Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

May 2012 Archives

Web Writing: Too easy to find examples of pages that kill the ability to scan your site

Last week in Atlanta we had a great two day web writing conference, hosted by my friends at Academic Impressions. The people attending came from as far away as Hawaii, Saskatchewan, Cairo, and Qatar. Not to mention Boston, San Francisco, Atlanta itself and many places in between.

Great conversations, discussions, and critiques. Special thanks to the folks who volunteered their website pages for a public review. 

Looking back over the slides this week, one simple element stands out in my mind: the importance of the factors that can destroy a visitor's ability to easily scan a web page, whether in a large screen or a mobile environment. The ability to scan a page quickly in no more than 5 seconds is essential, so let's quickly review three elements that keep that from happening. 

Any one of these will kill the ability to scan a page:

If you want to engage people more easily on your site, review your website and find examples like this and eliminate them as soon as possible. Getting rid of large text blocks is easy. Controlling text contrast should also be easy. 

Ending "flip tech" is more of a challenge but well worth the effort if you'd like people to actually read your online publications. Make yours look like these examples we used last week from Johns Hopkins UniversityAlfred University, and Biola University. You don't need to be a big university with a big budget to get this one right.

Content Strategy: an important reminder

The best content strategy on the planet will not work if people can't scan and read your content.

That's all for now. 

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J.Boye Web & Intranet Conference: 6 Questions and Answers for What Happens Next

J.Boye conferences are a small and powerful alternative to meetings where thousands of people wander exhibit halls and conference center corridors. I've been to 5 over the past three years in Aarhus, Denmark and in Philadelphia. Never fail to learn something new from the interesting people who attend. Last week's meeting in Philly was no different.

A fun and informative feature happens each year when two volunteers give their "yes" and "no" answers to several Web and Intranet questions at the closing conference session. After the expert opinion, everyone gets to vote. Here, from the 2012 closing session last week, are this year's questions and audience opinion.

QR codes are dead or alive?
  • People were evenly divided on this one, with a one vote edge for "alive." The usual culprits were cited for why QR codes were dead... including excessive choices for reader apps, silly applications of the code symbols, and the simple fact that many people still don't know what they are or don't see a benefit in using them. But given those challenges, a bare majority wasn't ready to say they were "dead."

Has Facebook "jumped the shark" with the Timeline feature?
  • Nearly 60% felt that Timeline was more of a help than a hindrance for Facebook. This seems a feature that people either love or hate. Or is that a love or hate for Facebook transferred to the Timeline? I couldn't quite tell from the discussion.

Augmented Reality: does the web need this to survive?
  • Only 20% of the audience agreed with this one. Some opinion that this was sometimes a nice feature but that too much of a good thing could easily become a problem.

Will online sharing get you fired?
  • The theme of this year's conference was "Sharing is Caring." This discussion focused on how much people can share within an organization without getting into trouble over what they share with others. While 30% agreed you could lose your job over this one, most people were more comfortable with the growing openness spreading throughout the web environment, both inside and outside organizations.

Usability: "Now that website redesign is over,  can we stop worrying about usability?"
  • This question came from the title of a presentation at the conference. Actually, the session title was a bit misleading. The exact proposition was that major website redesign projects costing hundreds of thousands of dollars were going to disappear, replaced by something akin to continuous tinkering with existing sites. That said, nobody agreed that it was OK to stop worrying about usability. Wise folk at a J.Boye conference voted 100% for the continued importance of usabilty.

Vice Presidents of Marketing: Will new CMS technology make them the "webmasters" of the future?
  • Was the answer to this one just possibly influenced by the lack of marketing people attending? In any case, only about 10% agreed that CMS systems were going to give marketers far more control over the web in the future than they have had in the past.

Next J.Boye Conference in November

If you can't wait for the 2013 conference in Philadelphia next May, starting watching the conference program develop for November 6-8 in Aarhus, Denmark.

That's all for now. 

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"Writing Right for the Web" Conference in May

My second 2-day "Writing Right for the Web" conference happens 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. 

Check the conference details to see what you're missing next week. Or register late and join us!

Web content writer and more... Will you do this for $45,000 per year?

Here's another entry to my collection of job descriptions (and sometimes salary) for positions like this.


This individual will:

This position requires:

  • the ability to write and present information in a clear and compelling manner for the school's target audiences
  • strong attention to detail to ensure accurate application of policies and practices
  • proficiency in using content management systems
  • strong collaborative skills

This person will also collaborate closely with University Communications on projects that communicate and promote our brand.


