As you think about planning for fall, a one-size fits all approach to what’s generally a pretty standard search campaign probably won’t cut it this year. So today I wanted to go back to basics and talk through the two most important pieces when it comes to building email campaigns — deliverability and content.

In case you missed it, Mickey Baines from Kennedy and Company and Tim Harrison from our team went in depth on both of these in our Building Better Emails webinar, and I highly recommend you check it out. But in the meantime, here is a cheat sheet with my 5 top tips for building better email campaigns.

Understand Your Audience (and segment accordingly!)

As you think about building better content, knowing who your audience is should be step number one. Are you hoping a student will submit an application after reading your email? Are you just introducing them to your university? Or have they already applied and you’re now asking for a transcript? For each of these messages, your audience should be segmented based on where they are in their enrollment journey, but you should consider other ways you can target and segment your prospects.

With all of the uncertainty surrounding on-campus classes this fall, students might be less willing to travel far from home for school. Sending targeted messages based on where a student lives might be a strategy for improving yield or recruiting locally. But the first step in building and sending these messages is segmenting your send lists and then understanding your audience so you can…

Build messages that will connect.

Now that you know who your audience is, building content that is relevant and timely is the key to getting them to take the next step. For those students who might be worried about going far from home, an update on safety measures your campus is taking or a story about a student from their area could help calm nerves, and help that student “see” themselves on your campus. Or maybe you’re looking to target students who live close to your university. Sharing commuter benefits or ways to get involved on campus might be a good way to connect with that group.

One of the easiest ways to build connections via email is by leveraging information you have about that student in your CRM. If you’re sending a message about submitting an application, leveraging merge fields and conditional content that’s relevant to that student’s major or where they’re coming from helps build those connections between your audience and your university. It’s much easier for a prospective student to feel connected to your campus is by helping them feel like you really know who they are and what they want from a college experience. And then…

Craft a killer subject line.

Great content and a cleanly segmented list will only get you so far if no one is opening your emails. A great subject line is key to get prospects excited about your content. As of 2019, the average subject line was 51 characters, but the best open rates were on emails with subject lines with 41 characters (about 7 words). That’s not a lot of real estate to build excitement. So think again about what your intended outcome is for each email, think about why that message is important to your audience, and then keep that message clear and concise.

Speaking of which, you should also…

Make your call to action clear.

If you can’t articulate what action you want your audience to take after reading your email, you should rethink sending it. Each message should include a clear call to action for your audience, and it should also include the right information to make them want to take that action. Think about your reader — why them and why now? And craft your message from there.

And once you’ve got a great message with a clear call to action…

Consider deliverability factors.

Even emails with the best subject lines and clear, concise calls to action are worthless if they never make it to your prospects inbox. As you think about your campaigns holistically make sure you’re taking things like sender reputation and engagement metrics into consideration. Your sender reputation is a service provider specific calculation of how trustworthy you are as a sender. And while it’s basically impossible to find out what your reputation is, there are several ways to protect yours and even improve your score (we share more on that in this blog post).

One of the easiest ways to do that is keeping your lists clean and sending only to an engaged audience list. For TargetX customers, our new engagement metrics does this work for you, but if you’re using an email tool that doesn’t calculate engagement scores, I’d suggest manually running a report on people who haven’t opened any of your recent emails and adding them to a suppression list. So you can send every email to your most engaged prospects, and only send hyper-targeted messages or include a special offer to help re-engaged people on your suppression list.

But these tips are really just the tip of the iceberg. If you’re looking for more tips on building your communication plans, I’d strongly encourage you to check out the Building Better Emails webinar I mentioned above, and register for our Virtual Summit. We’ve got a lot of great breakout sessions, and one I am most excited about is from George Mason. Caitlin Shear from their team will share how they’ve moved all of their search efforts in-house, and they’re leveraging the TargetX email tool to send millions of emails each year!