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Handshake Hacks

How to Write Great Emails

Best practices to help you engage more students through email.

Get their attention in 40 characters or less

Think carefully about the subject line of your email. The subject line should clearly convey the content and benefit of the email. Think about why the reader should want to open it and create a subject line that you think best communicates this.

But, brevity is key. Subject lines should be 40 characters or less, or they will get cut off in students’ inboxes. Emails with longer subject lines also tend to have lower open rates. If you have time, consider A/B testing your subject lines. Split your recipient list in half and send each group a different version of the subject line. Then, compare the open rates of each email. This is a great way to understand the language that is most compelling to your students.

Personalize the greeting

Students are more likely to engage with an email that looks personalized. Handshake lets you insert variable fields into your emails so that you can include a student’s preferred name in the email greeting (“Hi Brit,” will perform better than “Hi there,”).

Make the call to action prominent

Your “call to action” (or CTA) is the main outcome you want to drive with your email. Typically, it’s a student signing up for Handshake, registering for an event, or filling out a survey. Make sure your main CTA is near the top of your email. You’ll see this referred to as keeping the CTA “above the fold”. If the CTA appears lower in the email, students are more likely to stop reading before taking any action.

Consider repeating your call-to-action near the end of the email. For example, if you’re asking students to register for Handshake via a button, you can include the ask again as hyperlinked text. It may feel redundant, but this increases the likelihood of a student taking the action.

Tailor your message

Emails that are tailored to a specific audience and include curated content perform better than more general ones. On Handshake, you’re required to use at least one filter when defining your recipient list—and we recommend that you use more as applicable.

It’s a good idea to create multiple versions of the same email that has varying content based on the students’ majors, school years, career interests, etc.

DePaul University has seen success with high email open rates by segmenting their recipient lists based on student career communities. At a school of about 15,000 undergraduates, these segment groups vary from a few hundred to a few thousand students maximum. By doing this, they ensure their email content is relevant for their students.

Include relevant links in your email signature

Your email signature provides an opportunity to promote a variety of relevant links. You can include your social channels, website, or Handshake login page.

For example, Rutgers University includes links on a small Handshake logo and a larger Handshake banner in their staff email signatures. In just one semester, students clicked on these links more than 1,000 times.

Learn from email performance

Handshake allows you to review a variety of performance metrics after you’ve sent an email. We’d recommend keeping an eye on the following:

  • As you test out different email subject lines, keep an eye on email open rates to see which language is driving the highest initial engagement with students.
  • You can review click rates on each link you include in your emails. See which calls to action perform the best.
  • Most emailing resources will tell you that Tuesday through Thursdays are the best weekdays to send email. Given each school’s unique student body, make sure you keep tabs on the day of the week and time of day that performs best.

Check out Targeted Email templates

Handshake has included email templates in Targeted Emails. When you’re prompted to select an email layout, you’ll see the option to select a Handshake Template on the right-hand side of the screen.

Examples of templates include a “Welcome Back to School” email and one motivating students to download Handshake’s mobile app. You can edit the content of these emails to tailor your message to each segment of students.

Chat with your peers

Handshake’s Community is full of email tips and examples of marketing techniques that have worked best at a variety of campuses. The Marketing & Communication page is a particularly helpful forum to check out. Your peers are a great resource, so don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for advice!

Check out these past webinars with presenters from Rutgers University, DePaul University, and the University at Buffalo. These presentations highlight some of their marketing and email best practices.

Level the playing field for your students