Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

February 2010 Archives

Online Inquiry Forms... Long Forms = Fewer Completions

Visiting several higher education websites the last few days inspired this mini-rant.

In the "stealth age" when potential students of all ages explore college and university websites as the first step in picking a school, concern has grown about how to get people to reveal their identities as early as possible. After all, if we don't know who a potential student is how can we put our carefully crafted recruitment commuications plan into action?

Not enough time is spent on removing barriers to getting an online inquiry. That remedial works starts with using the shortest possible online inquiry form. The evidence is clear: few schools pay attention to that, especially in the not-for-profit sector.

Direct Marketing Maxim: Shorter Forms = More Completions

One marketing maxim known to direct marketers for decades is still true today: the longer you make the form you want people to complete, the fewer people will complete it. Period.

With that in mind, visit your online inquiry page for potential new students now. Look at all the information that is "nice" for the organization to have, but not needed to respond to a simple request for more information about your school. Remove it. 

Here are a few of my special favorites to consider eliminating:

  • High school attended or attending
  • High school code (maybe my all-time favorite)
  • "Where did you hear about us" lists (another favorite)
  • GPA
  • SAT or ACT score
  • Phone number unless it is an integral part of your follow-up plan
  • Athletics interest
  • Other student activity interest areas
  • Year of graduation
  • Ethnic identity, however optional 

All of this information might be nice or necessary for your data files between the time of inquiry and enrollment, but you have plenty of time to collect it later. Don't put anything on the inquiry form that isn't needed to respond to the inquiry. Usually, that's name, email and street address, and program area of interest (if you're going to address that in the first response.)

Make it Fit "Above the Fold"

This last note: design your form so that a visitor can see the entire form when they first arrive at your web page. That sends the important initial message: "This won't take long to complete."

Creighton University Gets It Right

Creighton University knows how to do this right. Visit the Creighton online inquiry form and see a form that would make direct marketers proud.

If you have an online inquiry form as good or better than Creighton's, let me know with an email to

That's all for now 


Middlebury College: CPI + 1% = revolutionary tuition increase policy

Middlebury College is a remarkable place. And the president, Ronald Liebowitz, is a remarkable president.

I've never been to Middlebury and I've never met the president. (Although I did select the Middlebury website as a Link of the Week pick back on April 24 2009 for "frank talk on the financial crisis" by the president.)

The news broke in public this week that Middlebury has adopted an new, almost revolutionary tuition increase plan: tuition and other fees will rise no more than 1 percent above the Consumer Price Index (CPI), now and in the future.

The president addressed this and other financial issues on February 12 in a "Public Address on College Finances." You really do have to read his frank, realistic admission that the ways of the past 10 to 20 years (rising endowments, easy credit, and routine tuition increases sometimes as much as 4 percent above consumer inflation) are dead. From 1996 to 2008, FTE employment at Middlebury rose by 584 to 1,000 people, an increase of 72 percent as facilities, academic programs, and enrollment grew. The new target: 850.

The era of empire building is over in higher education. In many areas, Middlebury College will shrink. And it will be a better place for the early adoption of realistic plans to shape that shrinkage.

The change in tuition pricing is significant.

Private sector colleges and universities have used an "education price index" to justify raising tuition and fees far more than the CPI and the annual income of most American families. But not to worry: easy credit and a willingess to incur debt through low-cost loan programs combined with steep tuition discounting to shore up private sector enrollments.

Higher education had its own version of the housing bubble.

Tuition and fees increase: 1% above CPI

Liebowitz reminds us that Middlebury began to make severe financial changes in the summer of 2008. Today the college is projecting a reduced but balanced budget through 2015 with an FTE of 850 people supporting a slightly larger enrollment of about 2,400 students.

Today, the future of Middlebury is different but bright.

Read the entire presentation for a complete picture of the change underway.

See if you don't agree that Middlebury is indeed a remarkable place.

Public opinion poll: 60% of Americans don't trust colleges and universities

If other colleges and universities (public and private) adopt similar policies of fiscal restraint, public opinion might become more favorable than it is now. If you think that public opinion isn't a problem, read the new public opinion poll results just released: 60 percent of Americans believe that colleges and universities are "focused more on the bottom line than on the educational experience of students."

