Email Template Guidelines
Following best practices and template guidelines will help increase email deliverability, open rates and engagement.
Consistency helps to present a more coherent brand identity and to make it clear that email messages are from different entities within the University of North Dakota. Recipients will become more familiar with your emails if a similar template, layout and design is used time after time. The more recipients know what to expect, the more comfortable they will be to open your emails.
It's also important that emails UND entities send to both internal and external audiences follow the CAN-SPAM Act, as required by law.
These guidelines apply primarily to UND entities sending mass emails, but they may be helpful for individuals in their daily email communications.
The CAN-SPAM Act is a law that sets rules for commercial email, establishes requirements for commercial messages, gives recipients the right to have you stop emailing them, and spells out tough penalties for violations. For violations of the CAN-SPAM act, the sender may be charged with fines of up to $43,792 for each separate email and potential imprisonment of up to five years.
Even though UND is considered a nonprofit, educational institution, some of the emails UND sends are considered “commercial” and must follow CAN-SPAM rules.
For CAN-SPAM, what matters is the “primary purpose” of the message (not the status of the organization sending the email). There are two main categories, commercial and transational/relationship content.
Advertises or promotes a commercial product or service, including content on a website used for a commercial purpose. These include emails that promote revenue generating activities. Examples include:
- Prospective student emails, even if the student contacted UND first.
- Tickets for plays, athletic events or other activities where there is a charge, regardless if the activity is held on or off campus.
- University services, programs or products that charge a fee. Note: If the program/service is already included in tuition/fees, and the email is simply announcing a “free” service, it’s generally not considered commercial.
Transactional or Relationship Content
Facilitates an already agreed-upon transaction or provides updates about an ongoing relationship. The content is not commercial/promotional in nature and is related to an employment, consumer or transactional relationship. Examples include:
- One-Stop Student Services sending students emails about their award packages.
- Human Resources sending employees emails about their benefits.
- Post-registration event details (e.g., confirmation, reminder messages, feedback surveys).
- Announcements for University services, programs or products that are free.
If the message’s primary purpose is commercial, it must follow CAN-SPAM Act requirements. If its primary purpose is transactional or relational, it may not have false or misleading routing information, but is otherwise exempt from CAN-SPAM Act requirements.
Even if your email is exempt from the CAN-SPAM Act, it can be best practice to follow the general requirements. In summary, the email must:
- Not be misleading. The “from” line must clearly identify the sender and the subject line must accurately reflect the email content.
- Have a valid return e-mail address or other reply mechanism that is valid for 30 days after the message is sent.
- Provide a clear opportunity to decline or opt-out of future messages. Requests must be honored within 10 business days.
- Include your physical mailing address.
Because UND does not have a centralized email system where recipients can unsubscribe from all UND-related emails with a click of a button, it is very important for UND entities to clearly identify that they operate as a “separate line of business or division” and their emails do not represent the University as a whole. By following the UND Email Template Guidelines, you help bring UND into compliance with the CAN-SPAM Act.
Visit the CAN-SPAM Act website for more details on the requirements.
UND Email Template Guidelines
The following template guidelines should be followed whenever possible, especially if the primary purpose of the emails you're sending are commercial according to the CAN-SPAM Act.
UND “From” Line Standards
To follow CAN-SPAM requirements and to improve open rates, the email sender names must:
- Identify the specific division/college/department/unit name. This is especially important to signal to email recipients that the email is not coming from the University of North Dakota as a whole.
- Start with UND so your recipients know your department is connected to UND. Do not send emails that have the sender name as just Housing, Student Life Weekly, Admissions or One-Stop Student Services since they could easily be confused with other colleges or universities.
- Keep names short by removing extra words such as “Department of” or “Office of” like
the following examples:
- UND Housing
- UND Admissions
- UND Marketing
If needed, work with University Information Technology to update the email sender name for general department emails. Once you select a sender name, do not change it unless necessary. This will help your recipients get used to looking for emails from your department.
UND Subject Line Options
To help students and others quickly identify how to manage emails, consider using one of the following subject line options. Most of these words have been shown to increase email open rates but could get caught in SPAM filters. Make sure to test with your email system.
- Action Required:
- To Do:
- Save the Date:
- Login Now:
UND Header Graphics
- If your email system allows you to insert HTML graphics, consider inserting a UND
logo in the upper left-hand corner of your email.
- Eye-tracking studies show people instinctively look for logos in the upper left-hand side of emails because it's consistent with the placement of a logo on most websites.
- Keep in mind that a logo or other graphics will push your content down, so make sure your main message and call-to-action are visible before scrolling.
- The best UND logo to use depends on your audiences:
- Primary UND Logotype (external audiences).
- Primary Unit Logotype (external and internal audiences).
- Secondary Unit Logotype (internal audiences).
- Use the following logo formats:
- Full color (green, orange, black).
- Digital format (PNG or SVG).
- Size (400 pixels wide by 80 pixels high).
UND Email Signature Standards
- Follow UND email signature standards.
- Use a person’s name. If possible, do not just use the general department name.
