Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

May 2007 Archives

Writing this morning from the Gleacher Center at the University of Chicago, where 90+ people are exploring marketing communications in the online world at a conference by The Aslanian Group.

One of the surprising nuggets of information has been the popularity of "distance learning" as a frequently used keyword search term. That's a relatively rare example of academic jargon moving out into common use.

You can check just how popular it is compared to terms like "online college degrees" by using the free Wordtracker tool at

The results don't just tell us that this is a good keyword term. Given the high popularity, consider using the term in your regular advertising efforts.

The term isn't just popular as a key word. In a recent Customer Carewords survey of 5,000 people inquiring about online learning degree programs, "distance learning" received a much higher ranking than "online degrees." Keywords bring people to your website and Carewords keep them there. This is a fine example of words that do both. More on Carewords at

And so let's celebrate and take advantage of the break out opportunity. The popularity of the distance learning term surprised people here. If you also thought it was an academic term to avoid in your marketing efforts, its time to reconsider.

If you're just starting to puzzle out what you might do to improve the "searchabiity" of your website pages, one of the better places to start is by reading Search Engine Optimization by Gradiva Couzin and Jennifer Grappone.

Reading the book and realizing just how tedious a process it is to review and remake your website for better search results is a great good thing. You'll ask yourself a critical question: do I really need to do this? And the answer is: if you have good web traffic now, with people making the various conversions (completing inquiry forms and admissions applications, for instance) you want them to make, then you just might not need to spend the extended time it takes to truly move your website to a new search marketing level.

You don't have to read the book to take advantage of the website that goes with it. Visit "Your SEO Plan" at and you'll find information for the novice and the more experienced.

What does a website truly optimized for strong search marketing results look like? Here are two I've included as examples in my new presentation on search marketing (a short version for the Aslanian workshop next week and longer versions in July for the ACT and eduWeb conferences):

Try a Google search for "online college degrees" and note the only individual school that comes up in the top 5 results. The folks at Illinois Online indeed know how to do search marketing for top results in a very competitive arena. If you'd like similar results, you're ready to start the process.

My guess is you'll see some things you can start doing on your own website even before you read a book or visit a website.

Here's another sign of continued progress toward a greater emphasis on improving web communications content and presentation... a search underway for a position that most people tell me is difficult to staff but offers great professional opportunities.

I'm posting this not only for anyone that might be interested in applying but also as a new reference for anyone thinking of creating a position like this one.

NC State University, located in Raleigh, N.C., currently seeks a Director of Web Communications. This position within the Office of Public Affairs is responsible for managing the high-level public content, organization, and structure of the university website.

This position will manage and ensure timely, relevant, and current content for the university's public Web presence (currently being re-built) to advance the university's marketing communications strategies. Key efforts should be made to integrate new technologies and multimedia throughout the site. The position will manage a central web development team working with writers and designers within Public Affairs. In addition, the position will serve as a key liaison with other university communications staff, webmasters and web development personnel in the development of academic and administrative department-specific university web sites as well as managing the network Content Management System in collaboration with university IT staff.

Salary range: $50,000-$85,000


• Bachelors Degree in communications, public relations, marketing, journalism, information technology or related field

• A minimum of five years of professional Web experience and/or training, preferably in a higher education setting

• Extensive general communication experience in marketing, public relations, institutional communications, or journalism

• Technical expertise in website development

• Experience managing projects and budgets and leading teams

• Macromedia Dreamweaver or similar content development and management applications, as well image editing/creation applications (e.g., Adobe Photoshop, Macromedia FreeHand, and/or Adobe Illustrator); HTML and JavaScript coding; Cascading Style Sheets (CSS); and related basic Web technologies

• Experience with Content Management Systems, Web Editors, HTML and information architecture 

Late on a Thursday in Marshall, there's time to pull together some thoughts that have been filtering through the brain in the last few days, particularly while preparing for the early June national conference of the Canadian Council for the Advancement of Education.

How different will the college and university website of tomorrow look from what we see most often today? Only a fool would make a really firm prediction, but there sure do seem to be winds blowing out and about the country side.

Let's consider these that keep coming back to me:

  • Wikipedia is a model for a highly popular website that presents great quantities of information without appearing to spend a great deal on traditional design elements. I ignored Wikipedia sites for a long time but now when I want basic information about a particular college or university I check Wikipedia first, rather than the college's own website. In recent presentations I've featured the University of Texas at and University of Waterloo at
  • Are blogs about to break into new prominence compared to traditional web content? I'm especially impressed by the move at MIT to make blogs the cental content on the first page for admissions at
  • Blogs are also being used to deliver regular news updates and that strikes me as about the  best possible investment in a CMS system for "real people" to easily make regular content updates. See how the Santa Clara University law school does it with 18 blogs on a single page at

What are these examples telling us? Each one features easy to post user content, so simple that just almost everyone can figure out how to to it. And there just isn't a great deal of traditional design time to spend on blogs and Wikipedia websites. And that suggests that websites are getting simpler and easier to use. And that the High Priests (and high costs) of web design are in danger of losing position.

Depending on exactly when you count, Wikipedia is the 8th most popular website in the United States. And new beta sites are in development for countries just about everywhere.

The prediction: websites just might really be getting easy to use. Imagine that.

Bob Johnson
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