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Sam ThorsonJanuary, 3, 20225 min read

5 Things Killing Your College’s Email Open and Click Rates

Marketing to prospective students is like presenting in a pitch meeting: you can do all the legwork and have the right information, but if you fail to make it engaging, you’re going to be passed up for something with more flavor.

People – especially young students, have short attention spans. According to a recent study, the average human’s attention span is 8 seconds.

That’s less than a goldfish.

Because of this, students expect the information they need to be communicated directly. This is why many young adults value their email communicate. Emails coming from schools should communicate valuable information that the student can use in their decision-making process.

Email represents a more personal line of communication to students. For this reason, taking advantage of an email marketing campaign is essential for schools to nurture relationships with prospective and existing students.

This just reinforces why engagement is key. To get your subject’s full attention you need to know how to communicate – and one of the more efficient ways is through email. Email communication not only plays an important role in prospective student recruitment, but also student retention, alumni communication, and the majority of internal communication.

Here are five major ways to improve email marketing for your college or university.

Maintain Up-to-Date Information

In 2021, the number of email users surpassed 4.1 billion – that’s over half of the planet’s population. 89% of people older than 15 use email and the highest number of email users are between the ages 25 and 44 – with the average user having at least two personal email and/or business accounts.

It’s fair to say that email is still a dominant form of communication – even among the current generation.

To stay relevant and true, be sure your advancement operation includes consistent data integrity checks: Make sure to ask donors and prospects which email is preferred or if they have an updated preference. If you don’t have an email address for an alumnus or donor, be sure you’re maximizing opportunities in other channels to capture that information (online sweepstakes and contests initiated through social media are a great way to encourage alumni to provide a preferred email address).

When someone registers online to attend an event, make sure your registration database is linked up to your fundraising database to capture contact information. Also, make sure you’re capturing direct mail, phone and email addresses during registration.

Focus on the Subject Line

The subject line of an email is one of the most important components of the communication plan. It’s the first thing anyone sees when they get receive an email – despite it being right in your face, it’s easy to overlook.

Remember: The open rate of an email is determined by who clicks on your email from their inbox. Because of this, the subject line is the KPI for improving open rates. Here are a few things to keep in mind when crafting an engaging subject line:

Personalize It – This can include everything from names to recent history or anything that’s unique to that donor. Including their name in the subject is become more commonplace in the marketing world.

Create Relevancy – This means segmenting your emails by demographics and interests and sending out several versions of an email. Salsa Labs reported that individualization of emails in this donor-relevant manner could increase opens by as much as 224% and clicks by 161%.

Give it Action – Inserting action verbs in your subject line not only attract, but they feel less “institutional” to the reader. The average person receives a couple hundred emails per day on one or more of their accounts. Use your verb to initiate an action request and incentivize the reader to feel compelled to open.

Make It Obvious – What is the purpose of the email? Is it to solicit a gift? Is it an online article you want them to read? As much as it matters to create excitement with your subject, don’t make it cryptic. The purpose should be very clear. Also, make sure your click-through links are both distinctive and serve the defined purpose.

Here’s an example: Why Graduates are Finding More Value in Unpaid Internships.

Make Them Visually Interesting

A simple, plain-text email might work fine for direct communication, but for email marketing campaigns to prospective students, they should be engaging, informative and encourage students to interact and learn more about the message.

Big ways you can accomplish this would be by including photos and videos – you can’t play videos in emails, but you can use an attractive thumbnail and link the image to a page on your website.

Design for Mobile

Most people today use their phones as their main email-checking device – yet, in terms of design, this step often gets overlooked. When creating an email campaign, make mobile display a priority.

Email builders like HubSpot or ActiveCampaign allow you to see previews of your email in different formats. Take advantage of this and make sure you email is clean and straightforward across every device.

Make Your Point

Never say anything in an email that you can explain on a website.

The goal of your email should be to encourage students or alumnus to want to visit your site. If they learn everything there is to know from your email, there’s no reason for them to go further. Don’t be too informative. Entice them with just enough information to want to seek out the full answer. In other words: leave them wanting more.

When it comes to email marketing, remember to keep the inbox in mind: How is the prospective student, donor, or alum going to receive your message? What makes them want to open it? Why should they?

When you have an email that contains direct, up-to-date information, a strong subject line, and a distinct, mobile-friendly style, they won’t ask any questions. It’ll just click.

If you want more in-depth articles like this, make sure to check out our website for all the latest tips and information on higher education.

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Sam Thorson

Sam specializes in Higher Education marketing strategies. He works hand in hand with university and college admissions and marketing teams to set goals, launch campaigns, and analyze results. With over 7 years of digital, content, and general marketing experience, Sam dedicates himself to connecting modern marketing strategies to higher education institutions.