That's all for now 




Web Editor and Content Coordinator at Ithaca College

Here are details from a new listing at Ithaca College for a Web Editor to work with admissions for the benefit of student recruitment efforts. With the increasing importance of online marketing to effective student recruitment, positions like this should increase in the future even in the face of restrictive budgets.

Rather a formidable activity list here.

Summary of the Job Responsibilities

  • Responsible for the day-to-day management of the Office of Admission website, portal-based recruitment environment (myIthaca), social media recruitment sites, and electronic marketing efforts directly related to undergraduate recruitment.
  • Maintain existing sites and develop content through creative writing and/or editing of copy, coordination of multimedia and inclusion of links, determination of information architecture, and proofreading and testing of all content.
  • Coordinate web marketing activities with other recruitment marketing strategies; direct student workers to create content for recruitment-related sites, online magazines, blogs, and social media networks; and manage College-owned social media communities.
  • Assist with measurement of core site traffic and other web analytics.

Selection of "Specific Responsibilities"

  • Research, write, edit, structure, update, and maintain the College's undergraduate admission website, myIthaca portal site, and other marketing efforts including e-mail campaigns, web-based magazines, and e-newsletters.
  • Develop content through the creative writing and editing of copy; ensure proper communication with appropriate personnel to review the web publications for content, design, layout, and usability.
  • Develop and assist in the creation of multimedia content for the website and other electronic marketing efforts, working with internal staff and third-party vendors, as needed.
  • Coordinate internal staffing, facilitate community development, and moderate the College's accepted student social networking community, IC Peers.
  • Keep abreast of social media market trends, new tools, and technologies for social media in higher education recruitment.
  • Keep informed about best practices in recruitment web marketing, and assist with measurement of site traffic and other essential web analytics.
  • Write and edit online copy for clarity, grammatical correctness, and consistency with Ithaca College's style guides.
  • Proofread and ensure that all corrections, updates, and changes are incorporated into the final site. Maintain and update content on selected sites as needed.
  • Work with the other web and print writer/editors in the marketing communications office to ensure accuracy and timeliness of content for both electronic and print publications.  

Salary Range: $42,000 to $47,000   

For now, there's more information about the position at the job announcement page

New Writing Right for the Web Webinar in April 

Writing for the web isn't quite the same as writing for print publications. Learn about the "5-second rule." The value of short paragraphs. Links that motivate. Basic steps for better SEO. And more.

Register for my next "Writing Right for the Web" webinar on April 20. 

That's all for now

Web Analytics: Bounce Rate and Mobile Access

Yesterday and today I've been updating a fall 2008 presentation on web analytics for higher education for a new webinar with Magna Communications in April.

The presentation is based on Google Analytics and uses examples from that system. Much of what's available from GA is of course available from other analytics programs as well.

Two different elements that stand out from the updating process:

  • The "bounce" rate. In checking to possible update the source for an analytics glossary recommendation, I noticed that some glossary pages don't even include a definition of the bounce rate. For the record, the bounce rate is the percent of visitors to a website page who leave that page without continuing on to another.
    • It is especially important for higher education marketers to track the bounce rate for new visitors from whatever entry page they start at.
    • The entry page will most often be the home page, but it might also be the admissions page or the page for a favorite academic program. If more than 35 percent of new visitors are leaving their first page without continuing, you likely have a problem.
    • You can also use the bounce rate to compare what happens at the entry pages for various academic programs. Note the highest and lowest and compare the strong points of the best performing pages with those that don't do as well. (We are assuming, as you probably are, that potential students who start at the MBA or Nursing or Political Science entry page should continue to other pages in the same area rather than flee the site.)
  • Mobile access. Pay attention to the percent of new visitors who access the website from a mobile device. If that figure gets near 10 percent, check and see how your website works for people who enter that way. Since 2008, Google has made that report stand out under on the dashboard with a new "mobile devices" heading under "Visitors."
    • Expect access from mobile devices to increase. The real question is how quickly that will happen (some say rapidly, others say slowly) and how much time web developers on your campus should spend in creating a mobile-friendly version of your website.
    • Use the "mobile" report in GA and you'll be able to see just how quickly a change is taking place and you'll know whether access is from an iPhone, an Android or a Blackberry.

