Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

February 2009 Archives

Each year I keep a file for online advertising... screen shots of the initial ads, the landing pages, the online and email responses, and what happens when you leave the landing page for the regular website. Great presentation material.

Not long ago I was visiting a U.K. camera review site and couldn't help but notice the right column display ad to "Find the Top Online Degrees" above a list that included certificate and associate's degrees to doctoral opportunities. A quick click and I was off to explore the master's category. The ad was offered by

11 Competing Schools

My first stop was on a page that included icons for the 11 "Top" competing schools:

  • Kaplan University
  • University of Phoenix
  • Gonzaga University
  • Westwood College Online
  • Saint Leo University
  • The Art Institute of Pittsburgh
  • American Intercontinental University
  • Villanova University
  • Everest University Online
  • Colorado Technical University Online

A lingering affinity for Jesuit schools made me click on the Gonazaga University icon and arrive at a nicely done landing page that highlighted the Gonzaga benefits and included an inquiry form.

A "Bonus" for Interest in Gonzaga... Capella University 

Completing the inquiry form brought an unexpected surprise. Up came a "Congratulations Rebecca" response page that was much more than that... a "Bonus!" invitation to also explore opportunities at Capella University since "Students who requested information from Gonzaga University also show a high interest in this school." Must be true, or they couldn't print it, right? You didn't see much on this page other than Capella.

The effort to engage Rebecca with Capella didn't stop there.

Email for Gonzaga Also Leads to Capella

Rebecca also received a regular email response from the hosts. Most of that email highlighted things about Gonzaga. Right at the end was a large Green "click here" box. Being an obedient person Rebecca indeed clicked... and found herself on the same "Congratulations Rebecca" page promoting a visit to Capella.

Does online co-op advertising like this work? I don't know since I've never asked anyone who advertises. If the cost is right and the initial leads convert and enroll in sufficient numbers, then the answer is yes. And that answer may well differ from one school to another depending on results acheived. And results will vary with the quality of the follow-up, the cost, and other elements.

But this did represent a more intrusive effort to generate leads for more than the initial school of choice than I've seen over the last three years. Co-op advertising always drops the potential student into a group of competing schools on the initial landing page. What was new here was the aggressive effort to get people to continue to explore other schools.

With more time, it might be interesting to see if the unfolds a bit like those nesting Christmas boxes from Russia. If I'd asked for info on Capella, would offer me a third college or university? That's an activity for a lazier day.

One lesson is clear: track leads by source and know how conversion rate and cost-per-conversion compares to other lead sources.  


Customer Centric Index (CCI) survey responses are now in from 1,294 alumni. We haven't finished the formal tabulations yet, but one thing is quite obvious... alumni, like "future students" are far more positive about the website experience at their college or university than are the current student and faculty/staff users.

To recap... in the survey, people pick the top 3 aspects of the website experience that were most significant for them. Everyone has a chance to select from the same list of 26 choices... positive and negative elements of 13 website characteristics.

In an earlier update I noted that well over 70% of future students picked positive characteristics to describe their website experiece.

Alumni... 70%+ Report Postive Experiences

So far, alumni are doing the same... well over 70% are pretty happy with their use of the website they were surveyed about and picked positive terms to describe it.

These results confirm findings from users of corporate websites in full Customer Carewords research... external visitors to the site most often are far happier than "everyday" users who depend on the site for regular business activities.

Most higher education websites don't have an Intranet site distinct from the site used by future students, alumni, parents, and other external visitors. That complicates the task of getting people to where they want to go, as quickly as they want to get there. And when they do arrive, they are less likely to find the content and accomplish the tasks that they'd most like to do.

Benchmark Data Coming Soon

In a few weeks we'll publish benchmark data on the overall results from the four audience groups asked to response to the survey. Not every school asked every audience, but we'll have enough responses to set a strong base going forward. Then we'll continue to update that base as new colleges and universities complete a CCI survey.

Each school that completes a CCI survey for one or more of the four groups can compare their own results with total positive and negative responses.

CCI Survey... What's Covered

Read more about the CCI survey here and email me at or call me at 248.766.6425 to schedule a survey for your key website audiences. CCI will help you identify priority areas for website improvement so you don't waste time and money changing what you're already doing well.

10 Colleges and Universities

Our first benchmark report will include total results based on surveys to one or more audiences at 10 colleges and universities in Canada, Sweden, the U.S. and the U.K.

