Email Marketing for Online Courses

EMail Marketing Online Cource 3

It’s an exciting time for online educators. Advances in remote learning technology have powered a decade of massive growth for online courses. The Covid-19 pandemic has only accelerated this growth, as people worldwide take the opportunity to log on and learn the skills they’ve always dreamed of.

All of this is having a significant impact on the education sector. According to Research and Markets, the online education business will be worth USD350 billion by 2025.

On the face of it, this is excellent news! Online educators will have more opportunities than ever before to attract and teach students from all over the world.

Be Prepared for Growth

However, a growth industry is always very attractive. As the potential profits rise, so do the number of competitors entering the market.

Again, Covid-19 has made this more of an issue than ever before. Having tasted the potential of remote learning and working, it’s very unlikely that the world will return to how it was. More people than ever will want to be both teaching and learning from the comfort of their own homes. No more troublesome commuting, no more classroom logistics to contend with…

This is a huge positive in many ways. It means that the technology and potential of online learning is likely to skyrocket in the months to come.

However, it also means that online educators must now learn how to hold their own against institutions like universities – many of which have been well established for centuries, and have ancient reputations with which to draw in students.

Many prestigious universities and other educational institutions are talking about expanding their online teaching capacity following the pandemic. This will give them the capacity to reach students all over the world. In a lot of ways, this is a welcome development – but it does mean that online educators will have their work cut out for them when attracting new students.

As the online learning market expands and develops, students will have greater choice than ever before. Educators and courses which want to thrive in this brave new world need to think hard about the ways that they’re attracting new students. What makes your course stand out from the crowd? Why choose your platform over all the others now available? How can you communicate this to current and potential students?

Email marketing is one of the very best methods out there of getting your message across to your audience. When used properly, it has the highest ROI of any marketing channel. It’s essential for both building and maintaining relationships with clients and prospects.

Here, we’ll go into how online educators can use email marketing to get ahead and reap the rewards that this growing market has to offer. Read on to discover how to:

  1. Audit your existing email marketing program.
  2. Create an email marketing strategy.
  3. Build a list of contacts.
  4. Segment your contacts for greater relevance and personalization.
  5. Create different types of email.
  6. Compose winning subject lines.
  7. A/B test your email features.
  8. Use automations.
  9. Check deliverability issues.

Auditing Your Existing Email Marketing Program

Improving your email marketing program is a great way to raise your marketing game.

However, if you already have a program in place, there’s no point in throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Chances are that there’s a lot of good stuff embedded in your current program. Rather than starting from scratch, do an audit.

An audit of your existing email marketing program will tell you what’s working well for you, and where you’re falling short. You can then use these insights to inform your strategy moving forward.

There are a few general steps you can take when conducting an email marketing audit:

  • Delve into your engagement data – What do your engagement metrics look like? Which email types got the most opens and clickthroughs? Do certain emails perform better with certain types of audience? You may find this data easier to interpret if you’ve been segmenting your audiences – but any engagement patterns should tell you something about what is and is not working for you.
  • Study your KPIs – How are the emails you’re sending matching up with your goals for them? Are you seeing the kind of engagement you wanted?
  • Work out where subscribers are coming from – If you’ve not been gathering source data, this one can be a little tricky to determine from stats alone – but it’s still worth attempting. Did they sign up after seeing an ad on social media? Are they already enrolled with you when they join your mailing list? Are they family members or friends of your students? Establishing your subscribers’ sources can tell you a lot about both your marketing performance in general and your subscribers in particular.There will almost certainly be things specific to your own operation that you’ll want to consider when conducting your audit. Take some time to think about what you want your email marketing to achieve, and how your emails are working towards those goals.

Create an Email Marketing Strategy

A strategy is hugely important for email marketing success. Entire books have been written on this subject, so there’s a lot we could say. The finer details on email marketing strategy are definitely worth delving into for the serious marketer.

In brief, however, here are a few steps to help you out when forming your email marketing strategy:

Understand the difference between ‘strategy’ and ‘tactics’. There’s a temptation to dive straight into email marketing with a bunch of creative, shiny tactics and consider the work of strategizing done. To do this would be a huge mistake.

Tactics are part of any given strategy, but they are not the whole thing. They are what you use to implement your strategy.

For example, creating winning subject lines is a tactic (more on that later!).

