The Digital Campus

The Digital Campus

Email Newsletter- The Workhorse of University Communications

death of email

Zero emails. Is this even possible?

Our friend Georgy Cohen, from, wrote an excellent post on best practices for email newsletters that we could all benefit from.

Regardless of apocalyptic forecasts that announce the death of email, it is still how many of us spend most of day: sending and answering emails. I have summarized below key takeaways related to subject lines, length, images, and frequency from Georgy’s post on


According to a July 2012 report by the McKinsey Global Institute, we spend 13 hours per week dealing with email.

Email is the most effective way of reaching out to a specific audience with a specific message. But the competition is fierce! Your email will be received alongside business offers, other organization’s newsletters, and emails from friends and family. Make your newsletter stand out and be deserving of your readers’s attention and time.

Email Newsletter Checklist

1. Goals & Audience

Determine your goals and your readers’ needs. What do we want your newsletter to accomplish?

  • Increase awareness of certain deadlines and requirements
  • Boost attendance at events
  • Drive readership to news stories or announcements
  • Encourage donations or other kinds of participation

2. Content calendar

A content calendar is key to a successful newsletter. It can serve as an archive and reference for past newsletters as well as a platform for planning future issues. You can organize it by different sections of content you may want in your newsletter. And you can also use it to ensure that what you are planning can reasonably be accomplished with given time and resources.

3. Content planning

Don’t give in to the temptation of fitting everything your organization has done recently. Curate! And be selective!

Let your website be your partner in newsletter production. If you have news to share, you want your website audience to discover that information too, right? Update your website with new and relevant content before linking to it from your newsletter. This relieves your newsletter from the burden of containing, say, all of the 300-word bio of your new program director. You can instead tease the director announcement with a smart blurb and a snazzy photo, then link to your site.

4. Subject line

Manage and set the right expectations with your subject line. It’s perhaps the most important content element in your newsletter since it is what they’re going to see when the email notification appears.

That’s a big job for 30 to 70 characters (and often, the fewer the better!), especially when you consider the benefit of including keywords.

5. Images

Photos and graphics can be compelling content, but they can also be a double-edged sword.  You never want to trap your text in an image file, as it will not be seen by those using screen readers, as well as users who don’t automatically download images in emails (which includes many mobile email clients).

For email, photos and graphics work best as complementary content. Employ clear, descriptive alt text!

6. Calls to action

While drafting and curating your content, you should also identify your key calls-to-action (typically three to five), mapping them back to your goals, and articulate how you will measure their success.

We want to set up our calls to action with clear, engaging language that communicates what this content is about and what action we want the reader to take. Do you want your readers to enroll? To volunteer? To read? To submit? To attend?

Use links judiciously as not to set the reader up for option paralysis, and use plain, actionable language in the link text:

  • Learn more about our scholarship winners
  • Sign up for training sessions
  • Volunteer with us on Service Day

7. Frequency

The value of a consistent frequency and send date/time for your newsletter (e.g. first Wednesday of the month; every Friday at 10 a.m.) serves to both to build a sense of expectation among your audience and give yourself a structure within which to plan and produce a successful newsletter.

8. Measurement

Once we’ve determined our goals, how will we know whether or not our newsletter is helping us achieve them? And how will we use that information to adjust content going forward?

Statistics to pay attention to:

  • Open rate (how many read the email; aim for 20-40 percent)
  • Click rates (how many click on a link; aim for 2-15 percent)
  • Forwards (how many shared with friends; an increase in this number indicates a heightened value to your content)
  • Unsubscribes (the fewer the better, of course; a spike indicates a problem with your content, so compare to previous newsletters, determine what change, and course-correct)
  • New signups since your last email was sent (a good indicator that readers are sharing your content and increasing awareness of your organization or initiative)

Learn more

Author: Florencia Prada

Florencia Prada is the Head of Digital Marketing at swissnex San Francisco. While she loves all things tech, she tries hard not to get carried away by shiny objects and new ideas that are all too pervasive in Silicon Valley.

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