Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

January 2014 Archives

Welcome Messages from Presidents: Very Little Marketing Impact

Last week while looking for a possible new Link of the Week selection I did a search for "presidents' university welcome statements." And then, in a spasm of ongoing torture, visited all the welcome statements that appeared on the first four pages.

If you want to find last bastions of banal content from presidents at just about every type of college and university, force yourself through the same exercise. Do presidents ever ask for the analytics on how many people actually visit and stay on their welcome page long enough to read the message? 

Two major problems are common. 
  • First, the content is almost always presented as dense text unbroken by subheads, bullet points or links. In other words, it is almost always impossible to scan. And that means that very many visitors will not even make the effort to find out what's being said.
  • Second, the content itself more often than not includes a collection of platitudes that might fit just about any college or university. The idea of creating something that contributes to a distinct brand identify does not seem alive and well in the president's office or among those who write these things if the president does not.
Consider these opening comments from three university presidents as a sample:
  • "Steeped in history yet in the lead; demanding but caring; remarkably diverse in its people, its interests, its opportunities for personal and intellectual growth; and rooted in a tradition of service..."
  • "(University name) is clearly a very special place. In addition to the faculty, who are excellent teachers and scholars, everyone at (University name) is eager to help students learn and live well. This is a beautiful campus in an outstanding academic and physical environment."
  • "We take great pride in our history and in the exceptional opportunities we offer to students. That pride shows in everything we do -- indeed, great things happen here every day."
Exceptions of course exist. 

One that stood out started (after just a few lines of text) with a video that turned out to be the president's opening semester message. Congrats to someone at University of Iowa for crafting a short (just over 2 minutes), simple, friendly video greeting from President Sally Mason. Yes, the first 60 seconds or so include the usual words you'll find everywhere. Things improve in the next 60 seconds with visuals of improvement taking place around the campus. Why don't more presidents' welcome pages use video?

Visit President George Martin's welcome at St. Edward's University where the opening headline just might make you want to scan a bit more: "On Becoming Unstoppable." If you do scan the page you'll find 5 subheads for "Highlights and Hallmarks" of the university. And those would be even stronger with links from each section to more information about them.

Links on President Christina Paxson's welcome at Brown University are not especially easy to see, but they do exist. When the president notes, for instance, a "distinctive approach to education" there is a link to "Brown gives students the freedom to direct their education." Without that link to the additional content, a claim to a "distinctive approach" would have little value.

Remedial action for President's Welcome Messages

In 2014 let's hope that some combination of these steps take place:
  • Messages will pass the 5-second rule by being easy to scan for major points that are likely to engage visitors. 
  • If it fits the president's personality, more use of video to deliver the message.
  • Links to more content about major points about the university. Don't just claim, demonstrate the substance behind the claim.
  • Serious editing of the total length and paragraph size.
That's all for now.

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"Writing Right for the Web" conference in March

March 27-28, Denver: "Writing Right for the Web: Focusing on Student Recruitment" sponsored by Academic Impressions. Agenda and registration at 

A very Happy New Year to everyone reading this. I am looking forward to another fine year of higher education marketing in 2014 with the hope that all of your campaigns bring success, smiles and new insights for future ventures.

My conference year starts with "Writing Right for the Web: Focusing on Student Recruitment" on March 27-28. Expect new tips, techniques, and examples exclusively from student recruitment sites for recruiting both traditional and online students. Details are at

The Call for Papers for eduWeb2014 in August is open from now until February 28. For details and plan to join us to share your wisdom and experience.

And now, with a nod toward best resolutions for 2014, are your marketing news and notes for January.
What Did the World Search For in 2013?

Trust me that this video from Google is not an advertisement but a quick and entertaining 90 second recap of the year past. Visit "Google Zeitgeist 2013" at 
Student Debt: Highs and Lows by State and School

Check how your school compares to others in this report from the Project on Student Debt. Highest and lowest states for student debt levels respectively were Delaware and New Mexico.

For Top 20 lists you might not want to be on, check Table 4 for public colleges and universities and Table 5 for private sector not-for-profit schools. Pennsylvania has the honor of capturing 6 of the public university positions. 

Table 6 lists together the Top 20 low debt institutions in the public and private sectors.

You can download and review the 28-page report at 
Measuring Success of MOOCs: Numbers vs. Percentages

Will 2014 see a new way of measuring the early success of MOOCs?

Evaluation to date has focused on low completion rates when compared to the tens of thousands of people who first sign up for a course. Many never start the course in the first place and the great majority of those who start do not finish.