The reason behind creating those subject lines, the data, goals, objectives, KPIs, research, and analysis informing that tactic is your strategy.

Think of it as a novel. Characters within the story are the tactics. The narrative, sentence structure, setting, storyline, paper, covers, and everything else are the strategy. Without the strategy, the tactics are pointless.

Review the current marketing situation. You’ve already conducted an email marketing audit, so you know roughly what the situation is with your specific program. Now it’s time to widen that lens and focus on your brand, the market, and the current situation in general.

You Can Do This Using the Analytical Frameworks SWOT and PESTLE :
  • Strengths –what are you good at? What are your most potent resources?
  • Weaknesses – what do you need to improve on?
  • Opportunities – what can you capitalize upon to achieve your goals?
  • Threats – what could disrupt your marketing performance?
  • Political – what current events (for example, the C19 lockdown) could impact your brand?
  • Economic – what can people afford? How could economic policy affect your brand?
  • Social – how can you engage with the current social climate in your marketing?
  • Technological – what technology can you leverage to enhance your message?
  • Legal – do you need to consider legal aspects, such as licensing or data protection?
  • Environmental – modern consumers demand ethically and environmentally sound services. Can you provide these?

Define your goals and objectives. Now that you’ve gained a deeper understanding of the market, the current situation, and your place within it all, it’s time to dig down into what you want to achieve with your email marketing.

Do you want to onboard more students? To encourage uptake of certain courses? To stimulate conversation? To fundraise? To promote a new learning forum?

Clearly defined goals and objectives set out the roadmap for your campaign strategy. Make sure that each objective along the way is measurable, so you’re able to track your progress, and change direction quickly if things aren’t going the way you planned.

Know your audience. We’ll be going into this in more detail when it comes to discussing segmentation – but it’s important to mention it at this point!

Your audience must be at the heart of your strategy. They’re the ones you’re talking to, they’re the ones you’re working for. Study your data hard. Get to know them inside out. You need to be talking to them, not at them – and the only way to do that is to know them as personally as you possibly can.

Establish some tactics. Working out and implementing tactics can be a lot of fun. It’s usually a very creative process – and creative innovation is always important in marketing!

However, there’s a reason why the best marketers evaluate the market and establish goals and objectives before diving into tactics. It’s vital that your tactics are tied closely to your ‘roadmap’. Every tactic should be deployed with a distinct objective in mind. Keep them relevant to your overall strategy, or they’ll fall flat

We’ll be talking about email marketing tactics throughout the rest of this guide.

Evaluate. Evaluation should be ongoing. While an overall evaluation at the end of a campaign is important, it’s also vital to keep an eye on your metrics and KPIs as you go along. This way, you can adjust in real-time, potentially steering your campaigns out of danger (or towards an unforeseen opportunity).

The more that you can tie your goals and objectives to certain key metrics (CTR, for example), the easier it will be to evaluate on an ongoing basis.

For more on how to build the perfect email marketing strategy, check out our guide.

Build a List of Contacts

Building a subscriber list is often a cross-channel effort. Working out where you’re sourcing your subscribers can help you to maximize organic gains (for example, if a lot of students are onboarding after seeing your social ads, it may be worth diverting more resources into that channel).

Here are a few rules for building up your subscriber list:

Provide plenty of subscription opportunities. OK, there’s a delicate balance between making it easy for people to subscribe, and pestering them to subscribe. Put the ‘subscribe’ button in as many places as you reasonably can – but try not to make it get in the way of people’s user experience. For example, if you have a free blog, don’t make the ‘subscribe’ button pop out and block text – situate it near a particularly engaging point.

Check out this floating bar, for example.

Click to preview

It’s brightly colored and attention-grabbing, but doesn’t block the content. It’s within the customers’ eyeline, but it’s not detracting from the value (for the customer) of the page. Compare with this popup:

Now, there are ways to do pop ups well – but this is not one of them. It’s blocking the content, and the ‘close’ button is deliberately hard to find. The customer is far more likely to leave the site in frustration than to subscribe.

Don’t buy lists. Purchasing contact lists from third parties is not just ethically dubious – it’s also illegal in many parts of the world. Even where it’s not a fineable offence, buying in lists can deliver serious blows to your sender reputation. Bought lists are often crawling with ‘spamtraps’ – fake or inactive addresses which indicate to servers that you are a spammer. It’s hard to retrieve your sender reputation once it’s tumbled into a spamtrap.

