5 Tips to Improve Student Search Email Success

(6 minute read)

Email is a great channel for communicating with prospective students. It is inexpensive in comparison to mail, it offers a variety of benefits, and is the preferred method of communication with most prospective students according to recent studies.

Email Monks recently provided the following list of reasons for email’s effectiveness:

  1. It drives conversions.
  2. Its efforts are measurable.
  3. It reaches customers in real-time and can be personalized.
  4. It works at every stage of the buyer's journey.
  5. Many of its processes can be automated, freeing up marketers' time.
  6. It is continually being updated with interactivity and animation.
  7. It's a prime channel for testing.
  8. It's a permission-based channel.

That said, there are definitely issues associated with emailing, particularly when sending to a large audience. The following recommendations are directed at larger HTML based email “blasts” issues associated with student search.

Blasts are sometimes executed in house at small colleges, utilizing a subscription email service such as Mail Chimp or Constant Contact. Other times, they are conducted from within a CRM or with the help of an email-marketing partner. In any case, it is important to assure that you are utilizing a white-listed Email Service Provider (ESP) that has existing relationship with major ISPs and can provide you deliverability reports.

Before we get into our tips, maybe it’s worth a quick consideration of the various approaches. With the in house, self-service subscription approach, colleges usually are looking for economy. However, just as with direct mail, when staff time and lack of expertise is considered, this approach may be more expensive than perceived.

Important considerations in this decision need to be effectiveness and return on investment. As the following tips might point out, processes to assure the effectiveness and deliverability of email blasts may not be as easily achieved as you might think.

The bottom line is to be sure that you have good reporting and the right metrics in place to help you evaluate if you are getting the most from your email efforts. Again, email is a great way to reach prospective students, but only if it makes it into inboxes and looks the way you think it will.

Tip #1 – Reach Out First with “Opt Out”

In student search, your email list is probably not comprised of all “opt in” names. Rather, a significant portion will probably be provided from your search list sources.

Because those records are coming from a third-party, it is important that your first email to that list explains where you acquired the email address, why you are emailing them, and asks them if they want to continue to receive emails from your institution. Give them a chance to “opt out” rather than report your email as SPAM and impact the reputation of your sending address and server.

Keep this initial email short and sweet, and don’t be tempted to tell them all the wonderful things about your college yet. There will be time for that. Give them a little respect and an upfront opportunity to unsubscribe if they aren’t interested. Not only is this good protocol, but you may actually distinguish your college from the competition with prospective students by your consideration and email etiquette.

Tip #2 – Design for Mobile

With your targeted audience, if the email address you have is actually going to the student and not to Mom or Dad, chances are it is going to be opened on a mobile phone. For 2017-2018 Search campaigns over 2/3 of our clients’ email opens occurred on mobile devices.

The best approach for email design is to make it display responsive. That means that it will render in an appropriate, readable form whether opened on a desktop, tablet or phone. However, if that option is not available to you, then build your template to render correctly on a phone rather than focusing on the desktop display.

And, by the way, not all phones are created equal. Be sure to check on a variety of devices and platforms (iOS vs. Android).

Tip #3 – Personalize Both “To” and “From”

As a small college, part of your value proposition to prospective students is the personal experience that they will receive on your campus. That’s often what students are seeking when they look at small colleges. Don’t miss the opportunity to use email to talk to prospective students personally, one-to-one!

This means not only addressing students by their name, but also having the email come from a person, not an institution. Use email to start developing the personal relationship you would like to see prospective students develop with the staff and faculty of your college.

And while you’re at it, since it is relatively easy to insert variable content in email, leverage that opportunity to further develop the connection at a personal level. Make mention of their high school or extracurricular interests. Demonstrate that you care about them as individuals.

You can further use email blasts to start online “conversations” with students, even in “blast” mode. For instance, when addressed to an individual and coming from an individual, you can send a follow up email blast segmented to the initial response or lack of response. It is always surprising how many email apologies come back after an email states, “I emailed you last week and haven’t heard back from you yet.”

Add the personal touch to your email blasts. The results will make you glad you did!

Tip #4 – Prepare for Success

We all send out individual emails on a daily basis and it seems like a relatively easy task. But when we start sending out blasts that involve tens of thousands of emails at once, and maybe throw some stylized graphics into the mix, we can’t emphasize enough how important it is to scrutinize and test those prospective blasts before hitting “Send.”

To get the most from your efforts every email needs to go through rigorous testing to assure it’s deliverability to inboxes, and how it will render on the variety of platforms and devices that it will be viewed from.

That means not only checking for the obvious, like spam triggers in the subject line, but also paying attention to your SPF and DKIM configuration. If these are terms that are not familiar to you (and we’re not talking about sunscreens here), then chances are your email blasts may not be arriving in inboxes like you think they are.

Beyond the email reputations and deliverability issues, there are also rendering issues. What might look fine in a Yahoo inbox may not look the same in a Gmail inbox (if it even makes it there)! What is readable on the desktop, may not look too great on the smaller phone screen. Look into finding the service or email partner that can help you leverage email to your advantage, not make you look silly with inexplicable characters, strange margins, inconsistent spacing or broken links.

Tip #5 – Pay Attention to CTA’s

Most search email blasts are sent looking for a response and incorporate a Call To Action (CTA). Whether you want a prospective student to request more information, sign up for a visit day or apply for admission, the desired action needs to be obvious in your email.

There has been a volume of research conducted on email calls to action. Issues like how many, what color, what shape (of button), where in the email, etc., are all factors that can affect the outcome and success of your email.

CTAs certainly need to be obvious and grab your attention. They also need to make you want to click. While there has been plenty of research done, each audience is different, and the market changes over time. The best way to determine what works best is with active, ongoing testing (in fact A/B testing could be Tip #6).


While our personal experience leads us to believe that emailing is rather simple and straightforward, when we are talking about sending email “blasts,” it is a completely different ballgame. Whether you generate these emails in house, or use an email marketing partner, you still need due diligence to make sure that you are getting the most from your efforts.

New Reach Media makes small college recruitment easier, more effective and more economical. We would be glad to answer any questions you have, or provide our emailing and marketing expertise for your next student search mailing.

About New Reach Media: As a small, agile team of marketing, database, creative, higher education and technology professionals, New Reach Media has been at the forefront of evaluating, distilling, combining and employing new technologies and techniques to effectively reach small college audiences with engaging communications since 2003. We help small colleges do more with less by finding better ways. Our Personal Relationship Optimization (PRO) engagement platform provides an effective and economical way for small colleges to communicate one-to-one with prospective students, and has helped clients achieve record enrollment and growth.



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