Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

August 2015 Archives

E-expectations: Marketing Lessons for Online Student Recruitment

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the E-expectations research with college-bound high school students that started in 2005. Stephanie Guyer from Ruffalo Noel Levitz and Lance Merker from OmniUpdate presented the results at the eduWeb Digital Summit in July. You can read and download their slides here.

These "top marketing lessons" are the 2015 findings that deserve special attention as people work to fine-tune student recruitment marketing strategies. From the first time a potential student visits a college website to the end of the recruitment cycle, the lessons learned from the E-expectations results will increase conversions at each critical point.

The 4 top marketing lessons
  1. Your website is your most important online component. 
  2. Don't expect too much from social media. 
  3. Email is important throughout the recruitment cycle. 
  4. Texting is growing in value.
Websites: Tops in online importance and more important than print
  • A college or university website is still the most important online element in student recruitment, more so than social media and at times more important than real people. Consider these findings:
    • Nearly 100% of seniors and juniors say they find "reliable" information on your website. Nearly 50% of seniors and 42% of juniors believe that the quality of a higher ed website reflects the quality of the educational experience at the school that created it. 
    • If juniors have a question about your school, 70% will turn first to your website for an answer rather than call a counselor at your school or ask at their high school or send you an email. Percents change for seniors who presumably know more people at a college that interests them, but 57% of seniors still turn first to your website to answer a question.
    • Your website has more influence on what potential students think about your school than your print publications (or magazine rankings or college planning sites). That's true for both seniors (80% web, 33% print) and juniors (77% web, 38% print). Ranking and planning sites are far behind.
Social Media: Mixed reviews for content reliability
  • Students are mixed on the value of social media. A high percent of seniors (39%) and juniors (52%) did not agree with this choice: "I find reliable info through college social media" sites.
    • Don't expect lots of activity on social media. While just over 60% of seniors and juniors said they have "liked" a site, only about 20% of seniors and less than 10% of juniors commented on what they read. (That's normal. Most people who visit social media sites "read and leave" without any other "engagement.")
    • Facebook remains the most important social media site, with just over 50% saying it was "best" for college research. YouTube is visited more often, but only about 30% said it was best for research. Everything else was lower yet. If social media resources are limited, focus first on Facebook.
Email: A valued key to successful marketing
  • Email, of course, is far from dead. 
    • More than 80% of juniors and seniors trust the emails they receive from colleges.
    • Nearly 100% will open an email from a school that interests them. And about 60% say they will open an email from a school they don't know.
    • More than 60% check email on a smartphone at least daily. Make sure your emails are mobile-friendly as they open on the small screen.
Text Messages: They belong in the communication mix
  • Texting can grow as a recruitment tool.
    • More than 70% of seniors were willing to receive text messages, but only 28% had received one from a college. One reason: relatively few schools ask for permission to text. Few make it a clear choice on the admissions page as does St. Mary's University.
That's all for now.

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Greetings in August. And best wishes to everyone preparing for freshman move-in days this month. May all goes as planned, swiftly and smoothly with a fair sun shining on a cool day.

This month we begin with notes on two university home pages with very different approaches to creating the all-important first impression on new visitors.

Most people come to a home page to leave it as quickly as possible and move along to task completion. That is why my favorite new home page feature is at Xavier University: a large, centrally placed search box to Find Programs, Activities, And More on the site. For sure this is a bold departure from most new higher education websites. Test it at 

New websites with images that take up all of the real estate as the home page opens sometimes use "Scroll" prompts to try and make sure that people do not leave if the opening image fails to catch their fancy. The prompt at Fordham University is special: it hops up and down for a bit to get your attention. Check the action at 
Conference Event Upcoming

Registration is open for the AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education in November where I will do a Digital Marketing Strategy tutorial Sunday afternoon. The website is at 

Invite a friend or colleague to subscribe to this newsletter. Just 30 seconds at 

And now here are your marketing news and notes for August.
Cartoon of the Month: The Power of Polarization

When you try to please everyone, do you excite anyone? Our Cartoon of the Month explores the marketing downside of trying not to offend anyone. Cartoon and comments are 
Best Value Colleges: 736 Schools Get Letter Grades, A to C

We just might have a ratings dilemma from this Money Magazine list. If a school makes is included but only gets a C+ or B grade in the value-added column, how to spin the result when many others have a B+ or an A?

