Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

Recently in Graduate, Professional, Continuing Education Category

3 Personal Motivational Topics at Entry Page for Online Students

Most higher education websites don't do an especially good job of connecting on a personal level with potential students searching the site. Today's Link of the Week differs from most others in two important ways:

  • Generous use of the "you" word in an informal writing style that starts in a heading as the page opens and speaks directly to a concern of many "adult" students: "Continuing your education without putting your life on hold."
  • Motivational options that let potential students move along to content focused on their primary reason for returning to school:.
The 3 motivational options you'll seen in large blocks appear under the heading "Everyone has a reason for going back to school. What's driving you?"

  • To Fulfill My Passions
  • To Advance My Career Path
  • To Earn a Bigger Paycheck
This truly is one of the rare times that a college or university admits that simply earning more money is a motivation worth recognizing.

On Mobile

Google PageSpeed Insights reports that smartphone visitors will experience a slow download Speed (41/100) followed by a high User Experience (99/100).

Follow the Link of the Week

See the content that appears after each motivational topic when you visit the Regis University entry page for Degrees and Programs for Working Adults

Original Link of the Week Page

Regular readers will notice that we are again posting a Link of the Week selection within the blog. I've decided to continue posting new Link selections here. Each week's description is available to future visitors and the blog, unlike the website, is searchable.

To review earlier selections for 2016 and previous years, visit the this Link of the Week page.
Hello in May. Now that the traditional May 1 enrollment deposit date has passed, many of you are entering the "summer season" devoted to controlling the number who might melt away and adding new people to the total. Best wishes for success to everyone.

If you work at a college or university, ask me for an invitation to join the "Top Tasks: Higher Education Website Content" group on LinkedIn. We have 116 members, most from the U.S. with others from Australia, Canada, Denmark, Ireland, Netherlands, Sweden, and Trinidad and Tobago. Discussions are an eclectic mix: raising money, academic program pages, strategic plans, library tasks, and more. 

Reply to this email and ask me to send you an invitation to join the top tasks web content group. 

Preparing an RFP soon? Visit my "6 Quick Steps to Better RFPs" at 
Conference Events in June, July, August

"Improving Your Student Recruitment Communication Plan" is an Academic Impressions conference June 6-8 in Atlanta. Review the agenda and register at to improve your enrollment conversions. My two sessions: website evaluation and affordability content.

July 20-21 I will be in Louisville at the Connect Higher Education Summit sponsored by Learning House for a presentation on "Best Website Elements for Recruiting Online Students." Check the program and register to join us at 

The eduWeb Digital Summit is set for August 1-4 in Denver. Early discounted registration is open until May 9. Most sessions are online now at 

Join 7,200+ followers on Twitter at for my daily marketing updates.

And now here are your May marketing news and notes.
Cartoon of the Month: Customer Journey Mapping vs. the Marketing Funnel

The marketing funnel concept was created in 1898. More than 115 years ago. Might it be time to move away from the funnel concept in admissions?

See the Cartoon of the Month at 
Emoji Marketing: Innovation at the New School

Can emoji carefully created to represent what is best about your school help your student recruitment communications? Objective evidence is not in yet, but if you like to stay abreast of new ideas you will want to learn more about the new emoji venture at the New School.

Read the details of how it was done using Snapchat and download the "NEWmoji" board for iPhone or Android when you start at 
10 University Website Design Guidelines: Update from the Nielsen Norman Group

The people who have spent as much or more time as anyone on the planet studying what makes websites work and what does not have just updated an earlier report on "University Websites: Top 10 Design Guidelines." Must reading for your marketing team.

Some things have changed, some have not. My new favorite, but not new to the guidelines: the perils of being "cool." You will also find advice on "about" content, academic programs, photos and more at
Content Strategy: Take Note of the "Most Career-Minded Generation"

The Atlantic reviews the results of research from the venerable UCLA survey of new freshmen: today's generation of college students is more interested than in the past in the monetary results they can expect from their college degree. That means more than restating the higher life-time earning potential of a college graduate vs. a high school graduate. 

If you need more evidence to convince people on your campus to create more easily accessible content about the jobs and earnings of your students in the years after graduation, start with The Atlantic article at 
Perils of Testing a New Logo: The Emerson College Video

Emerson College had an itch to create a new logo. And as usual, not everyone was pleased at the result. Two enterprising Emerson students took to the streets of Boston to ask other Emerson students what they thought of the new image. The comments will make the creative folk cringe. 

