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Recruiting Intelligence

Do Your Prospective Students Open Your Emails?


You've heard this before, I'm sure: Students don't read email anymore, they are only on social media. Well that's sort of true.

In our work we have talked to a wide range of students and they actually understand that as they enter the real world, they have to do what those "old" people do to communicate online. They have to use that quaint mode of communication called email.

We hope that our readers who are into digital marketing are tracking their email open rates. This is pretty basic stuff at this point and all of the email marketing tools out there will provide this kind of data to help you evaluate the success of your email marketing campaigns.

The question is, when you look at the data, do you know what it is telling you? Wait, are you even looking at the data you have?

This is the thing with analytics. You need to know what you have and how to use it. And so many have it and don't know what to do with it. 

As you move forward and watch your email open rates, you are going to want to take your analytics quite a bit further. Because the real value of tracking your open rates comes when your digital marketing system allows you to follow the digital engagement path all the way to enrolled!

This kind of tracking takes time and diligence but it is the holy grail of digital marketing. Imagine knowing that one particular email you sent vs. another actually converts 3% more international students to enrolled status. That might make a few impressed eyebrows go up around the office. And with each campaign, you can measure your success.

Our intrepid correspondent, Emily R. Henry reporting from Leiden, Netherlands, is going to give you some insight and some basic tips to produce more enticing emails to your prospective international students. Read on...

~ Ben Waxman

What do you say to get them to open the correspondence? How do you open up the platform for communication? What do you say to intrigue the prospective student? Luckily there are a few tricks to email correspondence that can make it easier to connect and engage with international students (and domestic students) who often look at email communication as what those old fuddy duddies do. In this blog we are going to dive into the power of the subject line!

First, let's review the term "open rate." This is simply the % of your emails that get opened by the students on your list (as opposed to simply deleting your email). Use this equation to determine your email open rate:

 Emails Opened     
Emails Sent — Bounced Emails

Industry standards for the education field put average open rate around 23%. And the all important click through rate at a bit over 3%. Consider this in comparison to direct mail response rates which typically range between 1 to 3%.

Determining your open rate and click through rate helps you decide how much work you need to do to improve your content and engage more prospects. With this knowledge you can identify the subject lines, images and other content that draws the most interest. But here's the thing: you need to take the time with each campaign to actually compare the data. This is why digital marketing is so valuable - it let's you see exactly what works...and what works even better.

So let's consider subject lines. The right subject line is essential to improving open rates. Without that, you can have the best university video or photos in your email and all that work will go entirely unnoticed as your recipient clicks delete without even looking.  Let's look at the traits of a powerful subject line:

Urgency: Timely subject lines are a good place to start. A sense of urgency can spring an email into view for students. Choose subject lines that include pressing dates, deadlines or include the time of events. No one wants to miss a deadline and numbers stand out. Showing students that your email is urgent will make it more relevant to them. But be warned, you can't use urgency every time or it will fall flat very quickly. That "crying wolf" story is international.

Brevity: Email subject lines that are short grab attention. Using 50 characters or less make a subject line quick to read and more attractive. Even though this is rather short, it should still be descriptive and make the reader curious about what is inside.

Emotive: The emails that appear valuable to readers are those that are both emotive and informative. Compelling a reader to open an email means being clear and meaningful in your subject line.

Making an email meaningful includes making the reader feel something. While urgent emails can make someone feel time pressure, subject lines can also appeal to the fun or intelligent side of readers. Look at:  

  • Why should you go to University of Education?” versus
  • “5 exciting reasons to attend U of E!”

The difference here is the emotion. It is clear that both emails will give reasons for attending the school. The second gives the student something to look forward to —exciting reasons rather than plain old reasons.

Personalized: Showing your target audience that they are important will also make them feel good. Personalize emails whenever possible.  Personalizing emails draws attention. Choosing a university is difficult and students can often feel overwhelmed. Giving them a connection to your school will show them what a great environment it is and it will encourage them to open your emails.

Use their name and make sure they feel comfortable using yours by including a photo of you in the email signature. Nurturing relationships with your prospective students is essential! Part of what is important here is the concept of segmentation. By creating sub-lists (segments) within your overall prospect list, you can customize your email to appeal to specific students' interests. Sending a student who is interested in psychology an email about your engineering program is not going to build interest. 

Prompt a Response: Another way to personalize emails is to ask questions. This is a great way to get a conversation going. However, if a question lacks the ability to begin a conversation it is counterproductive.

Telling someone the answer without prompting them to look inside won’t be helpful. So don’t answer your own question in the subject line. 

How do you write a nice open-ended question subject line? Look at:

  • “Sara, what 8 brainy things do you think set our psychology students apart?” versus
  • Do you enjoy connecting with other psychology majors?

The first subject line is personalized, it appeals to the student’s desire to study, it is specific to the student’s interests and it opens up the conversation. The second fails to give a question that can spark conversation.

Timing: Once you’ve got the subject line ready, make sure you are paying attention to timing. Sending emails within 24 hours of your first contact with students helps improve the open rate. This will ensure that you are fresh in the student’s mind.

Develop a set of prospective student subject lines that are timely, relevant, personal and emotive. These are the subject lines that will make students want to click on and check out your institution.