Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

August 2011 Archives

Web Content in higher education: do you have a personal pet peeve?

Spent time last week answering 6 questions sent by Susan Ragland, a chief editor for LINK: The Journal of Higher Education Web Professionals and Web Content Editor at Tarrant County College for the September issue of LINK.

One of them was impossible to answer: 
  • "Usability expert Jared Spool has mentioned the phenomenon of useless "girls under trees" photos on college/university websites for the past few years. What would you consider your biggest pet-peeve when it comes to Web content in higher ed?"

Just one "biggest" pet peeve? Here are the 6 candidates that I sent along to Susan:
  • Print magazines put online using "flip" technology that can't be read without zooming text.
  • Inquiry forms that ask for high school codes and personal details not needed to respond to a request for information.
  • Horrible search engine results, driven by the dead content that litters most websites and turns up in searches.
  • Building exterior photos that have no obvious relationship to content on the page.
  • "Why study (name of academic program)..." introductions dripping with academic jargon.
  • FAQ pages with questions not "frequently" asked at all, including "When were you founded?" and "What is your mission?"
Presentations on Mobile Marketing
That's all for now.
Reducing Content for Mobile: A challenge in decision-making

Reducing web content is a problem that needs to be on the table today, not tomorrow. 

At least 50 percent of the content on higher education websites (and indeed, most websites for any large organization) is of little importance to most of the people using that site. Since the mid-1990s, constant content creation has been the usual practice. Content deletion is rare.

At the Customer Carewords partnership, we refer to that excess content as the "Long Tail." A Gerry McGovern quote fits here: "Much of the long tail is a dead zone... full of dead and useless content."

What problems does it create?
  • Search results are often cluttered by dead and useless content.
  • Navigation is more difficult over a landscape littered with dead and useless content.
Nobody is going to create a truly friendly mobile web environment if they try to convert all their present website content to a "mobile friendly" status.

Mobile Demands Content Reduction: Start with the Home Page

In the new mobile world, less content littering your website means a more successful experience.

How many links do you have on your home page today? Now imagine that on a mobile home page you have to reduce that number to 6 to 10 links. How will you make a decision about what links deserve space on a mobile home page?

Build Content Strategy to Support a Few Top Tasks

Mobile will increase the importance of a "top tasks" approach to web design and content strategy. Your most important content is what's needed for visitors to complete their 3 to 5 top tasks. Navigation has to facilitate that task completion. Most websites today hide top tasks within a plethora of other less important options.

How to solve the mobile home page challenge? Limit the links to those that are top tasks for an important audience. 
  • For future students that will always include a link to a list of "Academic Programs."
  • For current students, it is links to a current calendar of events and to course registration software. 
  • For alumni, top tasks include requesting a transcript and reading class notes.
Right away we can see how home pages on traditional websites grew so many links. Even if limited to top tasks, adding links for each audience on one page guarantees many links. Add the others demanded by the internal political process and the "plethora" results.

University of British Columbia: Mobile App Opens with 2 Links

University of British Columbia begins to get things right by creating a mobile app with just 2 links on the first page: one for "Future Students" and another for the "UBC Community." Follow either of those to tasks links that are relevant to visitors in each group. To see the first two pages (and download the app if you have an iPhone) start at the UBC website.

UBC has as a survey underway now to help in the development of a mobile website. Let's see if similar simplicity continues after the results are in. The survey is open until August 26.

Top Tasks and Top Management: Chopping the Long Tail

Anyone can find out what content on a website creates the useless Long Tail. Analytics will tell the tale. Chopping off as much of that tail as possible to move to a mobile-friendly website will require the intervention of top management.

Sign of leadership: presidents and deans who volunteer to chop their "welcome" messages.

I'm optimistic top management will meet the challenge. A successful online experience is critical to student recruitment. Cleaning a website of "dead and useless" content and elevating top task design priority will mean a more successful experience on both traditional and mobile sites. 

Presentations on Mobile Marketing
That's all for now.

Mobile Marketing in Higher Education: notes from summer conferences

Mobile marketing is still on my brain after my flight back from San Antonio and eduWeb11 yesterday. Before various random thoughts disappear, several things come to mind after mobile sessions at ACT Enrollment Planners Conference, Carol Aslanian's graduate recruitment conference, and eduWeb.