Register for "Web Analytics for Recruitment Success"

Check the webinar outline and register at Magna Communications.

That's all for now 


What's the state of higher education in the United States?


"Traumatic change" might be the best two words to describe what's taking place right now and will continue to take place in the immediate future as available resources continue to shrink and schools from Yale University to San Francisco Community College adapt to meet the shrinkage.


Are people at your institution still whistling past the graveyard?  


Over the last two days I've made a quick "copy and paste" collection of news stories that illustrate the change. Had I started a week ago, this would be a much longer list. Here's the array that's come along in the sources I monitor, presented in the order received. No doubt I've missed a few.


  • Resistance to "hefty" salary increases for presidents in Idaho at a time of severe budget limitations, defended on the grounds that they are necessary to get the best leaders. Public universities everywhere can expect increased scrutiny of how money is spent. Stories like this only increase the intensity of that scrutiny.
  • A voluntary retirement incentive program at the University of Illinois flagship campus to reduce faculty and administrative numbers. In Michigan, we remember these well as part of an auto industry effort to reduce high salary commitments.
  • Williams College ended the "no loans in our financial aid packages" policy that many predict is the first of more to follow at similar institutions. Princeton started the "no loan" trend back in the 1990s to get better yield from middle class students not willing to go into debt for a Princeton degree, partly in the face of generous merit scholarships from second-tier institutions. Both reflected a resistance to debt levels in the face of higher tuition. How high can tuition discount rates go in the private sector to maintain enrollment levels?
  • "Soaring salaries" at the "very top of the pay scale" at regional Washington state universities from 2007 to 2009, compared to large tution increases at the same time. Another example of increased public scrutiny of how higher education spends money. 
  • A "financial state of emergency" in Nevada declared by the Board of Regents. Will academic program reductions be far behind? Reducing programs is underway now at many private and public institutions at both undergraduate and graduate levels.
  • Yale University freezes salaries for president, provost, deans and other high level administrators as a symbolic step to help cover a $100 million budget gap.
  • Cancelling an entire summer session program at City College of San Francisco to help balance the budget there. 

Shrinking Resources of Every Type


Almost everyone can add similar stories from their own states. Resisting the change underway is a foolish enterprise. Helping to shape the change is not. Cutting salary costs is underway. Cutting academic program costs is underway. The resources available to virtually every college and university, from Yale to the University of Illinois to City College of San Francisco will not be the same over the next 10 years as they have been for the past 20 years.


A New Brand Reality


"Brand strength" will not save individual colleges and universities from change. 


Careful adaptation to new financial realities (lower private giving, lower state appropriations, lower endowments, higher resistance to debt) will force higher education to focus on the "best of the best" at every institution. "Brand" might actually reflect real differences from one place to another as academic programs offered are reduced. That isn't necessarily a bad thing.


That's all for now 





February has arrived, telling us that 2010 is well underway and the recruitment cycle for traditional freshmen is nearing the final months. Spring arrives not long from now, a most pleasant prospect.

Two webinars are set for April. We start with "Web Analytics for Enrollment Success" at and continue with "Writing Right for the Web" at

Here are your marketing news and notes for February.
Yale and YouTube: A New Admissions Approach

Watch this video and ask yourself the question: would my school use song and dance to explain why students picked my school? Would your version get 334,000+ views?

See the latest in 16 minute Ivy League admissions videos at
Fast Track Applications: Questioning the Motivation

The NY Times took note last month of 100+ public and private sector schools spending increased admission dollars on "fast-app" mailings to high school seniors.

Mentioned in the article are Marquette, RPI, University of Minnesota, University of the Pacific and several others. The pre-completed, no-fee applications sent to seniors have resulted in large increases in applications pools.

Marketing goals vary from increased selectivity and ethnic and geographic diversity to more national awareness and, the Times suggests, higher US News rankings.

The article compares the practice to pre-approved credit-card invitations and cites "white lies" about the exclusivity of the mailings. It also reports enrollment results at the College of St. Rose that are positive enough for the enrollment management officer to call the program "priceless."

The story is at
Apps Surge at Elite Schools as Admissions Budgets Shrink

If your reputation is strong enough you do not need more applications and reducing your admissions budget, especially for travel, will not have a negative impact on your applicant pool. Harvard travel dollars are down 50 percent and Brown by 30 percent. Applications have soared.

