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Email Best Practices for Education Marketers

Learn how to get better email results from MDR’s resident email experts

The biggest challenge we face as marketers is giving customers what they truly need. MDR’s David Clemen, Digital Products Director, and Carrie Bova, Email Specialist, talk about how to create the RIGHT email to reach educators. This webinar will give you actionable takeaways you can put to use right away, along with a better grasp on how to create emails that will catch the attention of educators.

Plus, below you can check out the GREAT questions that were asked during the webinar—along with answers!

Watch the webinar below or download the presentation.

Ready to put these best practices to work for you? Call us at (800) 333-8802 or email to get started!

Q&A From The Audience

We appreciated the interactions during our webinar and the great questions. Although we tried to answer all the questions, some were missed due to time. Below please find our answers to all the questions asked, and get practical tips on each of these critical aspects of an email:


Q: It seems like the trend is moving towards larger pictures in emails, or just one central picture. Is this a bad practice?

A: Yes, this is bad practice. When you are marketing to prospects (and not opt-ins) you have to be extra careful with the amount of images in the body of your email. This is really just a deliverability concern—image-heavy emails have a higher chance at getting flagged and sent to spam traps.

Q: Buttons that are images won’t appear in an email unless a person downloads the images. Is there a way around this?

A: There is a way to hard code buttons so that they are NOT images. Here is an example of html code that does this using a table:

<table width=”100%” align=”center” border=”0” cellpadding=”0” cellspacing=”0”>
<td width=”30%” align=”left” style=”background-color: #333333; padding: 10px; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 16px; color: #ffffff; font-weight: bold;”>
<a href=”#” style=”text-decoration: none; color: #ffffff;” target=”_blank”>Button CTA</a>

This article explains how to do it as well.

Q: I struggle with image size when trying to use high-quality images. Do you have a recommendation for image size?

A: We recommend using a higher resolution image and sizing it down within the code (e.g., your original image could be 800px wide, but in the email code, set the width to 400px wide).

Q: If no images are included in an email to a Google user, will opens and clicks still be tracked?

A: Opens are tracked regardless if there’s an image in the email or not.

Subject Lines/Pre-header Text

Q: What is the best way to test your subject lines?

A: A lot of how you set up your test depends on the total audience size you are working with. If your audience size is less than 5,000, I would recommend splitting your list in half and sending subject line 1 to 50% and subject line 2 to the remaining 50%. If your audience is on the larger end, like 10k+, then you could potentially do something like subject line 1 to 20%, subject line 2 to 20%, wait for the results to come in, and then send the winning subject line to the remaining 60%.

A general rule of thumb here is that you should have at least 2,000 users in each “bucket” that you test so that you can get a high enough number of opens to make the test statistically significant.

Q: Do you have any suggestions on punctuation in subject lines?

A: Personally, I write subject lines for marketing emails in the same style I would write a subject line to a friend. It’s rare that we capitalize the first letter in every word when we’re sending a friend an email, so I would encourage following that same style for marketing emails. For example, instead of “Here’s Your Complimentary Exam Copy You’ve Been Waiting For” I would use “Here’s your complimentary exam copy you’ve been waiting for”.

However, there are certain times where it just doesn’t look natural to keep everything lowercase. In those situations, just make a call on what looks better visually (e.g., “Tips for 4th Grade Teachers” looks better than “Tips for 4th grade teachers”).

Q: Is it possible to get too clever with subject lines? I market to higher ed profs, and I’ve found that simple descriptive subject lines (“New leadership texts from XYZ Publishers”) sometimes test better than more “creative” ones.

A: It is possible that getting too clever could be an issue with certain audiences. Our best practices are just general guidelines, but every company and audience is different. I would highly recommend testing theories and keeping track of your learnings so that you become an expert with this audience and what resonates best with them.

Q: How do you add preheader text?

A: At the very top of your HTML, you can include code like this:

<table width=”100%” border=”0” cellpadding=”0” cellspacing=”0”>
<td width=”100%” align=”left” style=”background-color: #ffffff; color: #333333; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 14px;”>Preheader text goes here</td>

*Note: preheader text can be smaller than our recommended 16px because its main purpose to show up in the inbox preview. Also, if you want to “hide” the preheader text once someone opens your message so they don’t see it again, you can make the font color match the background color (i.e., background-color: #ffffff; color: #ffffff;).

Q: Is there a way to fill in preheader text without starting your email with that text at the very top? Can I put it all in as an image description for the header image?

A: Yes, you can definitely use that first image as your preheader text by making the alt text within the image tag your preheader text. For example:

<img src=”abc” alt=”preheader text here” width=”x” />


Q: Do you have a suggestion of an application to test emails on different devices?

A: is the one we use, but it does require a paid account.

This is a free service that may be worth looking into.

Our best recommendation would be to create dummy email addresses with all the major ESPs (Gmail, yahoo, outlook) and then check the email on desktop and mobile on all 3 of these email platforms.

Q: In testing, should we consider size of audience? We send email to smaller segments, 1,000 or less, and I want to know if that’s a significant enough sample size.

A: In smaller segments like that, I would recommend testing just for open rates (i.e., subject line testing, time of day testing, day of week testing) in an A/B format (50%/50%). It would be hard to test creative with groups that small because the number of clicks you’ll get from each send would be very small. So in this case, I would stick to 50/50 tests whose “winner” is determined by open rates. You should still be able to get some excellent learnings from doing that over time.

Sending Best Practices

Q: Do the email clients allow you to segment by domain, so that you can create a custom version of an email for Gmail domains?

A: More advance email clients let you segment by many different criteria but most do not. What you can do is download your email database to an Excel spreadsheet and sort accordingly. Typically you can then upload each domain as an audience/list/segment dependent on the email provider.

Q: Do you find that you have higher open/click rates by sending the email to a teacher’s school email or their personal email?

A: In general we see higher open rates to a teacher’s school email address.

Q: Do you have a suggestion for the best time of day to send emails to educators?

A: This depends so much on what your company is trying to sell and what type of educators you’re trying to reach. Generally, our clients send email on Tuesdays/Wednesdays around mid-morning (11am). You could start here and then test completely different times to see what works best with your audience.

Q: Do you offer an email template that includes all of your best practices?

A: For MDR’s email subscription clients we do provide access to email templates that are optimized for deliverability and engagement.

Q: How do you take care of IP reputation if you send through providers like MailChimp?

A: Typically with a solution like MailChimp you are on a shared IP. In these cases you have no control over your IP reputation or the actions other companies are taking that you are sharing those IPs with. Since you are sharing an IP with other companies when you use a service like MailChimp, you risk having your account suspended if your deliverability rates go below 90%.

Q: How frequently should you send email offers to customers?

A: This is where tracking results is imperative. The answer is “Send as often as possible before seeing diminishing engagement.” The only way to see that is if you can clearly report on your open and click-through rates of your email. If you start seeing your open rates go down, send less often.

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