Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

March 2013 Archives

A Marketing Plus: Aarhus University Recruits International Students in 9 Languages

No matter how well a potential international student (or their parents) may know the language of the possible host country, wading through that language on a typical higher education website is not always easy. That's why it makes great good sense to provide initial information in the language of the countries from which you hope to enroll students. Not many universities take the time to do that. 

Aarhus University sets an unusually strong example in two ways.

First, information is presented in these 9 languages:
  • English
  • Chinese
  • Hindi
  • German
  • Spanish
  • Indonesian
  • Russian
  • Portuguese
  • French
Second, the language is used not only on the "Welcome" page but also on four others:
  • Why choose Aarhus University?
  • Living in Denmark
  • Structure
  • Career options
For an example of how to increase the marketing strength of your international student recruitment website, start at the "AU in 9 Languages" page at Aarhus University.

How to make this stronger? The link to this page is immediately visible only to students interested in Master's degree programs. Add the same link to pages introducing bachelor and Ph.D. programs.

P.S. If you've been visiting, you already know this: my web editing connection remains broken and we're still working on a fix. To scroll the complete list of 234 Link of the Week selections up to February 15, visit the original Link of the Week page.

Responsive Design... Not a Magic Solution

When responsive design first appeared as a solution to the challenge of "going mobile" with website content, more than a few people jumped on it with the eagerness of a cat chasing a fast-moving object across a floor or field. Since then, reality has crept back into view. Responsive design is hard work. Mobile apps sometimes are a better solution. Responsive design will not magically turn a bad website on a big screen into a good one on a smaller screen.

Do you really want to make everything on your "regular" website "responsive"? The right answer is "Of course not, that's just silly. Half of the content on our website is garbage." But how will you decide what content to purge? That's one thing we'll talk about at my responsive design session at the J.Boye Web and Intranet Conference in Philadelphia this May.

This occasional Responsive Design series started last week and featured Gene Lewis, creative director at Digital Pulp, answering questions from a project now underway at Dartmouth College. Today we wrap that up with more Q&A with Gene. 

Responsive Design: Moving Mainstream with Extra Time and Cost

REJ Question: When a potential client first approaches you about creating a Responsive Design website, what are the most important questions you ask to learn how much they already know about what's involved?

Gene Lewis Answer
"Whenever a client brings up a specific need or requirement, we do some digging to learn what's behind the request - It's important to know what we're solving for. Clients are often susceptible to trends (e.g. We need a blog! Not sure why, but we need one!). If a solid strategy isn't attached to a request, it often falls flat.

"When RD is raised, we want to make sure that our clients understand what Responsive Design enables (and what it doesn't), and that it requires some additional effort (and therefore cost). Gone are the days when mobile was a nice-to-have. RD is now far more mainstream and doesn't feel like a trend request."

Responsive Design: The Creative Challenge

REJ Question: From your experience creating RD sites, is there a "most likely" barrier to success that you need to overcome?

Gene Lewis Answer
"We're in the midst of many responsive projects right now, and each pose their own set of challenges. If I said cost, would that seem shallow?

"One of the most frustrating things I've read time and again is that Responsive isn't really that much more work --B.S. If you do it well, it's more work for everyone involved. And as an agency, it adds an entire level of approvals and revision cycles to a project. 

"A number of RD articles have said that a majority of responsive design work should be done in code -- and not in design. While I have the utmost respect and admiration for good front-end developers, I haven't run across many developers with an incredible design aesthetic. 

"For a truly elegant Responsive result, you need the creative and front-end development teams working together. There are so many ways of creatively solving interface challenges these days that the sky's the limit -- you just need someone to make the right choices."

And a marketing note on top tasks...

I'll explore the marketing element more in the future, but every web team working on a public site will benefit from the addition of a marketing-oriented member who understands the need to make top-task completion a priority. When people can complete their top tasks quickly and easily, the marketing strength of your website will grow.

Gene on recommended reading...

When I asked Gene for recommended reading, he started with a "shameless plug" for an article by the agency's director of user experience, Sarah Blecher. Check Sarah's blog post for "9 Questions Higher Education Institutions Should Ask Before Starting a Responsive Website Design Project." No room for cats chasing shiny objects here.

He also recommended Tim Kadlec's book, Implementing Responsive Web Design.

My 2-day "Writing Right for the Web" Workshop... for any screen size

May 30-31, Boston: "Writing Right for the Web: Improving Your Web Content," Academic Impressions Conference. Review the topics and register.

That's all for now.

Join me on Twitter at

Subscribe to "Your Higher Education Marketing Newsletter" and "Link of the Week" selections at

Success After Graduation... A Most Unusual Presentation

Everyone wants to know... if I (or my child) graduate from your university, can I expect to have a successful career? That's an especially important question for liberal arts colleges and universities where the connection between learning and career success isn't always immediate.

