Extension works in so many different fields from public health to forestry to food systems. People either know us or discover us based on our knowledge in these specific areas. So it is not surprising, the topic menu receives the most clicks on the Extension website’s navigation.

Many of these topic pages could use some organizing by subject matter experts. Topic pages can fill the need to show your coordinated efforts. The educational resources you share every day with key audiences can be accessed in one place without needing to create a separate website on the topic. These topic pages will also easily connect visitors with Extension programs, events and experts across the state.

How topic pages are organized

If no one has curated the topic page, then it is automated to show any latest content tagged with the topic. Check out a topic that relates to your work and see if it looks complete or out of date.

If it’s not useful, then it may be time to connect with the point people from the different Extension program areas to help you quickly organize it. The Extension web team can help you get connected.

The point people will give you an excel sheet of the existing content on that topic page, then ask you to identify and mark related categories. This process also helps you catch content that was mistagged or should be archived.

Then using those categories, the point people can add content tags and set the topic page up online for your review. You can also make further changes on your own. Learn more in the web guide on Instructions for Topic Pages, including a how-to video.

Here’s some great examples of curated topic pages:

Next week’s blog post will highlight the best practices that the Youth education resources and Bees and Pollinators topic pages put in place.

New features: Topic categories

Until now, we had to use custom keywords to organize a topic page. Now it is easier with topic categories. The categories help to identify the top tasks that people often come looking for, and show up as main headings down the topic page.

The topic categories also show up as a way to filter “Browse Resources”.

You can add a topic category from your group page if you are a topic page facilitator. Then whenever anyone adds a topic tag to content, the topic category field shows up to fill in. This helps to remember to add these category tags, so any new content shows up in the right place on the topic page.

New features: Opt-in Form for visitors

In the past quarter, visitors to the Extension website has grown 63% in comparison to the same time last year. That’s a lot of people who may be interested to engage with us. A new tool that we are piloting allows people to sign up to get more information.

On the gardening techniques topic page, web visitors can sign up to get a gardening e-newsletter each month. This message “Join our email list for free gardening tips!” pops up from the bottom of the page.

If they decide they want our help for a healthy, beautiful and productive garden and click “Sign me up for the newsletter”, then they can submit their name and email. We assure them we are committed to their privacy and not sharing their information.

If they enter their information, they will get future newsletters.

On the garden vegetable and herb topic page, web visitors see a pop up from the bottom of the screen “Get your free essential guide to gardening!”.

If they click “Download the free guide”, then it gives them an opt-in form to email them the free guide.

If you are interested to learn more, then reach out to us and we can tell you how to try it out on a topic page that you organize.

Across OSU Extension, email newsletters are used to educate, convey information to, and build trust and community with industry-specific, program-specific and general audiences. However, each newsletter within the division looks different, sounds different, provides varying levels of effectiveness and offers varying levels of brand alignment and accessibility.

There are best practices we all can adopt to improve the effectiveness and accessibility of our email newsletters. In the coming weeks, we’ll be rolling out Extension newsletter templates to make it easier to tell our stories better. These templates will be designed to work on MailChimp and Constant Contact platforms. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, adopt the following best practices and we’ll make significant strides in readability, effectiveness and accessibility.

10 Best practices to adopt now

1) Write engaging and informative subject lines.

This is the first opportunity to make your audience curious about the content of your newsletter. Try to limit the subject line to no more than 50 characters (including spaces). Check out these websites for guidance on writing engaging subject lines:

2) Make the preheader work for you.

Preheader text is the short line of text displayed next to or just below the email subject line when an email is viewed in the inbox. Preheaders are often overlooked opportunities to engage the reader and tell them more about what’s in the newsletter.

3) Build a clean list and remove unengaged email addresses.

If someone hasn’t opened any of your emails for a year or more, find out if they still want to receive your email newsletter. Send a “We miss you” email to see if they want to continue being a subscriber. A clean list will give you a more accurate email open and engagement rate.

4) Personalize your greeting.

Using the first name of your subscriber is more likely to capture the attention of the reader. This can be in the subject line or start the newsletter with “Dear {first name}.”

5) Keep content short, simple, personable and focused on the interests of the readers.

Think about what the payoff is for the reader. What’s the essential takeaway? How does the story reinforce the value of Extension to the community? Then write two or three compelling sentences as your lead-in to tease the reader into continuing to read the story by clicking on the call-to-action.

Limit the number of articles to three to five. Enough white space within the overall newsletter will make the newsletter easier to read. The Extension website is a good source for newsletter content: news stories, publications, event information and other content. Use links to encourage visits to the website.

6) Use compelling calls-to-action.

Instead of “click here” or “click this link,” use more actionable language, such as “Learn more,” “Download,” and “Register today.” If calls-to-action are images, use alternative text to make sure readers can click them even if images aren’t enabled.

7) Improve accessibility.

