Demystifying Email Marketing: 12 Tips and Best Practices

Establishing email marketing programs for fee-based degree programs can deliver big returns when it comes to engaging prospective students and increase awareness for your program. 

With an impressive four billion people worldwide using email, it’s no surprise that email marketing is one of the most powerful tools you can use to promote your programs. A study by Litmus Software, Inc. found that the average return on investment for an email marketing program is $36 for every $1 spent.

If you’re interested in setting up your own email marketing program, Continuum College’s email marketing team members Kendall Omlin and Rowena Clima share the best practices they use and tips for understanding email marketing guidelines, so you can avoid penalties and give your subscribers a positive experience. 

1. Be Sure You Understand and Obey Email Laws

Following email marketing laws is essential to ensure you don’t potentially lose subscribers, have all your emails flagged as spam or even face fines. As part of our best practices, Continuum follows laws and guidelines for email marketing set forth by the CAN-SPAM ActCanada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL)the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)the University of Washington and many other national and international entities. 

Violating these policies can have harsh consequences, including fines. For example, according to the CAN-SPAM Act: “Each separate email in violation of the law is subject to penalties of up to $50,120 and more than one person may be held responsible for violations.” Therefore, it’s important to determine what countries your subscribers likely come from and be sure you understand and obey those countries’ email laws. 

2. Find the Right Email Marketing Automation Platform

Email marketing automation platforms can help you be sure your emails comply with the latest rules and best practices, allow you to customize the look of your email, monitor your deliverability scores and give you visibility on your emails' performance. Many University of Washington departments use Marketo, but Continuum uses Salesforce Marketing Cloud to build and send emails, design custom email automation, facilitate email-website integration and manage list hygiene. 

Continuum’s email marketing team advises against sending mass marketing emails from your personal Outlook or Gmail account, as doing so can have negative consequences. You’ll have limited control over your email design, recipients won’t be able to unsubscribe easily, there’s less visibility into email performance and your email address can get flagged as a spam sender.

3. Share and Follow Your Organization’s Privacy Policy

Before you add your first email subscriber to your mailing list, you must provide your subscribers with a link to your organization’s privacy policies, so they know how you’ll use and protect their data. The Continuum email team provides email subscribers with the University of Washington Online Privacy Statement and recommends offering the same statement to your subscribers. 

4. Gain Consent and Build Your Mailing List Organically

An excellent way to gain email subscribers is by adding an email sign-up widget to your website and sharing a link to the sign-up page during info sessions or advising appointments. However, you must gain explicit consent from subscribers by having them knowingly agree to receive marketing or commercial messages. Note that transactional emails do not require consent, but you need to be careful with them to ensure that they do not contain anything that could be considered promotional. 

When getting explicit consent, follow best practices by being clear about what your subscribers are opting into and recording when, where and how your subscribers gave explicit consent. Never purchase an email list or add your contacts as subscribers. It is illegal to add a person to a mailing list without explicit consent and you’ll risk incurring penalties. 

5. Design an Email Template 

People open emails on all kinds of devices (desktops, tablets and mobile phones) that run various versions of operating systems and email clients. Continuum's email team suggests designing and using responsive email templates to ensure your emails are easy to read and open on whatever device your subscribers use. 

Not only will using responsive email templates make creating emails fast and easy, they but also allow for a constant look and feel to your emails that can help improve your brand recognition. If you’re interested in managing your email program yourself using Marketo, check out UW Marketing & Communications' email templates and best practices 

6. Write Relevant Email Subject Lines

Email marketing laws require that your email subject lines reflect the content within the body of your email. Continuum’s marketing email team recommends making your subject lines descriptive, accurate and concise so that your subscribers know what’s in your email and why they’re receiving it. Steer clear of creating misleading or deceptive subject lines, as you can face penalties. 

7. Include an Unsubscribe Button

By law, marketing emails must include an unsubscribe button. If you don’t provide a way to opt out of your emails, your email recipients may choose to flag your emails as spam, which can lead to fines, harm your email’s reputation score and even cause email clients to mark future emails you send as spam.

8. Include Your Physical Address

Ensure you comply with email marketing by including a valid physical postal address for your organization at the bottom of your emails to demonstrate that your company is genuine. The address can be your current street address, a post office box registered with the U.S. Postal Service, or a private mailbox registered with a commercial mail-receiving agency established under Postal Service regulations.

9. Share Compelling Content

People spend an average of 10 seconds reviewing a marketing email. Try making your emails easy to scan and including the most critical and compelling information near the top. For the best user experience, the Continuum email marketing team suggests sending timely and relevant content to your subscribers. Consider creating a content calendar to help generate ideas, track key moments and produce content consistently. 

10. Be Sure Your Emails are Accessible

Review the elements in your emails to ensure they are accessible. Avoid putting lengthy text within images and add descriptive, alternative text (Alt-text). Be sure your hyperlinks also convey what the reader would find at the link’s destination. If your email has an embedded video, be sure your video has subtitles.

11. Try Out A/B Testing and Other Optimization Techniques

A/B testing allows you to evaluate elements of your email with a small subset of your mailing list. You can use A/B testing to see whether one subject line, preheader or content within your email performs better than another. Try continuously A/B testing content to see what resonates with your audience.

12. Create and Add a Preference Center

For a more customized experience, consider creating a preference center to segment your email lists. You can let your subscribers select their preferences for items such as how frequently they receive emails or the type of content they receive. Let email subscribers choose the content they want and when and they’ll be more likely to stay engaged. 

Email marketing is an excellent way to get prospective students engaged with you, but not following the rules and best practices can be costly. Keep in mind this information is not legal advice. The Continuum email marketing team recommends you consult with your organization’s legal counsel to comply with applicable laws and regulations regarding your marketing activities. 

Want Continuum College to help support your email marketing program? Please reach out to your Partner Success Lead (PSL) during your annual planning to choose the right package from the options in our service and financial model that include email marketing.