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7 School Email Marketing Mistakes You Need to Stop Making
Mia (Major) Charette

Email marketing is still the number one way to engage with current and prospective families — yet, only 66 percent of respondents plan on investing more time, budget, and resources into email marketing for the 2019-2020 school year.

7 Email Marketing Mistakes Your School Should Avoid

  1. You Don't Segment Your Emails.
  2. You're Not Personalizing Your Emails.
  3. You're Sending Your Emails at the Wrong Time.
  4. Your Subject Lines are Lame.
  5. Your Emails Have Too Many Words.
  6. No One is Downloading Your Images.
  7. You're Not Automating Your Email.

This is a blog on email marketing mistakes, and if you ask me...that seems like mistake number one! Why? Well, while social media feels like the “shiny new toy” in school marketing, email campaigns provide the biggest ROI. 

Email Delivers the Highest ROI for Marketers - Diagram


You’re probably wondering “why?” and “how?!” Here’s a few stats to consider:

  • 73 percent of millennials prefer to hear from a business or brand via email
  • More than 50% of surveyed Americans check their personal email at least ten times per day
  • 46% of Americans (and 66% of millennials) admit to checking their email before getting out of bed in the morning

So, even though email might seem like the oldest member of the digital marketing family, it is still the most effective. In an analysis of more than 500 million emails sent using Finalsite’s email marketing software, we aggregated two industry email marketing benchmarks:

  • The average open rate for school emails is 49%
  • The average click-through rate for school emails is 5.6%

If your email newsletters and email campaigns aren’t reaching these numbers, what could you be doing wrong? You might be making one (or a few) of the following seven email marketing mistakes.

1. You Don’t Segment Your Emails.

Did you know that only 33% of school marketers have created personas for email marketing? To us, that also means that two-thirds of marketers are not segmenting their emails appropriately. And while you may think “I just don’t have enough time,” consider this: segmented campaigns drive a 706% increase in revenue. Imagine the power that segmentation has for selling tickets to an event, or raising funds!

Segmenting emails doesn’t have to be hard, either. We recommend using an email marketing tool that integrates with your Student Information System and/or admissions software to ensure that the data for your email is always up-to-date without having to manually update it yourself. 

As long as your systems are integrated, you have the power to create a variety of email lists within minutes. Here are a few simple recommendations:

  • Create large, broad lists for all faculty, parents, students, and alumni.
  • For students, create separate lists for freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors.
  • For parents, also create separate lists for parents of freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors.
  • Create lists for members of clubs and sports teams.
  • For donors, create lists of previous donors, and those who have never donated. You could also create lists based on the previous donation amount.
  • If you work at a district, start by segmenting lists by schools, and then by grade level.
  • And of course, you can even get more granular from there! The goal is to only send relevant content you constituents care about — otherwise, they’ll stop reading your emails.

2. You’re Not Personalizing Your Emails.

According to survey data from our 2019 Inbound Marketing Benchmark Report, only 42% of school marketers personalize their emails with recipient information. Email personalization is a simple strategy that can significantly improve email open and click-through rates. One study suggests that emails with personalized subject lines have a 26% higher open rate than those without personalized subject lines.

If you use Finalsite Messages, email subject lines and email content can be personalized with merge tags. Within your subject lines, you can use first name and last time:

Personalized Subject Line in Finalsite Messages

And from within an email, you can create up to ten personalized merge tags based on your data.

merge tags in finalsite messages

Pro tip: Don’t try to over-personalize your emails, as savvy recipients will catch on to it. And more importantly, remember that your marketing is only as good as your data! If you know you’re missing data for constituents for any merge tags you select, don’t use that when personalizing an email. (But hey, this is why integration is so important!)

Email Newsletters: Successful Strategies for School Districts | Finalsite

3. You're Sending Your Emails at the Wrong Time.

Email marketing relies a lot on timing — and there are literally dozens of studies and reports out there that prove it. Send your email too early or too late, it might get missed. Send it on the wrong day, it might be deleted without even being opened.

