Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

August 2010 Archives

Writing Right for the Web: Carewords Quotes on Font Size and Content Density

We added an option for an open-ended question to Customer Centric Index (CCI) surveys about 9 months ago. That feature has been far more popular than anticipated. At least 50 percent and sometimes over 70 percent of the survey respondents answer this question:

  • "If you could change one thing about our website, what would you change and why would you change it?"

And so hundreds of visitors to higher education websites are adding comments that expand on the regular survey statisitics. These web visitors come from a variety of audiences: alumni, future students, current students, faculty and staff, and parents. Whatever the background, their recommendations are remarkably similar.

Dense Blocks of Text Drive People Away

When people first come to a web page, they scan quickly in search of content that interests them. Dense blocks of text make that difficult, often impossible, to do.

You can't force people to read.

Every page on your website... every page... should include subheads and bullet points that quickly communicate the key points of the page in 5-seconds or less. Keep paragraphs to no more than 5 or 6 lines of text. Keep most sentences as simple as possible. Hint: If you have to use semi-colons, your sentence is getting too long.

The first paragraph on a page is an especially bad place to "go long" on content presentation.

In their own words, here are responses from some of our CCI survey takers:

  • "Simplify the page content, because I'm coming to learn something in particular, rather than to read a book, per se. I like books, just not on web sites."
  • "Easier to read with less paragraphs and more bullets."
  • "Some of the pages have too many words on them."
  • "There is too much plain text on the home page. It would be better to give brief explanations and have links for further information."

Font Size: Don't Make Them Squint... Give Visitors Control

This might seem really basic but many websites need to pay more attention to the size of the font  used to present content in the center of the page. Of course, different people can reasonably prefer different font sizes. One solution: an easy-to-see tool that lets visitors increase or decrease the font size on whatever page they are reading.

  • "Have bigger print, because the print is a little too small right now. It is harder to read with small print."
  • "I would make the font size a little bigger because my friends and I have to look close on the screen."
  • "Some of the font is too small and should be enlarged."

Especially for Mobile Websites

Everything here about content density and font size is even more important on mobile-friendly websites that people will access from small screens on their smartphones.

That's all for now.





Mobile websites: marketing for student recruitment not yet a strong feature

Since the 2010 Noel-Levitz E-Expectations survey came out not long ago, more than a few people seem surprised by two points: the high level of interest on the part of potential students in learning what academic programs are offered and the high number (about 23%) who said they were visiting higher education websites from mobile phones.

That's the new and growing reality: more people are using mobile devices to access websites. And the rate of use will increase as more "mobile friendly" sites are built. 

Interest in academic programs shouldn't be a surprise either. You can't expect possible new students of any age to be interested in your school if you don't offer the academic program(s) that interest them. For many new visitors, their most important first task at your site is to find that program list.

"Academics" on the Mobile Home Page

Getting quickly to a list of academic programs isn't always easy from the home page on traditional websites. This week I decided to see how easy it was from the home (or entry) page on mobile sites. Nothing "scientific" about this. I looked at 7 universities available on the MobileAwesomeness site for an initial sample and then added more that were on the first page of a Google search for "university mobile websites."

The result: you can't get direct from the home page to something like "academic programs" from most of these sites. Navigation itself is simple: you scan a group of icons (sometimes) or a list of words (most often) and start to navigate the site. See for yourself when you visit the sites listed here.

Academics from the Mobile Home Page (or an immediately available "menu" from the home page)

· College of Charleston at "Academic" is 2nd of 8 primary links.

· University of Evansville at "Areas of Study" is 4th of 9 links.

· University of Chicago at "Academics" is 3rd of 13 menu links. 

No "Academics" or "Academic Programs" Link for the Mobile Home Page

· Colgate University at missing from 12 topics.

· Duke University at not with 11 links.

· Pittsburgh State University at not among 8 links.

· Texas A&M University at not with 7 topics.

· University of Alabama at not one of 11 topics.

· University of Southern California at not one of 9 topics.

· University of Texas Austin at not with 11 links.

· University of Texas Dallas at not among 5 topics.