  • DePaul University
  • East Stroudsburg University
  • Fordham University
  • Ithaca College
  • Lund University
  • Tyler Junior College
  • University of Hertfordshire
  • University of Manitoba 
  • University of Missouri
  • University of Waterloo



How visible are academic programs at college and university websites?

Yesterday I finished preparing a webinar for next Tuesday, "Key Website Features for Better Adult Student Recruitment." The details are at here.

What struck me in reviewing a great variety of college and university websites is that most do not yet give a really prominent position to the academic programs that are available. From a marketing perspective, a student browsing, let's say, for programs offered at a school near where they live might well make the rounds of several institutions to see which ones offer programs of interest.

It is rare when this content is prominent immediately when a "start" page opens.

Two of the schools visited were strong exceptions to this.

Emerson College

Emerson College continues to make 10 areas of graduate study the most prominent thing you'll immediately see when you start here to explore what's available. I've used this example for several years now and it is good to see such stability. No reason to change this anytime soon. The pages more than meets the "5 second rule" for a quick scan and immediate engagement.

Click on the program that most interests you and you'll go direct to more content about it.

DeVry University

Devry University also does this well, with a high visbility row of the 6 academic programs areas across the bottom of the home page. Each one opens to a list of the specific majors offered. Like Emerson, you can link from any one of these direct to more information about that program.

The Marketing Rule

What very many potential students of any age and degree level want to know first about a college or university is not the brand statement, the color of the brick used on the building, how widely students can smile for the camera, or the general "about us" page with links to mission and philosophy statements.

What they want to know first is whether or not you have the program of primary interest. If that looks good to them, potential students will double back to other content.

Emerson College and DeVry University are two places that get that right.



For years now, a core of marketing folk have encouraged colleges and universities to deal with public concern about the rising cost of a college or university education by stressing the "value" of the degree earned. And of course, everyone is urged to complete the FAFSA, apply for financial aid, and borrow money. Lots of money.

To most parents, FAFSA results have always been silly, serving only to show people how much loan debt they would need to assume in order to send a child through college. More debt at most private sector schools, usually less debt in the public sector. "Value" has less meaning as cost and debt rises.

Public Opinion at End of 2008

Now we have a new research report based on surveys done December 2008 from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. The results are not nice for the higher education sector.

In a nutshell, public opinion is turning against colleges and universities. The present economic plague is destroying the belief that higher education institutions act on behalf of the public rather than their own self-interest. Comparison with the health care industry is emerging.

All of this is part of an unfortunate trend. Since 2000 (and really, since before that) higher educaton tuition has risen far faster than family incomes. And so people have increasingly come to believe that a college education, no matter the "value" proposition, is just out of their reach.

This isn't a pretty report. Is a tuition freeze in 2009 the only way to start to combat this?

Tuition Freezes and Salary Cuts 

Some colleges and universities are moving in the right direction by announcing salary reductions for top administrators and salary freezes for just about everybody else. If that trend continues and gets serious media attention, that will help.

Just about every college and university benefits from access to public funds. Or, as banks are now learning, support from tax payers. Higher education has been remarkably free of government oversight in how those funds are spent. In today's climate, that independence is at risk for both public and private sector institutions.

Download the Report 

Read and download a copy of the full report "Squeeze Play 2009: The Public's View on College Costs Today" and see how public opinion is turning. 



Yes, "future" or "prospective" students are happier with their college and university web experience than are current students or faculty and staff.

That's based on early results from the first of three schools completing Customer Carewords Index (CCI) surveys. In about two weeks, we'll have results from five more schools.

Four audiences (current students; faculty & staff; alumni; possible future students) tell us about their experience on a school's website. In about two minutes, they select the 3 characteristics of a website visit (from a total of 13) that best represent their experience at the site.

Three of the surveys are complete. The other five will finish within two weeks. And while it is still early, a common trend has emerged: external visitors are far more positive so far than internal website users. In future blog posts I'll report more on whether or not this trend continues.

The results so far:

  • For future students (people in some stage of considering a school but not yet enrolled at it), positive factors far outweigh negative... the positives have been over 70% for one school and over 90% for another.
  • For both faculty/staff and current students, opinion is more divided, with about an even mix of positive and negative factors. 

What are users most likely to pick as negative characteristics? Search and navigation of the site are the clear leaders. Are those related? Quite likely.