Increase font size to 12 to 14 point for body copy. Use the Georgia font for headlines and Verdana font for body text. Use alternative text to describe story images so that subscribers that disable images or those with disabilities know what you’re showing them. Do not use text over photos or PDFs embedded into the newsletters. Avoid text-heavy content.

8) Include links to social media sites.

This allows readers to share content easily. (And consider including a link to your newsletter in your email signature. Refer to email signature guidelines for the way to do it.)

9) Include an email signature.

People are more inclined to read and open emails if they come from a person rather than info@companyname or noreply@companyname.

10) Send your newsletters consistently.

Choose the frequency of the newsletter and settle on the day and time of delivery (this may take a little time to find the best day and time for open rates and click-throughs). Then stick to the schedule so your readers watch for and anticipate it.

Additional tips

Review metrics to see what content is of greatest interest to your audience.

During the Stay Home, Save Lives mandate and beyond, reinforce in headlines and body copy that OSU and Extension are here for our communities.

Set expectations when someone first signs up for your newsletter so that they know what to expect for frequency and type of content.

A/B test subject lines and calls-to-action between two groups of subscribers to learn what language creates a greater response. Read: Effective email marketing subject lines.

Segment your audience to appeal to their interests. The value of the content will be elevated if it’s of interest to the reader.

Add video and animated content to increase engagement with the reader. Also increase engagement and learn more about your readers by adding a quick poll.

Reinforce the personality of Extension with the tone of story selection and writing style. Personality characteristics for Extension are defined in the Extension Style Guide:

  • Collaborative – We’re better together
  • Conscientious – Aware, with integrity and conviction
  • Visionary – Creatively leading the way, taking on issues
  • Welcoming – Friendly, open to all and enriched by difference
  • Progressive – Pursuing innovative practices that lead to proven methods of thinking and doing
  • Helpful – Focused on service that meets the needs of our communities
  • Adventurous – Having the courage to seek out new solutions

Sources:

Add a new “RFI” form to web pages

RFI stands for a Request For Information. A RFI form is a simple way for an organization to give constituents a chance to ask questions or otherwise reach out to us to learn more about an event, topic, etc. Soon as someone reaches a spot in our website where they’re interested in something but need to learn more about it, a button click pops open a simple web form (see the example later in this post).

It’s here they enter their personal information and that is saved into our system. That activity is accompanied by an automated email notice that arrives to the right person in Extension. For example, users can provide their name and email address and the process will add them as a new subscriber to one of your newsletters.

How is this useful?

A web form allows us to collect and manage information from constituents easily and efficiently. The forms are embedded right into relevant places on your website, which makes it easy for your audience to provide their information.

As soon as somone completes the RFI form, their information is stored until it’s ready for analysis.

Meanwhile, in the same step we are able to offer a chance to subscribe to some type of digital communications, such as newsletters. This can become a crucial tool for you to obtain new audience members eager to hear what you have to say.

What we’re poised to learn about our audiences

We can use the Extension website as a quick case study for how to employ RFI forms, however the premise works similarly on other websites.

When a visitor to this Oregon Master Beekeeper Program page stops and takes the time to fill out our RFI form on this specific page, we consider it an opportunity to infer some small bits of information about this person.

In the actual, real-life implementation of this premise, we would in fact engage directly with the right people inside each program to actually be very thoughtful about what inferences we’d plan to make about any one visit to any one particular page—for example, an analysis of the content of the page will support being able to draw certain conclusions or not.

For example, if the page content includes info on bee colony health, but does not have any info at all on honey production, we would want to consider if the visitor’s interest in this page revolves around bee colonies due to the ability to produce honey or, rather, in terms of bees as pollinators.

Clearly, we want to consider our options very carefully when forming these types of conclusions.

 

AND… What about a page that has a specific call to action?

Well, I am so glad you asked! 🙂  Let’s look at a page that’s aimed at cultivating interest in a specific thing—like an event.

To the right, you see a page I navigated to from the Events tab on the Master Beekeeper program page. If a normal website visitor made their way to this page, we can begin to make inferences about them at another level of specificity and accuracy.

We know the ultimate goal of this event’s organizers is to have viewers click on the “Register” button, but what about anyone who is feeling interested in the event while still not being quite ready to register? What can we do for that person?

The answer would be to provide an RFI form—simply a second button which would allow them to ask any question about the event for which they don’t already have an available answer.

After submitting this RFI form, the inferences we can make about their interests are far more specific. We know they want to attend an event. And not just any event, but this particular event with this event’s specific content. Arguably, there’s a lot to work with in this use case.

The impact on newsletter subscriptions

The question, then, is how does this help to build up our list of subscribers? The exact details of the plan continue to be sorted out, but the goal is to begin to understand how the inferences we were just talking about can help us point people to digital communication options—newsletters being one of those options—that are of significant interest to them.

Soon as the data lands in our database from the successful processing of an RFI form, we know for certain we want to send that person an email with a simple “thank you” message, because we want to provide an immediate reward to them for taking the time to fill that thing out. It’s important to do this.

