Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

July 2008 Archives

Using language that your key audiences use is one of the most effective things you can do to engage visitors when they arrive at your website and give you 2 to 10 seconds to capture their attention.

That came through to me again yesterday while reviewing 20 pages on a client's website for ways to increase their search engine visibility. While you never want to write for a search engine at the expense of your live visitors, sometimes the two overlap. When that happens, it is time to seize an opportunity.

In this case, the client was using the term "Graduate Programs" and "Undergraduate Programs" as major topic headings on the site. And so I used the free tool available from Wordtracker at to run a quick check on alternative terms that might raise the search visibility of those pages and help capture interest from people interested in online degree programs.

Here's what I found:

  • Very few people search for "graduate degrees online" or "graduate programs online" online.
  • More, but not many more, search for "masters degrees online."
  • The winner by a wide margin is "masters programs online."

Check the labels you're using now on pages with content in this area. Check the page title tags and the major headings on the page and your left-hand navigation. If you don't offer doctoral progams online, make a quick switch to "masters" programs from the "graduate" word. If you do offer doctoral programs (almost nobody searches for those, by the way),  break up the content so you can use both words.

Make changes like that and you'll please both people and search engines. Can't beat that combination.

Is there growth potential in online doctoral programs? Capella University thinks there is. 

Not quite sure when the ads first started, but sometime in the last week or so I've noticed a new campaign for Capella appearing as banner ads on various websites.

The ad is very simple and doesn't feature any wiggly dancers or fetching women that seem out of place on other group ads for online college and university programs. Other than the name, the ad copy is limited to "Over 30 doctoral specializations, all focused on advancing your career." The call to action is for receipt of a "free university guide."

Follow the quest for a guide and you arrive at 

Easy to Scan Degree Offerings

Some points of note about the landing page:

  • You'll see a very visible question: "Does Capella have my program?" that leads to an easy to scan chart of the degree programs available. Seems very effective to answer that critical first question, "Do they have what I want to study."
  • Visitors are told clearly that a follow-up call will come along if you complete the inquiry form as requested. That's a nice way to sort out who's serious from who is not. (And of course, if you just want the guide, you don't have to give them a real phone number.)
  • At the bottom, you have an option to pick up the phone and call.

Complete the form and you get a quick thank you with a note that "An enrollment counselor will be contacting you."

There's also a PDF version of what I suspect is the guide (called "Capella Degree Programs") that will come in the mail. What's unusual about this one is that you can actually read it online without having to increase and decrease the size of the image to see the photos and read the print. Nicely done for a PDF. You can move directly from the content page to the major content area of most interest, so you don't have to scroll through each one of the 38 pages in the guide.

Building the Capella University Brand

Although the ad highlights doctoral degrees, the program information outlines everything available from the bachelor's level up. That makes sense, since many people who explore the opportunity may aspire to a doctoral degree without yet having the earlier degrees in place. And for some visitors, it might enhance the Capella brand to associate the bachelors and masters programs with the doctoral offerings.

Test the form for yourself at

Ono of the themes that emerged during questions and discussions at yesterday's ACT pre-conference workshop was the increasing use of video at college websites to introduce the real people who live and learn at these places. In other words, to humanize them by using the web in a way that goes beyond what student profiles in print can do.

Like anything else, these can be done well and not-quite-so well. These 4 examples stand out i my personal web searching among the many that are available.

More examples stand out among my Link of the Week selections at 

And of course I'd certainly like to hear of more that you might know about. Send me a note at or leave a comment.

Denny Hatch is an old-time direct marketer who writes a regular online column for Target Marketing. I read it often to maintain a connection between still-effective direct marketing eternal truths and the modern online world.

If you've been wondering about the contribution to marketing effectiveness that analytics can make, then read today's column at 

Denny is joyful today because he finally found the Holy Grail of how to measure the effectiveness of online marketing when he attended a presentation in Philadelphia. Fun to read just to witness the conversion take place. Old dogs can always learn new tricks.

One specific comment from the presenter I hadn't seen before: search engine spyders (or at least Google's) will return to a website every 3 days if they find new content, every 10 days if no new content is found, and eventually will not return at all if no new content is being added.

The first person commenting on Denny's column returned to an important reality that doesn't get enough emphasis: content of a web page counts more than anything else. If your intended audience isn't interested or can't quickly scan the page, web analytics won't save you, but it will tell you that nobody is paying attention.

For about a year now, the closing section on writing for organic search optimization has been the most popular section with many people in my "Writing Right for the Web" workshops. And one of the questions that comes up every time is simply: "How many times can we repeat keywords?"

Up until now, a big part of my answer has also been simple: read the content to yourself and you'll most often know when you are using a word too often to be natural. That's a signal that you are "stuffing" the keywords and your readers are going to find an awkward flow to the content. That said, you can usually use a primary key word in the title tag, in the primary heading, in the first lines of regular text, and again in a subhead without a problem.

But some people want something just a bit more definitive. If that means you, try the free keyword analysis tool at

You can enter up to three keywords and then paste in the text for your web page. You'll immediately get back the keyword density ratio. You still have to make a human decision on how much is too much but this adds a nice quantitative touch. I'll be including it with other resource pages in future versions of "Writing Right for the Web," starting at Dominican University in August.

Special thanks to Jennifer Grappone and Gradiva Couzin for listing this at their fine website. If you haven't visited yet, do so soon.

Bob Johnson
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