Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

March 2010 Archives

Web Writing... some progress but not nearly enough

On Monday this week I sent off my updated "Writing Right for the Web" presentation for the upcoming webinar on April 20 with Academic Impressions. Having done these for about 4 years now, I took a trip down memory lane back to the original one. Here are a few key points that stand out from then until now.

Print publications to online versions

    • My wish that PDFs for alumni magazines, annual reports, and admissions viewbooks woujld vanish from higher education websites has not made nearly as much progress as I'd hoped for. Some change has taken place. Magazines are online now using WordPress and that's a great step forward.
    • One of my favorites from The Johns Hopkins University is always worth a visit, especially as you can compare with a "flip technology" version that's also available when you scroll to the bottom of the online magazine page. The Carleton University magazine is another long-time leader in this area.
    • Flip technology is often substituted for PDFs to no great advantage. Visitors still have to increase initial page size to read text. The two reasons I hear most often for a "flip" approach: (1) it is quick to do and (2) it shows the original print design on the web the way the design person intended it to look. I can understand the logic of the first when resources are slim. The second makes no sense at all.
    • One of my long-time favorites, a "blogazine" at Mount Holyoke College, is gone from the April webinar as it has been replaced by a new "flip" version.

Other points to note:

  • Blocks of dense text still appear often, especially in welcome statements from deans and presidents and in academic program descriptions. Time with a cursor to limit paragraphs to 5 or 6 lines and add white space between paragraphs would help a lot.
    • "Don't make them squint" is a maxim not followed often enough. See a nice use of type at University of San Francisco to introduce brand elements at the start of a page. 
    • The ability to let visitors adjust font sizes themselves hasn't spread much. I'm still using my original example from East Stroudsburg University
    • Language remains overly filled with jargon beloved within higher education but not so common outside academe. A recent example was the words "Articulation Agreements" rather than "Transfer Agreements" on the title of a page prepared not for a Registrar's conference but for potential transfer students.

The "5 second rule" is most important:

    • You have about 5 seconds to capture someone's interest when they arrive at one of your web pages. Take longer than that and people will simply leave the page and perhaps your entire website if you violate that rule on the page they start at.
    • Make a list of your web pages that are visited most often by new visitors to your site. Compare the bounce rates (percent of people leaving without going anywhere else on your website) on those pages. When the bounce rate is over 35 percent you have a "first impression" problem that needs fixing.

That's all for now 

Customer Carewords: the CCI client preparation guide


The Customer Centric Index (CCI) survey gives you feedback from key audiences (future students, current students, faculty and staff, alumni, parents are possible). The CCI tells you what people like and do not like about your website before you start enhancing or rebuilding. The CCI is part of a comprehensive Customer Carewords research program.


People interested in doing CCI research often are more concerned about the time it will take them on their end to get ready for a survey than they are about the price. The answer: it doesn't take a great deal of time at all if you have an available email database of people to invite to take the survey.


See for yourself. The details are here in the "Client Preparation Guide." If you're interested in more information about doing a CCI survey, email me at


CCI Survey: Client Preparation Guide for Higher Education


Who will you survey?

  • Higher education clients can include up to five groups in a CCI survey: alumni; faculty and staff; current students; future or prospective students; parents.
  • It is also possible to segment each group (i.e., graduate and undergraduate "future students") depending on the number of people you can invite to complete the survey.

Who controls the database for your survey groups?


    • Some clients have experienced unexpected delays in decisions about whether or not to include a particular group in the CCI survey or in the exact timing of the survey invitation due to other contacts already planned. Best to check as early as possible about the willingness of different groups to allow the CCI survey to go forward at the most appropriate time.  
    • After this step, we can set a starting date for the survey.

How many people do you need to contact?


