Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

September 2011 Archives

Higher education marketing: when marketers are a problem, not a solution

Just back on Wednesday from our fifth annual Customer Carewords partners meeting in Dublin, with Gerry McGovern and partners from Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Germany, United Kingdom and of course, Ireland. Always a special two days.

The focus this year was on the growing importance of "top task" completion on websites, especially in the mobile era, and the barriers that can keep organizations from moving more quickly in that direction. 

One partner reported that marketing departments are often a barrier to building effective websites. At first, that was a surprise. But after a bit of reflection, it isn't hard to understand why. An "effective website" is one where people entering a site can quickly complete the top tasks they want to complete. The focus is on learning what people want to do and helping them do it.

Traditional marketing content: "We are a perfect place and exist only to serve you" 

Few people visit a website to read traditional marketing content. Too many higher education websites still attempt to make a university appear as the higher education equivalent of Disney World. Every faculty and staff person exists only for the success of students and every student is smiling from start to end of the day. That's just not real. Most people dismiss messages like that.

Most important first task for potential students: find the academic programs available 

Smart online marketers know that what's most important to build brand strength on a website is delivering a strong visitor experience so that people leave happy and look forward to returning. Consider the top task of more potential students when first visiting a higher education website than any other: learning what academic programs are offered.  

Academic programs: one click from the home page

On your website, can people find your academic programs in one click from the home page?

Not just a link buried among a sea of other links, but in a highly visible location that visitors will see in a 5 to 8 second scan of the page when they arrive?

Visit the Devry University home page. Note that right across the bottom of the page, large enough that can't miss them, are the titles of the 6 major academic divisions of the university. Run your cursor over each one and the academic programs within each division drop right down. See a program that interests you? One click will bring you to the program.

Marketing as a solution: 8 to 10 most important home page links

Marketers will be especially challenged by the requirements of mobile websites for great simplicity. 

How, for instance, will marketers decide what 8 to 10 links deserve priority placement on the home page of a mobile site to boost student recruitment success? And if those links deserve prominence on a mobile home page, why are the same 8 to 10 links not also most prominent on the "regular" home page?

Marketers must be on the "solution side" of the answer to those questions.

Brand strength begins by identifying the 8 to 10 links that lead to completion of the top tasks that potential students visit the website to do and giving those links "can't miss" prominence from the home page. That's effective website marketing.

Brand strength is not built with pictures of campus buildings and smiling students, expressions of commitment to "academic excellence," or welcome messages from presidents and deans.

Presentations on Top Task Design for Marketing Impact
That's all for now.

Student Recruitment Marketing... no view book anymore at Washington State

An email came along yesterday that reminded me of presentations done in 2009 on "recruiting without paper." 

Cheryl Reed-Dudley, communications coordinator in marketing and creative services at Washington State University sent an email with a link to a new, interactive online view book that was replacing a print version. Print isn't disappearing completely. There is still, for instance, a table piece for use at college fairs. But what has traditionally been the premier piece in recruitment communications in the U.S. is gone.

The view book gained traction in the 1980s as the first response piece to send to new inquiries to introduce them to a college or university. Most often it was sent late in the junior year or early in the senior year as a first response piece when someone filled out a card in response to a search mailing or at a college fair or high school visit. Remember those days?

Recruitment Communication in an Online World

And then came websites. And broadband Internet access in the home. And smart phones. Before many people quite knew what was happening, college-bound high school students were starting their college searches in the sophomore year, using websites to get their first information about schools they wanted to consider, and failing to fill out online inquiry forms.

What role for the view book when you don't have someone's address until they apply for admission?

The value of the old style printed view book was in flux. Downward flux. 

Opinions differ about the value of an online view book. Why, many say, create an online view book when the information in it should already be online someplace? "Someplace" of course is the killer phrase here. If navigation and content is designed to let future students beginning the college search to easily complete their top tasks, there might not be a need for an online view book. But that's not easy to do on many "admissions" websites. Putting everything in a single place and labeling it a "view book" may indeed be the best move.

Tracking Use with Google Analytics

WSU has the right idea re measuring results. Cheryl reports that Google Analytics is set to track use of the new piece. Six or nine months from now we'll know much more about how effective this approach is. And how to improve on the initial effort if that's needed. 

I'll be especially interested to learn which of the primary section tabs are most used by people on their first visit.

Visit the Online, Interactive View Book

Check an interactive online view book that doesn't rely on flip technology when you visit the new WSU online example.

That's all for now.
September greetings to everyone as the first weeks of the new semester begin almost everywhere. Best wishes for happy, successful students in the weeks ahead.

