learner at a computer browsing the internet
April 15th, 2020 E-Learning

Communicating effective through email is about much more than marketing.

Email is one of the primary tools you have to communicate with your learners online. Used well, it can keep learners engaged, and prevent them from falling behind on their course work. However, used badly, it can flood the already-full inboxes of many users.

Our training specialist, James Tryon, recently ran a webinar that covered the technical aspect of getting emails to send in WordPress. If you want to know how to set up this functionality, it’s the perfect place to start.

Once you have your emails ready to send, however, you may be wondering how to use them. After all, it’s one thing to set up your email, but another to use them effectively. Before we get started, let’s cover a few ways your email might end up in someone’s spam folder, and how to keep yourself clean.

How to keep your emails out of the spam folder.

Emails end up in a spam folder when they match certain patterns that are commonly associated with spam. Knowing what these patterns are can help you make sure your emails aren’t lost.

1. Don’t spam.

This one sounds easy, but far too many well-meaning educators run afoul of spam filters because they aren’t aware of what is or isn’t acceptable. A good rule of thumb is that if someone hasn’t given you their permission to email them, then you shouldn’t email them.

If you’ve bought a list of contacts and start sending emails to thousands of people who have never heard of you, you’re not only wasting your money, you’re probably also ending up in spam.

But you can still make mistakes with your email if you send too many emails, or if your emails are all marketing related. Even when someone gives you their email, it’s not an invitation to flood their inbox. Only send emails your learners have asked to receive, or which they could reasonably be expected to want.

2. Set a “from” field.

It’s probably been a while since you received an email with no “from” line. That’s because many email clients won’t let anyone send an email without one, and even if someone does manage to, they usually go straight to spam.

So: make sure your emails have a “from” field for your emails. But just as importantly, make sure you are using the right name in your from field. Do you want emails to have your name? Or the name of your organization? You can use your name if your learners are likely to recognize it. But if they won’t know who you are, it should come from your organization.

3. Avoid “spammy” language in headers and content copy.

Span filters also check subject lines and email content to see if they contain language commonly associated with spam. These includes words like “free,” “buy now,” and “limited time,” as well as words and phrases in all caps or all caps, or an abundance of exclamation points.

However, context matters. Spam filters have other information about your account, such as how often other users have marked your emails as spam, or how often your emails go undelivered. If you’re writing well-crafted emails and sending them responsibly, you probably don’t have to worry too much about using the word “free” in your subject line.

4. Use double opt-ins and ask your learners to whitelist you.

Part of staying out of spam means staying in the good graces of your contact list. So long as your recipients are opening your emails and reacting to your emails, you probably won’t end up in spam.

To be sure your recipients want to receive emails from you, ask them up-front for permission. Let them know how often you’ll be emailing them, and what kind of content they can expect. Then, once they sign up, send an email to the address they entered asking them to confirm that they want to be on your list. This is a double opt-in, and helps to verify that the email they sent you was valid. (If you’re sending emails to the account they used to register, a double opt-in may not be necessary.)

One sure-fire way to make sure your emails never go to spam? Ask your learners to whitelist you. Every email client has a different way to do this, but the easiest is to ask user to add you to their contacts.

5. Give your learners ways to opt-out.

Finally, if you want to avoid the spam filter, make sure learners can unsubscribe. Don’t add learners to new mailing lists without their permission, and if they are on multiple lists, let them see what those lists are so that they can take themselves off any they no longer want to be on.

This isn’t just helpful for your learners, it’s also part of GDPR policy. If you’re in Europe—or if you have European learners—making sure they can unsubscribe is part of EU regulations.

How to send emails the right way.

Now that you know how to not spam your learners, how should you use it to reach your learners? Here are five methods.

1. Notify learners of new drip content.

Pacing is an important part of online education. If you want to engage your learners in the long run, then you probably don’t want to get them full access to your entire course content from day one. Instead, you want to spread that content out, so that your learners don’t burn out in the first week, and so learners in the same cohort can progress together.

Set your emails so that they send as each new lesson becomes available. This will keep your learners from having to check themselves, and will remind learners who might otherwise forget.

2. Set reminders for course due dates.

Speaking of reminders, a timely email has saved many busy learners who might otherwise have missed an important due date. If there’s an exam coming up, a lesson to complete, a webinar to attend, or a report to turn in, an automatic email can ensure your learners don’t miss a beat.

3. Check-in with learners who haven’t signed in.

Some learners sign up for a course before they realize what the time commitment will look like. Others sign up on a whim, and then forget. Others get busy and need a prompt to bring them back to the fold.

No matter what situation your learners are in, sending them a check-in email can help them re-engage.

4. Update learners about forum activity.

Do you have an active online forum? Sending out an update of recent activity can alert learners to discussions they may want to take part in. It’s also a small reminder of material they’ve covered, and can spark interest that will motivate them to stay engaged.

5. Introduce new courses and content.

None of the above emails are what we could consider marketing emails, although they are an important part of customer service. However, marketing is a valid way to use email, although it should always be done with care. Marketing emails aren’t the same as spam, but they’re the most likely to become spam if they’re overly aggressive.

Use your emails to tell your learners about new courses you’re running, or about any offers and deal that are coming up. These should not be the bulk of your emails, unless learners have signed up for a marketing email list. However, most learners actually would want to know if you’ve developed an amazing new course—especially if you’re offering it as part of a deal.

Email is an important tool for online educators—when it’s not over-used.

As we said in the beginning of this post, if you flood your leaners’ inboxes with too many emails, you’ll either hear complaints from the learners themselves, or will start seeing your messages marked as spam.

However, when emails are used well—which is to say, when they are sent with the learners’ best interests in mind—then they can be a huge benefit to your audience. When you put your learners first, it’s hard for your emails to go wrong.

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