    • We are looking for at least 100 responses from each individual group that you survey. Survey response rates will differ for each group, with the highest rates likely from current students and faculty and staff.
    • An important first step is to determine how many active email addresses for each group are available for contact. Once we know this, we can advise you on the minimum number to contact.
    • In most cases, response rates are lowest for future or prospective students so you should plan to mail to a minimum of 3,000 people in this group. Response rates for this group likely will also vary depending on how recently the online inquiries were received.
    • For surveys that include "future students" we recommend a prize for participants. One recent client did quite well with a drawing for one of five $50 Amazon gift certificates.

Who prepares the survey?


    • We set up a standard CCI survey on Survey Monkey.
    • Clients can send us one open-ended question to add at the end of the survey. We will forward these comments to you at the end of the survey. Detailed analysis of the open-ended comments is not included in the formal CCI report. You will receive all comments in a single report rather than divided by the individual groups surveyed.
    • The first three clients who used an open-ended question received responses from 50 to 75 percent of the people completing the survey.

When will you survey?


    • It is best to send the email survey invitations to each group as close together as possible, but in any case no longer than 4 weeks apart.

Who prepares the email invitation?


    • We will send you a draft copy of the email invitation that you can adjust before sending.

Who sends the invitation?


    • Each client sends the email invitation to people in their own database. We never receive email addresses from clients.

When will you know how the response is going?


    • We will monitor the response rate and let you know the results by the second day of the survey invitation to each group. In most cases, the great majority of responses arrive within two days, depending on the launch time the previous day.
    • In some cases, we may advise that you send a second round of invitations if database size permits and the response rate seems low.
    • The cost of the survey does not vary with the number of responses so we recommend that you send an many initial invitations as possible.

Estimated Time for Survey Results:


    • You can expect a report with results for a single survey group about 2 weeks after the initial invitation is sent.
    • The exact timing of each project will vary with the number of groups included and the amount of time used to contact them. We will report results from each group in a single report. If you send invitations to several groups on or about the same day, 2 weeks should also be enough time to receive your results.

 Questions? Send me an email at


That's all for now 




Reshaping the Future in Higher Education: Walking New Paths


Since my February entry highlighing "traumatic change" in higher education, I've continued collecting news items about the changes underway as the reshaping of higher education continues. As you might guess, nasty items appear far more often than good news. This post, in honor of the recent arrvial of spring, focuses on the good news that higher education may emerge from the present turmoil better prepared for the next 20 years.


The common element: coping with shrinking resources


Here's what makes me hopeful. Presented in the order collected.


  • Eastern Arizona College, a community college, is pushing to offer 4-year degree programs. That makes a great deal of sense if the programs offered meet commuity need just as the 2-year programs do. Let's hope that Arizona's major public universities support the change. Interest in lower-cost bachelor's degrees is good. This is way to do it.
  • Median salaries for top administrators in higher education didn't increase in 2009-2010. At a time when public opinion increasingly is skeptical of how higher education invests resources and tuition increases are large, keeping top administrative salaries level is a good thing. Inside Higher education provided the details.
  • Berea College has spent months in discussions about the future. Berea is a special place where students work for the college in return for their education. A 43-year old student proposed capping the highest administrative salary at no more than 6 times the lowest salary on campus. The practical impact: about $120,000 a year for the president, down quite a bit from his 2008 level of $266,000. Note that before this proposal the president had already announced a 12 percent reduction in his salary.
  • A new emphasis on completion rates is emerging with support from foundations (Lumina, Gates) and a new Complete College America organization. Inside Higher Ed reported the details early this month. Any move to more emphasis on outcomes is welcome.
  • Hamilton College trustees unexpectedly made the donations needed to allow the college to expand financial aid and offer need-blind admissions when many private sector schools are pulling back from financial aid commitments that expanded over the last 10 years.
  • St. Michael's College will consider using "open source" software for liberal arts courses so that faculty might spend less time in course preparation and more time with students. Might this even lead to financial savings that come with higher course loads? Read more about a change that will spark controversy and create discussion about a difficult topic: the impact of faculty teaching loads on the cost of higher education. 

That's all for now 

Mobile Marketing and Web Access: Tracking the Trend in 2010

Do you know how many new visitors to your admissions pages arrived from a mobile device last year? And how that number might be changing this year?