Offer incentives. Every marketing interaction should provide value. Making that value clear at the outset is a great way to gain subscribers. Explain how subscribing to your emails will benefit the customer. Perhaps you’re offering free educational content to subscribers? Or discounts on course books? Webinars? Podcasts? There are many ways that online educators can provide value for their subscribers.

Segment Your Contacts for Greater Relevance and Personalization

Personalization is key to connecting with modern audiences.

In this hyper-connected world, consumers will only dedicate their precious attention to things which are relevant to them. If your content is not catering to the individual’s personality, preferences, and tastes – well, there are hundreds of other brands out there with something more relevant to offer.

Check out this example from Sephora:

Click to preview

They’re directly addressing the customer in both the subject line and the content of the email. They’re also utilizing the customer’s own preferences and purchasing behavior to send her content that’s relevant to her – in this case, an offer on products that the subscriber likes.

As your subscriber list grows, it becomes more and more difficult to keep that all-important personal touch in your communications. You’re dealing with hundreds, maybe thousands of emails each day. It’s impossible to address each recipient directly.

This is where segmentation comes in.

By dividing your contacts into ‘segments’ according to certain criteria, you can fine-tune content to appeal on a more personal level than would otherwise be possible.

Many brands assign a ‘persona’ to their segments. This enables marketers to think of each segment as an individual with certain features, wants, and likes. They can then use these personas as guides when crafting emails for each segment.

Features by which to segment could include:

  • Age
  • Course
  • Interests
  • Module
  • Location

For a more detailed look at segmentation, read our in-depth guide here.

Create Different Types of Email Template

You’ve probably been doing this to a degree for a while, but it’s worth restating!

Creating email templates will give you a head start when it comes to sending out content. If you’ve segmented your contacts list, your templates can be modified to suit the needs of each segment.

When you’ve set up automations (more on that later!) some templates can be deployed automatically when certain ‘triggers’ are met (for example, a new subscriber may automatically get a welcome email).

Here are a few email categories to consider creating templates for:

Behavioral. These are often automated emails, triggered by real-time customer behaviors.

Behavioral email types include:
  • Cart abandonment
  • Delivery notifications
  • Thank yous
  • Comment notification
  • Feedback/follow up

Inauguarl. Welcome emails like this one from Kate Spade are the classic standard here, but inaugural emails also include:

Click to preview
  • Welcome emails
  • Account activation
  • Registration
  • Onboarding

Promotional. Promotional email templates vary considerably on what you’re selling. For an online course, examples of promotional emails could include:

  • Webinars
  • Event notifications
  • Newsletters, like this well laid-out example from Community
  • Invitations (for example, to online events)

And then, of course, there are the miscellaneous templates which will be unique to your brand. Queries for students about missed deadlines, for example, or perhaps periodical check-in emails. Read here about different types of emails that you can send.

Compose Winning Subject Lines

A good subject line should be attention-grabbing, intriguing, and provide a neat gateway into your email content. A big ask for something that’s typically only 45 characters long!

Your subject lines will do a lot of work for you, so it’s worth putting a lot of work into composing them. Here are some tips:

  • Put the most important words at the beginning. Subject lines may be short, but attention spans are shorter. Get the key information as close to the beginning of the line as possible.
  • Keep it short. Not all email clients display subject lines in the same way. Some give less space than others. The shorter you can make your subject line, the more visible it will be.
  • Keep it focused on the subject of your email. A subject line should lead naturally into your email’s content. If the content does not fulfil the promise of the subject line, people will unsubscribe or (worse!) flag your email as spam.
  • Use keywords. Consider what people are likely to type into the ‘search’ bar when hunting through their inbox for this email. Use keywords which will help them in their search.

The thing to remember about subject lines is that they don’t always display the same way in every browser. Here’s a few examples from a Gmail inbox. As you can see, the majority of the text is cut off by the edge of the display.

Amazon gets straight to the point in the first three words of their subject line (“Kindle Daily Deal!”). Totaljobs have taken the personalized approach – attempting to grab attention by directly addressing the customer. Currys have kept their subject line short (although perhaps not to the point) and Waterstones want to quickly stir interest with their “Just Announced” keywords.

