Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

November 2011 Archives

Content challenges for both traditional and mobile websites

Just finished updating the second "Writing Right for the Web" webinar next week, focusing on social media and mobile content. That had me back reading the questions sent along a few weeks ago by people already signed up for the sessions. Two of those were content related; the answers apply to both traditional and mobile websites.

If you missed the earlier post on these questions, here is the question people answered:
  • "What is your most pressing challenge or area of concern when writing for and presenting content on" a traditional website and for social media and mobile sites?
Two of the challenges reported were related to content:
  • "Understanding how best to develop content pertinent to all audiences and optimize for search."
  • "Translating messaging from offline publications and communications to a style that is optimal for online readers."
And here are some notes on how to best deal with these related issues. Which ones will be of most help on various campuses will vary, based in part on local talent and understanding of what works online, politics, and available staff time.

Developing the best content
  • Start by asking each audience to identify the top tasks that are most important to them. Then let the answers to that search be your guide to priority content placement on first and second level web pages. That means surrendering considerable control of your website to your key audiences. Not many are yet willing to do that.
  • How to find out what your audiences want from your website? Hire Customer Carewords research or read a guide from the U.S. Government and do it yourself. 
  • The most important point: do this research before your next major website revision begins. Don't rely on usability tests after you have the initial design in place. Usability testing and top task research are not the same thing. Start with the right information in hand. Planning a mobile site? Identify top tasks before you do anything else. Those are the links that people should see first when your mobile home page opens.
  • Beware of marketers. It pains me to write this, but I have to agree with my Carewords partner from Sweden, Fredrik Wacka, that the marketing impulse can hinder and even destroy the effectiveness of your website. Very few people come to a higher education website (or most any website) to read marketing content. Too often that content takes precedence over top task content and creates a barrier to top task completion. When that happens, people will leave your site. 
  • The imperative to reduce marketing content is more important on your mobile site, where you have even less time to connect with your audience. Best way to boost your brand at your website: make top task completion easy.
Translating from offline publications
  • Resist the impulse to slap content on your website as a PDF or "flip tech" copy of your printed publications. The more important the content, the more important it is to take the time to prepare a "web friendly" version that people might actually read online. That's true for admissions view books, alumni magazines, transfer guides, academic program brochures and just about anything else I can think of.
  • Next, make sure the web content conforms to usability tested guidelines for content presentation.
    • Use subhead that people can immediately scan when a page opens. Long, dense blocks of text are deadly.
    • No paragraph longer than 5 lines. 
    • Use short sentences. If you find yourself using a semi-colon your sentence is likely getting too long.
    • Use short words used by normal human beings as often as possible. Yes, if you're writing about research in a discipline for others trained in the discipline you can take liberties.
    • Don't be afraid of the "you" word. The web is an informal place. Get bureaucratic writing filled with imperatives that "students must do" out of the content. Check this "Admission Requirements" page at St. Edward's University where you find "you" or "your" used 12 times. Also note the short paragraphs and white space between them.
Alertbox reports on web writing

Jakob Nielsen has 15+ years of experience testing how people use websites. Take advantage of this by subscribing (for free) to his of Alertbox newsletters. Be sure to read the series on web writing. Send these to everyone on campus you think might pay attention to them.

Writing Right for the Web next week... solving more challenges

Join us on December 6 & December 8 for "Writing Right for the Web"
  • Review what we'll cover for traditional websites as well as the social media and mobile worlds in the Academic Impressions webinar outline.
  • Register and invite everyone who might be interested.
That's all for now.

Stanford University gives online education a victory

Sometimes the war is over before everyone fighting the battles gets the message.

That's the lesson that came immediately to mind when I read this story in the Sunday edition of the NYT: Online High Schools Attracting Elite Names.

The lead says if all, as it should: "In June about 30 seniors will graduate from a little-known online high school currently called the Education Program for Gifted Youth. But their diplomas will bear a different name: Stanford Online High School."

The lesson is simple: if Stanford University sponsors and supports this, it will be rather difficult to continue the war against online education as something that is not, in principle, a valid way to learn. 