Consider another perspective. At the University of Pennsylvania about 2,200 students completed an "Introduction to Operations Management" course that enrolled 110,000. Is that a success? Not by traditional measures.

The completion rate was still low but higher for "Cardiac Arrest, Resuscitation Science, and Hypothermia" where 5,200 of 40,000 enrolled completed the course.

Might numbers sometimes be more important than percentages? More at
Website Marketing Success: Commitment to Academic Excellence Can Kill You

Gerry McGovern makes the important point in "On the Web, context kills, speed saves" that everyone creating content for a higher education website should save as a New Year's resolution.

Nobody visiting a higher education website wants to read about your dedication to academic excellence or your departmental mission statements, or your commitment to the personal and professional success of your students. Too often content like that slows completion of the top tasks people visit your site do accomplish. When task completion is difficult, many people will simply leave your site.

Resolve to remove non-essential content and boost the task completion strength of your website in 2014 after you visit 
Falling Revenue: How on 19 Colleges and Universities are Coping

How are private sector schools coping with falling revenue, most often the results of decreasing enrollments? For a review of the options adopted by 19 schools in 13 states, see the Inside Higher Ed article on "Private Distress" at 
Online Advertising: Twitter Adds an Old Selection Favorite

Direct marketers will be pleased but not surprised to hear that Twitter has added a zip code selection to the criteria that advertisers can use in deciding which Twitter users will see their ads.

Unless you truly do have a mass advertising strategy for brand awareness (and not many of you can afford that), the ability to carefully focus your online advertising is one of the benefits that "Big Data" brings to your marketing campaigns. 

Zip code selection might not be for everyone, but adding a new option is welcome. More on the your geo-targeting options on Twitter at 
Usability Testing: The Benefits of Testing Your Competition

Do you know what the experience of a potential student is like on the websites of 3 to 5 of your most important competitors? If not, that might be something to learn in 2014 especially if you are planning any major site revisions.

Start with a new Alertbox article from Jakob Nielsen on "Competitive Usability Evaluations: Learning from Your Competition" at

Your goal: learn what your competitors are already doing well and not-so-well to focus on site improvements that will help you gain maximum competitive advantage.
Reducing Tuition: A NY Times Christmas Day Report

No penalty points if you missed the December 25 update from the NY Times on the steps taken at several private colleges and universities to meet the growing concern with high tuition costs.

Wise people disagree on the effectiveness of reducing sticker price costs but at a time when overall private sector tuition discounting is at 45 percent it is not surprising to see efforts like these. 

"Getting Out of Discount Game, Small Colleges Lower the Price" is at 
Change is Never Impossible: ABA Approves Online Law School Courses

One of the last barriers to preserving civilization as we knew it has fallen. 

The American Bar Association has given approval for the William Mitchell College of Law to offer a hybrid program of online and in-class courses for a part-time J.D program expected to take four years to complete.

We are of course on the slippery slope. If online courses are OK for part-time programs, can they not also be OK for hybrid full-time programs? More on the pressures that lead to change 
Where Advertisers Spend Money: Changes from 2005 to 2013

Thanks to AdAge for putting together a comparison of how advertising spending has changed between 2005 when "Internet" was not a category to 2013 when "Internet" first passed newspaper spending at 20.6 percent.

Today TV receives a higher percent than in 2005 and you will not be surprised to see that newspapers and magazines have been the biggest losers. The smallest and most consistent: Cinema at just .4 percent in 2005 and .5 percent in 2013. 

More cocktail party conversation points in "10 Things You Should Know About the Global Ad Market" at 
Email Marketing in 2014: Mobile, Mobile, Mobile

Once again, we can say that email marketing is not dead. But if your email, like mine, does not yet read well on a mobile device this is the year to make sure that it soon does.

For an infographic review of how and where people have been reading their email in 2013, including browsers and devices, visit 
Most Popular Topic in December Newsletter: 5 Take-Away Points from AMA Higher Ed Marketing Symposium

Topics include view books vs. video, content strategy, and tuition discounting at 
Conference Presentation in March and On-Campus Presentation Possibilities

March 27-28, Denver: "Writing Right for the Web: Focusing on Student Recruitment" sponsored by Academic Impressions. Agenda and registration at 

Plan a custom presentation on your campus. Host a workshop on any of my conference topics. Review the 2013 list at and contact me at or 248.766.6425.
Be a marketing champion on your campus.

Bob Johnson, Ph.D. 
Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC
Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC

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