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The Email Newsletter is Not Dead — But Yours Might Be
Mia Major

In a webinar I recently hosted, How to Build a Killer Digital Marketing Strategy this Summer, I took the time to dive into every marketer's biggest love/hate relationship: email marketing. We all love it because we're familiar with it, and as far as we know, it works. And of course we hate it, because we all hate getting emails. Our inboxes are flooded, and we spend hours during the week just clicking "delete."

And it's this kind of mixed emotion about marketing's necessary evil that led someone to ask "is the email newsletter dead?"

Stuart Country Day Email Newsletter

My immediate answer: "No, absolutely not. The email newsletter is not dead...but yours might be if you have not changed it."

The email newsletter is not dead — but it has changed. Here's what is dead:

  • Non-targeted spam-like emails that go to your entire constituent base
  • Newsletters that have a multi-column format
  • Content that isn't mobile-friendly
  • Linking to PDFs

And, here's a few stats to back this up:

  • 88% of smartphone users actively check email on their phones
  • Segmented and targeted emails generate 58% of all revenue
  • Despite the rise of social messaging apps, 74% of teenagers use email
  • ROI of email marketing is 28.5% better than for direct mail

With that being said — if your school's newsletter feels "dead," what can you do to revive your school's newsletter? The following seven strategies are proven to help.

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Monitor Your Open and Click-Through Rates

The best way to bring your school's newsletter back from the grave (or just breathe new life into it!) is to conduct a thorough analysis of your email newsletter performance. The two biggest statistics to analyze are open rate and click-through rate.

Open Rate

The percentage of individuals opening your email, out of the total who received it. Low open rates are often due to a poor subject line, unknown sender, or unengaged audience. If click-through rates are low, try switching up your subject line, and make the sender name something recipients will recognize — whether it be a name, department, or the name of the newsletter.

Click-Through Rate

This percentage is typically lower, and is the percent of individuals who clicked a link after opening the email. A low click-through rate is telling you that the design of your newsletter is poor or your content is not engaging. At this point, take a look at the links that garnered the most and fewest clicks, and focus on the more clickable content in your next newsletter. A low click-through rate may also be the result of a newsletter with too many links, which often happens when schools opt for a monthly newsletter instead of a weekly version.

For a point of comparison, the industry average for schools is a 26% open rate, and 9% click-through rate. However, schools using Finalsite's eNotify typically see rates at least double the average.

You will also want to take a look at bounce rate and unsubscribe rates. If they're high, this is telling you that your data is not up-to-date, and you may not be engaging with the right individuals.

Segment Your Content

Because targeted, personalized emails get the most engagement, creating different newsletters for your parents, students, alumni, or lower, middle, and upper schools is imperative.

To execute this, you'll first need to create dynamic lists of each constituent base. Go one step further and integrate your SIS with your website platform to ensure your recipient information is always up-to-date.

Second, you'll want to create separate templates for each different newsletter — just to make your life easier. In each template, add a custom header image that's specific to your audience segment — such as "Upper School News" — so that recipients know the content of that email is just for them.

For example, using eNotify's template builder, Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School has created a variety of different templates for their email newsletter needs to improve their email quality, without needing to re-invest time every week to create something new.

CESJDS Template List

Be Consistent

Consistency is the key to a successful newsletter. A successful newsletter is consistent in:

  • Your subject line, sender name and sender email: This gives subscribers something to look for in their inbox
  • The time and days you send: Likewise here, when subscribers know they'll be getting your newsletter every Friday at 3:00PM, they'll know when to look for it to get the information they need.
  • Frequency: Decide on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly frequency and stick to it. Inconsistency provokes disengagement.
  • Design/Layout: When you maintain a similar design, subscribers know where to scroll and click to find the info they're looking for, increasing click-through rates over time.

Here is a great example of consistency from Oregon Episcopal School, who is consistent in every way possible. First, their subject line, sender name, day of the week, and the time of day (on average) are exactly the same.

Aardvark News Consistency

In addition to logistical consistency, Aardvark news uses the same template each week.

Aardvark Newsletter

With open rates averaging 30-40%, and click-through rates averaging 40-50%, OES's Aardvark news has earned email engagement that's well over the industry average.

Build an Opt-In List

Creating an email newsletter opt-in list is one of the quickest ways to increase newsletter readership, because you're communicating with subscribers who want to hear from you. Add a short, two-field long form to your website's footer that asks for first name and email.

This is a great way to gain contact info for prospects who aren't quite ready to inquire or apply, as well as other current/former community members who might not be in your database.

Use Emojis in Your Subject Lines

Here's a simple tip that's proven to increase email engagement: use emojis in your subject line! They're proven to increase open rates, and add some personality to something that might otherwise feel "boring." Just keep in mind that emojis display differently in different inboxes.

CA Weekly Emoji Use

Offer Engaging Content Your Constituents Care About

While email logistics and structure are important, the content of your newsletter is what will drive engagement and success. For example, Stuart Country Day's weekly newsletter, Weekly Wisdom, always features a new, exciting piece of content that community members might not have seen otherwise.

Stuart Country Day Great Email

To encourage clicks, each week the subject line is "Weekly Wisdom + the title of the features news," to encourage subscribers to "click."

On average, their newsletter earns a 60-70% open and click-through rate — extremely impressive for a weekly newsletter.

Structure a Mobile-Friendly Design

Just recently, TASIS England gave their already-successful email newsletter a responsive update using Finalsite's eNotify editor — and the results were impressive!

"In less than a day, we're already seeing major improvements in the open rates for our eNews submissions," said Mercedes Maskalik, Director of Marketing. "The new layout and design are working and these stats will go up as our families consume over time."

Here's a snapshot that compares the March 23 eNews click-through stats to the redesigned March 30 eNews:

  • Upper School – 15% increase in readership
  • Middle School – 6% increase in readership
  • Lower School 22% increase in readership
  • TPA/PIRC – 169% increase in readership
  • Sports – 7% increase in readership

TASIS Newsletter Comparison

Like TASIS England, TASIS Switzerland has a responsive email template — and it is consistently one of the most impressive email newsletters we've seen. Sent on a monthly basis, the newsletter features beautiful images, minimal text, calls-to-action, and a mobile-friendly panel design:

TASIS Newsletter

Their newsletter averages a 50-60% open and click-through rate, crushing the industry average.

Key Takeaway

While the email newsletter is not dead, the structure, design and content of a successful newsletter has dramatically changed.

The Ultimate Guide to Better Email Marketing


Mia Major

As Finalsite's Content Marketing Manager, Mia plans and executes a variety of inbound marketing and digital content strategies. As a former TV reporter, freelance cinematographer and certified inbound marketer, Mia specializes in helping schools find new ways to share their stories online through web design, social media, copywriting, photography and videography. She is the author of numerous blogs, and Finalsite's popular eBook, The Website Redesign Playbook.

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