Drew University presents an unusually designed mix of facts and stories to bolster confidence in the value of a Drew degree. It takes a little scrolling but visitors quickly come upon:

  • The usual number for people employed a year after graduation (95%) and another for unemployed (3.5%). 
  • A list of 21 employers and 25 professional and graduate schools.
  • My favorite: 9 easy-to-scan image labels that lead to brief student stories that quickly show the diversity of career possibilities: Building Wealth, Advancing Medicine, Rescuing Schools, Pharmacist in Training, Launching New Bands, Military Intelligence, Reinventing Theatre, In the Beauty Biz, and Thailand First.
  • 7 profiles of longer term graduates spread over 1975, 1985, 1987, 1989, 2010, and 2011.
  • And right at the bottom of the page, highly visible links to "Visit Campus" or "Apply Now" or "Contact Us."
For an engaging presentation of what people have done with a Drew University degree, visit the When You Graduate page.

P.S. If you've been visiting, you already know this: my web editing connection remains broken and we're still working on a fix. To scroll the complete list of 234 Link of the Week selections up to February 15, visit the original Link of the Week page.

Responsive design... from a marketing perspective

Today an occasional series on the implementation of Responsive Design at higher education websites starts. Responsive design is one answer (and a popular one) to the reality that websites built for large screen viewing do not work well on smartphone screens.

I'm skeptical of any "solution" that quickly is adopted with evangelical zeal. That skepticism increased last May after insane, frothing-at-the-mouth responses on Twitter to an Alertbox article by Jakob Nielsen suggesting that Responsive Design might not be the right solution in every case for "going mobile."

Later in the series I'll add notes from a marketer's perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of Responsive Design. So far I've visited about 25 "responsive" higher education. I'll visit more to prepare for a Responsive Design presentation at the J.Boye Web and Intranet Conference in May.

Dartmouth College... Planning, Process, and Progress

An interview with Gene Lewis, creative director at Digital Pulp, opens the series.

In late January Mitchell Caplan, managing director at Digital Pulp, wrote to introduce me to the RD work underway for Dartmouth College. After visiting the site on my iPhone and laptop, I asked Gene if he'd agree to answer a few questions about the Dartmouth work. He agreed. Today we have answers to two questions. More will follow next week.

REJ Question: Dartmouth is off to a good start with Responsive Design. That said, it is obvious from the "Phase I" label that you plan to go further into the site so that there are fewer occasions when smartphone visitors find themselves on regular web pages. The medical school and the business school, for instance, are not yet mobile-friendly while the engineering school is.

How far down the Responsive Design trail does Dartmouth plans to go? On your blog you refer to "full depth" content. Is the plan to transform the entire site? If not, how will decisions be made about what content to delete or just leave alone?

Gene Lewis Answer
"We've come to realize that "Phase I" is overstating it. I might re-classify it as a .5 release. For a number of reasons, Dartmouth wanted to demonstrate progress as early as possible, so we worked with the internal team to quickly implement 3 templates that were integrated into the architecture and content (no substantive changes were made). A very light version of a Responsive approach was implemented to hint at what would be coming down the road.

"In the coming months, a entirely new architecture will debut - and with it more than 40 unique RD templates that will have been fully integrated into Drupal. Nearly every area of will be affected."

REJ Question: The RD home page opens with four primary topics: Academics, Campus Life, Research, and About. How was the decision made to highlight those four areas?

Gene Lewis Answer
"Those sections actually weren't touched in Phase I - they've remained unchanged for many years. We worked with the Dartmouth team for several months to completely re-think the entire site architecture, consolidating several hundred sites into a single cohesive structure and user experience that balances simplicity and the school's ethos.

"While we can't share the specific architecture until launch, we can tell you that everything has been consolidated and language has been re-tooled to more effectively balance Dartmouth's pedagogy and relevance to the world. We think it's going to have a big impact on how Dartmouth connects with its many audiences."

Next week: Barriers to success and reading recommendations

"Writing Right for the Web"... for any screen size

May 30-31, Boston: "Writing Right for the Web: Improving Your Web Content," Academic Impressions Conference. Review the topics and register.

That's all for now.

Join me on Twitter at

Subscribe to "Your Higher Education Marketing Newsletter" and "Link of the Week" selections at

Competitive Tuition Costs... A Rare Example from Eastern Washington University

If you have a cost advantage over other public universities in your state, why not highlight that advantage on your website? Makes marketing sense and yet you don't see that happening very often in higher education, even in these times of increasing price sensitivity.

Eastern Washington is one of the rare examples of a university that does not hold back from making sure people know that the cost of an EWU bachelor's degree is less than the cost at other Washington universities. Included in a comparison chart that you can't miss when the "Costs and Fees" page opens:

  • In-state Tuition and Fees
  • Books
  • Room & Board
  • Total Cost
  • Four-Year Savings When You Choose EWU
Depending on the competition, annual savings can range from just $4,572 to over $20,000 at four other state universities.

For an unusual example of cost comparison in higher education, visit the Eastern Washington University "Costs and Fees" page.

Bob Johnson

P.S. Yes, my website content editor is still broken so the Link of the Week is on the blog for a second week. Every expectation that we'll have a new editor in place this week.
As I finish this newsletter we are having a rare sunny day in Michigan. Bright enough to make me realize spring is indeed almost upon us. May you all be having equally fine weather as you read this.