Increasingly, automations can be useful when composing subject lines. By parsing the data from millions of subject lines and their subsequent engagement metrics, automations are well equipped to help you pick out things like the perfect keywords. Some can even come up with the phrasing which will lead to the best engagement.

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    A/B Test Your Email Features

    A/B testing helps you to determine the effect that specific elements of your email are having upon your campaign.

    For example, if you’re having trouble getting people to open your emails, testing different subject lines could help you to narrow down the problem.

    A/B testing needs to be applied to a specific metric. For example, subject lines align well with opens, CTAs to click-throughs and so on. While there’s no hard and fast rule for which feature goes with which metric, it’s usually reasonably easy to pick out a feature to test against a problematic metric.

    A/B testing involves sending out different versions of your content to all or part of your list and establishing which version performs best. This is an enormous help both when refining your campaign and when learning about your audience’s preferences.

    For a better idea of how this works, check out our video.

    Use Automations

    We’ve spoken about automations a couple of times above. They’re immensely useful tools which take a huge burden off the shoulders of marketers, and which can add enormous value for customers.

    Automations can be used for a number of purposes. Any email marketing platform worth its salt will have automations at work gathering and analyzing data, which you can then use to draw insights about everything from your campaign performance to customer behavior.

    However, automations can also be used for vital things like list cleaning – removing inactive or disengaged users from your list, thus keeping your deliverability metrics spick and span.

    One of their most valuable uses, however, is connecting with customers in real-time. It’s impossible for human marketers to respond to every customer behavior ‘trigger’ across your channels. But, for automations, it’s easy.

    For example, when someone subscribes to your emails, an automatic welcome email (based on a template designed by your marketers) can be immediately triggered. This makes the customer feel acknowledged, as well as telling them that their request has been fulfilled.

    By responding to customer-specific triggers in real-time, automations are fantastic at keeping engagement levels high, and bringing you closer to your customers. Read more about Automations in our guide.

    Check Deliverability Issues

    Landing in the inbox is one of the first and most important challenges faced by any email campaign. So, sorting out deliverability issues is paramount.

    To optimize your deliverability, consider the following:

    • Your sender reputation. If your sender reputation is low, your emails won’t make it past the first hurdle. They’ll be blocked by IPs, or sent straight to spam. Your sender reputation is harmed by things like low engagement rates, spam reports, and spamtraps. A squeaky-clean list will help you to avoid spamtraps. To work on the other two, read on…
    • Your subject lines. Your subject lines should encourage people to engage with your email. If your open rate is low, test out different subject lines to see if altering the format or phrasing helps at all.
    • Your disengaged users. A disengaged set of users which simply can’t be enticed to play can be very bad for a sender reputation. But all is not lost. If some people are more inclined to hit the spam button than to open your email, make it easy for them to unsubscribe. Alternatively, segment users according to their engagement levels, and leverage more engaged segments to offset the hit your sender reputation takes from disengaged segments.
    • Use double opt-ins. The best way to boost your engagement metrics is to make sure that your subscribers are fully on-board with you in the first place. A good way to do this is to use double opt-in protocols. If someone is willing to spend more than a couple of clicks signing up to your emails, the likelihood is that they’re already engaged with and invested in your content.

    Case Study: University of Phoenix

    The University of Phoenix in Arizona, USA, has been using email to keep students informed and engaged during the Covid-19 lockdown. They’ve used many of the techniques we’ve described above to give their students the best educational experience possible during these unprecedented times.

    In this example, you can see how the university’s email marketing team is using segmentation and personalization to get their message across. By addressing the student by their first name, they make the message seem relevant, and encourage the student to read on. Although it is not clear from this email, the team have also sent out these emails to specific segments (in this case, enrolled students as opposed to alumni and friends/family).

    Click to preview

    In these examples, you can see how the university uses email marketing to engage with, inform, and reassure their students. Note, in particular, the strong branding and consistent formatting.

    Click to preview Click to preview

    As you can see, the University of Phoenix makes its emails engaging with embedded videos and graphics. They add value by providing links to class calendars, application forms, and so on. They also clearly signpost resources like FAQs and advisors, which students and potential students may find useful.

    Making Email Work for Your Course

    Email marketing is a powerful tool. With the right implementation, email marketing could be the key to making your course rise to the top of this exciting, growing market.

    We hope that you’ve found this guide helpful. If you’d like to gain more of our expertise in email marketing, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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