Notes: Mobile for Student Recruitment


When you read the topics that are included on these home pages, one natural conclusion is that the highlighted content areas are done primarily for internal use or for other people who are already "friends" of the university. The "marketing" element, especially as it applies to student recruitment, isn't yet strong.

That's easy to change. Adding a prominent link to "Academics" or "Academic Programs" would fit easily enough on most of these sites. Right now there isn't much pressure to do that. If mobile devices continue to grow in importance as access tools to higher education websites, that's likely to change.

Get ahead of your competition. Plan to add a link to a list of "Academic Programs" on your mobile home page soon. 

Mobile Marketing Presentation on SlideShare

The eduWeb2010 version of my mobile marketing workshop, "Mobile in the Marketing Mix: Crafting a New Communications Strategy," is online now at SlideShare.

Mobile Marketing with the American Marketing Association: September 22

Register for "Getting to the Core of of Social Media and Mobile Marketing for Higher Ed Institutions" virtual event.

That's all for now 

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Mobile Marketing: Register for the No-Cost Sept 22 AMA Virtual Event for Higher Ed

Yesterday was the "finish day" for my September mobile marketing presentation at the American Marketing Association's virtual spectacular: "Getting to the Core of Social Media & Mobile Marketing for Higher Ed Institutions." We are recording this in advance next week as I'll be flying back from Dublin and our annual Customer Carewords partners meeting on the AMA date.

My time share is 45 minutes... so it was quite fun revisiting the mobile marketing workshop for eduWeb2010 and reducing that 3-hour session to fit the reduced time. 'Tis done and time to share thoughts from the shrinking and updating process.

Here are some things that stand out:

  • The question of mobile apps vs. mobile sites is misleading. Fact is, a complete mobile marketing plan will likely have both elements. But if you can only do one, better to create a mobile-friendly site similar to what the College of Charleston has done. Search for C of C from your favorite mobile device (I used an iPhone) and enjoy the mobile friendly results. Or just enter the regular URL ( and the website will sniff out that you are using a mobile device and switch you into the mobile site.
  • I came across a video interiew with Jakob Nielsen that is well worth watching. Nielsen makes a point that's especially worth remembering: some tasks just are not suited to the mobile environment. He believes in-depth product searches and complicated financial transactions are best done on regular websites accessed from regular computers.
  • The Nielsen note is important for higher education. You can, for instance, build an easy-to-find list of your academic programs for mobile access (right from the C of C mobile home page) but at some point you'll be tempted to link back to your regular website for complete information. At that point, mobile usability will plunge.
  • Simplicity is key to mobile-friendly form completion. I use a webinar example from Kettering University for an inquiry from a potential student: all that's needed is an email address.
  • Finding higher education examples of "mobile for advancement" tasks isn't easy, although I haven't yet checked to see if College of Charleston has included any on its new site. I did find one example: an offer to alumni to sign for text message updates for athletic events at MidAmerica Nazrene University.

That's enough on mobile marketing for today.

When you visit the AMA site to register, you'll see another mobile presentation from Kim Dushinski, author of the Mobile Marketing Handbook. I recommend visiting her website and signing up for Kim's regular mobile marketing updates.

Mobile Marketing Presentation on SlideShare

The eduWeb2010 version of my mobile marketing workshop, "Mobile in the Marketing Mix: Crafting a New Communications Strategy," is online now at SlideShare.

Mobile Marketing with the American Marketing Association: September 22

Register for "Getting to the Core of of Social Media and Mobile Marketing for Higher Ed Institutions" virtual event.

That's all for now 


Mobile Mrketing: Invest in Mobile Apps or a Mobile Website?

At both the ACT and eduWeb mobile marketing workshop sessions in July, a popular question was this: Should we first invest in mobile apps or should we be creating a "mobile-friendly" website?

Wise people differ on the answer. 

The Urge for an App

Apps are best done for special events that can range from virtual tours to campus transit instructions and time tables to specific marketing campaigns. An individual app done for mobile is easier to do than reconstructing an entire website. And after all, there's an app for just about everything anyone wants to do online, isn't there?