The latest update to my secret shopping reports on email response to an online inquiry takes a close look at the 31 Fast-Forward Application emails sent from one college between September and February. Read the subject lines and count the deadline changes at

The Call for Papers for eduWeb2013 is open until March 8. Details at

My first conference presentations this year are at the J.Boye Web and Intranet Conference in Philadelphia in May: a tutorial on building web management consensus and sessions on responsive design and top task website design. More on the tutorial and the entire conference at

My 2-day conference on Writing Write for the Web moves to Boston, May 30-31. Details for 2013 and video from the 2012 event are online now at

And now here are your higher education marketing news and notes for March.
Start with a Laugh: Visit Monsters University Website

What do you get when you assemble every cliché about a higher education website in a single parody?

Monsters University website at

Do not miss the intro to Academics with an opening video "Message from the Dean for Prospective Students" but also be sure to include the entry pages for About and Admissions on your visit.
Where Have the Full Pay Students Gone since 2005?

For insight into the changes since 2008 in the percent of new freshmen who pay full tuition and the average size of institutional scholarships and grants awarded to freshmen, visit

Group schools by public or private not-for-profit and by state or region. Or you can create a custom group of your competitors. Comparison years, from IPEDS, are 2005 and 2010.
Email for Mobile Marketing in 2013

Mike Hotz offers insight into key changes you need to make for effective email marketing in 2013.

My favorite was the need to apply responsive design to your email and not just your website. Make sure you read, or try to read, your email on your smartphone. If you cannot do that without finger flicking to enlarge the text, your email marketing will suffer in 2013.

More on email marketing and mobile apps from Mike at
Selective Colleges and Universities: An Ongoing Lack of Socioeconomic Diversity

Is socioeconomic diversity a more important goal in the future than ethnic diversity?

That is the question Richard Kahlenberg asks in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education column after being "dumbstruck" by an open discussion of that topic at a talk he was giving at Middlebury College sponsored by a new student group called Money at Midd.

The result is a fine overview of economic vs. ethnic diversity in admission goals that prompted at least 60 comments in response at
Strategy for Creating Responsive Design Websites

Are you planning to jump on the responsive design bandwagon this year? Be sure to read Jared Spool on strategy points to consider as you start the process. Two of my favorite points: you will need to reduce content and pay special attention to images.

A website that is not marketing strong before responsive design will not be marketing strong after it. Check more good advice in "Devising a Strategy for Responsive Design" at
The High Cost of Brand Position: 60+ Percent Tuition Discounting

Imagine you worked at Top 25 National Liberal Arts College with an endowment of about $1.4 billion and had to discount more than 60 cents of every tuition dollar to enroll a freshmen class. Would that be a sustainable financial model at your school?

More about the high cost of maintaining brand position and how one board of trustees hopes to change the financial model in my blog post at
Social Media Demographics

Social media marketing is important, but depending on your goals not all social media sites are equally important. If you want to reach men, for instance, Pinterest will not have a large role to play. Only 5 percent of men online use Pinterest compare to 25 percent of women.

The folks at the Pew Internet project bring us that information and more on 5 popular social media sites in their February research report at
Graduate Student Enrollment: Advertising on LinkedIn

If ambitious young professionals looking for career advancement are a recruitment target for your master's degree programs, LinkedIn is expanding online advertising opportunities with special attention to smartphones.

Read more about what is planned for 2013 at
The Marketing Power of "You" in Writing

In my Writing Right for the Web sessions I always try to include an example of a page that uses "you" to speak to the people who are reading the page. Pages like that are not easy to find.

Perhaps more people will start making their websites visitor-friendly by adopting a "you" approach after reading Tim Riesterer on "Nine Common Phrases Made Great by Using 'You' Instead of 'We'" at

Reducing the amount of organization-centric writing is one way you can start improving the marketing strength of your website tomorrow.
Blessedly Brief Online Inquiry Forms: 3 New Honor Roll Members in February

The Honor Roll started in October with an original 6 members and more have surfaced since then.

Three more were added in February: a music school, a continuing studies program, and an undergraduate admissions site. See the new and the earlier winners at

If you have one similar to these, send me the link.
Most Popular Topic Last Month: City University of New York Landing Page

CUNY creates great landing pages that repeat and reinforce advertising messages. See the landing page and the original ad for "At CUNY, the Legacy Continues" at
Conferences and Webinars in 2013

Look for presentation details in the February newsletter.

May 7-9, Philadelphia: "5 Top Web Management Principles: Achieving Consensus within Your Organization" and "Winning Friends at Your Website: Use Top Task Design for a Great Experience," J.Boye Web and Intranet conference. Program and registration starts at

May 30-31, Boston: "Writing Right for the Web: Improving Your Institution's Web Content," Academic Impressions Conference. Details are online at

June 25, Webinar: "Improving Your Website to Increase Adult Student Enrollment," Academic Impressions. Description and registration are online now at

Also plan to attend one or more of my favorites... ACT Enrollment Planners Conference in July, and/or eduWeb Conference also in July.

Expand the marketing skills of people on your campus. Host a campus workshop on any of my conference presentation topics or "Writing Right for The Web." Scan the presentation topics at

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
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