a video which talked about the demise of the Daily Candy mailing list. The concept for Daily Candy was originally to be about one thing a day. When Comcast bought the site, it changed the emails completely and even the founder unsubscribed from the list.

Another reason I think that there’s renewed interest in mailing lists is purely as a simple replacement for a feed reader. Feed readers were always used by a small segment of the population – they never became mainstream and always felt “geeky”. Google Reader felt very neglected in its design compared to other Google products. I still use Feedly to keep track of blogs I like, but I hear less and less people talking about subscribing to a feed these days. Bloggers are removing the feed icon from their sites (since those who use a feed reader can simply put the website link into their feed reader). Fewer bloggers use Feedburner. In fact, bloggers seem to understand less about their feeds and how they work than ever.

Have you discovered any wonderful mailing lists recently? I’ve been fascinated by two newsletters which don’t have accompanying sites: Today in Tabs and Five intriguing things.

Get actionable tips to grow your website

Thoughtful weekly insights (no hype!) on improving your website