Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

April 2013 Archives

Parents and Prices: Important Pieces in Converting Inquiries to Applicants

A few weeks ago I was writing a client report on the results of the secret shopping project that started last June and ended in February. Two omissions from the email and print communications flow stood out: parents and prices.

Do you hate helicopter parents?

The term helicopter parents was most likely coined years ago by a frustrated admissions person who didn't like the fact that parents were so closely involved in the college selection process. 

Smart marketers know that you should not ignore parents just because you don't like their behavior. Close your eyes, put your head under a pillow or in a hole in the sand, crawl into a closet and shut the door... parents will still be there when you come back to the real world.

And so it did surprise me that no communication for parents (email or print) came along from June until well into the fall. What's with that? 

Stand out from everyone else. Start by sending a letter congratulating them on their daughter's or son's interest in your school. And stay in touch with them at least monthly after that. Waiting three months or more to send a brochure or an email is waiting too long.

What should you talk to parents about? 

Do you remember that parents care about price?

You don't have to search far to find someone in higher education bemoaning the fact that parents and students pay too much attention to "sticker price" and just don't understand how financial aid results in a much lower "net cost." Whatever shall we do?

Well, one thing to do is make a contact early after receiving an inquiry and invite people (especially parents) to complete your Net Cost Calculator. Especially if you are marketing-savvy enough to use one that has 12 to 15 items to complete rather than one that amounts to a mini-FAFSA exercise. And make sure they know who to call with questions when the results of the Net Cost Calculator come back.

Do you have a merit scholarship program? Don't frustrate people by telling them when the calculator page opens that merit scholarship awards are not included. Especially don't do that if a serious competitor is not making that mistake.

Getting people past sticker price to net cost early in the inquiry conversion process just might result in more summer and fall visits and more applications. Without taking direct steps like this, can we still blame people who don't grasp the virtue of the financial aid system?

My 2-day "Writing Right for the Web" Workshop

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.

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

Scan 9 Academic Program Areas in 5 Seconds on the Home Page

Nearly every college and university website has a navigation link to "Academics" at the top of the home page. From that point you may or may not be able to see the academic programs offered in one link or in a drop down menu.

The University of Nebraska eliminates the need to click or roll over anything to see 9 major academic areas in a single scan of the home page that easily passes the 5-second rule.

See the area that interests you? A single click takes you direct to either the undergraduate or graduate majors offered. Move on from there and explore your favorite(s).

Learning what academic programs are offered is a top task for most future students looking for the school that's best for them. Few home pages make that task as easy to do as the one you'll see when you visit the University of Nebraska home page.

234 Websites at the Original Link of the Week Page

P.S. If you've been visiting you know that my website editing connection hasn't been working for a while now. To scroll the 234 Link of the Week selection up until February 15 visit the original Link of the Week page

Responsive Design is often a slow solution for a mobile presence

The last week or two I've been reading a book on responsive design by Tim Kadlec (Implementing Responsive Design) that was recommended by Gene Lewis, creative director at Digital Pulp. Kadlec makes a key point that others do as well: when planning for a responsive design website, it is best to start with a "mobile first" approach rather than work down to a mobile presence from an existing site created for desktop viewing.

How many colleges and universities actually take a "mobile first" approach? 

I suspect that most responsive design websites in higher education try to work closely with the original site and adapt it to small screen viewing. The challenge of serious content removal to reduce the original website (bloated from content added over the last 15 or 20 years) often is ignored. 

And the even more immediate challenge of removing content items from the home page? From the home pages I've reviewed, that's a political issue that many people are happy to avoid.

Most "mobile" websites are faster than most Responsive Design websites

The result? Most responsive design home pages I've tested over the last few days do not download to a smartphone nearly as fast as a mobile website. From a marketing perspective, that's important. Speed counts. If your mobile presence works much faster than those of your competitors you'll have a distinct competitive advantage. People like speed. People expect speed. .

Let's get specific. 
  • The fastest mobile website I tested using Mobitest (St. Mary's University) downloaded in 1.8 seconds. Close behind was Seton Hall University at 1.88 seconds. The fastest responsive design site (UC-San Diego) took 5.05 seconds to load. The University of Vermont was second at 5.37 seconds.
  • The slowest mobile site was 7.08 seconds. The slowest responsive design site was 21.2 seconds.
It isn't the size of the university at work here. The University of Virginia mobile home page loads in 2.26 seconds. It's the size of the home page. Mobile sites have fewer elements on the "mobile" home page. That's the benefit of a "mobile first" approach. It forces people to deal with the need for a much lighter web presence. 

