Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

Have you been as amused as I have been about the alarms these last few weeks during the build-up to Google's April 21 change to mobile-search ranking results? Did you believe that a devastating "mobilegeddon" was descending upon us? 

Yes, the change is important. No, it will not destroy your student recruitment results or your brand reputation. Put your danger in perspective. Check your analytics to see how many of your "new" visitors in the past year came to your website through a general search that did not include the name of your school. That is your danger point. Yes, you need a mobile-friendly website. But this search change is far from the most important reason. 

With any luck "mobilegeddon" will soon fade from use. Civilization continues.
Upcoming Conference Events

Travel to Houston June 1-3 for "Improving Your Strategic Recruitment Communication Plan." I am looking forward to my new sessions on "values messaging" and "affordability and financial aid" as well as an updated presentation on evaluating your website. Details for all the sessions including a pre-conference workshop on "Integrating Recruitment Communications with Your Brand" are at 

The fifth "Writing Write for the Web: Improving Your Online Content" conference with Academic Impressions takes place in San Diego July 13-14. Check the agenda, including a post-conference workshop on creating and presenting "affordability" content, 

Early registration is open for eduWeb Digital Summit, in Chicago in July. Check the program details starting with the 3-hour pre-conference workshops at 

Invite a friend or colleague to subscribe to this newsletter. Takes just 30 seconds 

And now here are your marketing news and notes for May. 
Cartoon of the Month: Challenges of ROI Data for Marketing 

How can marketers best meet the demand for data that proves results? It is not easy.

Our May cartoon selection will make marketers groan and chuckle at the same time. 
Teens and Social Media: Facebook Still Dominates

Pew Research is out with a new "Teens, Social Media and Technology Overview" for 2015. 

Points that stand out: Twitter still dominates with 71 percent use, followed by Instagram at a distant 52 percent. Twitter use is up to 33 percent. Most teens use more than one site. When asked what site they used most often, 41 percent said Facebook and 20 percent said Instagram.

Differences exist by income level and gender. For full details, visit the report 
New "Value Added" Rankings: The Brookings Institution Measures Alumni Success

With the increased interest in "outcomes" information to measure the value of investing in a particular college or university, a new rankings system from the Brookings Institute might become especially popular. And not only by parents of college-bound students but also by some schools that rank unexpectedly high and can use this site as a recruitment tool.

Ivy League schools, for instance, do not dominate. Brown University is the first Ivy listed at 30th while Marietta College has the 18th position. Manhattan College ties with Stanford University to finish the top ten.

Review the methodology and search for your school when you visit 
Demand for Master's Degrees: About to Collapse?

Over the last few years many colleges and universities have drawn financial solace from increased revenues from master's degree programs as recent graduates sought a career-building competitive edge. Is that about to change?

Jeff Selingo thinks it is about to do just that, with serious financial consequences for many schools including his model, George Washington University. Why? Growth in lower-cost and faster online credentialing in specialty areas will expand rapidly. Jeff's article is

To see one example of the new competition, check the course offerings and video tutorials at (just purchased by LinkedIn) at 
Higher Education Public Sector Funding: A State by State Comparison

Need to know public funding changes for higher education in one or more of the 50 states today and changes since 2009, including net tuition as a percent of total revenue? Download the 50-page "FY 2014 Report" from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association at 

Since 2009, FTE enrollment has decreased the most in Illinois, California and Michigan and increased the most in Idaho, Ohio and Oregon.
Storytelling: Increasing Engagement and Persuasion

Most marketers agree that storytelling by current students and recent alumni is a critical part of the marketing communications mix in the student recruitment cycle.

A short infographic from Website Magazine reports on Emory University research findings on how specific words and phrases can increase or decrease engagement. Be especially wary of overused "buzz adjectives" such as "responsible" and "creative." And maybe "academic excellence" fits here as well.