Watch the "Emerson Reacts to New School Logo" video and decide for yourself if the investment was worth the result at 
Blessedly Brief Inquiry Forms: A Professional School Example

The longer you make an inquiry form on your website, the fewer people will complete it. Forms that require only basic information to respond to a potential student will do best. Undergrad forms, for example, often ask for far too much personal information. Graduate and professional schools set a better example.

A recent online ad from the Medill School at Northwestern University took people to a very simple form: First and last name, phone and email, and planned date of entry. That was it. See a blessedly brief inquiry form example at 
Website Speed: A Financial Times Test

The Financial Times is planning for a new website. As part of that plan, research was conducted on the impact of various reductions in site speed on visitor engagement, measured in part by the number of articles read. Results for smartphone, tablet, and desktop visitors were gathered.

Overall, slower speed indeed reduced visitor engagement. Results differed somewhat by device. Mobile users, for instance, were somewhat more patient than desktop users. For details of the study to share with your web team visit 
Marketing Campaigns: No Longer Relevant?

Victoria Grieshammer wants us to abandon traditional marketing campaigns and adopt the idea of continuous conversation with the people we hope will enroll with us. And she makes a convincing case for why the idea of a "marketing campaign" locks us into thinking in a way that does not work well in this digital era.

See her 7 points about "Starting Conversations with Your Audience" at
Usability Testing: 8 Variations Defined

If you are thinking about website upgrades or just want to review your options for a continuing review of your site, the Optimal Workshop web usability guide is a great place to start. 

You will find a 5-point definition of "usability" followed by brief and clear definitions of 8 types of usability tests, including recommendations on how to best combine various approaches.

Author Alan O'Neil makes this important point: No matter the resources you have, "there is always something you can do." Check the possibilities at 
Transfer Students: 10 Schools that Enroll the Highest Numbers

US News is issuing a serious of short reports culled from the data collected from their annual ratings survey. And thus, this report.

The University of Central Florida leads the way with 6,299 students after a 65 percent acceptance rate. In 10th place is the University of North Texas with 3,756 students and a 76.4 percent admit rate. Most selective is Cal State - Long Beach, enrolling 3,833 transfers after a 33.3 percent acceptance rate.

Check the full list at 
A "Dangerous Obsession" with Elite Universities: Only 4 Percent Attend Them

Jeff Selingo draws attention in the Washington Post to the "dangerous" results for higher education policy of an excessive fascination with the practices, including admissions rates, of a very small number of schools that enroll a very small percent of the people going to college. Elite schools, in his definition, admit 25 percent or less of their applicants.

Actual admit rates are rising at more schools. Regional public universities enroll 40 percent of the people attending college. All public universities enroll 80 percent of the U.S. college population. Find more data to bring us down to earth and closer to reality at 
Most Popular Topic in April Newsletter: "Ultimate Web Writing Cheat Sheet"

Good to see that last month people were in the mood to improve the quality of their web writing. Tips start with the value of page title tags for SEO results and move on from there 
Be a marketing champion on your campus.

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

Increase your marketing success with these services. Contact me for details at 

Communication Audits
Expert Marketing Communications Website Reviews
Top Task Website Design Research with Gerry McGovern
Writing Right for the Web: Webinars, Conferences, and Campus Workshops
Competitive Website Reviews and Secret Shopping Projects

March greetings to everyone. And best wishes for success to everyone who is heading into the deposit collection recruitment stretch for your new freshman class in March and April. 

Today I expect to finish the new recruitment focused edition of my two-day conference on Writing Right for the Web, set for March 27-28 in Denver. Check the agenda at 

The Call for Papers for eduWeb14 is extended until March 21. Visit to submit your session for review.

How effective is your online marketing? My April 1 Master Class will help you answer that question. From the first impression you create on your website to your ongoing electronic communications will impact conversion success at each stage of the recruitment cycle. Register to join us 

And now here are your marketing news and notes for March.
Net Price Calculators: How Results Differ Among 16 Schools

Inspired by an inquiring mind, an enterprising VP for enrollment completed 16 Net Price Calculators to see how his school compared to both private and public sector competitors. Four different financial and academic profiles were used.

The experience and the results, as you might expect, varied greatly. Check the results and the reasons and plan a similar competitive intelligence study of your own. Visit 
Email Subject Lines: The Best and the Worst in the 2013-2014 Recruitment Cycle

Everyone in higher education marketing should read the report by Jens Larson about his secret shopping experiences during the current recruitment cycle.