Advertising can make it seem as if apps are the "must have" element in mobile marketing. Yes and no. Research says that few people regularly use more than a few apps, no matter how many they download.

The Need for a Mobile-Friendly Site by 2011

If limited resources force you to make a choice, I'm in the camp that says work on creating a mobile-friendly version of your regular website and have that ready by mid-point 2011.

Don't do apps if doing them means postponing work on a website that will please people who access it from a mobile phone. We are not talking about iPads here. The mobile device that people are most likely to use to get to your site are iPhones and Androids. Maybe Blackberry. Check your analytics report to see what people are using now and track that growth every month from now until December.

Consider this from the Pew Internet and American Life Project reported in July:

  • 65 percent of people 18 to 29 years old use their smartphone to access the Internet. Just under 50 percent of people 30 to 39 do the same. Expect those numbers to grow.

Top Tasks for Mobile: Student Recruitment

For the best marketing impact, you won't be able to get away with "mangling down" (thanks to Drew Stevenson, University of Minnesota for that great phrase) your regular website. Instead, you'll have to make difficult choices about the content that's most needed by people visiting your site and make that the main focus of your mobile efforts. That will force more attention in navigation to the top tasks people want to complete on your site. Consider these for student recruitment:

  • Read a list of academic programs available
  • Calculate the net cost to attend your school
  • Register for a campus visit
  • Make an inquiry
  • Check application status
  • Pay an enrollment deposit

Example of a Mobile-Ready Site: College of Charleston

The task is daunting but far from impossible. College of Charleston says it has adapted 95 percent of its regular website for mobile access. Frankly, that almost seems more than necessary. Adaptation to mobile just might be a great time to identify those seldom-visited pages on your regular website that people can't bear to remove. Mark them as "not needed for mobile" and focus instead on your most used pages.

Visit the College of Charleston mobile site. Start by reading the description of the change and then use your smartphone to see just how well it works. One of the first things you'll note: you don't have to "finger flick" to make the type large enough to read when you arrive at a page.

The Charleston site makes a strong first impression. That first "curb appeal" of your site, mobile or not, will help or hinder the success of your marketing efforts.

Expect more "notes on mobile" soon.

Mobile Marketing Presentation on SlideShare

The eduWeb version of my mobile marketing workshop, "Mobile in the Marketing Mix: Crafting a New Communications Strategy," is online now at SlideShare.

Mobile Marketing with the American Marketing Association

Register for "Getting to the Core of of Social Media and Mobile Marketing for Higher Ed Institutions" webinar after you check the September 22 topic list. I'll be speaking on strategy for an effective mobile marketing effort.

That's all for now 

August brings a welcome hiatus to a busy July conference season.

Review several of the July presentations (Mobile in the Marketing Mix, International Student Recruitment, Websites for Graduate Student Recruitment and more) from the ACT Enrollment Planners Conference, eduWeb2010 and Carol Aslanian's Graduate Marketing Seminar online. Visit

Look for more on mobile marketing in an AMA webinar in September and a 3-hour tutorial at the AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education in November. Registration details are coming soon.

A new book by my Carewords partner Gerry McGovern was published in July. Read the first chapter in The Stranger's Long Neck and order a copy at

And now here are your marketing news and notes for August.
11 Schools on Financial Aid Honor Roll

Princeton Review is out with another college ratings list, with financial aid scores of 60 to 99 for 606 schools based in part these criteria: percent of students with need who received aid, percent of need met, and percent of students whose need was met in full.

Ratings in include an honor roll of 11 schools with a score of 99 points. The alpha listing starts with Bowdoin College and ends with Williams College.

Find more on the awards and the other 9 honor roll schools at
E-Expectations 2010 Survey Results

E-Expectations results for 2010 went online in July and are already making the conference rounds. As always, different people will find different things of special interest.

One item this year is getting special notice: about 23 percent of college-bound seniors visited a college or university site from a smartphone. Have you tried that lately with your site? Couple that number with the finding that over 20 percent of these students who have an unpleasant web experience when first visiting a higher ed website will drop that school from consideration.

Results like these may help answer the question: do we do mobile apps or create a mobile-friendly website?