The results were not absolute. Some mobile sites were slower than the fastest responsive design sites. And that's exactly the point. Responsive design will work best when content reduction is an important element in the initial plan. No magic responsive design star dust will make a large, cumbersome "traditional" website work fast on a smartphone.

Can the quest for speed on a responsive design website be a catalyst for serious content reduction? Let's hope so. When that happens, the web experience on screens of any size will improve dramatically.

J.Boye Web & Intranet Conference May 7-9

I was reading Kadlec's book as the starting place for my responsive design presentation in the "Going Mobile" track at the J.Boye Web & Intranet Conference. Join us there for a lively discussion of how much speed counts in the mobile world.

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

Marketing Power on the Home Page... Advance Your Career

Nearly 10 years ago the Customer Carewords partnership did a survey of students looking to attend an MBA program at an elite university... the top task those students wanted to complete was leaning how that MBA program could help them advance their careers.

Since that research I've never seen anything to suggest that "advance your career" is not a primary motivation for most adult students returning for a degree. Many universities would agree but I've never seen one use that knowledge in as striking a fashion as Capella University... the home page opens with a very large "Advance Your Career" banner that's simply impossible to miss. 

Advance Your Career + Areas to Study + Cost Calculator

When your eyes do roam from the "Advance Your Career" heading you'll see large links to 5 primary areas of study. That's another top task for potential students.

And while it isn't as prominent, if you follow the link to Tuition and Financial Aid you'll see a link to a net cost calculator. As a top task, learning about cost is higher now than it has ever been before.

For a home page with an usually strong focus on student recruitment marketing, visit the Capella University example.

New Webinar on Adult Student Recruitment

P.S. Join me June 25 for a webinar on "Improving Your Website to Increase Adult-Student Enrollment." Content and registration at the Academic Impressions website.

P.P.S. If you've been visiting, you already know that my web editing connection broke back in March. We expect to have everything back to working order this week. To scroll the complete list of 234 Link of the Week selections up to February 15, visit the original Link of the Week page.
Spring is at last emerging in Michigan. The crocuses are chilly but out of the ground. Tulips must be coming along soon. 

Just as the flowers are blooming, I hope that enrollment conversion efforts at your school bring deposits from new freshmen between now and May to match your goals. 

The J.Boye Web and Intranet Conference will offer international insights, superb organization, stimulating sessions and great social events in May. Review the program and register

Workshops and regular session titles for eduWeb 2013 are online now at 

If I have a favorite conference topic it is "Writing Right for the Web." Join us for the next event in Boston May 30-31. Check how you can make your website a better place to visit at

And now here are marketing notes and news for April.
Competitive Intelligence: Try this Tool from Jon Boeckenstedt

IPEDS information can offer marketing strategists valuable insight into key differences between their own institutions and their primary competitors if they take the time to wade through the data.

Jon Boeckenstedt at DePaul University has done everyone with a competitive intelligence inclination a favor by creating a format to check up to 8 schools for information on new student test scores, admission and graduation rates, ethnic diversity enrollment, and endowment and Pell Grant levels.

When Jon's chart opens you will see stats for 8 Ivy League universities. Look in the right column for detail on how to delete those and add your own school and any others up to a total of 8 that interest you.

See how it works at and send Jon a note of thanks at
Higher Ed Sticker Prices: Still Important for Parents

A new survey of the parents of college-bound high school students here in the U.S. shows that sticker price is still an important factor as families decide what college or university a child might attend.

Despite continued efforts to spread awareness of various financial aid programs, people like Richard Ekman, president of the Council of Independent Colleges, admit that an "affordability mental block" still exists. 

Here is a modest proposal: public and private sector universities should follow the example of the University of Delaware and Lynn University and put links to their net cost calculators on the home page. It is past time for marketers to take a leading role in increasing the visibility and ease of use of a tool that can reduce the "affordability mental block." If your school does not do this, you cannot complain about "affordability" mental blocks.