Schools scored at B- include Cooper Union and Rice, Vanderbilt, and Yale Universities. C+ schools include University of Chicago, Grinnell College, Washington University in St. Louis, and Haverford College. Babson College appears first with an A grade, listed in second place overall.

As you might expect, earnings after graduation compared to degree cost play a role in the methodology, as do loan default rates and graduation rates. For more on rankings and methodology visit 
CFOs on Higher Ed Financial Future: Inside Higher Education Survey Result

A majority (56 percent) of higher education chief financial officers believe that news reports of a crisis in higher education finances are accurate but 81 percent do not believe their school is in near-term danger of closing. For 82 percent, the primary path to surviving the crisis at their school is increasing enrollment.

Read more and download a copy of the 37-page report at 
Digital Marketing: 3 Investment Circles

People often ask about how to best spend their money to bolster digital marketing efforts. The answer, of course, will vary from one school to another.

Start with this exercise: check your present spending against the "Digital Marketing Trifecta" of Earned Media, Owned Media, and Paid Media outline in the infographic at 

Pay special attention to where the circles overlap. Keep one important point in mind: your website is still the core of your digital marketing success. Spend resources elsewhere but do not starve the website to do it.
Cost of Regulatory Compliance: Vanderbilt Clouds an Important Issue

Yes, not every regulation devised for higher education is worthy. Many if not most people will agree with that. And yes, regulatory compliance costs money. 

But Vanderbilt University contributed nothing to a serious discussion when Chancellor Zeppos testified in February before a Senate committee chaired by Senator Alexander from Tennessee. The shocking news was that regulatory compliance added about $11,000 to the cost of annual tuition for each Vanderbilt student.

Reporters and policy folk were curious about the details. Until July Vanderbilt did not release any. Few people had access to the study. Now we learn that most of the cost ($117 million of $146 million) was attached to research grants that did not increase student tuition. And not all of the remainder directly increased tuition costs either. Did somebody forget to tell the Chancellor this before his misleading testimony?

Read more from Inside Higher Education at 
Mobile Advertising: Indiana University Online on CNN

While browsing through CNN news updates on my iPhone there appeared in the news flow an ad from Indiana University Online for the Bachelor of Applied Science Program under the heading "Your Future is Waiting." It is not obvious from the ad, but the program was developed for community college graduates who have a degree in a similar field.

Both the landing page for the ad and the website for the Applied Science program encourage use of an available chat feature. Email and phone contact options are also available. 

This was the first mobile ad for a university that I have seen. The program description is 
Moody's Gets Optimistic: Financial Stability Returning to Higher Ed

Stability does not equal prosperity. Moody pegs tuition revenue growth at about 3 percent per year going forward, compared to about 7 percent in pre-recession years. And it is still predicting financial problems for about 20 percent of colleges and universities, especially smaller schools.

More in the Washington Post summary at 
Website Design and Grocery Shopping: 10 Things to Do and Not to Do

This insightful article opens with an accurate comparison between visiting a website and visiting a grocery story. In both cases, most people want to enter and leave as quickly as possible while getting done the things they came to do. Anything that interferes with that journey is wrong. 

From that point, this Next Web article lays out 10 steps to consider that will help you before you start on the path to a new website or start to make incremental changes in your present site. It is also a good screening guide for new hires, be they people or agencies.

My favorite "do" point is this: "Provide instantly recognizable navigation." My favorite "do not": "Letting the design of the site hinder site readability."

Check more on those and 8 other elements in "10 Do's and Don'ts of UI and UX Design 
Test Drive an Online Degree Program: Drexel University Recruitment

If you are a person considering an online degree program but unsure about handling the delivery format, will you take advantage of an opportunity to test drive a "new interactive online classroom"?

That is the option Drexel University is offering in an email to previous inquiries that also announced the launching of 40 new programs over the last 18 months. 

The landing page for the test drive is at and the landing page for the new programs, from certificate to doctoral level, is at 

Register to take the drive yourself until August 23. 
Digital Marketing Strategy: eduWeb Digital Summit Workshop

My Digital Marketing Strategy workshop at eduWeb Digital Summit is online now. Review the slides and download a copy at 
Most Popular Topic in July Newsletter: Kill Your Web Sliders

Web design fads come and go as people struggle with the latest and greatest. One that is disappearing, although not quite fast enough, is the use of home page carousels or sliders. If you have a recalcitrant person on your campus who still loves these, circulate "Quick Conversion Tip: Kill Your Sliders" at 
Be a marketing champion on your campus.

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

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