School and/or District Email newsletters can get stale pretty quickly. They tend to become part of the routine, and when that happens, engagement and open rates can suffer big time. As K12 communicators and educators, you’re sharing important information, so it’s crucial that your newsletters not only stay interesting, but that they can hold the attention of your audience.   

Let’s try and make it easier by sharing some ways you can bring your e-newsletter to the next level. Here are some tried-and-true tips to keep in mind before you hit send. Enjoy!

1. Prioritize Your Banner Image

The banner image represents that space at the top of your newsletter. It’s prime real estate because it’s the first thing people see when they open your email. You want to make sure you think hard about what makes sense to put here, as it’s an immediate chance to draw your audience in. It’s always wise to stick to images that align with your school/district branding, are sized appropriately, so there’s no distortion or imbalance, and don’t take up unnecessary space. 

Tall, fancy banners may look pretty, but they provide no value to your reader if it means they have to scroll down to get to the meat of the email. It’s a good rule of thumb to keep your banner at 250 pixels or less in height, nothing more. 

2. Remember, the Clock is Ticking 

Let’s face it; everything around us is demanding attention nearly 24 hours a day. When it comes to your newsletter (as well as any other medium you’re sharing content on), you’ve only got a few seconds to make an impact. Once that time lapses, people are ready to move on to something else. In email terms, that’s about a scroll-and-a-half.

Make sure your important content stands out and is included first. Bold key information or use larger, and different colored, headers to separate your content and make it easier to scan. Don’t be afraid of white space between content blocks and sections, as that will help readers find the right information without feeling overwhelmed, which brings me to the next point.

3. Don’t Become Destination Content 

Destination content is when your readers open your email and become immediately intimidated or overwhelmed by the amount of text, volume of information, or layout of your newsletter that they tap out with a vow to return later. The problem is, your newsletter is now a distant memory while they scroll through their Facebook feed or bookmark new recipes to try. 

The best ways to avoid becoming destination content is to key in on the tips mentioned above, keep your content short and sweet (no giant paragraphs, short introductions and links to read more, etc), and target the details to specific audiences when possible. With Benchmark, we’re able to target specific content blocks inside of an email so each newsletter can offer customized content by grade, building, and more.

If you’re relying on text-based emails to get out your info, it wouldn’t hurt to try out an HTML email templates, as many are built to enhance email engagement numbers and trends 

4. 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. Not to beat a dead horse, but your newsletters are competing with other content and various distractions your readers have in front of them. You’ve got to remember that you aren’t writing a novel. Get straight to the point and be clear and direct. Oftentimes with email, the shorter, the better

Throw all the rules you learned in school about appropriate paragraph length out the window. When writing for your email newsletter, stick to no more than four sentences per paragraph, as any more will make readers’ eyes cross. This is also a basic practice to remember when creating mobile-friendly emails. Paragraphs that are too dense are huge word blocks on mobile where at least half of your readers are often viewing. 

5. Make Your Call-to-Action Obvious 

If you want a reader to do something, give them the shortest path to make it happen. Want people to buy tickets to your school fundraiser? Link straight to the ticket purchasing page and put it front and center of your email. Looking to get more volunteers for a field trip? Add a button to the form page that says “Fill out this form.” Or, let’s say you’re looking to up your follower count for your school’s social media pages. Make sure you ask readers to follow your school accounts for other updates and include buttons or icons that link directly to each platform, so it’s simple. 

I was talking with a district that was sharing the social handles for principals, counselors and more in their newsletter, expecting that readers would go to each platform and type them in the search fields. They won’t, and doing so could lead to them following the wrong accounts. Instead, give them an easy button and link directly to each social profile to make it as simple and error-free as possible.  Making sure you clearly indicate what your call-to-action is means that more people will end up following the direction you want them to. 

6. Don’t Stack Links

Most people haven’t run across the term “stacked links” and it typically isn’t something that you think about when building an email on a computer. In the scenario where you’ve got a handful of links that you need to share all in a row (links in your sidebar, calendar event links, lots of information in an article), it can be It’s a good rule of thumb to give your links enough breathing room so they aren’t stacked on top of one another or using buttons or icons to make it easy to click. 

Remember, a lot of your email readers are viewing your messages from their mobile devices, and their fingers aren’t as precise as a mouse. Bunched up links can be frustrating, and I don’t know about you, but if I have to try more than once to tap on a link, I’m out.

7. No PDFs/Converted PDFs 

There are a few reasons to avoid using either a full PDF or PDF that’s been converted into an image in your e-newsletters.

For one, not everyone is going to see your images. Systems like Outlook suppress images by default, so if the content is in the image, recipients using Outlook aren’t going to see it.

Secondly, your PDF or PDF image isn’t ADA Compliant. The information inside the document cannot be read by a screen reader, which is a big no-no when it comes to accessibility.

I recommend pulling the important details out of the PDF and including them in the email body. This will allow you to format the email in a more visually pleasing way and emphasize key details with design elements. Host the PDF on your school’s website, or create a page that has the rest of the information so you can link to it within the email. The big thing I recommend to folks is, if you pull out the image from your newsletter, will people still be able to know the important information from what’s left behind?

8. Make Sure You’re ADA Compliant

In building off of ADA compliance above, you’ll want to be sure that you’re using alt text for any image in your newsletter just like you do with your website.  This is the piece of code that a screen reader will read to those who are visually impaired, and it will give context to what you’re sharing. 

Additionally, ADA requirements also ensure your emails are visible to those with color vision deficiencies. So you’ll want to use high-contrast colors throughout to stay compliant. Don’t use light grey on dark grey, blue link colors on a red background, etc.  For more help on compliant contrasting colors, check out these guidelines from Carnegie Museums and Color Safe.

9. Find the Right Email Frequency

How often should you be sending your emails? 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 sending emails sporadically. Many parents (myself included) 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 children are in. They’re 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, either. I highly recommend sending out your newsletters AT LEAST every two weeks.  Any less and you’re trying to cram too much information that happened weeks ago into a newsletter and hoping to remind readers of something that could be coming up in a month.  Bi-weekly at least gives you the chance to focus on last week, this week and next week as an option (but weekly is my go-to suggestion for most).

10. Invite Everyone

Don’t just target your parents. Invite your community members, grandparents, business owners, and alumni. By keeping additional folks in the loop, you’re more likely to get them as supporters, or to keep them as supporters. You certainly don’t want the only time they’re hearing from you to be when you need something from them – like the next bond issue or tax levy! 

11. Elicit Help Where and When Needed

Don’t go at it alone! It never hurts to bring your schools into the newsletter mix so you can divide and conquer. Doing so allows them to tackle the areas that are more involved with the day-to-day happenings within their buildings so you can focus on telling the broader, impact-generating stories, as well as supporting district initiatives. 

Even if your institution is small, there’s still a lot of events, departments, and important pieces of information that need to be shared. While you’re just short of a superhero, it’s hard to keep up with everything that’s going on, so bring in other people and resources when it’s needed. 

12. Remember the End Goal

You should be looking to give your parents, community, and staff an easy option for knowing what is happening within your district and buildings. Make your newsletter a note that you’re slipping into their pocket (via their phone) that is easy to read, easy to digest, and easy to engage with so it reaches your audience and does what you want it to do. Remember, reading your newsletter shouldn’t be a chore. It should be something your audience is looking forward to each time so they feel better informed with what’s going on within your district.

BenchmarkONE’s K12 Edition will help you step up your e-newsletter game and send well-designed and engaging emails to your contacts. If you’d like a quick peek at some of our unique features, set up a demo and we can walk you through it.