Explore the results when you link to the PDF report at
Rate My Professors Expands to Facebook

The site many love to hate is expanding into social media with a new Facebook site at

Before you dismiss the role of the rankings here, consider this. Overall evaluations for faculty at most schools I have visited are far more positive than negative. Be sure to check yours to find faculty held in high esteem that you might want to highlight at your website and in other promotional efforts.
CUNY: Still the Best Advertising Landing Pages

Another issue of the NY Times Education Life supplement came out July 25. And for at least the third time in a row, City University of New York continued to set a premier example of how to create a landing page that repeats and reinforces the ad that brings people to the website.

Visit Breaking Boundaries in Science Research at and compare with landing pages for your advertising.

To review articles in the supplement online, visit
Mobile Use: Changes from 2009 to 2010

Our friends at the Pew Internet and American Life Project have another useful report to review: changes in the way people use mobile communications from 2009 to 2010.

Higher education marketers will be most interested in the results for people 18 to 29 and 30 to 49 years old. While the younger group is most active, people in their 30s do not lag far behind. Both are heavy users of text messaging and 65 percent of the younger group uses a mobile device to access the Internet. Mobile use for email is strong as well.

Check the full details at
9 College Visit Alternatives

If you can't visit a campus, what are the next 9 best things to do? That's the focus of a July US News column by Lynn O'Shaughnessy.

Admissions people not yet adjusted to stealth applicants will applaud the first item: get on the college mailing list.

Not everyone will be as happy with Number 4: visit the academic website pages and look for academic credentials of the faculty and course descriptions.

The full list for those who cannot visit is at
Higher Education PR: Another Blow

The WSJ reviews "Higher Education?" by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Driefus and makes special mention of many failings cited by the authors: faculty and administrative salary levels, light teaching loads, research that is less than essential.

A key message may find more traction in this time of economic scarcity: students should seek out lower cost institutions and graduate with less debt. The authors make recommendations that range from Berea College to Western Oregon University.

The review is at
Online Newsletter Done "Right for the Web"

If you need more ammunition to convince people to move away from PDFs and stay away from various forms of "flip" technology to put publications online, refer them to the Sellinger Business Update at Loyola University Maryland.

The current issue is at
Email Marketing is Alive and Well

In this era of social media and mobile communications, we just might forget that millions of people rely on email as a valuable form of communication. Indeed, in the emerging mobile era sending email that make a strong first impression when opened on a smartphone is more important than ever.

Take a few minutes to review Michael Brownlow's column on getting "inbox attention" for your email. No matter how much we think we already know it is always a good idea to review and remind ourselves of the importance of from lines, preview panes and more.

Check the advice for better engagement at
Feedback on Your Website

Do you get regular feedback on how people are using your website?

Gerry McGovern writes about the perils of ignoring the customer experience in "Web teams need constant feedback," with special attention to the perils of forcing people to register to do something online.

Do not make people register to do things at your website unless absolutely essential. Read about the consequences at
Gainful Employment Criteria

The for-profit sector of higher education is not happy with possible plans by the Department of Education to impose "gainful employment" criteria as a condition before their students can receive financial aid. Nobody is quite sure of the possible application of the principle, but many are nervous.

The actual impact will vary. At a recent conference, the DOE's James Kvaal estimated that 40 percent of for-profit schools would not be impacted, 48 percent would have to increase loan debt disclosure to potential students, 7 percent would face enrollment restrictions, and 5 percent would no longer have eligibility to receive financial aid funds.

More about what might be coming is at
My Upcoming Conferences and Webinars in 2010

Attend an upcoming conference to share questions and answers with people like you who are building a competitive edge in higher education marketing. Join me at these events.

September 22, American Marketing Association: Webinar on mobile marketing in higher education. Date and registration details available soon.

October 28-29: Education Dynamics Aslanian Conference: How to Market Online Programs, Washington, D.C. Program topics are at

November 3, Academic Impressions: Webinar, "Writing Right for the Web." Details are coming later in August.

November 7, Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education, San Diego, CA: Mobile Marketing Tutorial Workshop. Online link is coming soon.

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

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