Spread the research around your campus after you learn more about parents and college selection at
Coursera Online Courses: Only 62 Universities Can Play

Some might call it necessary quality control and others might call it controlling competition but whatever the you call it your university is not likely to get approval from Coursera to join in offering online courses unless it is one of 60 U.S. and two Canadian universities that are members of the Association of American Universities. 

Schools outside the U.S. and Canada will need to be a "top five" university in their own country. Waivers from an advisory board are possible but rare. Courses for the masses, offered by the elite.

Read more about policy at 
Gerry McGovern: Why Content is Not a Strategy

If you are planning a website revision or just tuning up your current site, create your improvement strategy by identifying the top tasks your visitors want to complete before deciding what the top content should be.

To better present that position to everyone involved, read an interview with Gerry McGovern 
Tuition Increases: The Impact of Declining Teaching Loads

This has the potential to cause public relations nightmares for higher education leaders: the extent to which lower teaching loads have spread throughout higher education from the late 1980s to the early 2000s, resulting in a loss of income from tuition that has forced higher overall tuition rates.

The charts in this report are fascinating: from genuine research universities with important research responsibilities to nearly every other type of institution, a modest restoration of teaching loads would produce significantly more revenue and lower overall teaching costs. 

Download your copy of "Selling Students Short" at 
Higher Education in Alberta: Public Sector Future in the U.S.?

Just as state governments are doing in the U.S. so too are provincial governments reducing higher education funding in Canada. And in Alberta, the Advanced Education Minister is mandating review and elimination of academic programs based on criteria that include duplication, low enrollment, and quality. 

Read more about an unusually vigorous intervention in higher education planning at 
Tablets vs. Smartphones for Website Visits: Are Tablets Winning?

Adobe is reporting that around the world Internet visits from tablets have overtaken visits from smartphones. Overall, tablet users now make about 8 percent of website visits while smartphone visits are at 7 percent.

Here in the U.S. it is also true that for teens a smartphone is more valuable than a tablet for daily communication. But is that true when researching higher education choices? Marketers will want to watch closely this year their analytics reports about how new visitors are accessing their websites.

More on the Adobe report at 
Facebook Advertising for Mobile: Think Newsfeed

Are you advertising on Facebook? If you are and you want to engage the growing number of mobile users, the only place way to do that is by placing ads in the newsfeed. That was the advice of Facebook executive Nicholas Franchet at a conference in March.

Not only is the newsfeed the only place mobile visitors will see ads, it is also the most engaging place to put them. See more about the ad types available in the Mobile Marketer report 

And of course remember that people are still not overly happy about social media and mobile advertising. That does not mean you should not do it. It does argue for careful selection of where your ads will appear so that your ad content matches the interests of those who see it as closely as possible.
Responsive Design: The Dartmouth College Example

Work is in progress on a responsive design remake of the Dartmouth College website. Visit my blog for Q&A with Gene Lewis, creative director at Digital Pulp, to help you draft a realistic plan if responsive design is in your future. 

Start with "Responsive Design: Not a Magic Solution" at 
Pinterest: Analytics for Marketers

If Pinterest is part of your social media marketing plan, visit "The Complete Guide to Using Pinterest's Free Analytics Tool" at for review of basic but important stats. 

Before you get to see results you have to verify your site and switch to a new Pinterest design. If you do not like the new design, you can change back to the old one.

Is Pinterest important? That depends on your marketing plans. The very large majority of people using it are women. Hitwise reports Pinterest is the fourth most popular social media site in the U.S. at 1.17 percent of visitors at the end of March. That is still well below the 25.2 percent of visitors to second-place Yahoo.
Most Popular Topic Last Month: Monsters University Website

Laugh and weep as you see how the folks at Pixar accurately captured just about every brand cliché you can find on a higher education website when you visit 
Conferences and Webinars in 2013

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 

July 10-12, Chicago: "Advertising Online for Student Recruitment" pre-conference workshop and "Increasing Conversion: The Best (and Not So Best) Email Marketing Plans," ACT Enrollment Planners Conference. Workshop details are at 

July 29-31, Boston: "Advertising Online" workshop and, with David Marshall, "An Admissions First Mobile Site," eduWeb 2013. See all the sessions at 

Plan a custom presentation on your campus. Host a workshop on any of my conference presentation topics. 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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