The article also mentions online high school education under the leadership of other institutions: Middlebury College, University of Missouri, and University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

The advance of online education is inevitable. 

The hybrid model at residential colleges & universities

Not long from now, online education will be a firm fixture at residential colleges and universities. Students will spend fewer hours in class listening to lectures than they do now listening. Instead, they will learn core educational points on their own time, online. And then meet with professors and other students to review and discuss what they have learned. The hybrid model mixing online and in-person learning will be the new normal by 2020, if not sooner.

The NYT story took me right back to the 2007 "A Vision of Students Today" video by Mike Wesch at Kansas State University. 

Schools that don't change course instruction rapidly enough will find themselves at a student recruitment disadvantage. Their brand strength will decline.

The war is over. The future is here. Even if the battles will continue.

That's all for now.

Web writing... Engaging experienced and novice writers

To help update presentations for two upcoming Writing Right for the Web webinars in December, we asked people already registered in early November to answer this question: 
  • "What is your most pressing challenge or area of concern when writing for and presenting content on" a traditional website and for social media and mobile sites?
In the next week or so I'll share some responses here, along with answers that might work help meet you meet a similar challenge.

Two people reported challenges that get right to the heart of a serious problem: in some cases, neither experienced nor novice writers quite know where to start on "writing right for the web."
  • Experienced writers: "We have five staff writers, four of whom are older and have been at our university for a long time. There seems to be some belief that writing should be the same, regardless of the medium."
  • Novice writers: "We use a content management system, and many of the folks who publish content on our website are not professional writers. Our challenge is teaching them that Web readers tend to skim, not read. They need... lots of bullet points and subheads."
OK, how can you design a solution that increases the ability of both experienced and novice writers to "write right for the web?" The premise: neither group has a comfort level with the online writing environment. The ultimate goal: create a self-supporting, reinforcing environment for everyone responsible for this critical task.

8 steps to web writing success

Let's start with eight points, understanding that not everything might be possible right away:
  • Lobby for a web content editor position. You're in the online publishing business and every publication needs an experienced editor who understands what audiences wants and how to best deliver it to them.
  • Get enough copies of books on web writing that content creators can borrow and read. My choices to start: Letting Go of the Words and Killer Web Content
  • Find a volunteer to monitor new news on web writing in places like Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox reports on web writing. When something new appears share that with every content creator on campus. Nielsen's paying special attention to "mobile" right now.
  • Create an introductory workshop for new people appointed to create or maintain web content. Hold one whenever you have at least five new people to attend. The best person to hold the workshop? Your web editor, if you have one. Or the person on campus who best fits that role. Cover the Nielsen basics. Share examples of top web writing on your campus and at other universities.
  • Get people talking with one another on a regular basis. Too often web writers are scattered about a university and don't ever meet and share challenges and solutions among themselves. Plan monthly meetings of one to two hours. Invite people to submit topics in advance, but have at least two prepared ahead of time, i.e., "How can I convince my dean that most paragraphs shouldn't be more than five lines long?"
  • Find another volunteer. Have them search for an example of best web writing at another university for review and discussion at each regular meeting. 
  • Share discussion points and answers after each monthly meeting with people who couldn't make it. Not everyone will come to every meeting. That's fine.
  • Once a year, have a party to celebrate success. You might even have a "Web Writer of the Year" award.
Don't let people swim alone in the ocean

Of course, there is no single solution that will work best for everyone. 

Mix and match the ingredients to fit your own circumstances. But move as quickly as possible to get past the worst mistake: letting too many people swim alone in an ocean with neither other swimmers nor the shore in sight. Do that, and web writers will drown.

Writing Right for the Web in December

Join us on December 6 & December 8 for "Writing Right for the Web"
  • Review what we'll cover for traditional websites as well as the social media and mobile worlds in the Academic Impressions webinar outline.
  • Register and invite everyone who might be interested. 
That's all for now.

J.Boye conferences... special places for new thinking and new solutions

Aarhus11 was my fourth J.Boye conference... my second in Denmark, with two in Philadelphia in between.