- Include the UND division/college/department name.
- Include the physical mailing address (unless it is included in the footer).
- Include other contact information, e.g., phone number.
- Do not include extra graphics or icons that can distract.
UND Opt-Out Message
If your UND emails are commercial in nature, you must provide an opt-out option to follow the CAN-SPAM Act. Even if your emails are not commercial, it's a nice courtesy to allow recipients to unsubscribe from optional messages.
Make sure your recipients understand that if they opt out of your division/college/department’s emails, they will not automatically be opted out of emails from other UND entities.
If your email system has an automated opt-out option with an “unsubscribe” link, add the following message to the unsubscribe and/or confirmation page:
Your email will be removed from (specific UND organization/department name)’s list within (number) business days. You may continue to receive emails from other UND departments with separate email systems.
If you must manage opt-outs manually, add the following message to the footer of your email in 8 or 9 point size font:
If you no longer wish to receive email from (specific UND organization/department name), please respond by including “remove” in the subject line. Your email will be removed from (specific UND organization/department name)’s list within 10 business days. You may continue to receive emails from other UND departments with separate email systems.
Email Best Practices
Send relevant content.
Be intentional about your email sending practices. Do not send emails for the sake of sending them. If your content does not resonate with your recipients, you risk getting ignored — or worse, sent to SPAM.
Consider the following questions before hitting send:
- Am I sharing new, urgent or relevant information with my recipients?
- Have I already shared an update about this topic recently? Is it too soon for another update?
- Do all my recipients need to know this information? Or should I update a specific segment of my list instead?
- Would I find this email valuable if I were the recipient?
- Is email the best way to communicate this information? Would a mailed letter, text message or phone call be better?
Don't buy contact lists.
To help avoid email systems flagging your emails as SPAM or junk, your email campaigns need a good open rate. By emailing people whose information was bought or obtained without their knowledge, your emails will have a poor open rate.
It's best to only email individuals that had earlier interactions with your organization or department. Encourage them to opt-in to your email lists.
If you must work with a purchased or obtained list, be clear in your subject line about the value of opening the email. Within the body of the email, reinforce why your content is relevant to them.
Clean your email list regularly.
To improve your overall open rates and increase your overall deliverability rates, regularly review who hasn't engaged with your emails over a certain time period (e.g., once a semester) and remove them.
Make the “from” line memorable and consistent.
The sender of your email matters. Make sure the “from” line is from a name your recipients will remember and recognize. Use the same “from” line consistently.
One CAN-SPAM rule for commercial emails is to not use "no reply," or similar words, as your email sender name (e.g., noreply@UND.edu). It prevents recipients from responding and opting out of further emails, which are CAN-SPAM requirements.
Instead, it’s best to have your emails come from an individual, organization or a combination so recipients are more likely to open it.
Refer to “UND Template Guidelines” for more information.
Choose your words carefully.
Some email spam filters are triggered by specific words in the subject line and/or the body of the email. Avoid “salesy” or “spammy” words and phrases as much as possible. Some examples include:
- Act now
- All natural
- Almost any phrase with the word “free” in it
- Cancel at any time
- Cash bonus
- Check or money order
- Click here
- Compare rates
- Dear friend
- Do you like/have/want?
- For only ($)
- Free or toll-free
- Great offer
- Increase sales
- Incredible deal
- Info you requested
- Limited-time offer
- No investment;
- Order now
- Special promotion
- This is not spam
Include a specific email signature with physical address.
Your email should include the signature of a specific person.
People are naturally more inclined to read and listen to emails if they know it comes from a human being, not just a collective or generic team. The email signature is the best visual cue that your email is from a human being.
To follow CAN-SPAM rules, you legally must include the physical address (street address or post office box registered with the U.S. Postal Service) of your organization within the email. This can be done through the email signature or by inserting it in the footer of your email template, typically above the unsubscribe link.
Refer to “UND Email Template Guidelines” for more information.
Give them a way to opt-out.
Per CAN-SPAM rules, commercial emails must include an easy and clear way for recipients to opt-out of future emails. Most email systems provide an automated opt-out option, with a clickable “unsubscribe” link in the email footer. If your email system does not have an automated opt-out option, then you may need to manage manually. Opt out requests must be honored within 10 business days.
Keep in mind that emails with a transactional relationship or are required communications do not need to provide an opt- out option.
Refer to “UND Email Template Guidelines” for more information.
An email template or header graphic should be no wider than 650 pixels.
If the template is wider than 650 pixel, then readers will need to scroll horizontally to read the full message this will be especially cumbersome for mobile users.
The less clutter, the better. Too much bold, italic, underlined and colored text all in one email is hard on the eyes.
- Use just one or two typefaces. Use common fonts such as Calibri or Arial.
- Avoid ALL CAPS and instead use italics for emphasis.
- Use bold sparingly — only if you really need to call something out. (In most cases, you don’t need to call out hyperlinks in bold because they are already in a different color and underlined by default.)
- Use exclamation points sparingly! They are okay to use once or twice per email, but more than that and they will lose their power.
