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Standing out in the inbox

Hit “Send” on your next project! Email marketing is one of the most effective and affordable ways to reach a broad audience and boost the UW brand. Using our tools and resources, elevate your e-communications from standard to stellar.

We will help you harness the power of purple in your digital domain. From content and header guidelines to templates and more, our guides will support you in creating and managing email communications that stand out in a crowd(ed) inbox.

Questions? Contact

Related resources

Content guidelines

See the Content Guide for the best ways to engage your audience.

Dimensions: As with headers, the recommended width for the body of your e-communication is 600 pixels (px), which provides maximum visibility in a variety of email programs without generating a horizontal scroll bar.

Layout: University Marketing templates are available in both 1-column and 2-column layouts.

Footer content: There are special requirements for footer content that help ensure compliance with the CAN-SPAM Act and provide recipients with a consistent way to find contact and subscription management links.

Required elements:

  • Your department’s physical address
  • The email copyright date
  • A direct contact link
  • A privacy policy link
  • An unsubscribe link, which is automatically inserted by Convio


How to create an e-newsletter: From beginning to send


Establish a foundation for success

E-Newsletter - Foundation

Before you do any of the other steps in this how-to manual, you need to determine what you and your group want to achieve by sending out an e-newsletter. What is its overall purpose? What are your specific, measurable goals? What does success look like?

Here are some typical goals for higher-education e-newsletters:

  • Influence/improve perceptions of your university/school/dept.
  • Deliver relevant information about unit-related topics your audience has demonstrated interest in (via web traffic, giving history, etc.)
  • Increase alumni memberships and interaction.
  • Increase donations.
  • Increase event registrations.
  • Provide timely information and resources employees need to be successful at work and students need to be successful at the UW.

Your goal-setting process is not complete until you determine what success looks like for your e-newsletter. That means setting benchmarks for your goals. For example, if you want to use the e-newsletter to help increase event registrations, what percentage increase would be considered a success? The other success measurements you should use are discussed in the Close the Loop section below.

Now it’s time to decide who should receive your e-newsletter. What is the scope of your audience? Is it narrowly focused on a particular segment, such as engineers? Or does it address a wide range of readers, such as business leaders, alumni, faculty, and prospective students? Developing an e-newsletter for a focused audience can be a great choice for a small department with relatively modest goals. But it isn’t usually the best choice for bigger departments that need to reach more people. Here are more details to help you make your decision between targeting a focused audience or a broad audience.

Considerations for a focused audience:

Pros: Better overall e-newsletter performance, subscriber satisfaction and advancement toward achieving your goals.

Cons: Less cost-effective. Developing an e-newsletter for a focused audience takes almost as much and oftentimes equally as much time as one for a broad audience. Yet in the end, the e-newsletter reaches fewer people. Down the road, this fact will often cause an e-newsletter team to reconsider its earlier decision and make one of the following decisions, all of which will reduce the return on your initial investment of resources and time:

    • Expand the recipient list, which also means diluting it. Now your carefully targeted content is not as relevant and potentially less compelling to a segment of your readers, which will negatively impact the three Pros listed above.
    • Create additional e-newsletters that target other specific audiences. For example, if your first e-newsletter was developed for alumni only, but you now want to reach business leaders as well, then you would create a second, separate e-newsletter for the business audience.
    • Scrap the original e-newsletter and rework it to address a broader audience.

Provide recipients with personalized content. By tracking what content they’ve shown interest in based on their click-throughs or opt-ins, you can gain insight into what they might want to see more of and develop content accordingly. This doesn’t mean you must only provide content they’ve demonstrated past interest in, but being sure to package that content along with other information you’d like to make them aware of can ultimately be more effective because you’ve already gotten their attention.

Considerations for a broad audience:

Pros: More cost-effective. You can reach more people with one e-newsletter. That benefits the readers because they’re not getting overloaded with UW email and it benefits you because you can spend your limited time and resources on one primary means of communicating via e-mail to your audience. Also, with good design and clear labeling, you can still address a narrow audience directly without alienating your other readers: Include a section (or sections)—such as an Alumni Corner—that includes content that is only relevant to them.

Cons: Percentage-wise, you’ll get lower overall e-newsletter performance, subscriber satisfaction, and response to your calls-to-action. However, the true test will be whether you are still able to meet your goals.