Mobile apps vs. mobile websites: no longer the first question asked
  • Mobile apps or mobiles websites: when I started doing mobile marketing workshops in 2010, this was the most common question. Today, it doesn't rank nearly as high. In my pre-conference workshop and in several mobile presentations at eduWeb this year, the emphasis is on the benefits of investing in a mobile website.
  • The rapid and continuing rise of Android phones has played a major role in this. Apple's advertising bombardment re "There's an app for that..." fueled the first wave of interest in "we've got to have one of those or the cool kids won't think we're cool" mania. Apps still have a role in online marketing, but the need to do at least two separate apps for Androids and iPhones brought some new reality into the cost of it all. 
QR codes: expanding use but beware of taking people to a regular website page
  • More people already are using these than expected, from advertisements to view books to signs on the front of campus buildings. As expected, use rate is low. Here in the U.S. most people don't yet have smartphones (about 35 percent according to Pew Internet) and most of those don't yet have QR code readers. So this is a great time to start exploring. Use of QR code readers will increase. But how fast it will increase isn't clear. Watch to see if QR readers are included on the iPhone5 this fall.
  • If you do add QR codes to advertising, for heaven's sake make sure that people who do use them don't end up on a regular website page where no engagement point is immediately visible. If you force people to "finger flick" to see what's on your landing page, your conversion will decrease. Guaranteed.
Content Migration, Top Tasks and Mobile: Potential Huge Management Issue
  • Be honest: at least 50 percent of the content on the website of any large organization including higher education isn't needed. Website content is often added, seldom removed. 
  • The holy grail for "mobile" is creation of a single website that people can use equally well from a smartphone or a laptop or desktop computer. Is that really possible? Maybe, but not if you try to stuff everything from your "regular" website into a mobile environment. "Mobile" is a great reason to kill content that's been around for far too long and adopt a new focus on the "top tasks" that people using sites actually want to do. 
Writing Right for the Web: Even More Important Now
  • Jakob Nielsen got it right in a recent Alertbox: for mobile, "short is too long."
  • Mobile will increase the value of web content editors. Not only do we have to focus on top tasks, we also have to reduce how much we say about them and do an even better job of using subheads and bullet points to break up dense blocks of text.
Presentations on Mobile Marketing
That's all for now.
Hello from San Antonio where I am doing a pre-conference mobile marketing workshop today at eduWeb2011. After that, time to learn new things and to meet old friends and make new ones on the River Walk

A special welcome to new subscribers who joined at the San DiegoChicago, and New York City conferences these past two weeks. 

The summer conference season is about over, but fall is soon upon us. Check 5 new presentations at the end of this newsletter. Things begin with a September webinar, "Top Task Completion: The Key to Marketing in the Mobile Era" at and continue through "Writing Right for the Web" in December.

And now, here are your marketing news and notes for August. 
Mobile Marketing & Student Recruitment

How are you using mobile marketing in student recruitment? My workshop from the ACT Enrollment Planners Conference is online now at minus the questions and comments from the 50 or so people who attended. Thanks to everyone for a great two hours.

Examples from higher education range from texting to QR codes to top task navigation and more. 
E-Expectations for 2011

The always eagerly awaited 2011 edition of the Noel-Levitz E-Expectations survey is online now.

The first thing to note: most things do not change much from year to year. The survey found again that about 20 percent of college-bound high school students will drop a college from their early exploration list if their first experience on the website is not good. 

And the single most important content area for students and their parents remains information about academic programs. How easy is it to find an alpha list of your programs? And what do people find when they travel from that list to a program of special interest? Does your content strategy address this primary marketing element?

Is text messaging in the mobile arena important? Do not jump to the wrong conclusion from the information that most students are not eager about texting early in the recruitment cycle. Focus, instead, on starting an early relationship with the ones who are ready to do that.

Read the full report at 
NACUBO and Private Sector Tuition Revenue

Imagine this: the average tuition discount rate in the non-profit sector of higher education in the U.S. is now 42.4 percent. That means, of course, that many colleges and universities are discounting tuition at even higher levels in order to maintain enrollment.