On the professional development scene, there is still time to register for my September webinar on top task completion and website design at

Look down below for upcoming conference sessions in October and November, from Australiato Chicago to Denmark. The season ends in December with updated webinars on Writing Right for the Web at

Hope to see many of you in the months ahead. And now here are your marketing news and notes for September.
Tuition Discounting with Groupon

Was it inevitable that someone would try this? 

National Louis University is offering a 57 percent tuition discount through Groupon for new students who enroll in Intro to Teaching, with the caveat that completing the course does not guarantee admission to the university. The discount reduces the usual price of $2,232 to $950.

Space available is limited. As of Sunday afternoon 18 registrations had been bought.

The offer is open until September 14. The Groupon ad is at 
The Short Life of a Social Media Post

How long after you post it are people likely to see something on a social media site? According to stats reported by Search Engine Land, less than 3 hours for Twitter, just over 3 hours for Facebook, and nearly 7.5 hours for YouTube. After that, things get lost in the sea of ongoing posts.

What happens if you post the same item again on Twitter? Will many more people see it? Will many people complain if you repeat? Check the answers in the article at 
End of the Comprehensive Website

If you want to make people happy with your website, mobile or traditional, reduce content to what is needed for people to complete their top tasks on your site. By conservative estimates of people in my presentations this year, adopting that approach would reduce higher education content by at least 50 percent. How many pages do you remove from your website each year?

Will that ever happen anywhere in the web world? It just might. One major local government association in the United Kingdom is officially recommending adoption of a top task approach to members.

Read more from Gerry McGovern about the emerging top task revolution in website design
For-Profit and Not-For Profit Degree Completion Rates

How do adult students fare at 18 universities that specialize in programs for them? How much difference in degree completion rates is there between Regis University and Capella University? Between Charter Oak State College and Kaplan University?

Compare degree completion rates and much more for three schools at a time when you visit the College Choices for Adults website at
5 Tips to Generate New Friends on Social Media

You may still find some people who tell you that the number of Facebook fans and Twitter followers you have does not mean anything. Gary Stein disagrees in a column that makes a good case that while the sheer number of social media friends is not the only important factor, from a marketing perspective being ignored is not the best path to brand success.

Gary offers 5 ways to build your base of friends. I had two favorites: use email to invite all your contacts to be a friend of your school and make sure links to your social media sites are on all outgoing communications.

Read the rationale for why more friends are better and review the other three recommendations when you visit 

By the way, follow me on Twitter at 
Professional School Email Admissions Newsletter

The Boston University School of Management is a marketing-oriented place, from the website home page itself to continuing online engagement with potential students.

The September edition of the email newsletter includes "7 Keys to Finding an MBA program that fits your personal business plan" to prominent invites to join School of Management social media sites on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Read a strong example of how to cultivate prospects online at 
Presidents vs. Public on Online Education

Our friends at Pew Research have another study that marketers should read: public opinion is not nearly as positive about the value of online courses compared to classroom courses as are university presidents. Among people under 30 years, 67 percent believe online instruction is inferior.

What does this mean for schools moving to expand offerings in online programs? What enrollment expectations does your president have?

Marketing suggestion: given public skepticism, do not take expanding online enrollment for granted. Plan now to expand positive experience stories from your current online students.

Visit the Pew report on The Digital Revolution and Higher Education at 
7 Ways to Reduce Your Online Conversions

If you are investing in any type of advertising to bring people to a website, read "Hidden Friction: The 7 Silent Killers of Conversion" by Austin McCraw to increase your ROI.

Two sample killers: offering more than one action option and using confusing color combinations on your landing pages.

Learn more about these and find the other 5 elements at 
Writing Right for the Web: University Magazine Example

Johns Hopkins University knows how to do an online magazine. The latest issue done right for the web is at

Scroll down to the bottom of the first page to a link to a Digital Replica Edition presenting the print version via flip technology. Which version do you think people are more likely to read?
Jakob Nielsen on Mobile Web Content

If you are about to start planning for a mobile website on your campus, add the August Alertbox report "Defer Secondary Content When Writing for Mobile Users" to the list of required reading.

The question is simple: How much content is too much content? The answer is also simple: "Short is too long for mobile. Ultra-short rules the day."

Get everyone on your mobile website team to visit
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.

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

October 11-14, Australian International Education Conference, Adelaide: "Going Mobile: New Strategies to Promote Your Institution" pre-conference workshop. Review program, register 

October 20-21, Carol Aslanian Research - Education Dynamics, Chicago, IL: "Ramping Up Your Online Programs: Marketing Tactics that Work." Register at

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: 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 is open now at 

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

Increase your online marketing success with these 6 services. 
• Customer Carewords Research with Gerry McGovern
• Writing Right for the Web: Webinars, Conferences, Campus Workshops
• Marketing Communications Website Reviews 
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