How often do you plan to send out your e-newsletter? Here are the factors to consider when making your decision:

  • Timeliness: Will your content be news driven and/or deadline driven (it includes event registration or application deadlines)? If so, then you should consider sending it out weekly. If your news has a longer shelf-life, consider going biweekly, monthly or quarterly.
  • Other communications this audience is already receiving: Are there other ways you are contacting this same audience? Are they connecting with you on social media, seeing digital ads or receiving a printed publication or direct mail from you? Make sure the e-newsletter complements these pieces. Coordinate mail-out schedules and content planning for all of your communication vehicles, so your audience doesn’t feel overwhelmed and your resources aren’t overtaxed. Lastly, find out what else might be competing for your readers’ attention. Is another department targeting the same audience? Is there a way to work together and send one combined e-newsletter? Are there competitors outside the university trying to reach your audience? If so, be sure to subscribe so you can know when and how often your readers are receiving those e-mail messages.
  • Resources: Before you commit to a frequency, make sure you have enough time and people to keep your promise. Consistency of contact helps you earn the trust of your readers and establish the long-term viability of your e-newsletter.

Your team should consist of :

  • Contributors: These are the people who will do the hands-on work necessary to get the e-newsletter out the door. They can range from those who provide the story ideas to those to do technical support. For details on contributor roles, see the Assign Roles section.
  • Reviewers/Approvers: These are the people who will make sure your e-newsletter is ready for primetime. They provide a fresh set of eyes to help you see what might be missing or causing confusion — and what just isn’t working. This group also includes higher-ups who need to be aware of when and how you’re contacting their constituents. In other words, make sure your dean, chair, or whoever else needs to know, doesn’t get caught by surprise when someone remarks about something in your e-newsletter.

Reach out to the UW’s email marketing and communications support team via to learn about options.

Launch the project

E-newsletter - launch

A successful content plan will clearly define the purpose of your e-newsletter and everything that will appear in it. A good way to kick off this step is to host a brainstorming meeting with people who will be contributing to the e-newsletter directly as well as those who have a vested interest in its success. You should have your goals at hand when you’re doing this part to make sure everything you’re planning to include helps you meet your goals.

This plan should capture:

  • The types of content you will include.
  • A description of the overall tone of your e-newsletter.
  • How many and what types of sections you’ll need to organize your content.
  • Definitions of the purpose of each content section.
  • Which sections need to include visual elements.
  • The name and frequency of the e-newsletter.
  • A description of the audience or audiences you are targeting.
  • The “sister” website that will serve as the primary repository for any new content that needs to be generated for your e-newsletter to link to.

Break up tasks and assign them to specific point persons. Make sure each person and his/her boss are aware of your requirements and include that person’s name alongside his/her tasks in your project schedule. If you’re kicking off a new e-newsletter, it is best to hold a meeting with these role-players and their bosses so that everyone on the team knows who’s responsible for what.

It is a good idea to start this meeting by giving an overview of the steps you took during the Establishing a Foundation for Success phase (above). That will help ensure that everybody clearly understands what you’re trying to achieve together and why.

Important note: Most of these roles can be filled by two to four people. But for an e-newsletter to be successful it should not be a one-person show. Incorporating multiple viewpoints and skill sets significantly increases the effectiveness and quality of your e-newsletter.

E-newsletter roles are:

  • Project manager: In charge of the schedule and keeping all the participants on task; ensures that each participant remains clear about his/her responsibilities.
  • Writer: Writes e-newsletter content and, in some cases, content for its sister website.
  • Contributing writers: E-newsletter content often will be submitted by outside contributors who have more direct knowledge of the subject matter. This helps ensure that the content is accurate and saves you time and resources. For example, if you’ve planned to include content about an engineering research project, ask a communications person or project participant from that department to submit a blurb about it. Just be sure you give that contributor clear guidelines about tone and word length.
  • Editor: Makes sure the tone is consistent and the content is as tight and compelling as possible. This person is also in charge of quality assurance, which means ensuring that the experience for readers is consistently positive from the time they first open the e-newsletter to the time they land on a webpage after clicking a link in your e-newsletter.
  • Approver: Uses the preflight checklist to ensure the message is fully ready to be sent.
  • Designer: Helps find and crop photos and graphics to include in each issue. The University has preformatted, fully tested templates that can be customized and used by any UW unit. For more information, contact
  • Producer: Builds the HTML message and troubleshoots any rendering issues.
  • Content reviewers: These are people with subject matter expertise, either about specific pieces of content or the audience you’re targeting or both, who can help make sure your content is accurate and properly represents the unit it discusses. They also should be your point persons for routing drafts of the e-newsletter to others in their departments who may need to review it and for vetting and compiling their feedback for you.
  • Subscription list manager: Collects, vets and updates the list of names and email addresses on your list of recipients and submits an audience request to ensure the correct information is attached to your e-newsletter program. This person is also responsible for ensuring that the information on the list is kept secure, so that subscribers’ personally identifiable information remains private.
  • Subscriber relationship manager: Collects subscriber feedback and shares it with the e-newsletter team and directly answers subscriber questions or requests.
  • Testers: This group tests all the links in the e-newsletter and views it in multiple e-mail programs and Web browsers as well as handheld devices. The group should include any or all of the role-players on the e-newsletter team, plus other technically astute colleagues who are willing to pitch in, especially when you first launch a new e-newsletter.
  • Publisher: Uses the email distribution software to send test copies of the e-newsletter to the team and to send the final version out to all subscribers.
  • Metrics analyst: Gathers performance data about a week after the e-newsletter goes out to subscribers, analyzes it to determine how well or poorly the e-newsletter performed, and recommends changes to help overcome any poor-performance indicators.

The list of role-players (above) and their tasks should serve as the basis for the schedule you create. Determine your delivery date, list all of the tasks and then work back from your delivery date to determine deadlines for each task. Keep in mind, the schedule for launching an e-newsletter is necessarily different and longer than your ongoing schedule should be.

Work with your unit’s user endorser to determine who will be handling the technical aspects of producing the e-newsletter and what tool training they should receive.

Create an Excel file with separate columns for First Name, Last Name and Email Address. Upload the list to the Create New List request form and the Advancement audience management team will scrub it (to remove errors), load it into our email system and attach it to our newsletter.

Development phase

E-Newsletter - development

This step needs to take place before you start drafting content because it will determine what the word-count limits will be for each content section. It also will give you a basis for determining how many graphics/photos you will need to gather. The University has preformatted, fully tested templates that can be customized and used by any UW unit. For more information, contact

There are two types of content you will need to draft:

    1. E-newsletter content, which refers to the headlines, blurbs, alt text, and link text you will include in your e-newsletter. This content should be drafted in a word-processing program first, so you can check spelling and track edits.
    2. Website content, which includes:
      1. A sign-up form that will allow people to subscribe to your newsletter. Please use this documentation for how to embed our pre-coded subscription widget.
      2. Any original content you plan to link to from the e-newsletter that does not already exist somewhere on the Web, such as an article you’ve written that is too long to include in the e-newsletter itself.

This is the first opportunity for members of your immediate team and content contributors to give detailed feedback on the design and actual content of your e-newsletter. Therefore, it is the time for you to be the most flexible in terms of seeking and considering critical feedback. The more open-minded you are at this stage, the better prepared you’ll be during the final review stage. That’s when requests for changes should be only of the “stop-the-presses” variety. In this step, you should be sending two files for review:

  • A Word (or other word-processing program) document with the Track Changes feature turned on.
  • A .jpg (or .pdf or other image file) of the e-newsletter design mocked up.

Don’t miss the opportunity to interact with your readers and gather their input. Create a designated email address readers can use to send you feedback and questions about the e-newsletter. You can obtain one by requesting a Shared NetID from UW-IT. The account should be owned by a permanent UW staff member, but multiple others can be added as registered users, even if they are temporary staff. If you decide to create an email address to field reader responses, be sure to determine a process for vetting and taking action on reader responses. Ideally the email address should be associated with more than one person on your team. Then the work can be divided up by task: requests to add or remove a subscriber, technical errors, content questions, content or design critique or praise, etc.

Important tip: While it’s a good idea to compose your e-newsletter in a word processing program to ensure that there are no spelling errors, you should place the final text in a program like Notepad, which will strip out any embedded styling that tends to break HTML code. This will mean that you’ll need to reinsert links, bolding, etc., but it will save you a lot of troubleshooting headaches in terms of how your e-newsletter looks when it lands in the inbox.