In addition to our “thanks” message, there’s room in the body of that same email to appeal to them with a subscription (opt in) opportunity to newsletters. Thus, taking into account the opt-in opportunities that already exist, then adding in all of those people who submit RFI forms, we can see that as a pathway to adding more contacts to our lists.

Example of an RFI form

Check out this straightforward example of an effective web form.

It is true that the form can be designed to ask additional questions, however we know from numerous usability studies that the shorter a web form is the more likely our average website visitors will actually stop and fill them out.

Our #1 goal will be to increase our ability to engage with our target audiences, which means that simply garnering their direct email address—thus facilitating being able to digitally communicate with them—is our top priority.

Conclusion

An RFI web form will help you add new contacts to your contact lists, track topics in which people are interested, follow up with constituents, enhance users’ experience, and provide Oregonians with the information and expertise for which they are searching.

A web forms should be straightforward, simple, and visually appealing. And it should communicate to the viewer exactly what they can expect to receive in exchange for their valuable time they will spend filling it out. This is how you will ensure a professional, user-friendly experience on your website.

A successful RFI form will lead to an increase in your number of contacts and engagements. So, why not get started working with the Navigator team to help you grow and expand your network today?

 


About the Navigator digital engagement team. For months now, many of you have heard from me as I produce a long-term CRM strategy for OSU Extension and non-credit learning. I look forward to talking with you and ensuring the CRM plans are in alignment with the business needs of your unit and the long-term vision of the university. The Navigator team is looking forward to talking with you about how digital engagement is aligned with your work and can provide new benefits.

Extension website updates.

  • People in county and program groups can tag or untag themselves from events entered through other groups. Go to the event page and go to the “Modify tags” tab at the top of the page.
  • All users can now tag themselves with languages they speak and have it shown on their profile. The language options are fairly limited right now initially, but you can submit a support ticket to get other ones added.
Posted in CRM.

The active summer season means lots of newsletters are packed full of advice and opportunities for volunteers, participants or general audiences. The Extension website hosts 70 monthly or quarterly newsletters from across the state, and a quick look at some can give you new ideas to try out.

If you don’t already post your newsletters on the Extension website, find out how to set up your newsletter. It will highlight your most recent issue and automatically show archived issues as well.

1) Make the connection

If you have a long list of upcoming events in your newsletters, follow the example of Lane county’s newsletter and add a link to the event posted on the Extension website, so people can learn more and register. Lane County filled up its classes thanks in part to its promotion in newsletters, on the website and across social media. If your newsletter also is sent in a print version, just provide the URL to your local program or county/combined station’s event menu page (this can be standard in every issue).

2) Make it consistent

Check if you are aligning your information across the Extension website, your newsletter and your social media. This includes cross-promoting content, since people like to access information different ways. Also, consider consistent branding with font, colors, and tone, such as in Woodland Notes.

3) Make it meaningful

Metro Master Gardeners newsletter does a good job of writing to “you” rather than just about “us” when trying to encourage participation in opportunities. They include information about why it may be of interest to them and what they can expect. They also include helpful reminders with links to where to find forms and FAQs volunteers need on the Extension website.

4) Make it simple

Keep your articles short (less than 500 words) and consider linking to the full article on the website or in Box to read more. They may be more likely to click if you write not as an organization, but as a person working on issues your readers care about. See a comparison example of a reworked original newsletter made simpler. Also, consider if readers only skim your newsletter’s headlines, will they still understand the gist of it?

5) Make it relevant

Look at your analytics to see what people are clicking on if you use an e-news service (e.g. Mailchimp), so you know what readers like and can do more of it. If you have a newsletter on the Extension website, contact the web and content strategy team to see how many people are viewing or downloading it. You can also gather interests of your audiences, and segment your list to send different information out based on those interests.

6) Make it actionable

Make the majority of content focused on today or tomorrow. Always provide a next step, even if it’s something simple like “Learn more” with a link to an OSU catalog publication. If you do highlight past events in order to thank those who were involved, share how it connects to the future and give specifics to show the positive impact their contributions have made.

7) Make it last

Small Farms News is a great example of having your educational content live on beyond the month it was published. As part of the archive process, they convert their PDF they uploaded to the web-based version, which means the main articles get added separately and featured across the site, not just in the newsletter.

8) Make your life easier

Many newsletters, such as the Linn County E-news,  find the design, delivery, and managing of email lists easier with an e-news service (e.g. Mailchimp, Constant Contact). People can subscribe, share or remove themselves from your newsletter lists on their own. It also notifies you and cleans up defunct email addresses, and helps to improve chances the e-news will reach their inbox and get read.

Do you have other suggestions? What do you like in a newsletter?

Recent Web Updates

This past month we updated the website groups contact lists. To see if you are listed correctly, or to find out who is in a specific content team or county office or program group, check Content Teams / Web Groups. The web and content strategy team sends updates to the leaders and coordinators of these groups, and they then forward it on to their members and gather any feedback to share back to the team.