Why does a person who specializes in higher education marketing travel to this "web and Intranet" conference? 
  • To meet new people and hear new solutions about online challenges that we all face, from health care to higher education in areas that include digital marketing and web content management.
  • And at this event, to also meet Michael Fienen from Pittsburg State University who was presenting in the digital marketing and higher education tracks. Small world for sure.
Let me share some notes that made their way to my notebook at various times during the conference, in no special order of priority.

A new era for "simplicity" in web and Intranet?
  • Conference founder Janus Boye observed that "simplicity" was a word he was hearing in different sessions in different topics.
  • That's certainly true of the mobile world. The need for simplicity may indeed help shrink the bloated content that fills most websites today. The day the conference opened Jakob Nielsen published a new Alertbox column noting that working with a mobile site or app from a smartphone was like "reading through a peephole." 
  • Simplicity is imperative. "What did we do for simplicity today?" might well be the best way to start every web and Intranet discussion.
The Holy Grail is found: a person paid to remove website content
  • My biggest surprise was meeting someone who is paid to remove content from a website.
  • For over a year I've been asking in my presentations if anyone was paid to remove content from a website. Never yet had a taker until last Tuesday afternoon when Jesper Rossel raised his hand. Jesper recently persuaded his boss to change his position responsibility to removing 30 percent of the current content at Denmark's Knowledge Center for Agriculture
  • Be sure that I'll stay in touch with Jesper to see how that project moves forward. He should have a great presentation topic at a future J.Boye conference.
Social media: still a challenge
  • Organizations are still grappling with how to best "do" social media. Two not yet resolved areas: who in the organization is responsible and what to do when content appears that is not favorable? Answers are determined by factors as variable as the culture of an organization to the resources assigned to monitor and manage social media sites.
  • Loved Claire Flanagan's suggestion on how to bring a social media community to life and keep it active: create a controversy to get people's attention. A social media site that just reports news and PR spin won't do it. To read more about Claire's thoughts on the role of controversy in social media, check her Twitter posts.
  • Commitment to social media certainly is worth the effort to spread brand awareness and maintain customer loyalty. Those were points well worth the reinforcement given at Volker Grunauer's session on "Integrating Social Media into Your Digital Strategy." You can follow Volker on Twitter.
Top tasks, content strategy, and mobile website design 
  • My own tutorial went beyond higher education to include examples from local government and non-profit organizations to illustrate the key ingredient in developing content strategy for a mobile world: first identify the top tasks people want to do on your site, then build content and navigation to facilitate task completion. 
  • You can review and download that presentation from SlideShare now.

Next J.Boye Conference: Philadelphia, May 8-10 2012

Your next chance to experience a J.Boye conference is May 8-10 in Philadelphia. Program details are not available yet but you can check 10 track titles (including higher education), prices, and the conference hotel at the Philly conference website

Next "Writing Right for the Web" webinars in December
  • December 6, 8: Academic Impressions Webinars: "Writing Right for the Web: Social Media, Mobile, and Traditional Sites." Register now.
That's all for now.

In this new emerging era for higher education, innovations in enrollment building strive to take advantage of the new landscape rather than struggle to maintain or restore the past. This month's newsletter highlights new ventures from each U.S. coast: Northeastern University andCalifornia State University.

Does your interest in mobile marketing include the best way to use QR codes? If so, make sure that you do not doom your experiment to failure with landing pages that are not mobile-friendly and placements where smartphones don't work. More on QR codes in my interview article with Academic Impressions at

Last month I visited Adelaide, Australia for a workshop presentation on mobile marketing for the Australian International Education Conference. Review the slides and download a copy 

November 18 at 3 PM I join Brian Niles for a "Free on Friday" mobile marketing discussion broadcast on Facebook from the TargetX offices outside Philadelphia. Join us 

Two Writing Right for the Web webinars in December will close the conference and webinar season this year. Register for one or both parts at

And now here are your marketing news and notes for November.
California State Plans Expansion of Online Undergrad Programs

Faculty may be uncomfortable with online programs but that is not stopping the inexorable growth underway. The latest example comes from California State University, where a recently announced plan calls for an initial consolidation of online programs underway at several campuses into a system-wide effort.