More on how our brains react to what we read and hear at 
Website Design: Time to Get "Ruthlessly Simple"

The message from Scott McDonald writing in UX magazine is clear: "Simplicity" is the "next design battleground" in the web world. That headline tells us the battle will not be easily won. But for higher education marketers interested in success with potential students it is a battle worth waging.

Make sure everyone involved with the web on your campus reads and discusses "Four ways to a simpler you" at 
Website Navigation: Do People "Pogo stick" on your website?

I will confess to not having heard the pogo-stick term applied to web behavior before. In brief, it is what happens when people move from one page to another, do not find or cannot use the expected content, and hop back to the previous page. If your site has activity like this, it is not very web-friendly.

Our friends at the Nielsen-Norman Group will walk you through how to use your analytics program to find out if you have the problem in the first place. Read through the discovery process and recommended steps to fix the problem at 
Is Your Website Mobile-Friendly: 5 Ways to Check

Mobile friendliness is indeed important, even if not as many schools will collapse from the April 21 Google SEO changes as the purveyors of "mobilegeddon" hysteria would have us believe.

Check your site from 5 different perspectives offered by Website Magazine at 
Most Popular Topic in April Newsletter: 15 Great Landing Page Examples

Nothing will kill the ROI on your advertising efforts faster than a bad landing page. Compare your landing pages with these 15 examples from HubSpot at 
Be a marketing champion on your campus.

Bob Johnson, Ph.D. 
Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC
Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC

Increase your marketing success with these services. Contact me for details at 

Communication Audits
Expert Marketing Communications Website Reviews
Top Task Website Design Research with Gerry McGovern
Writing Right for the Web: Webinars, Conferences, and Campus Workshops
Competitive Website Reviews and Secret Shopping Projects
Higher Education Marketing News and Notes for April

Were you as surprised as I was at how many higher education "experts" at first refused to comment on the record last month on the Sweet Briar College closing? And at how many later fumbled around looking for reasons why the decision was incorrect and Sweet Briar just should have tried harder? 

For me, the bottom line at Sweet Briar was a steadily rising discount rate that passed 63 percent. That sends a message about brand strength in the marketplace, no matter the endowment dollars left. Trustees made a difficult but correct decision.

Join us in Houston June 1-3 for Improving Your Strategic Recruitment Communication Plan. I am looking forward to my sessions on "values messaging" and "affordability and financial aid." Details at 

The fifth Writing Write for the Web: Improving Your Online Content conference with Academic Impressions takes place in San Diego July 13-14. Check the agenda at

Early registration is open for eduWeb Digital Summit in Chicago in July. In honor of this 10th anniversary meeting, eduWeb is having a contest to award free registrations to 10 people who work at a college or university. Contest details are at 

The J.Boye Philadelphia 15 conference happens May 5-7. Register with the discount code HigherEdMarketing20 for a 20 percent discount. Speakers and topics are at 

Invite a friend or colleague to subscribe to this newsletter. Just 30 seconds at 

And now here are your marketing news and notes for April. 
Cartoon of the Month: Tech Fantasies and Marketing Success 

Are you infatuated each year with the latest tech marvel from SXSW? 

Our Cartoon selection this month reminds us to step back and try to puzzle out whether or not the latest tech wonder really fits with our marketing plans. See 
What Makes People Leave Your Website? 10 Possibilities to Review

If you want more people to love your website, do a mini-audit based on these 10 reasons from Wordtracker on what might be driving visitors away. The list starts with an area I'm convinced does not receive the attention it deserves: Slow Loading Speed, especially on mobile. 

Another favorite: "Simplify Purchase Forms" that for higher education translates to "Simplify Inquiry Forms." See those and 8 more at 
15 Great Landing Page Examples

Gina Soskey at HubSpot has gathered a great list of 15 landing pages, some long and some short, at 

Pay special attention to the sign-up forms and note how their creators have resisted the temptation to conduct demographic surveys and ask a "how did you hear about us" question. The longer the form the fewer people will complete it.
College Presidents: 600+ Respond to a Survey on Current Issues

Inside Higher Education commissioned this survey of college presidents on topics that included their financial models, proposed government ratings, race relations, and sexual assault on their campuses and others. 

