Designing Email Content? Answer These 5 Questions to Start Off Right

Marianne Sipe

Marianne Sipe

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Designing emails is tricky business. Finding the right amount of text and images is an artful practice. Having too little content leaves an email less desirable, whereas too much can overwhelm the reader. This can spawn a reaction from the reader to delete the email before reading the content.

So how do you design a recruitment email that is beautiful AND functional? Answering these basic questions is a good place to start.

1. Do you know who your audience is?

Identifying who you are talking to is the foundation of the message. This helps create a plan of who to talk to and what they need to know based on their knowledge about your institution.

For instance, applicants go through several communication stages, each requiring unique information and prompts to move to the next stage—they don’t need the same content as a student who hasn’t yet submitted an application. In contrast, a lead may not know your school exists or know very little about it. I think you get the idea.

Working with clean data is a deal-breaker for sending segmented messaging to the student and their family. To obtain clean data, there must be a plan for ongoing maintenance. To learn more about the importance of clean data and how it should look, make sure to check out my piece on SMS Texting and data.

2. What is the one thing you want to tell them?

Sending multiple messages pulls a reader in multiple directions. Keep the message clean and simple. If you need an applicant to complete their application, then keep the message to that call-to-action (CTA). And if possible, do not exceed more than three sentences at the beginning. If you have to share more, break it up with subheadings or white space to help the reader digest the information.

Once a student completes the application, this triggers the subsequent messaging about submitting final admissions paperwork to complete their file. The other steps you may need a student to complete come later with a carefully curated communication plan.

After the message is created, create the CTA. This is important because you will want this metric to watch the effectiveness of your email and campaign. Ideally, the CTA is a button included in the email following a quick explanation of why the action is needed. Be careful not to bury the CTA too low in the email content— the reader may miss the CTA simply because they skimmed and moved on.

Recently I experienced a similar situation when purchasing my child’s school pictures. I navigated through the process, and when I arrived at the transaction, I failed to complete it. I didn’t notice my error until school pictures came and went and the packet we received was basically empty. Upon further investigation and checking to see where my pictures were, I discovered the button to submit the transaction was low on the page and the other information was higher. I grumbled a little for poor design and made sure I selected “submit’” on my second run on the process.

This is an excellent lesson in making sure that whatever you want the reader to do is visible, front and center.

3. How many links do I put in an email?

I recommend that marketers let the message dictate how many links should be included in a given message. For instance, an invitation does not need to include more than a couple of links. A quick link to RSVP after the introduction is all you really want the reader to do.

If the message is talking about programs at the college, embedding several links in the story can make it more engaging as you explain the great and many options. Variety can help validate what you are telling the reader. Additionally, a content section below the CTA—not burying it—can help upsell your institution with links to the FAFSA and scholarship page.

4. Picture or no picture?

Does adding an image help tell the story better? Or does this image help the student see themselves at your college or university? Rely on the tone and theme of the message to make this decision.

Quick update messages or confirmations to actions—such as a form submission—rarely need an image because adding one won’t enhance this experience. In contrast, if the message is to continue the recruitment and selling of your school, a picture is valuable because it can help demonstrate your value.

If you use a photo, make sure it is relevant and that it reflects the tone of the story your message is telling. For example, you may have a lovely aerial photo of your campus, but that won’t do much to excite students about getting involved with campus activities. An action photo of students playing pickleball would be a more suitable choice.

5. Who can the recipient contact for help?

Sometimes overlooked but crucial to all communications are the required housekeeping items. Make sure you include an opt-out or unsubscribe link. It is the law and an important tool to help clean up your list and send it only to those who want to hear from you. In the end, this helps with metrics by including only the most engaged recipients.

The second item to include is the contact information for someone on your team who can help. Include an email and/or phone and a description of who they are and how they can help.

There are many items to consider when creating an email. These are the basics to get started on the road toward successful recruitment messaging.

Sometimes it’s nice to collaborate with an expert who understands the nuances of higher ed marketing and communications. If you’d like a free audit of an email your institution is sending, I’m happy to help. Email me to set up a time to review.

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