Overall, 44 master's degree and 19 bachelor's degree programs are offered now.

Market demand is a factor. Planners envision that some students will pay higher tuition for an online course that is overcrowded and unavailable as a regular undergrad offering.

More on the plans and faculty reaction at 
Northeastern University Expanding Graduate Programs outside the Northeast

Boston is a fine city, but Northeastern has larger plans to open graduate degree programs and form research partnerships across the U.S. The first new center has opened in Charlotte, NC. Look for future sites in SeattleAustinMinneapolis, and the Silicon Valley.

Each city is a market where the university believes the demand by adults for master's programs is growing but is underserved. An initial investment of $60 million fueled a major expansion of faculty who will travel to teach in the programs that will combine online and in-class education.

Review the Northeastern effort in a Chronicle article at
Jakob Nielsen and Ruthless Editing for Mobile

Web sites for every large organization have an enormous amount of useless content, added over the ages but never deleted.

People who are thinking about mobile websites need to think first about content elimination. Yes, this is politically difficult but it is also imperative. 

The latest Nielsen Alertbox usability report provides ammunition for anyone who needs help in advancing this argument on their campus. See "Mobile Content, If in Doubt Leave it Out"
10 Tips for Best Facebook Writing

When and how often should you post to Facebook? How long should a post be? What days and times are best?

Andi Graham gives us 10 clues to more effective writing for Facebook based on her reading of what will make your content score higher on Facebook's EdgeRank factors.

One plus for Twitter fans: posts of less than 80 characters get 66 percent more engagement than longer posts. Yes, brevity counts here as everywhere online.

For more on Facebook success, read her column at
Test Your Website: 31 Criteria for Mobile Effectiveness

Brian Niles sent this along after our first "Free on Friday" conversation.

Visit the mobiReady website, enter the URL for your site, and get back a rating for how your traditional site performs on 31 factors that help or hinder viewers from a mobile device., for instance, passed on 10 elements and failed on 9 others. It will not do well when visited from a smartphone. And neither will

Neither result was surprising. Yours will probably be similar. But if visits to your regular site are increasing and you need something to shock people into the need to create a mobile friendly web presence, share the results for your site after you visit 
Results of the Quest for Full Pay Students

Enrollment managers were treated to an indictment of the current emphasis in higher education on enrolling more students who do not need financial assistance. Competition for that Holy Grail has increased since the economic bottom fell out a few years ago, often seen as a search for more international students and, in the public sector, more out-of-state students.

At the ACCRAO SEM conference this week Kati Haycock took the enrollment profession to task for not resisting this focus, with the result that income inequality at colleges and universities in the U.S. inevitably will increase.

Compare your school to the picture she paints after you read the InsideHigherEducation article at
University Magazines on an iPad

Thinking about making your university magazine available on an iPad or other tablet device?

If so, do not miss the AdAge review of the success of commercial magazines and newspapers on these devices. In short, you cannot take the quick and easy route of an "enhanced PDF" format on the iPad. That does make the sophisticated readers on these devices any happier than PDF publications do on regular websites.

For factors that will increase the success of your magazine on a tablet, check the report
Text Messaging in the U.S.

A September report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project reports a leveling off of the frequency of text and phone use on mobile phones from 2010 to 2011. More people overall prefer to phone than text. Heaviest text use is by people 18 to 24 years old, who send about 109 texts each day or about 3,200 each month, but texting is very strong right up to 49 years of age.

Download a PDF of the 14 page report at 
In the Chronicle of Higher Education: College Not Worth the Debt

Yes, a sentiment that higher education does not need to see spread starts off this month of November in the Chronicle.

Do you think this belief will spread? With few exceptions, the unemployment rate for current college graduates is unacceptably high in relation to the debt incurred and that is not likely to change in the immediate future.

The opinion piece by Frank Donoghue is at 
My Upcoming Conferences and Webinars in 2011

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

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

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