Bloomberg news service reports the details for record applications for 2010 admission for Harvard, Stanford, Brown, Chicago and several other top tier schools at
134 Higher Education TV Ads

Planning to add TV advertising to your marketing mix? Just like to watch TV ads?

Elizabeth Scarborough has started a collection of college and university TV ads with 134 entries so far at

If you have a TV ad that is not there now, why not upload it soon?
101 5-Minute Steps to a Better Website

If you need proof that incremental changes can improve your website, take time to scan through this list and plan your web enhancement activities over the next few months.

Start with 19 writing tips and go on to 5 other categories: usability, SEO, accessibility, design and legal. Truly, there is something for everyone here.

Give yourself a score for what is already done or in progress when you visit
Ready for the Splinternet?

Groundswell researchers are reporting the end of 15 "golden age" Internet years when everything was nicely integrated. In the future, say these usually wise folk, we will not have things as easy as we have had them in the past.

Marketing communicators had best take note. If this is correct, we have to learn new ways to do web analytics, search engine optimization, online advertising and more. Why has the Internet splintered? Blame the variety of social media and mobile devices now in play.

A synopsis of the report is at
Williams College Drops "No-Loan" Policy

InsideHigherEd reported yesterday that Williams College is dropping the "no loan" policy for financial aid awards, effective with the entering class in fall 2011. The announcement was made Sunday. That is a not surprising result of decreases in endowment revenue and other fiscal challenges. Will other "no loan" schools follow Williams?

As of Monday night, the Williams website had not quite caught up. Read about the "no loan" policy at but do not get the wrong idea if you are a high school junior this year.
Does "Branding" Work on the Web?

Do you make a special effort on your website to make sure people find what they want to find when they visit (the academic programs offered, the real cost of enrolling, the academic profile of people who attend)?

Or do you insist on telling visitors what you think they should know about you?

Branding on the web is all about creating the right experience for your visitors.

Gerry McGovern writes about the perils of annoying web visitors at
Congrats to University Presidents in Oregon

Presidents of public universities in Oregon are taking pay cuts and freezing salaries.

The step is no doubt symbolic in the face of overall financial challenges, but the higher education sector can use more symbolism like this in the months ahead after a recent Chronicle of Higher Education report on a continuing trend to higher salaries.

Check what is happening at various schools as reported by The Oregonian at
Myths and Realities: Teen Media Use

Nielsen reviews the differences and similarities between teens and adults. Time spent on TV, radio, and the Internet might not be as different as conventional wisdom has us think.

Check a quick summary at and move from there to download the 17-page PDF report.
Mobile Marketing: Controlling Expectations

Yes, mobile marketing is growing in importance and marketers should not ignore it.

However, it is important to balance the actions of "early adopters" with those of most other people and keep expectations under control while we plan activities in this new sector.

Read the ReadWriteWeb report that 76 percent of people do not use their mobile phones to access the web. (Higher for teens but not yet 40 percent.) Mobile users will increase but the difficult question is "how far and how fast?"

More including pro and con comments is at
Future of Marketing Communications

If you like to think ahead 10 to 15 years, then do not miss the NY Times article that imagines how 2-year old children will communicate not long from now.

That is not the only learning point. Equally important is the finding that important generation gaps in how people communicate are only a few years apart. If you think you know what works for a 17-year old, do not be silly and assume that it will work for a 14-year old three years from now.

Get ready for the future at
Time on Social Networks per Person: What Country Leads

A quick-to-scan ClickZ chart lists the top 10 countries around the world. No, the United States does not lead. Japan is last.

Find the leader and the rest at
My Upcoming Presentations in 2010

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 2, ACT: "Social Media in Marketing Communications," Lansing, MI

April 7, Magna Publications Webinar: "Web Analytics for Enrollment Success." Program details and registration at

April 20, Academic Impressions Webinar: "Writing Right for the Web." Check the outline and register at

June 3-4, Education Dynamics Aslanian Group Seminar, Marketing to Adult Students, Chicago, IL

July 21-23, ACT Enrollment Planners Conference, Chicago, IL

July 26-28, eduWeb2010, Chicago, IL Follow the conference program as it grows 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

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