  • Write and edit compelling, accurate and information-rich content in our content management system for our websites and email campaigns.
  • Work closely with the school's 26 academic departments to research, develop and write content for their web presences.
  • Write compelling, timely stories that resonate with the prioritized audiences identified in our business case and that advance the reputation of the school.
  • Coordinate the inclusion of dynamic multimedia content across the school's web presence, with emphasis on the homepage.
  • Edit the school's websites to ensure consistency, accuracy, readability and appropriateness of style.
  • Work closely with our faculty to write and edit faculty professional summaries.
  • Identify opportunities to leverage non-text media (audio, photo, video, interactive media) in school websites.
  • Maintain the master editorial content calendar.



  • Thorough knowledge of the fundamentals of grammar, syntax, style and punctuation; meticulous copyediting and proofreading skills.
  • Demonstrated skills in writing, editing and effective communication with a variety of constituencies.
  • Writing for the web.
  • User-centered web content development and a strong instinct for usability and effective content organization.
  • HTML markup language for formatting and styling web content.


  • Mastery of at least one content management system.
  • Basic image editing skills.


  • Outstanding web writing, editing and proofreading skills, with meticulous attention to detail.
  • Strong interpersonal communication, diplomacy and relationship-building skills to establish and maintain effective working partnerships with internal clients and other staff members.
  • Ability be flexible and to work both independently and collaboratively on multiple projects as part of a tightly-knit team that includes a content strategist, information architect, other writers, a photographer and a user experience expert.
  • Strong organizational and time-management skills: demonstrated ability to effectively organize, prioritize and manage a high volume of assignments, with frequent interruptions, to complete tasks in a timely manner.
  • Ability to organize multiple layers of copy and maintain consistency in voice, brand and site architecture.
  • Ability to think creatively and strategically.
  • Ability to produce consistently, learn rapidly and keep pace with other team members.
  • Ability to make good judgment calls in a complex environment.

Education and Experience

  • Bachelor's degree in marketing, communications, creative writing, public relations or similar field.
  • Three or more years' experience in writing and editing web content.
  • Work experience in a higher education environment a plus.

Reporting Relationship

This position will report to the Director for Strategic Digital Communications.

Functional Relationships

This individual will work cooperatively and creatively with the rest of the Office of Communications professionals in order to produce high-quality and targeted web content. This individual will work frequently with staff in affiliated hospitals and staff and faculty within the medical school.

Appointment, Salary and Benefits

This is a full-time (40 hours/week) salaried position. The salary is $45,000 annually.

Detailed benefit information is available on the UB Foundation website.


Review of applications will begin immediately and continue until the position is filled. Submit your resume, cover letter and links to three examples of online content you have produced to the SMBS Office of Communications.

May greetings to everyone. As you read this I am on my way to Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta, my second visit to a most energetic and enterprising university.

This is also my week to finish details for my digital marketing strategy tutorial at the J.Boye Web and Intranet Conference ( next week as well as the material for my 2-day "Writing Right for the Web Conference" May 24-24 ( The early registration discount for web writing is open until May 4.

And now here are your marketing news and notes for May.
Do Loans Count as Financial Aid?

This is not a new question, but it is receiving increased attention in today's economic climate where people are more concerned about assuming debt of any sort.

Bloomberg added to what is a growing public relations challenge by calling out four universities in an article titled "Colleges Confuse Students with Letters Offering Aid That's Debt." A subhead in the story refers to the financial aid award letters reviewed as "Manipulative and Deceptive."

How do your award letters compare with those sent by Drexel, Bradley, and Butler universities and the Missouri University of Science and Technology? Start with the April 24 Bloomberg article at
Mobile Marketing: 10 Tips for Effective Email in the Mobile World

Once again, let us make this point: email is far from dead. Indeed, it is thriving. But effective email today is not what it was 5 or 10 years ago.

The direct marketing experts at Target Marketing offer 10 best practices for email design that will bring higher open rates from people reading them on a mobile device. The very specific advice includes maximum pixel width, recommended fonts, best font size for headlines and text, and where to place the call to action.

But my favorite was included at the end: be sure to bring people to a mobile-friendly web page. If you do not do that, your conversion rate will suffer. Read more on "10 Email Design Best Practices for a Mobile World" at
Mobile Marketing: Cannot believe I read this department

An exec at some sort of mobile marketing place said in a Mobile Marketer article that while having a mobile-friendly web presence in support of a mobile campaign might be nice, it was not necessary as forcing a person to "scroll around the campaign to get the message" might increase engagement.