Notable result: a major difference in confidence in their current financial models over the next 5 years and the next 10 years. The crystal ball is showing storm clouds although most think the financial impact of the 2008 recession is over. 

Start with a summary article and link to download the complete 24-page PDF at 
The End of College: An Atlantic Magazine Essay 

If you follow the higher education disruption literature you probably know that Kevin Carey has a new "technology will destroy college as we know it" book out. 

The president of Wesleyan University has an excellent essay in Atlantic Magazine on why Carey may be a little too deep into the disruption Kool-Aid. I say that as no special fan of traditional higher education. But if you are interested in the debate be sure to read this critique by Michael Roth at 
NY Times and Apple Watch: A New Brevity Alert

Predictions for sales of the new Apple Watch are high (maybe too high?) and marketers are scrambling to figure out how to take advantage of this tiny new mobile screen. One thing is certain: the need for skill at brief communications that use carewords to get attention will be higher than ever before.

The NY Times knows that. Special teams are at work to present news stories in one powerful sentence. Readers will be able to go from there to read more on iPhone and iPad. Can higher education press releases also play in this arena? That will take some new skill.

Start planning for the mini-screen world. Review the NY Times effort at 
University of Phoenix: More than 50 percent Enrollment Decrease

Yes, the for-profit sector is in trouble. At the University of Phoenix enrollment has decreased from 460,000 students 5 years ago to a present 213,000. Revenue has decreased from nearly $5 billion in 2010 to perhaps $2.7 billion this year. And of course stock prices have dipped more than a bit.

Is there good news? Tightened admission has contributed to lower loan default rates. But there is no doubt that Phoenix and the for-profit is no longer an investment darling. More from CNN Money at 
Content Strategy: Is Content Blindness in the Future?

Ad Age recently reported on a panel session of ad agency folk concerned about the rush to produce content as part of an in-bound marketing strategy. What is the problem? Resistance by those expected to consume the content to anything they think is overtly pushing a product or service. 

Can marketers resist the urge to embed old-style marketing in on-line content? More on the possibility of content blindness and how to avoid it at 
Email Marketing: Alive and Well

Here is a great infographic to send to any colleagues who do not believe attention to email marketing is important. Among other research reports: 77 percent of people, including Millennials, prefer to receive permission-based email and consider it a trustworthy source of information.

A critical factor: email must be relevant to the person receiving it. That is an important message for colleges and universities that send the same emails to everyone making an enrollment inquiry. When you ask people to name the academic programs that interest them and then ignore that information in response emails you make is less likely that people will continue to pay attention.

More on how to create and sustain a successful email communications stream 
Presenting a Value Proposition: 4 Mistakes to Avoid

If you are talking about adding "value" content to your marketing communication plan, be sure to check the advice from Website Magazine on "4 Value Propositions Worth Re-Thinking."

My favorite here: words are more important than video. Video plays a key support role, but present your case first in short, easy to read text. See more at 
A Higher Education Value Proposition at the Home Page: Augustana College

I have found only one higher education home page that opens with value content.

See it for yourself at the home page for Augustana College in South Dakota at
Most Popular Topic in March Newsletter: 4 Expert Tips for Landing Page Copy

Very pleased to see the high interest in this topic as there is no better way to kill advertising ROI than by sending people to a poor landing page. Check "4 Expert Tips..." at 
Be a marketing champion on your campus.

Bob Johnson, Ph.D. 
Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC
Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC

Increase your marketing success with these services. Contact me for details at 

Communication Audits
Expert Marketing Communications Website Reviews
Top Task Website Design Research with Gerry McGovern
Writing Right for the Web: Webinars, Conferences, and Campus Workshops
Competitive Website Reviews and Secret Shopping Projects
Affordability and Higher Education Marketing

If you work in higher education marketing today you can't miss the increased public concern over rising costs in both private and public sector colleges and universities. And yet despite that increased concern, marketing strategies seldom extend to developing content that focuses specifically on "affordability." 

