I was meeting with the staff from one of our partner districts the other day and was sharing some of my best practices that their building-level users should know to make their email newsletters as effective and engaging as possible.
Since I can’t sit down with everyone (and certainly not everyone who reads this is a client), I wanted to share some of the thoughts to help you bring your e-news to the next level. Enjoy!
Banner Sizing – That space at the top of your newsletter is the first thing people see when the open your email – it’s some pretty valuable real estate because it’s what you immediately have the opportunity to draw your audience in with. Tall banners may look pretty, but they provide no value to your reader. Keep your banner to 250 pixels or less in height, nothing more.
Short attention-span theater – Let’s face it…everything around us is demanding attention nearly 24 hours a day. When it comes to your newsletter (and any other medium that you’re sharing content on) you’ve got eight seconds to make an impact. Eight second is how much time folks will give you before they move on to the next shiny object in front of them. In email terms that about a scroll-and-a-half of the mouse wheel. Also, make sure your important content stands out. Use bold/larger/different colored headers to separate content and make it easy to scan, use spacing between sections gratuitously.
Don’t become DESTINATION CONTENT – What’s that you ask? When you reader opens the message are immediately intimidated by so they switch to something else vowing to return when they have more time…and then you have to hope that Facebook doesn’t win over your e-news the next time they’re in the bathroom (yeah, that’s when we read the destination content).
Don’t bury the lead – When it comes to your content — think like a newspaper writer and give your readers all of the important stuff, as quickly as possible, in the first few sentences. Your newsletters are competing with other content/distractions in front of them – social media, notifications, other emails, what’s happening outside of their screens – so you’ve got to fit as much as possible in the least amount of space for your reader.
Don’t be so dense – Remember all of the rules that your English teachers shared about writing papers and how many sentences should be in a paragraph? Forget ALL of them! When writing for your email newsletter, three sentences TOPS in a paragraph (paragraphs more than 3 sentences make readers’ eyes cross). Having paragraphs that are too dense become GIANT word blocks on mobile where 50% plus of your readers are often viewing.
Make your calls-to-action obvious – If you want a reader to do something, give them the shortest path to make it happen. Want someone to register? Link straight to the registration page. Need a volunteer form filled out? Link straight to the page. Looking for more followers on your social media? Buttons to each platform make it super simple to find (don’t just include the handles and make them retype – they won’t). Help them understand what you’re asking them to do then use bright-colored links or buttons so calls-to-action stand out.
Don’t stack links – What’s are stacked links you ask? Try not to put too many links bunched up near one another in your emails. With more than 50% of your audience viewing on mobile, our poor fingers aren’t as precise as a mouse. If I have to try more than once to tap on a link I’m out. It wasn’t important enough to deal with that hassle.
No PDFs/Converted PDFs for content – So there’s a few reasons to avoid this practice of either dropping a full PDF flyer or PDF that’s been converted into an image. The first is that not everyone is going to see your images. Systems like Outlook suppress images by default, so if the content is in the image, they aren’t seeing it. I recommend pulling the important details out and including them in the email as text and pointing to the original PDF/Image file/hosting the details on your website for more information. Quick tip: Will your reader understand your message if they don’t download the images? If not then you’re relying too much on the images to share the important stuff.
The second is that your PDF/Image isn’t ADA Compliant. All of that information inside of the document cannot be read by a screen reader – a big NO-NO when it comes to accessibility.
Speaking of ADA Compliance – Just like with your website, be sure that you’re using Alt Text for any image in your newsletter. This is the piece of code that a screen reader will read to those who are visually impaired to give context to what you’re sharing. Additionally, you’ll want to use high-contrast colors throughout to stay compliant. So don’t use light grey on dark grey, blue link colors on a red background, etc. ADA requirements don’t just help those who are completely blind, but those with color blindness or have a hard time seeing. For more help on compliant contrasting colors, check out this one from Carnegie Museums and this from colorsafe.co.
You should be sending HOW often? – Let’s face it, nobody wants to hear that they need to be doing “more”, but it’s hard to be timely if you’re only doing a monthly (or in some cases even a bi-weekly). Many parents (like me) barely know what they’re doing in a few days, much less a few weeks. So if you’re not sending your newsletters out on a regular basis your content is missing the mark. Most parents aren’t circling dates on the calendar around your events (unless they directly involve activities their students are in) and they are certainly not going back to read through your email from three weeks ago to remember all those events you mentioned at the end of the month..
Invite Everyone – Don’t just target your parents, invite your community member, grandparents, business owners, alumni – you want them all. By keeping additional folks in the loop, you’re more likely to get them/keep them as supporters — and you certainly don’t want the only time they’re hearing from you to be when you need a levy/bond passed.
Let your schools help – Don’t go at it alone! Bring your schools into the newsletter mix so they can focus more on the day-to-day happenings within their buildings and you can focus on telling the broader stories, important stories and supporting district initiatives.
The End Goal – You should be looking to give your parents/community/staff an “easy” button for knowing what is happening within your district/buildings. Make your newsletter easy to read, easy to digest, easy to engage/reach/do what you want. Reading your newsletter shouldn’t be a chore…it should be something they’re looking forward to each week so they feel better informed with what’s going on within your district.
What do you think? Did I miss anything? Any tips/tricks/ideas that you use to get better engagement from your readers? Feel free to share your thoughts on my Twitter or send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
To learn more about MarketVolt’s email newsletter solutions for K12, check out our website. Want to take a quick peek at some of our unique features? Register for one of our 15-minute quick-chat sessions where we do a quick dive on why districts across the country are partnering with MarketVolt to help REIMAGINE their email newsletters.