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Posted on 21 Feb '23

Why Change a Good Thing? – Redesigning our Student Newsletter

Committing to a change in branding or design (especially if it means departing from a long-established process) can feel like a risk. But it can also reap big rewards! To help inspire your next creative revamp, we asked our Content Writer, Hannah Slack, about her experience of redesigning our student newsletter.

Our student-facing newsletters have successfully shared advice, opportunities and postgraduate-themed stories for many years now. Originally, our content was sent out ad hoc alongside separate emails updating our subscribers about the latest postgraduate courses.

In 2018, these two entities merged – creating our official weekly newsletter. As the audience grew, we began to specialise what we put out, catering for domestic and international audiences separately.

Since then, our newsletters have remained unchanged . . . until now.

Why change up a perfectly good newsletter?

For the few years I’ve been working here, the weekly newsletters have felt like part of the furniture. A task to be done every Thursday morning, filling out the same sections: Events, Open days and Featured blog. But when the Content team was absorbed into the Marketing department, the old format seemed inflexible towards accommodating our new goals.

A weekly feature is no bad thing, but what do you do when you’re producing much more content? What happens if we put out videos instead of blogs? If we’re going to be running year-round campaigns aligned with the student journey, why can’t the newsletter be more obviously part of this?

As our internal goals and structure changed, it became clear that our practices needed an update too.

The start of any new project begins with . . . research!

As I set out on this task, I knew I’d have to sign up to a bunch of new newsletters to get a lay of the land. The beauty of the research stage is that you get to cast your net far and wide. How could you ever dream of beating your competitors if you only model yourself off them? Alongside educational newsletters, I signed up to entertainment, personal growth and alternative news outlets.

My inbox soon felt like the rickety old fishing boat riding the waves of The Perfect (email) Storm. And a perfect storm it was, of ideas and inspiration. Minimalism has certainly become a big theme these days, along with a personal voice and flexible structure. Opening copies were short and imagery seemed to be key. After figuring out what worked for others, it was now time to look at ourselves.

A fresh coat of paint

Having recorded our newsletter stats for a few years, one thing I noticed was that most of our clicks came from the opening copy. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it meant that people probably weren’t scrolling down and engaging with the content we put out. This was the first thing I sought to change. This did risk losing a substantial number of clicks – but if successful, our audience might be encouraged to interact with the newsletter more.

The second thing I did away with was the fixed categories. The title ‘Featured blog’ doesn’t tell the reader anything about our content – but headings like ‘PhD funding’ or ‘Application advice’ do. These new categories now allow us to keep our newsletter fresh and exciting. We can also promote our evergreen guides more easily alongside related blog content.

The last key change was implementing a schedule of themed editions. Aligning with the student journey of both UK and international postgraduate students, I put together a calendar of monthly topics. These have also been designed to coincide with, and inform, our social campaigns and marketing initiatives. While we provide our students with useful information all year round, a monthly themed edition gives them something extra to look forward to.

Change for the better?

We began running with the new format at the start of 2023 so it’s still too early to know the full impact, particularly when it comes to the themed editions. But we have already seen some interesting results.

We did note that the number of clicks a featured blog would usually get has decreased, but this is unsurprising as there’s now more content competing for people’s attention. However, average total clicks have increased for both of our UK newsletters (FindAMasters Weekly and FindAPhD Weekly), indicating an overall improvement in engagement. No longer centring a particular feature may mean that its click rate dips, but you can often trade this for larger gains!

Internationally, success has been patchier depending on newsletter topics, so we’re continuing to investigate what content to serve, and when, for these audiences. As our audience get more acquainted with the new format, we’re hoping that engagement will continue to grow across all our newsletters.

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