To help people compare schools, the U.S. Department of Education has an interactive College Affordability and Transparency Center.

Price is still an issue that many if not most schools like to avoid discussing in detail until as late in the student recruitment cycle as possible. Given the high level of interest in cost, that's a marketing mistake.

But there are exceptions to the avoidance syndrome. Today we note 5 examples of how a few schools have elected to deal directly with affordability on their websites. I'd expect to see more like these in the future and possible some combining the best of the different features you'll find here.

5 Affordability Marketing Content Examples

American University

In a series of strong graphic presentations, American highlights reduced tuition increases over the past 10 years (from 6.5 percent in 2005 to 2.9 percent in 20013 and 2014) as well as a strong shift from merit aid to need-based awards, low default rates and more. 

The message in the graphics is strong enough that you don't really have to read the text below them. And that's a boon for impatient web visitors. See College Affordability: AU and Your Educational Goals.

Wellesley College

While every school is required to have a net cost calculator on the website, legions of potential students and their parents fail to complete them because most are to close to the equivalent of completing the FAFSA form itself. 

Wellesley takes a different approach with a "Quick College Cost Estimator" that requires just 7 steps to receive an estimate of how much a family might have to pay to send a child to Wellesley. See the basic info required at My inTuition: Wellesley's Quick College Cost Estimator.

Calvin College

You don't have to search far to find complaints among higher ed professionals that too many people only pay attention to a schools "sticker" price without realizing that very few people pay that price. 

Calvin attacks that problem directly as their page opens with a large "Cutting the Price Tag" heading. Everything that follows (down to outcomes results and low loan default rates) is on a single page that combines easy-to-read graphics with clear language that is remarkably free of higher ed jargon. See a strong example of "Writing Right for the Web" at Calvin's Cutting the Price Tag page.

University of Findlay

At Findlay the goal is to directly attack 5 "affordability myths" that start with the average cost difference between a student attending Findlay ($21,500) and one attending "state schools" ($19,600) or "other private schools in the region" ($23,200). 

The myths also include indebtedness at graduation and high loan default rates with graphs that show a default rate for Findlay grads, for instance, of less than 5 percent with comparisons to much higher Ohio and national rates. Review the other myths attacked at Findlay's Affordability Myths page.

When you visit, be sure to follow the link to the "Total Degree Cost Calculator" for an estimate of four-year degree costs that's included with the first myth.

Ball State University

Despite lower costs compared to private sector schools public universities are not immune to affordability concerns. Reductions in state funding often have meant increases in tuition and other charges. More than a few people feel that public universities have not done enough to reduce operating costs before resorting to tuition increases.

Ball State tackles the PR challenge with content to demonstrate "fiscal stewardship" that has let it lower tuition while maintaining quality education. That's rather a "man bites dog" assertion compared to more prevalent positions that fewer resources create quality declines. For more see "Ensuring Affordability, Now."

That's all for now.

Subscribe to "Your Higher Education Marketing Newsletter" for monthly marketing news and notes and weekly Link of the Week selections.

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Hello to old and new readers. 

With application deadlines passed for many and financial aid award letters soon to be sent the recruitment season for high school students here in the U.S. is heading toward the final stages and attention to yield is increasing. One large university expects to enroll the same number of new freshmen this year as last despite a 40 percent application drop. See the Drexel story below.

"Improving Your Strategic Recruitment Communication Plan" is a new Academic Impressions conference set for Houston June 1-3. Details at 

The fifth "Writing Write for the Web" conference with Academic Impressions takes place in San Diego July 13-14. Check the agenda at 

The eduWeb Digital Summit happens in Chicago July 27-30. Conference website is

Invite a friend or colleague to subscribe to this newsletter. Send them to 

And now here are your marketing news and notes for March. 
College Rankings Mash-UP Machine: From Prestige to Party Scene

Thanks to your friends at The Chronicle of Higher Education you can now see the top 15 U.S. colleges and universities in 7 ratings areas on a single interactive chart: Prestige, Global Influence, Fat Paychecks, Value Added, Social Impact, Return on Investment, and Party Scene.

