Schools and districts of all sizes rely on email communications to reach community members to share important news, updates and upcoming events. However, because email marketing has been around since...well, what feels like the beginning of time on the digital marketing timeline...it sometimes gets a bad rap for being "old hat."
But it isn't email marketing and email newsletters that are old hat — it is the strategies that you use when you send emails that might be. For example, linking to PDFs and using lots of text doesn't take into account that 88% of smartphone users check their email on their phone — not their desktop. And not segmenting your email neglects that targeted emails often generate nearly ⅔ of all revenue.
In this blog post, we'll cover ten proven strategies for creating better email newsletters that your district's parents and other stakeholders will enjoy reading.
Don't want to read? Watch the recording below to learn directly from communication experts Mia Major, Nathan Buhl and Nick Provost! They shared these tips earlier this year in a popular session at District Communications Day:
1. Create a Mobile-Friendly Template
It's no secret that we are a mobile society that is becoming increasingly dependent on smartphones. Consider these stats:
- Globally, 98% of Generation Z own a smartphone. Over half rank their phones as their most important internet devices (Global Web Index).
- One in five Americans adults use only their smartphones to access the internet. This reliance is especially common among younger adults, racial minorities and households with lower incomes (Pew Research Center).
- 49% of all email opens occur on a mobile device and 88% of smartphone users check their email on their phones (Hubspot).
Ensure all of your emails are mobile-friendly with a template that meets the following guidelines:
- Separate content in panels. Remember that users can only see one or two panels at a time on a mobile device.
- Use at least size 16pt font for paragraph text to make the content readable. No one should have to squint or use their fingers to zoom in on your emails!
- Limit the number of words. Less is more, especially on a phone.
- Use CTAs to drive traffic back to your website. Rather than give every detail in the email, provide enough to peak their interests — and let them find out more on your website.
- Don’t use too many graphics that have text. Not only are photos more difficult to read, they don’t always load on every device. If you must use graphics, don’t forget alt text!
- Preview and test before sending. Send it to your email and check it on your phone. How does it look? If you were the recipient, would you understand the email’s purpose?
If you use Finalsite's Messages, simply click the "preview" icon below the thumbnail to view your email on desktop and mobile:
Related Reading: 6 Tips for Creating Mobile-Friendly Emails
2. Craft a Fun, But Predictable, Subject Line
Think about your own personal email inbox. Which emails do you click on? Which emails do you ignore? You likely make a snap judgement to open an email based on two things:
- Who sent the email
- What you think the email is about
Now, think about your audience. When parents are skimming over their inboxes, they should be able to instantly distinguish your newsletter from the rest of the emails they have received.
Be consistent with the following elements of your subject line:
- Branded Name. Choose a name for the newsletter and make it the first word in your subject line. This makes it easy for parents to recognize it and helps them refer back to it — they can easily search their inboxes for "Friday Frog Update."
- Date. Include the range of school days covered in the newsletter, whether weekly or monthly. For example, "Friday Frog Update: July 5 - 10"
- Emojis. Emojis are a simple way to draw attention to any subject line. But don’t go crazy with them — for a newsletter, choose one. For example, use a lion emoji for your elementary school’s newsletter to match its mascot. Then, use that same emoji in every newsletter. The consistency will create a visual association that makes your email stand out in families can start to visually associate the emoji with the newsletter.
- Sender. Choose a specific person or recognizable entity and keep it consistent.
Make sure that you specify the school (whether in the name, in the preview text, or with emojis) so that parents know where the newsletter is coming from. This is especially helpful for parents with kids in multiple schools.
Use the "preview text" area to change things up each week:
This is the area you can make specific to the content for each week — give parents a sneak peek about what is inside the newsletter and use language that makes them click! For example, use the engaging title of your main news story or advertise a content-offer included inside.
Example: "Check out the photos from the EHS 2020 graduation ceremony! Plus, here's a recap of the valedictorian speech."