Jens gives plaudits to Bates College, Oklahoma State University and the universities of Chicago and Oregon for doing an excellent job. He has reviewed hundreds of emails to bring you a selection of what he thinks works well and what does not work nearly so well at 
"Honest University Commercial": 3 Million+ People Have Watched This

You will lose track of how many things in this nearly 3 minute video parody of higher education advertising will drive you mad. But 3 million people and climbing have at least clicked on the YouTube link since it was first posted. Add 125,000 likes and 9,374 comments as I type this.

This is another piece in the negative PR world that has a lesson for higher education marketing efforts. Watch the video at 
MBA Marketing: New Approaches to Product, Price, and Place

Repeat the four Ps of marketing as often as you want but attention to Product, Price, and Place often ranks much lower than attention to Promotion. And that is why it is good to see three MBA programs at three very different types of universities adopting innovative approaches to better fit the interests (and schedules) of potential students.

Changes at Benedictine, Cornell, and Villanova universities are reviewed in an in-depth article by Inside Higher Education at
Pew Research Center: Yes, Attending College is Worthwhile

This new survey report from the Pew Research Center will give heart to anyone who can use statistical reinforcement of the value of a higher education degree, particularly from the perspective of recently graduated Millennials. 

A key variable: graduates in some majors are more convinced of the value of their time and money than are others. Engineering and science majors are the most satisfied.

See a summary of 6 key findings at and move from there to a copy of the full report.
2014 Mobile Behavior Report: Smartphones vs. Tablets and More

Strengthen your online communication strategy with an in-depth knowledge of how and when people actually use their mobile devices.

The top activity on both phones and tables: accessing email. People are much more likely to visit Twitter from a tablet than a smartphone. The reverse is true for Pinterest. On mobile, people prefer to use Facebook on a mobile app. The reverse is true for Twitter. Overall, mobile apps are popular in comparison to mobile-ready websites.

For more, including age, gender, and income information download the 35-page report 
Text Messaging and Student Recruitment: New Approach at Drexel Online

Drexel Online, a place with strong marketing savvy, has recently adopted an approach to text messaging that I have not seen elsewhere: in order to submit an online inquiry form, you must agree to receive text messages along with phone contacts.

Drexel tells me people can opt out after receiving the first message. This is a new effort and results on how many people are opting out are not available. See the inquiry form at 
Simplifying Financial Aid: New College Board Reports Recommends Process Changes

The College Board has just published a "Back to Basics" report that focuses on reducing or changing the data needed to complete the FAFSA and still arrive at a reasonable measure for need-based aid. One key point in the recommendations: get realistic information on college costs in the hands of first-generation families, especially likely Pell Grant recipients, as soon as possible.

Will these recommendations find favor at your school? Answer that question after reading the Chronicle article at 
Website Readability Test Tool: Check Your Site Today

On the web, simple is most often better. The University of Cambridge university research site home page is written at a 10th grade level.

Will your site do as well? Use the free Readability Test Tool and find out at 
Viral Marketing: Examples from Oberlin College and McMaster University

Can you make viral marketing a fruitful part of your marketing toolkit?

Cameron Pegg thinks you can and writes about that in a CASE article that includes examples of successful Oberlin College and McMaster University efforts. Pay special attention to the infographic on how to create a "viral marketing culture" when you visit 
LinkedIn for Student Recruitment

Graham Edwards has written an interesting piece on how to use LinkedIn for student recruitment. Not advertising, but how to best take advantage of the new LinkedIn university page feature as you build your presence there.

My personal best bet: use this to show parents of traditional age students how your alumni are doing out and about the world after graduation. Graham has more ideas at 
For-Profit Sector: 22 State Suits Focus on Improper Marketing

Suits are in progress in 22 states against 10 for-profit schools. Four Federal Government divisions have also filed suits. Just four schools are attracting most of the attention, often based on loan practices and claims about employability and earnings after graduation. 

Even marketers who do not work in the for-profit sector should pay attention. Will anyone ask universities to prove their claims to "academic excellence" anytime soon? The winds on what is acceptable and what is not are changing.

See who is attracting the most attention when you scan the chart at 
Most Popular Topic in February Newsletter: 8 Web Design Elements You No Longer Need

The runaway top topic last month from UX magazine discusses website features you can safely dispense with starts with drop-down menus and carousels and adds six more elements to review at 
Conference and Master Class Presentations in March and April

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

April 1, Philadelphia: "Critical Online Steps to Boost Enrollment: Speed, Simplicity, and Top Task Completion," an eduWeb Master Class. Review the program and register 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
QR codes... best marketing success requires a mobile-friendly landing page

QR codes inspire a fair bit of discussion about whether or not they have any practical value for higher education marketing efforts. Here in the United States, their use so far seems limited but growing slowly. There isn't a need to rush into this. Smartphones sold in the U.S. don't come with bar code readers installed and most people have not yet taken time to download an app for that.