On this round, your content reviewers and approvers should receive a fully functional test version of the e-newsletter via the same method your readers eventually will. Some technical support will probably be required for this step. To do this review:

  1. Alert your reviewers that they are about to receive a test copy of the e-newsletter for review, and ask them to send their feedback directly to you, rather than replying to the e-newsletter From address.
  2. Send the test!
  3. Compile and incorporate the feedback.
  4. Get the thumbs-up from your content approver. This may require sending out another test version.

It is important to create a non-HTML version of your e-newsletter because some subscribers prefer text-only files. Text-only e-newsletters should include the following bare essentials:

  • Full URLs only, not embedded links. For example, this is an embedded link and this is a full URL:
  • Unformatted text and simple characters. That means no italics or bolding; no curly quotes and bullets. For example, even though style rules require that book titles be set off by italics, italics won’t translate in plain text. So, you should consider using quote marks or title case to set off the text.
  • Similarly, you cannot define the font that will be displayed in a text-only e-newsletter. It is most likely to display in something like Courier.

Your text is final, you’ve gotten approval. Now it’s time to make sure everything is working properly. Have your email approver use the preflight checklist before they click the Send button.

Ideally give yourself a window of 30 minutes, if possible, to account for any last-minute “stop the presses” requests for changes.

Close the loop

Congratulations! You’ve sent out your first e-newsletter! It’s time for a well-deserved pat on the back … and a few other things. Your project isn’t actually complete yet. Just a few more steps to the finish line…

E-Newsletter - close

At this point you’re probably itching to know what readers though about your enewsletter. Though some will tell you directly via your feedback mechanism, most will keep their thoughts to themselves. But actions often speak louder than words, and, thanks to technology, we can get that information by analyzing performance metrics. It’s best to gather these metrics one week after you’ve sent you enewsletter to subscribers. Here are the most common e-newsletter metrics you can retrieve from your e-mail distribution program and the corresponding industry standards (where available) for typical e-newsletter performance in each measurement area:

  • Open rate: The percentage of the recipients who opened the e-newsletter.
  • Click-through rate: The number of individual headlines clicked, divided by total number of emails successfully sent. This gives you an indication of how effective your content was at compelling readers to want to learn more.
  • Click-to-open rate: The percentage of people who opened your message who also clicked a link.
  • Unsubscribes: The number of people who opted to remove themselves from your subscriber list. If this number spikes for a particular issue of the e-newsletter, you should compare that issue with previous ones to determine the cause. Was it a technical glitch that, perhaps, rendered the message poorly? Was it the type or length of content you included? Then make adjustments, as appropriate, and monitor future unsubscribe levels to make sure they stay low.
  • Bounce-backs: E-newsletters that were not successfully delivered to some subscribers. This usually occurs because a subscriber’s email address has been recorded incorrectly (it might include a typo) or no longer exists. Be sure to correct that information or remove the subscriber from your list. That will help keep your list “clean” and up to date, and it will help decrease the amount of time it takes to send out the e-newsletter.

Once you’ve had a chance to analyze the data and reader feedback, you must transform it into actions or else the time you spent on Step 1 will have been wasted. Here’s how:

  1. Create a report about your findings that is easy to understand, even for people who might not have been directly involved with the project.
  2. Schedule a debriefing meeting with your stakeholders to discuss:
    1. Your performance report
    2. What went well
    3. What didn’t go well
    4. What you will do differently next time
  3. Create a list of tasks based on the outcome of that meeting, assign them to team members and include those items in the schedule for the next issue of your e-newsletter. Typical tasks include:
    1. Updating your recipient list.
    2. Correcting coding problems that did not emerge during testing. c
    3. Revisiting content sections, layout, or tone if reader feedback is loud and clear on a certain point: For example, if readers may tell you, either directly or indirectly, through their click-through patterns, that a particular content section is really interesting to them, so you may want to consider including more of that kind of content. (You should not do too much tweaking at all when your e-newsletter is brand new. Give readers a chance to get to know it better first.)
    4. Discuss whether you want to conduct future A/B tests of things like the subject line, the sender name or even the entire layout. However, you should only test one of these elements per test. Otherwise, you won’t be able to determine which thing caused better engagement.

Don’t just create a schedule for the very next e-newsletter. You also should have at least a skeleton schedule for issues — and, when possible, upcoming themes or topics — that will come out in the next 12 months. That will help keep everyone who works on the project on track and will ensure that you earn your readers’ trust by providing them a high-quality e-newsletter at predictable intervals of time.