3. Make the Email Layout and Content Easy-to-Scan and Scroll
Heavy amounts of text tend to overwhelming — especially on mobile. It requires a lot of scrolling, and might be hard to read. Check out the difference between these two emails.
This is not scannable:
This is much easier to scan:
Emails that are easy to scan will have higher click-through-rates as users will be able to find information they care about, quickly.
Follow the same kind of structure in your email as you would on a website page:
- Header Image
- H1 Headline
- 2-3 Sentences of Text
- CTA Button
- And Repeat
4. Follow Branding Guidelines
Your newsletter's logos and colors should be consistent with the rest of your school's brand, from your website to other email communications (for each individual school as well as district-wide communication!). Use similar fonts, buttons colors, heading colors and link colors to maintain consistency.
Spring Lake Park Schools, for example, has a newsletter that matches their website and maintains professionalism across all communications:
Create a standard “newsletter” template for each school within your district and train staff on making updates. This will save you time and keep the branding consistent.
Elmbrook Schools is a district of 10 schools — each of which send a daily announcements email. That's 10 emails per day, and 50 per week! While their template is simple, the content is easy to scan and click. Each school has different colors, but all of the newsletters maintain an overall cohesive look:
5. Make it Visual
Branding, images, font size — they all play a role in how easy it is to consume your district's email newsletter. Use photos, icons, graphics, and even emojis to draw your subscribers in. Visuals can also be used to help segment email content.
Each email you send should have the following elements:
For example, Rochester Catholic Schools, a school system in Minnesota, often uses a large image to showcase their "Featured News" to make it stand out in their email. Similarly, they also use photos to divide content in lengthy newsletters, letting images be the divider between each news story. Each panel also has a call to action button. This makes their emails visually engaging and easy to scan.
#6. Personalize & Segment
Make it Personal
The first step for creating a great email newsletter is to make it personalized. By simply adding the personalization token of [First Name] to the top of the newsletter will make your constituents feel like it was written just for them. As a matter of fact, emails with personalization can increase click-through rates by 14% — and conversions by 10%! So, if you're asking your community to take action in your newsletter (such as purchase a ticket or donate to the football team) ensuring the email is personalized will go a long way.
If you use Messages, Finalsite's email marketing tool, simply select your personalization token by clicking the "merge tags" button on the text element and select "First Name." When your message is sent, Messages will automatically replace the placeholder text with the appropriate data from the user's Constituent Manager profile.
Related Finalsite Support article: Customize Messages with merge tags
Whether you're a district of three, 30, or 100 schools — segmenting communications for each school in your district will make for much happier parents, as they know they'll only be receiving news relevant to their child.
Bloomfield Hills Public Schools in Michigan has 11 schools, and 11 separate parents newsletters that get sent on a weekly basis. Each email has the same template, branding, and fonts. Although the emails follow the same structure, they each have a unique header, and colors that are specific to that particular school.
Additionally, they each have unique calendar dates and news articles that are automatically pulled in through Finalsite's calendar and Posts modules — saving their website admins time, while ensuring their community has the most up-to-date information.
7. Quit the Clutter!
Your newsletters need to have a purpose — they should not be a "catch-all" for all of your district's communications. That's what a district communications website hub is for!
Here are some tips for reducing clutter:
- Limit the number of content spaces available. Choose only the content that is absolutely necessary to include.
- Shorten your descriptions. Only include the main facts for each item (two sentences, max!). Don't worry about including every detail — rather, add a button so that people can click to read more on the website, instead!
- Put important announcements in their own email. If you find yourself needing to write more than two sentences, the announcement probably deserves its own email.
8. Prioritize Content
Choosing which content to prioritize can be really hard to do, but remember that your newsletter is just that — news. Think of it as your school’s version of the New York Times. What do your stakeholders need to know and want to know? Put that content at the forefront to ensure it's the most accessible (much like the front page of a Newspaper has the most important story).
