Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

April 2012 Archives

Web content creation... centralize or decentralize?

Last month I was working with a university to review their web management policies and practices and recommend changes consistent with their resources, both human and fiscal. A key question was whether or not to move back to a more centralized content system for content creation and publishing. 

Searching for background information at the start of the project, I visited several university sites to see what was available online. The answer: not much. A strong exception turned up at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut, where there is a very clear website presentation of their "Web Content Management" policies and practices.

Last year we did a Customer Carewords survey for Sacred Heart to find out how well people (current and future students, alumni, and faculty and staff) using the website liked the experience. The response was unusually positive for the accuracy and completeness of the content and the clarity of the language used to present it.

Learning from Nancy Boudreau at Sacred Heart University

I asked Nancy Boudreau, director of web content management at Sacred Heart, to share her thoughts about the strengths and weaknesses of centralized vs. decentralized content management in the four questions below. 

A very big "thank you" to Nancy for taking the time to do this.

Q. When universities first started to adopt Content Management Systems (CMS), one goal was to move to decentralized content publishing. Today, there is more talk about the value of centralized content creation. Have you been following that discussion? What's your own experience been?

Yes, I've been following the centralized vs. decentralized discussions with much interest. 

We went from centralized to decentralized about 7 years ago with some success. We had just redesigned the website and implemented a new content management system. With limited web staffing and resources, it seemed like a good time to give it a try. It definitely has its pros - no bottleneck to get things posted, ability to make minor edits on your own quickly. It also had its cons - pages published with typos, grammatical errors, duplicate information, content just copied and pasted from print materials without being "webified'.

Q. What lessons have you learned from your first effort to decentralize content creation?

With our last CMS rollout, we assigned a web liaison for each department allowing them to publish edits/additions to their web pages. We provided group training on the CMS, gave everyone a user guide, provided refresher courses and one-on-one training as necessary. We also provide telephone and email support. In addition, we hosted some "writing right for the web" webinars.

With our upcoming redesign and new CMS implementation, we're seeking a more balanced approached. While we will continue to train departments on the CMS to make their own basic edits and offer web writing instruction, we need to have some sort of review process and systems in place to remind web editors to review and edit their content at regular intervals. How are we going to do this? Well, we're still working out the details but our CMS will be able to help automate some of that process.

Q. What's the major obstacle to an effective decentralized publishing system?

The pendulum is swinging back in the direction of centralized content editing but not because universities don't have a CMS or that the CMS isn't being used to its fullest potential. 

The biggest obstacle to decentralized publishing is ensuring the quality of content. Web content isn't just about updating some event dates, adding course descriptions or editing program pages. It's about marketing your university's academics and culture and creating a unified brand and message. It requires writing engaging, search engine optimized content, and that takes time and practice. And thanks to people like you, the message is getting out that a website isn't just about pretty pictures and typography - it's about THE CONTENT.

Q. I loved the idea of 2-hour website boot camps described on your website. How have those worked?

As far as our website boot camps, yes they have been very successful. We get departments to focus on their processes, procedures and top user tasks. Then we look at their web pages to see if those process and tasks are represented in the most user friendly way. There are a lot of "ah ha" moments as we look through sites and rearrange or edit content to make it more user friendly. 

The downside to these boot camps is they do take lot of time so they're not always practical. We do a lot of pre-work before we meet with the department, such as reviewing the current site as well as similar sites for best practices so that we arrive at the meeting with some actionable items. During the 2 hour boot camp, we make edits on the spot and create an action plan for content that is more involved and needs to be developed. By the end of the meeting, everyone leaves feeling like they've accomplished something. 

That's all for now. 

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New "Writing Right for the Web" Conference in May

My second 2-day "Writing Right for the Web" conference is happening May 24-25 in Atlanta. We'll explore in depth not only "writing right" on traditional websites, but for social media and mobile sites as well. 

People are coming from as far away as Hawaii and Egypt.

Check the conference details and register to join us in May.

A happy April to everyone as our mild winter fades away here in Michigan.

This past week I have been working on my upcoming workshops on digital marketing strategy. From that review you can find 5 questions about digital marketing (including Facebook advertising, content strategy, and whether or not "digital marketing" even exists) in a new blog post at

The first digital marketing tutorial is set for the J.Boye Web and Intranet Conference in Philadelphia in May. Check my session description as well as the entire higher education track at

This week I'll begin updates for my May 24-25 conference on "Writing Right for the Web: Improving Your Content." Folks from Hawaii to Long Island and several states in between are signed up so far. Join people who want to make their website a better place after you review the program at

We've been tweaking my website over the past few weeks. One result: you can now go direct from my home page to Slideshare to review and download earlier conference presentations. Start at

And now here are your marketing news and notes for April.
Degree Completion Rates: New Report Shows Highest States and Metro Areas

Wise people can disagree about degree completion rates as a measure of institutional success but smart marketers should know how rates at their schools compare with competitors and others in their state. For better or for worse, inquisitive legislators and media folk are likely to ask.

The Lumina Foundation has a new report on degree completion rates in each state and in major metropolitan area in the U.S. that shows modest recent gains. The highest state is Massachusetts. The highest major metropolitan area is Washington, D.C. The lowest state is West Virginia. The lowest metro area is McAllen, Texas.