Even more fun: mix and match the ratings categories. The top Fat Paycheck award, for instance, goes to Harvey Mudd College. Combine Fat Paycheck and Party Scene and the winner is Lehigh University.

See "Make Your Own College Rankings" at 
New Freshmen "Backgrounds and Beliefs": An Interactive Guide to UCLA Data

While the info on these charts dates back to the 1970s marketers will want to pay special attention to changes over the last 5 to 10 years in this easy-to-use display from The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Interest in making "more money" and getting a "better job" are stronger now and reinforce the need for more attention to outcomes information. Data confirms the growing increase in multiple applications. More students are not attending their first or second choice schools. While you will see an increase in students enrolling more than 500 miles from their homes the percent was still only 16.3 percent in 2014.

Check your favorites among the 17 possibilities at 
Email Marketing Benchmarks: Open Rate and Click Rate

This HubSpot report shows a relationship between the frequency of email campaigns and their success as measured by open rates and click rates. 

In business to consumer email campaigns, the highest open rate (35 percent) went to those sending 6 to 15 emails a month. The highest click rates (just under 6 percent) went to those sending 16 to 30 emails each month. Weakest click rate results fell to those sending just one to 5 emails per month.

Comparing these results with my secret shopping activity tells me that most colleges have room to spare in increasing contact frequency, particularly immediately after receiving an inquiry. Visit the HubSpot benchmark report at 
Logo Design: 10 Design Trends for 2015

If you are a logo fan you will not want to review these 10 trend examples. See if you can find a favorite at 
Drexel University: Deliberately Reducing Freshman Applications by 40 Percent

Drexel University has deliberately reduced 47,000 applications received for the 2014 entering class to 27,000. And no, they are not trying to reduce the number of new students enrolled.

The new strategy puts emphasis on recruiting new students from a smaller applicant pool with a higher level of interest in Drexel. Key to the change was dropping a "fast app" program in place for several years that made it especially easy for students to apply. Other changes include more need-based aid, an application fee, and admissions criteria that differ by academic programs.

More on the Drexel change at 
Landing Page Copy: 4 "Expert Tips" for Increased ROI

Landing pages are critical to successful online advertising. 

You do not want to spend time and money on creative and careful audience selection only to send people to a poor landing page. Most especially you do not ever want to drop people into a regular page on your website unrelated to your advertisement.

To improve the ROI of your online advertising, check your present landing pages against the recommendations in this article by Amanda Durepos. My favorite tip: "Skip the superlatives" that will kill your credibility.

Read more on superlatives and 3 other expert tips at 
Financial Aid Award Policy: Details from 25 High Endowment Schools

Compare your financial aid award policy with the practices of the 25 best endowed colleges and universities on this interactive chart, again from The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Pay special attention to the variations in loan packaging to meet financial need, from none at all to different family income cut-off points.

Visit "The Financial-Aid Fine Print" at 
Gerry McGovern on FAQs: Dinosaurs of Web Navigation

FAQs date from a time when people did not know how to create decent web navigation to help visitors find what they wanted to find on a website. Today they often continue because they are a convenient dumping place for content creators. Sometimes they are simply used for what Gerry refers to as "propaganda." I am always amused when an FAQ section starts with "What is your mission?"

If you need help to reduce reliance on FAQs on your website, circulate Gerry's New Thinking column at 

For another view on why FAQs represent navigation failure see the column by Sarah Richards at 
Creating a Value Proposition: Guidelines from HubSpot

Liberal arts colleges are often told to improve their competitive positions by promoting a "value proposition" that will convince people to enroll. But good examples of that are few and far between.

Whether you already have value proposition content on your website or are planning for the future, spend time to review and discuss the points in this HubSpot infographic. Note especially the admonition that a value proposition is not a positioning statement. Note also that a value proposition should speak directly to the benefits of buying something from your school as opposed to your competitors. 

