Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

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Super Fast Mobile Home Page Features Academic Program Choices

What makes a university home page earn a "super fast" designation for display time on a smartphone? A score of 92/100 on Google PageSpeed Insights. That is the only home page I've ever tested that scored 80 or higher. 

On mobile, and everywhere else, every second counts with impatient web visitors. 

Of course, speed without content that speaks to the top tasks of potential students is not an effective marketing combination. The Full Sail home page passes that test as well:
  • A horizontal array of 8 major academic program areas is immediately visible on a large screen in less than 5 seconds when the home page opens. On a smartphone, you'll see the first two areas and easily scroll to the others.
  • Clicking on your area of interest brings a list of the specific programs in each area. 
  • You can move on in seconds to an individual program of special interest.
Mobile "Experience" Also High

On mobile, the User Experience rating is high as well: 99/100. Unlike the speed rating, most college and university website win a 90+ User Experience rating.

For more on the Speed result, put the Full Sail home page URL into Google PageSpeed Insights and check the "8 Passed Rules." No site is perfect so also note the 2 "Consider Fixing" points. And then, of course, compare the results with your home page.

Follow the Link of the Week

To visit a university home page that is as rare as a unicorn, visit the Full Sail University home page

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.

Connect in 5 Seconds or Less to Create Marketing Strength

Yes, you have 5 seconds or less when a web page opens to make a connection with someone visiting that page. People have to immediately see something they understand and that "something" had best be based on a top task the visitors want to complete.

Quick top task completion gives visitors a good experience. That makes them more likely to return to the website again. Your brand reputation benefits. 

An immediate connection depends on the power of words that stand out on the page. That's true for desktop and laptop visitors. It is especially true of mobile visitors. Today we pay homage to 6 higher education websites that distinguish themselves by their ability to create an immediate connection with the impatient, task-oriented people who use higher education websites.

These "immediate impact" examples are taken from the 2015 Link of the Week selections.

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Most higher education home pages are dominated by a huge hero image, sometimes still part of a carousel series that few people stay on the page to see. Visitors have to search about the first screen or scroll down through layers of images and words to find the path to complete their top tasks.

The home page design at Xavier stands out for the "can't miss" placement of the search box. Potential students are prompted to use search to "find programs" that interest them.

Yes, there is a large image of a campus building. But nice as the building might be, it does not say anything distinctive about the school. Placing the search box right over that image says: "We want to help you find what you want to find." It creates a distinctive approach right from the start. 

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Here is an alumni page with a single primary purpose: make it as easy as possible for alumni to connect with one another.

If you view this on a desktop or laptop you'll find a discrete right column link to "Make a Gift to Carlton" but making a gift is not a top task for most alumni visiting a website like this. 

Alumni have several connection options: 
  • "In Your Area" for people and events
  • "Classes and Eras"
  • "Careers"
  • "Interests and Affinities"
  • "Majors"
Of course, if you are searching for a particular person you can try the directory at the start.

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Numbers are powerful because they draw immediate attention. Visitors to this financial aid page first see 3 key points that support the "You Can Afford" Harvard headline that follows right underneath them:
  • 70% receive financial support.
  • 100% have no debt at graduation.
  • 20% pay nothing at all to attend Harvard.
Large-screen visitors will see the same 3 points horizontally across the top of the page.

The Net Price Calculator is visible in the center of the page.

The language used in the "How Aid Works" section is a remarkably jargon-free example of "Writing Right for the Web."

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Can I get a scholarship at your university? That or something similar is a question often heard by admissions counselors at college fairs. Most schools do not make the answer as easy to find as Eastern Kentucky does on their 4-part form for "First Time Freshman."

Your estimate is available immediately after you tell EKU your high school GPA, your ACT or SAT score, and your state of residence. 

Just below the estimated scholarship amount are links to apply for admission, make an inquiry, or schedule a campus visit. That's perfect path positioning for a potential student encouraged by the scholarship possibility to take the next step on their college selection journey.

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This page wastes no time letting visitors know how much money has been raised and the major ways in which that money will be used.

Just as quickly as people scan the numbers they well also see:
  • How many people invested in the campaign.
  • How many "alumni champions" participated.
  • The amount dedicated to financial aid for students.
  • The number of "Perpetual Scholarships and Fellowships" created.
After people have scanned the top data points, they can remain to note the sizes of various donations and the sources of the money.

Like the Xavier home page, this program entry page takes the unusual but strong step of placing key links right on top of the video that opens the page. The video is visible as background, but it does not push the important words further down on the page where they are not immediately visible.

After the opening "Learn Everywhere" statement, the path to answering four questions is obvious:
What can I study?
Where can I study it?
How do I participate?
When can I study it?

The result? Another clean and simple page that takes people quickly to the content needed to complete their study abroad tasks.

That's all for now.

Subscribe to "Your Higher Education Marketing Newsletter" for monthly marketing news and notes and weekly Link of the Week selections.