Only one of our first three participants surveyed alumni. In that case, the response was much more postive than negative. We'll see if that holds as more alumni are surveyed soon.

Over the next few weeks we'll have more results to report from CCI surveys. No reports on individual results, of course, but more notes on the most common themes from website experiences at these schools:

  • DePaul University
  • East Stroudsburg University
  • Fordham University
  • Ithaca College
  • Lund University
  • Tyler Junior College
  • University of Missouri
  • University of Waterloo

Read more about the CCI survey on the Customer Carewords website. Results are delivered in 3 categories that identify priority areas for web improvement efforts: Content, Social, and Visual/Architecture.

Schedule a CCI survey to identify the strengths and weaknesses of your website. Contact me by email at or by phone at 248.766.6425 




As we are about half-way through a nasty winter, let's hope that in 6 weeks we'll not only know that spring is about to arrive but that we'll also have better insight into just how the current economic plague is going to impact higher education in September and beyond.

Someone asked on Twitter not long ago if the higher education bubble of the last 10 years had burst. It has. And so the times are a bit more exciting than we imagined a year ago.

Students are still enrolling, even as the institutional pattern shifts toward lower cost, less debt, and more certain monetary rewards. If you're at one of the many schools increasing adult student enrollment, consider two upcoming events. First is my webinar on February 17 reviewing strong recruitment websites for adult recruitment at followed on June 4-5 by Carol Aslanian's conference on "Web Marketing to Adult Students" at

If you believe in the benefits that come from making it easier for people to read the content you put online, attend the "Writing Right for the Web" webinar on March 30 at

Do you have a LinkedIn site? Connect with me at

And now to your marketing news and notes for February.
New College Review Site

Unigo is a new website "by students and for students" that seeks written comments from college students along with photos and videos, to establish itself in the college exploration market place.

Visitors can search the schools that are included by "most viewed" and "recently added" tabs. Forums exist for 194 schools. Check to see if yours is included and plan to monitor comments if it is. Most are not yet active.

Readers who visit the "privacy" section will note the warning that privacy terms may change and are asked to return and check to see if they have. Don't count on Unigo to let you know. People who read the fine print when they register can opt out from having their personal information shared with third-parties who might wish to contact them.

One article might get lots of attention: "Financial first aid: Paying for college painlessly."

Check Unigo at
"Generations Online" from Pew Internet

The Pew people give us another report on how folks are using the Internet at in a 9-page PDF.

The main message is clear: inexorably, generational differences in Internet use are eroding. Yes, they still exist. But the gaps are shrinking. Fund raisers who specialize in deferred giving will want to pay special attention to increased Internet use among older people, particularly those who are well educated and have higher incomes.

This one made me realize we are indeed all getting old. Millennials now run from ages 18 to 32. Out of high school and headed for middle age.
Online Video & Your Future Marketing Plans

If you haven't yet planned to dramatically increase the role of video in your online communications, then read the NY Times story highlighting the way a 9-year old turns to YouTube before Google in researching information for class assignments.

Then count how many years before this lad and others like him start exploring colleges to attend.

Will your website be ready for their visits?

The story is at
UC Davis Solicits 30-Second Ads from Students

Ad agencies cringe at this approach, but it really is inevitable in an era of user generated Internet content. UC Davis is running a contest for 30-second video ads about the university, shot by students. The theme: "I got Aggied!"

The top "People's Choice" prize is an iPod Touch.

Watch an opening video and check content rules including the "Principles of Community" at
Delta Project on Tuition Increases & College Expenses

College and university PR people will hope this stays hidden way, but it has already received coverage in the public media.

The Delta Project "on post secondary education costs, productivity, and accountability" released a report reviewing "trends in college spending." It traces an overall decline in spending on direct educational costs despite an increase in tuition revenue and an increase in spending on just about every other aspect of campus life, from student affairs to maintenance. Tuition revenues are being used to replace declines in state support and private giving.

Enacting the Delta recommendations would require a major change in the way higher education makes strategic policy decisions.

My favorite: "Increase degree productivity by reducing the number of excess credits taken by students and the time it takes students to get a degree." The University of Wisconsin system is given credit for major strides in this direction.

Don't miss this at if higher education policy interests you.
Watch Super Bowl Ads You Missed

Superb? Silly? Stupid?