Find more when you visit
Freshmen Admissions Rate at Harvard: New Low of 5.9 Percent

In the world of Ivy League admissions, less is better, proving continued brand strength in that limited competitive environment. The admissions rate for this year's freshmen class fell to 5.9 percent from 6.2 percent last year.

The reason, reported in an article in Harvard Magazine, is the reinstatement of early-action admissions for this year's class. Harvard admitted about half the desired number of new freshmen through early admission and expects a higher yield from those students than from the entire admitted group a year ago without early admissions. And thus, Harvard reduced the admit rate to 2,032 students selected from 34,302 applicants.

Read more in the Harvard Magazine article at
48 Tips for Starting a Direct Marketing Letter

Pat Friesen is a proverbial "old pro" in direct marketing copywriting. If you want to create high impact email and traditional letters, you want to read her article on "48 idea starters for letter and email openers."

It is hard to pick a favorite from her list. I almost went with #48, "Keep the first paragraph to three lines or fewer." That's good advice for your web pages, not just your email letters. But for a personal favorite, I settled on #46: "Limit 75 to 80 percent of the words to five characters or less." That takes discipline, does it not?

Find your favorites at
Alumni Magazines Online: Doing it Right for Your Readers

If you still need strong arguments on your campus for the value of creating a "made for the web" version of your alumni magazine, you will find them in a presentation by Cameron Pegg at the University of Queensland.

Join the crusade to ban the use of PDFs and flip tech solutions to move print publications to the online world after you read "From the letterbox to 'likes' - the online evolution of alumni magazines" at
Your View Book Online: Add the Kindle Fire

If you are joining the move to a tablet version of your view book or alumni magazine, be sure to plan on a version that works on the Kindle Fire as well as the iPad.

Why? Read the Mobile Marketer story on Kindle brand strength, sales level, and price advantage at
For-Profit Sector Enrollments Are "Shrinking" in U.S.

The Chronicle highlighted changes in the for-profit higher education sector, comparing results from 2010 and 2011 at 12 institutions. New student enrollment fell at all but one and revenue and income were down at most but not all. In some cases, the changes are likely the result of tightened admissions practices to improve degree completion rates and other measures under increased scrutiny.

When you scan the list, remember that "Apollo" is primarily the University of Phoenix. Check changes for revenue, income and total and new student enrollment at
Power of the Brand for (free) Online Courses: 90,000 in First Class MIT Course

MITx is a new venture started in Decmeber by MIT to explore the frontiers of what is possible in online education. The first course, "Circuits and Electronics," started in February with 90,000 enrollments from around the world.

Courses are non-credit, but it is possible to earn certificates to certify completion of a course. An article from MIT estimates that students will spend about 10 hours a week watching video lectures and completing homework assignments for "Circuits and Electronics."

Is this a marketing model for anyone else? Of course it is. Are you well respected for a business or health care specialty in your primary marketing area? Consider offering similar courses to gain additional visibility for your degree programs. Give people a live example of the best you have to offer and you may likely find more enrolling for a complete master's degree program.

More details from MIT are at
10 Engagement Boosts for Your Website Pages

No matter what you already know, you'll likely find a new point or two among "10 Useful Findings about How People View Websites."

Lurking in the back of my mind but not getting enough attention was #3: make the text size for the first paragraph on a page larger than the rest makes it much more likely that people will read it.

Scan the list for items that might give you another rung up on the online marketing ladder at
Email Recruitment Newsletter: University of Alberta

You've heard me say before: email isn't dead, it is alive and well and (should be) an important part of your student recruitment communications plan.

One of my favorites is the monthly email from University of Alberta sent to potential international students. The March issue starts with 6 easy to scan headings that link to highlighted academic programs, scholarships, social media and more.

See the March issue at
Most Popular from the March Newsletter: "Pin Your Brand to Pinterest"

Pinterest has had a meteoric rise in social media popularity. A Brandon Uttley article on four reasons why "It's time to Pin Your Brand to Pinterest" drew the most attention in the March newsletter. If you missed it, visit
Conferences and Webinars in 2012

Attend a conference in 2012 to share questions and answers with people who are building a competitive advantage in higher education marketing.

May 8-10, Philadelphia: J.BoyePhiladelphia12 Web and Intranet Conference. Tutorial presentation: "Digital Marketing Strategy: 2015 and Beyond" and a regular session: "Top Task Website Design: Lessons from University Research." Check the program and register at

May 24-25, Atlanta: Academic Impressions Conference: "Writing Right for the Web: Improving Your Content." Program details and registration at

July 11-13, Chicago: ACT Enrollment Planners Conference. Visit the conference website at

July 30-August 1, Boston: eduWeb2012. Conference website is at

Expand the marketing skills of people on your campus. Host a campus workshop on any of the conference topics listed here.

Contact me at or call me at 248.766.6425.
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 5 services.
• Top Task Website Design Research with Gerry McGovern
• Writing Right for the Web: Webinars, Conferences, Campus Workshops
• Expert Marketing Communications Website Reviews
• Competitive Website Reviews
• Search Engine Optimization Reviews 

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