Done right, a value proposition brings marketing strength. Visit "How to Write a Great Value Proposition" at 
Content Marketing: 9 Lessons from Old-Style Journalism

Here is an article from the Content Marketing Institute to remind us that success in new endeavors often, perhaps always, benefits from the best of past practices.

I found the "minimize distractions" point especially interesting as it also borrows from direct marketing principles. The lesson: clean and simple always wins. Avoid excess calls to action and any other bells and whistles that might detract a person from the main point of your content and the action you want people to take. 

Review 8 more lessons, including the always vital "know your audience," at 
Cartoon of the Month: Media Planners 

Is your media planning up-to-date? 

The cartoon this month pokes fun at just how long it takes some marketers to get current with media trends. See what we can hope is a very inaccurate picture of how things work on your campus at 
Most Popular Topic in February Newsletter: 9 Top Task Higher Ed Websites

People flocked to the list of 9 colleges and universities in 3 countries that have created unusually strong task-oriented web pages (home pages, admissions, faculty, parents, study abroad and more) at 
Be a marketing champion on your campus.

Bob Johnson, Ph.D. 
Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC
Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC

Increase your marketing success with these services. Contact me for details at 

Communication Audits
Expert Marketing Communications Website Reviews
Top Task Website Design Research with Gerry McGovern
Writing Right for the Web: Webinars, Conferences, and Campus Workshops
Competitive Website Reviews and Secret Shopping Projects
Drexel University decides 47,477 apps are too many

I can't quite remember when it started but once upon a time colleges and universities were first offered the opportunity to send "fast app" application forms to high school students who had not applied for admission. The apps were pretty much completely filled out in advance. About all you had to do was click and send to the school you received it from. No application fee was required.

As a way to boost the size of an application pool the "fast app" was a singular success. 

Some schools, it is said, just used the technique to boost application numbers and become more selective. Conversion percents almost always were much lower than for people who completed applications themselves. But if a school didn't care as much about conversions as the appearance of high demand and lower acceptance rates then conversion percent was not a problem. And some schools indeed used the extra apps to raise enrollment as Drexel once did.

Now comes recent news that Drexel University has decided to drop out of this system. You can get the details at "Drexel's freshmen applicants plunge - happily." Adopting the "fast app" in the 2005-06 recruitment cycle contributed to a 300 percent application increase. Even with a lower conversion rate overall freshmen enrollment also grew. But now goals have changed.

According to Randall Deike, new senior VP for enrollment management and student success, Drexel will now place more emphasis on the proverbial "better fit" to boost retention rates. That, of course, will help maintain or grow total enrollment. And Drexel has a wee bit of extra money by saving the cost of the "fast app" program.

20,052 Fewer Applications

For the freshman class that entered in 2014 Drexel had 47,477 applications... 2,925 were enrolled from that number. For the freshman class that will enroll in 2015 Drexel has 27,425 applications, or a drop of well over 40 percent. 

Reducing the applicant total is one part of a new strategy that includes adding back an application fee, using different admissions criteria for different academic programs, and shifting more financial resources to need-based aid.

A Smart Marketing Move?

Will Drexel be able to maintain the same freshman class size in 2015 as in 2014? 

We'll find out later this year. Right now some people understandably are nervous. But I'd bet that with more attention to a reduced applicant pool with a higher percent of genuinely interested people, Drexel will do just fine.

In 2011 the NY Times reported in "A College Opts Out of the Admissions Arms Race" that Ursinus College had made a similar change: dropping the fast app to reduce applications. Today, Ursinus reports that freshmen class size has increased. Very different schools indeed but one small encouragement for folks at Drexel.

That's all for now.

Subscribe to "Your Higher Education Marketing Newsletter" for monthly marketing news and notes and weekly Link of the Week selections.

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"Improving Your Strategic Recruitment Communications Plan"

Join us at this Academic Impressions conference June 1-3. Review the program details and register here.

Bob Johnson
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