If you haven't already had enough, AdAge gives you the opportunity to replay any or all of the Super Bowl ads at
Truth in Online Advertising: Google vs. Yahoo

Why is Google making money when Yahoo is not?

Gerry McGovern suggests that one reason is their different attitude about what's acceptable in online advertising and what is not. Visit for a comparison and discussion of the two approaches.
Future of Email in a Social Media World

How long have people been saying email is dead? I stopped tracking long ago.

But evolution in online communications continues at a rapid pace. And so it is a good idea to read Jeanniey Mullen's ClickZ article on "Bye-Bye E-Mail" at before spending too much time trying to solve the Twitter puzzle.

Make sure you scan down through the comments that add much to the original article. Email is still a valuable part of your marketing mix if you adapt it to the changing online environment.
Pressure Grows to Spend More Endowment

Whether your school's endowment is huge or modest, odds are that a combination of internal and external pressure is going to increase interest in spending more of it to help get through the current financial crisis.

Inside Higher Education presents a detailed overview of what's happening at

The key marketing point: outside higher education, many people have never bought the argument that only a wee little bit of endowment can be spent on current operations in order to ensure future viability. Today, that claim carries less weight than ever before when immediate financial sacrifice is the order of the day. Look for increased pressure to dip more into endowment to reduce or eliminate the need for tuition increases.
Texas President Dares a Blog on Tuition Increase

You have to give Pat O'Brien, president at West Texas A&M University, great credit for starting a blog specifically to get feedback on a proposed tuition increase for next year. And for taking the time to read and respond to many of the 140+ comments received since January.

From a marketing perspective that fits today's world, this is exactly what more presidents should be doing.

Visit the "Designated Tuition Increase Blog" at
Great Guide to Social Media Marketing

Whether you're new to the topic and still trying to puzzle out the basics or reasonably experienced and looking for a way to check what you already know, you won't go wrong if you buy Dave Evens' book, "Social Media Marketing, An Hour a Day."

As you might guess from the title, the book is written for normal human beings who need to know about the topic but don't have time to immerse themselves in Twitter from one end of the day to the other.

You can get a good flavor for the approach by visiting Dave's "Read This" blog at

If you do have the time to follow closely, try his Twitter site at
5 Tips for Viral Marketing on Twitter

You get more mileage from marketing efforts on Twitter if people who follow you "Retweet" what you post to their own followers.

Dan Zarella offers 5 recommendations on how to get more people to help spread your marketing messages. My favorite comes right from the original direct marketing play-book: ask people to do it and more people will. And the request works even better if you say "please."

Read Dan's article at
News Stories Online: 10 Steps to Better SEO Results

When I do web communication reviews, one of the things checked is the online presentation of press releases. The innate interest of a particular new release aside, most press releases are poorly prepared for reading online and most are poorly prepared for search engine visibility.

Take major steps toward better search engine results when you follow Monica Wright's recommendations in "10 Ways Journalists and Newsroom Can Conquer SEO."

One of her most valuable tips comes last: "Your title tag and description are your first impression to attract potential audiences." Make them specific about what follows in the story. And remember to repeat the main words in your title tag in the primary headline on the page.

The full list is at
My Upcoming Presentations in 2009

Share questions and answers with people like yourself who are building a competitive edge in higher education marketing. Join me for one or more of these events!

February 17, Webinar: Innovative Educators, "Key Website Features for Better Adult Student Recruitment." Session details and registration at

March 30, Webinar: Academic Impressions, "Writing Right for the Web." Session details and registration available soon at

June 4-5, Chicago, IL: Aslanian Group, Web Marketing to Adult Students: "Writing Right for the Web" and "Using Adult Friendly Social Media in Marketing." Registration starts 15 February; review the outline of sessions now at

Increase ROI from your online marketing. Expand the writing, editing, and search marketing skills of people on your campus. Host a campus workshop on online marketing.

Contact me at
That's All for Now

Be a marketing champion on your campus.

Bob Johnson, Ph.D. (
President and Senior Consultant
Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC
Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC

Increase your online marketing success with these 6 services.
• Customer Carewords Research with Gerry McGovern
• Writing Right for the Web On-Campus Workshops
• Marketing Communications Website Review
• Competitive Website Reviews
• Content Copywriting Services
• Usability Analysis

Start now at

Bob Johnson
Blog Contents
Recent Entries Categories Monthly Archives