For most schools, that not a sustainable business model. But some may adapt to it. Ten years ago, for instance, I knew of two places that were living with tuition discount rates of over 50 percent.

Read more about the reaction to tuition discounting at the annual meeting of the National Association of College and University Business Officers at
The Impact of "Discountitus" on Brand Image

For more on the brand perils of relying on a discounting strategy to maintain market position, read the Al Ries column "Discountitus, the Disease That's Sweeping the Marketing Community" at 
Video in Your Marketing Plans

The folks at the Pew Internet and American Life project are out with a new research report on the huge use of video by adults in the U.S.: 71 percent of people online use YouTube and other video sites.

Forget YouTube for a moment and consider instead the content strategy message for your website: what content that you now have in text might be better presented in video format?

Student and alumni testimonials come immediately to mind. How many of these might you change to videos about 2 minutes (or less) in length? Words are powerful website elements. But personal experiences from real people are best told in video vignettes.

Ask for increased video resources for your website after you read the Pew report 
Can You Verify Your Marketing Claims?

A recent court decision defeated an attempt by the for-profit sector of higher education to strike down the Department of Education effort to more closely monitor marketing claims made by colleges and universities.

The ruling will have implications for everyone in higher education. How can you support, for instance, a statement on your website that a particular academic program is the "gold standard" for programs in that area? How can you demonstrate your commitment to "academic excellence"?

Learn more about the U.S. District Court decision at 
FAQs as Useless Navigational Device

Many websites attempt to use Frequently Asked Question pages to help visitors find content that they cannot find using normal navigation.

Gerry McGovern makes a strong case against the utility of FAQ pages at

Check your FAQ pages. If "When were you founded?" and "What is your mission?" are on your list, you have a problem. If you know that certain questions are indeed often asked, change your navigation to make that content prominent on your website. And then remove the FAQ page itself.
Advertising on Mobile Devices: Annoying and Ignored

Much of the ad world is buzzing these days about increasing budgets for mobile advertising. If you are thinking about adding mobile ads to your marketing mix, plan to track the results very closely.

A recent research report reviews how people respond to any form of mobile advertising. Response to text advertisements (which I assume people have agreed in advance to receive) is highest at 6 percent, while instant message advertising is lowest at 2 percent.

Find more details from the survey at
Reducing the Cost of an Undergraduate Degree

Does higher education truly have an insatiable appetite for money as Derek Bok once claimed? Is there any way of significantly reducing the cost of an undergraduate degree in this time of scarce financial resources?

The Economist reports on suggestions from a University of Oklahoma professor that include: reducing degree time to 3 years, separating the cost of research from undergraduate tuition, and increasing class size. The possible result: an undergraduate degree that costs less than $7,000.

Is this crazy? Decide for yourself after reading more at 
Associate VP for Marketing Opportunity

Albion College is searching for an Associate Vice President for Marketing, reporting to the VP for Advancement and "responsible for developing, leading, and implementing a strategic integrated marketing plan."

More position details and requirements are online at 
My Upcoming Conferences and Webinars in 2011

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.

August 1-3, eduWeb2011, San Antonio, TX: Pre-conference workshop: "Mobile Marketing in Higher Education: Challenges and Strategies for 2011." Visit 

September 28, Magna Publications, Webinar: "Top Task Completion: The Key to Marketing in the Mobile Era." Register now at 

October 20-21, Carol Aslanian Research - Education Dynamics, Chicago, IL: Marketing Online Programs. Mark your calendar. Details are coming soon.

November 6, AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education, Chicago, IL: "Mobile Marketing in Higher Education: Getting Ready for 2012 and Beyond" pre-conference tutorial. Link to the program PDF and register at 

November 8-10, J.Boye Conference Aarhus11, Aarhus, Denmark: Pre-conference tutorial on top task analysis for mobile communication and regular session, "Websites and Brand Strength: Achieving a 90% Customer Rating." Review and register at 

December 6, 8: Academic Impressions Webinars: "Writing Right for the Web: Social, Mobile, and Traditional Websites." Registration opens soon.

Improve 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. ( 
Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC
Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC

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