If you're using Google Analytics on your website, that's easy to watch. And the results from a recent client review suggest that you should be watching this year. Various gurus and evangelists have been declaring "The Year of Mobile Marketing" since at least 2004. They just might be right about 2010.

Here's the change noted from the last quarter 2009 to February of 2010:

  • For the last three months of 2009, 996 new visitors came from a mobile device. The iPhone was well out in front as the most popular device, followed at considerable distance by iPods. The new Android phones were about half as popular as iPods and Blackberry came along next.
  • In the month of February alone, 459 new visitors were using mobile devices, or 1.9 percent of all new visitors to the admissions pages. The iPhone was still well in front of everything else as the vehicle of choice: 284 new visitors were using it. Nothing had changed in the order of the next three.

The February count still represents less than 2 percent of all new visitors that month. So it is safe to say that mobile access is not yet a major factor for this client. On the other hand, the increase sends a signal that this is something to watch over the next six months. That's an easy, no-cost way to get objective data on how the "Year of Mobile 2010" is going for you.

Compare Bounce Rates for Mobile and Regular Access

For those new to the world of analytics, "bounce rate" is the percent of visitors who start at a page on your website and leave that page without going anywhere else on your site. In nearly all cases, admissions people don't want new visitors to do that. Bounce rates above 35 percent are cause for concern.

  • On Google Analytics, first check the overall bounce rate for new visitors. In the "Visitors" section, open the tap for "Mobile" and have a look at "Mobile Devices."
  • In the data that results, you'll find the bounce rate for people using mobile devices together with the average bounce rate for the entire website.
  • If the bounce rate for mobile is significantly higher than the other, your site is not working well for visitors using iPhones and other mobile devices.

Mobile Tracking in 2010

Start tracking today. Set the base mark for 2009 from the data you have for that year. Take a peek at what's been happening so far this year. Get ready to make a quarterly report in April on any changes you find as 2010 unfolds. Keep those quarterly reports coming to help you decide: "Do I need to create 'mobile ready' website pages to make a better first impression on new visitors?"

Web Analytics Webinar in April

Want to learn more about how web analytics can help improve your recruitment success? Join me for an April 7 webinar with Magna Publications. Check program details and register soon.

That's all for now 


Writing this as the sun shines on the first March day in Michigan. Nice introduction to the arrival of spring not long from now. May all your marketing endeavors thrive in the new season.

Attend a web strategy conference with a strong international flavor here in the U.S. Check the program, with a higher education track, at J.Boye Philadelphia 2010 at

Ready for webinars in April? Join me for "Web Analytics for Enrollment Success" ( or "Writing Right for the Web" (

Here are your marketing news and notes for March.
Update on Millennials from Pew Research

Most Millennials are out of their teens now (18-29 years of age) and many plan to continue in graduate or professional school after college graduation if they can balance that with work and finances.

Pew Research released a February report that describes Millennials, despite the current economic state, as "confident, connected, and open to change." Keep that in mind as you plan stories and outcomes information for your website and social media network.

If Millennials are important to your marketing plans, read the executive summary and download the 149-page report (with special attention to Chapter 5 on "Education and Work") at
Videos for Admission at Tufts University

Is this an exception or the start of a new wave?

For 2010 applicants, Tufts University is giving applicants the option of using a YouTube video as part of their admission application materials. According to a New York Times story, about 1,000 of 15,000 applicants have taken up the offer.

The NYT article at includes a link to the most popular video with nearly 79,000 views as I am typing this.

Will you be doing anything similar soon?
Top 10 Online Degree Programs in January 2010

How many can you get right? Make a list before you visit.

The most popular based on online searches and inquiries reported by are at
Myths and Realities of Distance Education

A recent Chronicle of Higher Education explores what is true and what is not quite so true in the ongoing debate over distance education.

Just as interesting as the article by a Yale librarian are the comments that follow on the merits of everything from the motives of administrators who promote distance learning to the deficiencies of software used to run the courses.