- Do not use distracting backgrounds, images or other graphics that do not have a true communication purpose. Keep your image-to-text ratio low.
Before sending out the email to your full recipients list, send a test email to yourself and/or a colleague to review. Note that even if the email looks correct when you send it out, each email system will render fonts and other graphics differently. Recipients may not see what you originally intended so limiting extensive formatting can help avoid these issues.
Keep in mind that nearly 70% of email recipients will report SPAM based on the subject line alone. For the best open rates, focus on your subject line.
- A good subject line should be less than 50 characters (including spaces). Email accounts and mobile devices often cut off any subject lines that go beyond this length.
- The best open rates are for subject lines between three to six words.
- Never send an email with a one-word subject line, such as “Important” or “Survey.
- Use title case for subject lines by capitalizing each main word.
- Question marks, periods and exclamation marks may be used sparingly in subject lines and may increase open rates.
- Other special characters like $, #, @, &, etc. should not be used in a subject line. Only use sparingly in the body of your email for best results.
- Your email subject line should also create a sense of urgency, while giving readers a hint of what to expect once they open the email.
- Never use a misleading subject line that could get marked as SPAM.
If possible, personalize the greeting of your emails by merging in your contacts' first names. This will help grab your readers’ attention and let them know that the message is meant specifically for them.
When you draft your subject line and message content, it’s natural to think of the masses who are about to receive it. However, it’s far more effective to write as if you were speaking to an individual person.
Unable to insert contact names?
If you’re unable to insert the contacts’ first names, think about if there’s another general greeting that may be effective at grabbing readers’ attention. Your approach to this may depend on if your email is intended to appear as a group message or as an individual message to the recipients.
For example, if your email is clearly a meant as a group message, it could be helpful to use “Hello, XYZ Members!” as a greeting. However, if your mass email is intended to seem like an individual message, then skip the greeting or simply say “Hello.
The simpler, the better.
- Use short sentences.
- Write for your audience using the same language they would normally use.
- Don’t assume they know what you know; provide explanation and details as necessary.
- Use common words and avoid jargon.
- Avoid acronyms, without first identifying them.
- Be straightforward and to the point.
For example, words like “apply” or “enroll” may be unfamiliar to students. They may think “apply” and “enroll” are the same thing, so you may need to use different words or provide more explanation for what you are asking them to do.
If you’re unsure about your message, ask representative(s) of your main audience (e.g., students) to read it and give you feedback. If something is unclear, ask them what words they would use instead.
Read your message aloud.
Always read your email aloud before you send it. This will help you find any mistakes, awkward phrasings or other problems. Generally: if you stumble over a sentence, your readers will too.
Use editing software.
Write your email using online editing tools, such as Grammarly or the Editor feature within Microsoft Teams Word documents. To use the Editor feature, go to the “Review” menu, select “Editor” to receive suggestions for how to improve clarity, conciseness and more. For most student emails, choose the “Casual writing” style to strike a friendly and approachable tone.
Writing better emails is like an elevator pitch: keep your message as short as possible. Avoid cluttering your emails with anything not necessary.
Use sub headers.
Break up a longer email and help readers easily find the information they're looking for by adding in short, descriptive headers for each new section.
Keep paragraphs short.
Long paragraphs are difficult for the eye to scan. In an email, they look overwhelming, so it’s best to add in extra paragraph breaks.
Super short paragraphs keep the reader moving through your email content.
Use bullet or numbered lists.
When possible, use bullet or numbered lists to help readers scan your message.
Focus on one.
Emails with too many calls-to-actions can be overwhelming. The reader is unclear which action to take and may not follow through on any one of them.
If you have multiple calls-to-action, it’s best to send separate emails for each one. If that won’t work, provide the reader with a step-by-step approach so they know what to do first.
Keep it above the fold.
Keep your main message and call-to-action above the fold (i.e., any information visible before you scroll on your computer or on your phone). If readers must scroll to see your main message, as many as 70% of recipients will miss it.
Your call-to-action should be consistently repeated at least two to three times throughout the email in various places and formats.
Conduct the 5-second test.
Send a copy of the email to a student or colleague. Can they quickly tell what your call-to-action is? If so, you're golden. If not, keep working.
If your email directs recipients to a web landing page, make sure it is consistent with the email in terms of headline, copy and content.
Use the same words as much as possible. Match the look and feel of the UND brand.
Consistency will go a long way toward building trust, so make sure to review your web page before you hit “send” on your email.
Think about the best time to send your emails. When will your audience be most likely to read and respond to your emails? Surprisingly, it may be at night or on the weekends.
Most research shows its best to send emails on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday around 10 a.m., but it will vary greatly based on your audience’s daily habits and the message you are sending.
Your email system may tell you when most emails are being opened for a baseline.
If you’re unsure about your subject line, call-to-action or the day/time to send your emails, try an A/B test or split test.
- Split your recipients into two equal groups: Group A and Group B.
- Send Group B an email with one specific variation, such as a different subject line.
- Make sure to test just one variable at a time.
- Monitor open and click through rates to see which version performed better.
- Use that information to inform future email campaigns.