Determine what content you want to share each week
A great format for newsletters is to choose one main news story, 4-6 smaller updates, and then include a secondary section for "regulars" (items you consistently share every week, such as upcoming calendar events, a "Tuesday Tip" for families, or a featured student and teacher series. Be sure to keep this hierarchy in mind as you choose content to feature each week.
Use a visual hierarchy to emphasize what is most important
This is when templates come in handy! Use your template to visually prioritize what content is most important. The main, most important news item should have a big picture with a call-to-action. Smaller updates can have smaller pictures and calls-to-action. Below that, use text and bullets.
Essentially, you're telling your audience: "Here's what you need to know. If you have time, you can check out this other content, but if there's only one thing you do, be sure you check out this main update!"
Overall, be visually consistent. Include the same types of content in the same place each week so people know what to expect and where to find it. When you place upcoming events in a particular section every week, families will know to scroll down to see that.
9. Create a Cadence and Stick to It
Consistency has a few meanings for email marketing, and all are equally as important for your marketing and communications efforts:
- Consistent branding: Keeping the branding of your emails consistent with the branding of each school in your district will simplify the user experience and strengthen your brand
- Consistent templates: Like the user experience on your website, using the same template for all the schools in your district, but changing the content, simplifies the user experience for parents when they are trying to find information relevant to a particular child.
- Consistent subject lines: While it is fun to get creative on email subject lines when promoting upcoming events, when it comes to email newsletters, sticking to a standard subject line template will help increase click-through rates, as your subscribers know what they're getting and what to expect.
- Consistent timing: If you send your emails daily, send them daily. If you send them weekly, send them weekly. If you send them monthly, send them monthly. Don't change things up without notice, and aim to send at the same time on the same day of the week or month.
Be Organized Internally
What was the open rate of that last newsletter? Who receives the middle school newsletter? Is everyone keeping up with their required weekly send? When you keep your newsletter organized internally, you have the ability to hone in on a lot of key data to improve your newsletters down the line.
For example, Highline Public Schools in WA organizes their emails by school, as well as their lists — making it easy to keep track of who is receiving what, and when.
10. Use Your Data
Open rates and click through rates provide a lot of information about the content your community enjoys, so use them to your advantage. Keep in mind that open and click-through rates can be deceiving. For example, and email that goes to 2,000 people with a 2% open rate performed better than an email that goes to 100 people with a 20% open rate.
For a high-level overview of analyzing data, our personal cheat sheet for analyzing opens and clicks is pretty simple (and effective!):
- High Open Rates: You did something right! This is most often the hardest part, and means you caught your subscribers attention.
- Low Open Rates: Either the subject line wasn't engaging or the timing wasn't just right. Try again at a new day or time, or try a new subject line next time to see if that helps increase open rates!
- High Clicks: Content with high click-through rates.
- Low Clicks: Low clicks indicate a piece of content wasn't interesting, or it was buried in your email. If you find that content at the top of your newsletter gets a lot of clicks, but content at the bottom does not, shorten your newsletters and send more frequently, with less content.
- Open-to-click Conversion: Keep an eye on your open-to-click conversion. For example, if your email has 100 opens, but only 2 clicks, it might mean your subject line was misleading and they didn't get the content they expected.
Your district is most likely using email as a main source of communications, and spending time putting together and sending emails — so you want to make sure there's a ROI in terms of opens, clicks, website traffic and engagement. If you're in the market for a new email marketing tool, be sure it lets you create a mobile-first preview as well as personalize and segment your content. The email tool should also be able to integrate with your school's website platform to dynamically pull data for news, calendars, blogs, and lists.
In the market for a new email tool? Request a demo of Finalsite Messages.
As Finalsite's content specialist, Leah promotes new school websites and exemplary content marketing examples from schools around the world. She’s also writer and editor of numerous blog articles, eBooks and presentations on best practices for digital marketing, social media, and school web design. Leah found her passion for international education at Arcadia University, where she earned her BA in Global Communications and studied abroad in England, Greece, Vietnam and Australia. When she’s not exploring new places, she’s either blogging, doodling, or dreaming about it.