That said, limited use of bar codes in higher education marketing is starting. Last week flying back from a visit to Algoma University I opened the May issue of Sky Magazine, with special interest in the ads run by universities to entice business folk seeking professional advancement.

QR codes in 2 higher education magazine ads

Most of the 12 or so ads did not use QR codes. Two did: City University of New York School of Professional Studies and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. And so I used my free Bakodo app to read the QR codes to visit the landing pages for each ad.

One got it right. One got it wrong.

The CUNY QR code took me to a landing page designed especially for people visiting from a mobile device. A few key links, including the names of 4 featured academic programs, were immediately visible and easy to follow. No need for any finger flicking.

The Embry-Riddle QR code lead to a regular website landing page, designed to repeat and reinforce the main design theme and message of the original ad. That's admirable when taking people to a regular website page. It isn't so admirable when a visitor has to squint to see the primary heading above text that's impossible to read. The next step: finger flicking to enlarge the page and sideways scrolling to read the text. Not very mobile friendly.

The bottom line: create a mobile-friendly landing page

The jury is out on whether or not QR codes can increase inquiry response in advertising campaigns.

But from everything we know about website usability, engagement will suffer if your QR code brings people to a landing page that is not mobile-friendly. Make sure that people who arrive at the page from a smartphone can immediately see topics that will continue their interest in 5 seconds or less. Adding a QR code to an ad is easy. Creating an effective landing page is not so easy.

Test these QR codes at Sky Magazine

If you're interested in QR codes and their landing pages, take this trip. Visit the online edition of Sky Magazine (yes, for this you'll have to wade through the flip tech version) with your QR code reader in hand and visit the CUNY (p. 135) and Embry-Riddle (p.136) ads. 

Do you agree that one landing page is far more effective than the other?

New "Writing Right for the Web" Event

My first 2-day "Writing Right for the Web" Conference is set for San Diego on July 26 - 27. Check the detailed outline and register to improve your website content.

That's all for now.

Marketing online programs: areas of interest, "gainful employment," careers in marketing

Today we wrap up our interview with Nancy Prater, director of marketing and communications at the School of Extended Education at Ball State University.

We'll have a second interview in this new series sometime in April.

The first part of the interview, including social media in recruitment, mobile marketing and more, was posted last week. 

To follow-up directly with Nancy on anything here, contact her by email


Do you see a significant difference between interest in bachelor's and master's level programs? Do you expect the current interest level to change in the next few years.

  • At Ball State, we have had a much larger percentage of graduate students than undergraduates in our online classes.
  • However, due to many factors coming together at the same time--most especially the Great Recession and the increased acceptance of online education as a quality option--our undergraduate population is starting to rise. We are starting to see a significant increase of adult learners in our bachelor's degree completion program. Plus, we have added some new undergraduate certificates---such as in emerging media journalism and apartment management--that seem to be attracting working or unemployed adults who are seeking to improve their professional skills and marketability.
  • Our adult learners are very practical in their approaches to their education. They want to see how this will benefit them today, as well as tomorrow.

The "for-profit" sector is under scrutiny from the federal government right now. Would the "gainful employment" rule have an impact on schools like Ball State if it is adopted?

  • I think the intense scrutiny that the for-profit education sector is undergoing is going to be a challenge to all of us for awhile. There are a lot of knee-jerk reactions going on right now as government officials are realizing that some high-profile, for-profit universities have benefitted from students' financial aid, while some students are strapped with an unmarketable degree and, often, a large student debt.
  • It's probably too early to say how the gainful employment rule might impact public institutions like Ball State until the final version has been released. However, I think it is part of an overall trend of the federal government getting more involved in higher education. And I think that trend will continue no matter which party is in power, because higher education is such a key factor in the United States' ability to influence and compete in a global marketplace.

Any special advice for people thinking about a career in higher education marketing?

  • "Run. Run like the wind!" 
  • Seriously, anyone who knows me will tell you how much I love this work. I have always said--and still believe--that promoting higher learning to improve people's lives is a noble profession. And, for the other marketing professionals I work with at Ball State or am acquainted with from other institutions, I know there is a lot of personal satisfaction in what we do. While it is true that you may not make as much money and the politics can be maddening, higher education marketing is a terrific field to enter. It's especially good if you like constant change and constant challenge.

Nancy, thanks for sharing your time and insights.


That's all for now

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Bob Johnson
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