Perhaps. I have also heard rumors about pigs that fly. To get both sides of the story, see "Why are marketers forgetting to optimize their mobile campaigns" at
How Quickly Do You Call a Potential Student?

At for-profit higher education schools, 69.7 percent call a potential student within one hour of receiving the lead information. Just over 20 percent call in less than 5 minutes. Rapid response times like that indeed give competitive advantage with people interested in more than one school.

How does your response time compare? If you ask for and receive a phone number or email address, many if not most people expect you to use it. And the faster you use it, the better.

You can find more response time data and similar information on recruiting at for-profit institutions on the ForProfitEdu website at
Differential Tuition: Interest Grows to Enhance Revenue

How to make more money from tuition is a topic at colleges and universities throughout the land these days. Successes and failures with several models are reviewed in an InsideHigherEd article, "Tuition Model Quietly Spreading" at both universities and community colleges. Visit

Interest may increase faster as people study results at Western Michigan University.

WMU is charging undergraduate Fine Arts students and junior and senior year business students higher tuition per course, whatever the individual course. Yes, if you are a Fine Arts student you will pay more to take a course in American History than a history major. What was the result in the first year? For the College of Fine Arts, tuition revenue increased $1.4 million. For the Haworth College of Business, tuition income increased $2 million. Read more from WMU at
Web Management: Centralize or Decentralize Content Creation?

Higher education began to adopt Content Management Systems not long ago with an expectation that individual units throughout the university would take responsibility for content creation. More often than not, those expectations have not been met.

If this is an issue on your campus, read my interview with Nancy Boudreau, director of web content management at Sacred Heart University, on their experience from the introduction of a new CMS over the past 7 years. While Nancy notes "some success," she also notes why there is now a move back to more centralization: the need to "ensure the quality of content."

Nancy shares more about what worked and what did not over the past 7 years in her interview at
E-book Reading: Rise in Popularity Continues

New research from the Pew Internet and American Life Project reports a continuing rise in the popularity of reading books and magazines electronic versions. E-book users also read publications in print and have clear preferences for when one format is better than another. For instance, 69 percent prefer print to share a publication with someone else and 83 percent prefer an electronic version when they want to get something quickly.

Both of those states have implications for the communication plans of higher education marketers with potential students of any age. For more on the changing world of electronic reading, see the Pew Internet report on "The rise of e-book reading" at
Social Media Metrics for Marketing Decisions

Where should you spend your social media time and money? An article in 1to1 Media recounts the varied experiences over the past few years by Carnival Cruises, American Airlines, and Cirque du Soleil. While this is not the higher education sector, there are lessons to learn here.

The most significant lesson: despite the apparent popularity of a particular form of social media, that popularity does not mean every organization should invest in it. In the cases here, for instance, Carnival eliminated Twitter. Cirque du Soleil abandoned FourSquare after initial efforts did not meet expectations but has increased investment in YouTube.

For more on media metrics deemed important, check "The Most Actionable Social Media Metrics" at
Google Advertising Change

If you advertise on Google, a new "Near Match" feature now in beta testing may increase your cost-per-click by giving you exposure to people who search for content that is close to, but not quite the same as, what you are offering. What does Google suggest you might expect? A 6.5 percent increase in clicks and a 9.8 percent increase in impressions.

AdAge explains what is happening in "The Next Shift at Google Could Have Big Impact on Advertisers" at
How Students Search for Online Education Content

Students are wiser users of online learning sources than we might recognize. A recent conference presentation reports strong use of free resources from MIT and Stanford University, for instance. Pre-med and health science students favor the Mayo Clinic as a resource.

The caveat for traditional higher education: students often use these resources due to "dissatisfaction with their own professors."

Read more about how the authority of traditional higher education is crumbling in 'Free Range Learners' at
Most Popular Topic in the April Newsletter

The most popular topic was the entry on "10 Useful Findings on How People View Websites." If you missed it, you can read it now at
Conferences 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. Pre-conferences workshop on "Digital Marketing Strategy: Planning for Present and Future Success" and regular session on "Increasing Online Inquiries: Key Steps to Improve Search Optimization for Academic Programs." Visit the conference website at

July 30-August 1, Boston: eduWeb2012. Pre-conference digital marketing workshop and regular session presentation on top task website design. 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
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