Here are a few general best practices about sending email (according to an aggregated report based on 14 studies):

  • The best days of the week to send emails are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Monday is off the table as parents get situated into their weekly routine, mass-deleting emails from the weekend and morning.
  • The best times to send emails include:
    • 6:00 AM: Because so many individuals check their email before getting out of bed, hit them with your message bright and early.
    • 10:00 AM: Late morning seems to be the best time to send emails across the board. Maybe it’s everyone’s coffee break?
    • 2:00 PM: Sending mid afternoon is popular, too. Maybe your audience is looking for distractions (again).
    • 8:00 PM: While this is definitely after work hours for you, it’s a common time for parents to be checking email. Dinner and after-school activities are over, and they may be getting read to watch Netflix or go to bed.
  • Apparently, Tuesday at 10am and Thursday at 8pm are the best times to send emails. But, if everyone else in the world is following that best practice, you might have a great deal of competition!

And while we can make some general assumptions about email marketing, it is essential that you experiment with sending on different days and at different times to figure out what works best for your audience.

Pro tip: For an email like a weekly or monthly newsletter, it is important to stick to a certain day of the week and time so that your constituents learn to expect it and look for it.

4. Your Subject Lines are Lame.

No one’s going to read your email if they don’t open it, right? Just like the cover of a book, it has to grab your attention in order to want to learn more. Because school marketers wear many hats, email subject lines are often an area that don’t get a ton of attention, but they are SO important.

Here are a few tried-and-true tips for better subject lines:

1. Keep it short and sweet with a maximum of 50 characters. One study even found that emails with only 16 characters in their subject lines had the highest open rates! 

2. Ask a question like, "Are you coming to Homecoming on Friday?" or "Do you know what's happening on campus?"

3. Express urgency without actually using the word "urgent." For example, when selling tickets to an event using the phrase, "Ending Tomorrow: [event here]" or "Today only."

4. Use "you" instead of "we" to make the recipient feel like what's in the email is for them and not about you.

5. In addition to subject lines, never use a “” email address — ever! It doesn’t look personable and prevents individuals from adding you to their address book. And even better yet, send them from a person’s name, like “Heather at Taft” to personalize and brand your sender name.

6. Use emojis. :) They make your subject lines fun and can help them stand out in an inbox.

7. Oh, and use personalization tokens, of course.

Pro tip: Write your subject line last! It is the most important part of your email, and you’ll want to spend time trying out some different options.

5. Your Emails Have Too Many Words.

Do your emails still include a ton of text? Like your website, it is essential to find a balance between written and visual content. Consider structuring your emails with panel design, the same way you would a page on your website. This helps you visually divide content and make it scannable. You’ll also want to incorporate the use of heading tags, bold words, lists, and call-to-action buttons.

avon old farms good email example

6. No One is Downloading Your Images.

Did you know that not all email browsers automatically display images? Certain email providers, such as Outlook, Thunderbird, and Apple Mail don’t automatically show the images in your email, and they have to be manually loaded. So, your email could look something like this:

jcrew email with no images

(Yeah, so don't feel bad. Even JCrew makes mistakes)

While you don’t have control over what email providers your recipients use, you do have control over your emails. Don’t create an email solely based on images, and of course, always use alt text.

7. You’re Not Automating Your Email.

Marketing automation is a key component of an effective inbound marketing strategy, and can increase email engagement for your admissions, marketing, and development campaigns. Marketing automation takes numerous best practices into consideration, such as email segmentation, personalization, and only engaging those who want to be contacted, while also simplifying your email marketing efforts. 

Gif example of adding a new message with a timed delay to a workflow

For example, let’s say you want to send a series of six emails to donors from last year. You can send the series of six emails based on your recipients’ engagement. If they don’t open an email, they go down one path, if they do, they go down another path. If they stop engaging, you can stop sending emails. And this can all happen automatically with a tool like Finalsite Workflows.

Key Takeaway

Email marketing is still a foundation for school marketing, and if you’re not happy with the results of your campaigns it might be time to make a change to your strategy or software. Get in touch with us today to learn how Finalsite’s email marketing platform can simplify your email marketing efforts and improve results.

Easily create and send personalized emails with Finalsite Messages. Click here to get started!


Mia Major

As Finalsite's Content Marketing Manager, Mia shares innovative and helpful content that helps schools and districts create captivating online experiences that increase brand awareness, student and faculty retention, and school-to-home communications. With more than five years experience in the industry, Mia has written more than 200 articles, eBooks, and reports about best practices for schools on a variety of topics from social media to web design. As a former TV and news reporter, and wedding photographer, Mia specializes in sharing how to use storytelling to power your school's admissions funnel. When she isn't busy creating content or hosting her #LIKEABOSS Podcast for FinalsiteFM, you can find her hiking with her Boston terrier, running an army wives meeting at Fort Campbell, or enjoying a well-deserved savasana on her yoga mat.

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