Be better informed for your campus discussions after you visit
Quick Test for Keyword Popularity

If you need a break for something that is both fun and informative, visit Googlefight.

Enter two competing keywords and see which is more often used on Google Analytics. Try your competitors, various academic programs combinations, or my old favorites, "scholarships" vs. "financial aid." Results just might help you plan title tags and key headings for your website pages.

Get the stats at
Short Forms Increase Online Inquiries

Does your online inquiry form ask for so much information that it discourages people from completing it? Direct marketers know that the shorter a form, online or not, the more people will use it.

If you want more people to leave stealth status and inquire online, make your form short enough to fit "above the fold" on your web page. Review elements to consider dropping and follow a link to one university's excellent online inquiry form when you visit
Pre-Paid Tuition Plans at Risk

The shaky future of pre-paid tuition plans in many states was the feature of a Wall Street Journal article that will make many readers who use them nervous about meeting higher education tuition costs in the future.

WSJ reviews various "shaky guarantees" in states "across the nation." The anticipated pattern: states will restrict the amount of tuition covered by the plans at the same time that public universities are raising tuition to offset declining state appropriations.

Read the full article at
Marketing Wisdom 2010: Dark Space of the Marketing Universe?

MarketingSherpa is offering this collection of stories, notes, and observations from a long list of marketers for free. While this is not a detailed roadmap to marketing success, you will likely find worthwhile nuggets in the 34 pages to help shape your marketing plans.

The report notes a major change this year in attitudes toward social media: Social Media is viewed as "the dark matter of the marketing universe, filling the space between all other channels, and quietly shaping the activities that take place within them."

For more on that and many more topics download the report at
Nielsen on Website Usability Progress

In a recent Alertbox column, Jakob Nielsen outlined the progress he believes website creators have made over the last 10 years in creating a better online experience for their visitors.

His conclusion is that the glass is half-full rather than half-empty. How long will it take to fill to the top? About another 74 years.

Review the progress made and the hurdles to overcome at
Higher Education Slips in Public Opinion

This might not be a surprise, but a new public opinion poll details how attitudes toward higher education institutions continue to deteriorate. While people continue to believe that a degree is valuable, most do not believe that universities are acting in the public interest. Most people believe that schools can make more cuts without hurting the quality of a higher education degree.

Check the important details at
Middlebury Limits Tuition Increase to CPI + 1%

Can your college or university survive and thrive if tuition increases are limited to 1 percent above the Consumer Price Index?

That's the new strategy announced at Middlebury College, along with a series of other financial restraint measures that recognize that for most institutions the era of growth enjoyed for the past 15 years or so has ended and will not return soon.

Expect contraction more than expansion over the next 10 years. Middlebury has taken an unusual first step in recognizing the new reality. Details at

If more schools did the same, public opinion polls might start to change.
9 Tips for Social Media Marketing Proposals

Are you concerned that VPs and other "higher ups" at your school do not understand the realities of what is needed for effective social media communication, especially the budget?

I especially liked the note here about expected viral results: "It (viral) is as much a strategy as a lottery ticket is a retirement plan."

Find what might work well for you in "Tips for Talking to Your Boss About Social Media" at
Especially for Web Writers: Mission Impossible?

Is it impossible to write a Mission Statement that anyone will actually read and remember?

Especially online, where people have to scan and connect quickly, in about 5 seconds?

Note the difference between the examples from Brannigan's Restaurant and CARE: you can scan the latter but not the former. It would take about 60 seconds to make the weak example friendly for online readers with bullet points.

Dean Rieck offers worthy tips 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 at one or more of these events.

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

May 4-6, J.Boye Philadelphia2010, Philadelphia, PA. Follow higher education track sessions at

June 3-4, Education Dynamics Aslanian Group Seminar, Marketing to Adult Students, Chicago, IL Check the topics and register at

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

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

July 29, Education Dynamics Aslanian Group Seminar, Marketing to Graduate Students, New York, NY

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
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