Your No-Fail Recipe for Building the Best School Newsletter Layout 
Kristen Doverspike

Despite the seemingly endless means of communication that we have today, email remains one of the most tried and true ways of getting information out to your community. In fact, it’s an almost guaranteed way of reaching families who may not regularly check your website, who are not active on social media, and who don’t have your app on their phones.

So, if email is still a useful way to connect with your families, why might you see low engagement with your school’s email newsletter?

Newsletters have been around for a long time, and as technology and expectations evolve over the years, your school’s newsletter layout and strategy should adapt to be effective. If you’re still using the same general layout that you established years ago, it may be time for a refresh. And, perhaps more importantly, if your newsletter looks drastically different with each version, now’s the time to start following a formula.

We love analogies here at Finalsite, so in this blog, we’re going to walk through why building the perfect email newsletter is a lot like building a hamburger (you read that right!) — and we promise you’ll never forget how to build the ideal layout ever again.

Have you already perfected your newsletter layout, but you are running out of ideas? We have 10 ideas for you here!

How are email newsletters like hamburgers?

It may sound funny, but email newsletters really are like hamburgers. If they’re too big, they become difficult to eat and you likely won’t finish all of it. And without the meat (or main news items), it doesn’t feel complete.

At the end of the day, you want your email newsletter to be easily digestible and engaging, getting the most important information out there and offering compelling content without becoming overwhelming. 

So, let’s build that perfect recipe for your email newsletter!

The Bun: Your Header and Footer

Does your email newsletter have a clear header with your logo and a footer with additional links to explore?

Your header and footer act a lot like the bun in your hamburger. Without them, your email feels messy and incomplete.

school newsletter example from Bowers School
school newsletter example footer from Bowers School


Bloomfield Hills' Bowers School Farm, shown here, begins their emails with their header logo and ends them with a clean footer that offers links to their social media pages, their website, and their contact information. The result is both simple and effective!

Why does this work? 

In a world where most people seek immediate answers and crave mobile-friendly content, clean headers and footers in emails have become standard practice. 

No matter what device your recipient is using, they can easily open your newsletter and immediately see that it’s from your school. They can navigate to the bottom (just as they would on a website) to grab your contact information if needed, and they can click directly to your website. A header and footer establishes your brand, encourages further engagement on your website, and sets expectations. 

The Meat: Your Main Message

As much as you may want to throw in every photo and piece of news from the last week, a busy parent may only have a minute or two to scan the email. Choose only one or two of your most important pieces of information — the main message(s) — to ensure families read the important content first.

Think back to your hamburger; with each additional patty, it becomes more and more difficult to eat!

school newsletter example from Sandy Spring Friends School

Sandy Spring Friends School, shown here, keeps its email clean and organized with a single message, a clear call to action, and additional information split up with eye-catching icons.

How do we decide what makes the cut?

Depending on the frequency of your newsletter, you may have very little or a lot to say. Either way, you can follow these steps to decide what makes it into each edition of your newsletter:

  1. If there were just one item that you want your families to know right now, what would that be? This could be an event recap from last week, an important announcement, or perhaps a highlight of your academics program (for prospective families).
     
  2. If you have multiple important messages to get out there, how can you summarize and divide them up? We understand that you may not always have just one point to make. When that is the case, succinctly summarize each message and divide them with headlines and images. This makes your newsletter approachable and easily scannable.

    Pro Tip: Statistically speaking, your newsletters may drop off in engagement after they surpass 200 words (Source:  Campaign Monitor). If you’re on the fence about how long to make your email, try switching it up every so often to see which performs best! This can help you determine a benchmark to set for yourself moving forward.
     
  3. Can everything you want to include fit in a single-column format? If you’re finding yourself splitting your email content into two or three columns for the sake of making it “fit,” it may be time to narrow it down. While this may look great on a desktop, the majority of email opens today occur on mobile devices. Keeping your content in a single column not only forces you to condense your content, but it also optimizes your newsletter for the majority of your families — thus, making it more likely to be engaged with!

(Don't worry — The pieces of content that don’t make it into your main section can be “toppings,” instead! We’ll get into that soon.)

The Secret Sauce: Your Call to Action (CTA)

What is the most important thing you want your community to do when they read your newsletter? Having one button with a single call to action in your newsletter can help make sure that desired action is front and center.

Think back to your hamburger; you can’t have more than one secret sauce, right? The flavor gets confusing and it generally becomes less enjoyable. Strategize your main CTA with the same mindset.

Stevenson School District example newsletter

Stevenson High School, shown here, offers one clear call to action right at the top of their newsletter to ask for support. It’s eye-catching, and you don’t see more than one of them in the newsletter. Any member of the community reading this will be drawn to that initial call to action.

If you have additional calls to action that you would like to include in your newsletter, make sure they come secondary to your main CTA. This may mean having one strong button for your main CTA, and hyperlinks for the rest.

The American School of Switzerland email example
school newsletter example from TASIS

The American School in Switzerland conquers the multiple-CTA puzzle in this email by offering just one clear CTA to learn more about the boarding experience and secondary CTAs to explore more options.

Pro Tip: When crafting your “secret sauce” CTA, use action-oriented words instead of the vague phrase “click here.” Think “explore,” “learn more about ____,” etc. These CTAs will naturally get more engagement, because they set expectations for those who are interacting with them!

The Toppings: Secondary Links

Remember earlier when we were going through the exercise of cutting down the main “meat,” or message, of your newsletter? During that time, you may have decided to forgo something like a recent blog post or a relevant local news article. These are all supplementary opportunities for your community to engage with you, and they still have a place in your newsletter!

Think about your “toppings” as a few sprinkles of helpful information. These pieces of content can be segmented into small blurbs with hyperlinks and maybe even a photo. But at the end of the day, too many toppings once again overloads your burger! Keep it light and digestible.

school newsletter example from Mt Lebanon School District

Mount Lebanon School District, shown here, offers two additional pieces of content in their newsletter that are separate from the initial main message. These blurbs are cleanly separated with images, and they opt for simple hyperlinks over a flashier button. This effectively gets additional information into the newsletter without drawing attention away from the main desired action.

Putting it All Together

Now you’re ready to build your hamburger-style email newsletter! Suffield Academy’s admissions newsletter, shown here, perfectly exemplifies this style. It begins with a main message from the Director of Admissions, goes right into a core CTA to view their Athletics video and sign up for a school visit, then it comes in with their secondary announcements — and it’s all sandwiched between a clean header and footer. Chef’s kiss!

the secret "recipe" for email newsletter formats: a hamburger with a top bun, meat, secret sauce, toppings and the bottom bun

Key Takeaway

When it comes to your school’s newsletters, the best thing you can do is stick to a consistent hierarchical layout. It sets expectations for your community, and it helps you adhere to best practices. Always include one main message, a single call to action, and secondary opportunities for engagement. Your newsletter content should easily be consumed on mobile devices and be scannable in a way that allows families to absorb the information in a short amount of time. When you follow these guidelines, you’ll no doubt see an uptick in your read-through and click rates. And if you feel limited with your current email communications software, Finalsite Messages may be the right software for you!


School Marketing Day 2021


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kristen Doverspike headshot

In her position as Inbound Marketing Manager, Kristen provides the strategy and creation of content across email, website and social media communications at Finalsite. With over five years of experience in content strategy and digital marketing, Kristen has worked with clients around the country to develop their branding, SEM, SEO, social media, and inbound efforts. She holds and maintains a number of certifications from Google, Hubspot, and Hootsuite

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