Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

June 2008 Archives

From time to time, Jakob Nielsen does an Alertbox report that focuses specifically on web writing.

He did that again in early June with "Writing Style for Print vs. Web," where he repeats the still often ignored advice that people who come to websites are focused on taking specfic actions, with a low tolerance for anything that keeps that from happening.

On college and university websites, the "blockers" often include the following:

  • Dense text without subheads and bullet points that are impossible to scan quickly.
  • Higher education jargon that "normal human beings" outside the world of higher education are not likely to understand. That's especially prevelant on financial aid and academic department pages.
  • Online inquiry forms that become small demographic surveys designed for the benefit of the university rather than the person who just wants to make contact for more information.

In this Alertbox, Nielsen adds another good example of text that works in print but won't work on the web. The print example is "Coping with the Tall Traveler's Curse." To see his recommended change for the web, visit the Alertbox column at

To elevate the presentation of your web content, bring my "Writing Right for the Web" seminar to your campus. Contact me now at bob@bobjohnsonconsulting to schedule a session for September or October.

A long flight yesterday from Detroit to Santa Barbara for today's "Writing Right for the Web" workshop at Fielding Graduate University was more than enough time to read Wall Street Journal and USA Today articles about the new iPhone coming in July.

No, the new iPhone by itself doesn't herald the much anticipated break out of mobile marketing on smartphones throughout the land. But it certainly moves things in the right direction, starting with a much lower entry price point of $199. That's a critical change.

Mobile Marketing Barriers

What's been holding back mobile marketing? The price of the phone, the price of the data plan needed to take advantage of the capabilities, and the learning curve for the new capabilities. And, of course, the limited ability of relatively small smartphone screens to display most types of online advertising. The iPhone doesn't remove all those barriers, but it keeps things moving in the right direction.

Change is coming. And the first step is just getting smartphones in the hands of more people. Today, something like 20 percent of people in the U.S. have them. That's not nearly enough for a significant advance in mobile marketing. But that market penetration percent will continue to climb.

Details about the new iPhone capabilities are at

New Challenge for Google

And for an interesting article on the new challenges facing Google from smartphone expansion, see "Are Google, Yahoo the next dinosaurs" at 

One thing we can count on. Web marketing 5 years from now will be a much different game.

Spent a marvelous morning yesterday with the Chicago metro REACh group, people from various colleges and universities who focus on "adult" marketing and recruitment. We met at a suburban campus of Illinois Institute of Technology.

REACh's Scott Pfeiffer and Tim Panfil asked for an ambitious program: cover 8 online communication topics in 2 back-to-back sessions of about 75 minutes each. The major challenge: compress some topics that I cover in 2 to 3 hour sessions into just a few key points to take back home. Since it is easier to let presentations grow than to shrink them, that was an interesting and useful exercise.

To start the day, I asked the people present to vote on which of the 8 topics we were covering were most important to them, the proverbial "if you could only pick one of these, which would it be?" question. These are topics (in the order covered) and the votes for each:

  • Web Design... 3
  • Search Optimization... 6
  • Writing Right for the Web... 14
  • Paid Search... 0
  • Web Analytics... 2
  • Video... 4
  • Mobile Marketing... 2
  • Blogs, Email, Chat Rooms... 7

I was a bit surprised and very pleased by the size of the Web Writing vote compared to the others. And just as pleased to see that the "old favorites" of Blogs, Email, Chat Rooms retain strong interest at a time when it is easy to be dazzled by new capabilities at the expense of "traditional" online communication that is still in favor with the people who use college and univesity websites.

3 New On-Campus Web Writing Seminars

"Writing Right for the Web" continues to be a popular presentation. Between now and early August I'll be doing on-campus sessions at Fielding Graduate University, Stonehill College, and Dominican University. And look for another web conference with Academic Impressions in October and a CASE V Annual Conference session in December in Chicago.

Whether you start on-campus or online, improving the quality of your web writing is often the most important thing you can do for stronger engagement with your visitors. Ask me about a session on your campus at

Subscribe to Website Magazine

On a related note, if you have never checked Website Magazine, do that soon. Each issue includes worthy articles on more than one of the topics listed above. The current issue is at where you can subscribe to either a print or an electronic version. Or both. 

That's it for now.

Bob Johnson
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