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Hello in November to everyone reading this issue.

We are well into the fall admissions season for traditional students here in the U.S. and it is fitting that the New York Time Education Life supplement for November includes 4 articles that focus on different parts of the admission process. If you don't get the Sunday NY Times, you can find everything online at

The supplement includes an article reviewing the issues around a proposed new admissions process that caused no small amount of controversy at NACAC 2015 in September. You can skip everything else in the supplement and go right to A New Coalition of Elite Colleges Tries to Reshape Admissions at

I am still in awe at the title appropriated by the group of 80+ schools: "Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success" leaves no high ground unclaimed. Fortunately, the title has not awed the critics into silence.

On a more practical level: Do people on your campus think social media marketing is more important than your website for successful student recruitment? If so, send them to 4 Top Marketing Lessons for Student Recruitment at 
Conference Event in November

The AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education in November is just two weeks away. You can still register and add my Sunday afternoon Digital Marketing Strategy tutorial at 

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

If you are not already a Twitter follower, join me at for daily marketing updates.

And now here are your November marketing news and notes.
Cartoon of the Month: Your Marketing Toolkit

What is the most important element in a successful marketing campaign? Laugh at the possibilities in the Cartoon of the Month at 
"The New Math of College Rankings": Especially for Wall Street Journal Readers

For families who have the most money to spend on a college education, the WSJ is providing advice on how to best select a college with "return on investment and graduation prospects" in mind. In other words, focus on how a college or university will provide ROI on the cost paid.

The November 2 article highlights 8 websites that parents can visit to find ROI content. Wise marketers will read this article, review what is available on their website, and wonder how they can help potential students and their parents complete the task the WSJ article is encouraging them to research elsewhere.

Suggestion: See how your school fares on the 8 websites listed by WSJ at 
World University Rankings: U.S and U.K. Dominate Top 25

The Times Higher Education rankings for 2015-2016 perhaps are not surprising, although no Ivy League university made the first five. Two countries other than the U.K. and U.S. have universities listed in the Top 25 at #9 and #19.

Check the ranking criteria and search the 800 listed universities by individual countries at
Niche Rankings: Top 100 Test-Optional Colleges in the U.S.

Here is a new list of public and private sector schools that do not require either ACT or SAT scores to make an admissions decision. Bowdoin College heads a list that ends with Walsh University.

A "show details" link grades each school in 10 areas that start with academics and end with campus safety, including "value," "professors," and "campus quality."

See the rankings from Niche, a lead-gen site, at 
Reducing Tuition at Utica and Rosemont Colleges: What Do We Call It?

Is reducing your tuition level by 40 percent or so a "tuition reset" as the colleges prefer to call it or a "cut" or "slash" as has been reported in newspaper and TV reports? 

The difference shows just how nervous a school can be when flying in the face of prevailing sentiment that a high sticker price conveys a high-quality image. Both Utica and Rosemont are attempting a realistic approach in the face of tuition discounting that NACUBO reports as now averaging about 48 percent. 

Time will tell if the lower sticker price approach works. Meantime, neither school likely is happy with the "bargain basement education" label used by CNBC in a report at 
Brand Evolution in Higher Education: A Brief History

Take just a few minutes to read this fine review of higher education from the 1600s to the present, prepared by Sean Carton to keep everyone rooted in reality as we continue to debate who should go to college and the value of a college degree.

You can find "The Brand of Higher Education: Context for the Conflict" at 
Mobile Marketing: Google and Why "Every Second Counts"

Do you have skeptics on your marketing team who do not yet believe that "every second counts" in online marketing, especially on mobile? Ask them to read the AdAge article outlining new plans from Google to boost speed expectations from mobile users. 

Check your web pages at Google PageSpeed Insights after you read "Google is Making the Mobile Web Faster" at 
Social Media Marketing: Check Your Landing Pages

If you marketing plans call for students to journey from a social media site to become an inquiry, the quality of your landing page likely will decide your success. Nothing will kill marketing ROI faster than a bad landing page.

Create a separate landing page for every ad or post that you expect people to follow to become an inquiry or register for an event. Never drop people into a regular website page. That might sound obvious, but I have seen graduate programs in Integrated Marketing Communications drop people right into a home page with no obvious place to take the desired action.

Read the Social Media Examiner recommendations and/or listen to the podcast for "How to Optimize Landing Pages to Boost Social Media Conversions" at 
International Student Recruitment: Impact of Cost on U.S. Success

Cost is the factor most likely to keep students accepted to U.S. universities from enrolling here, according to a recent Eduventures report. For 2015, about 47 percent of students accepted to a U.S university declined the invitation. 

Nearly two-thirds gave "I can't afford it" as their reason not to enroll. About one-third said they might enroll at a later time. And a surprising 23 percent said they did not know enough about the school that accepted them.

The countries most often selected as U.S. alternatives: Canada, the U.K., Australia, and Germany.

More details from the research are at 
Twitter vs. Instagram: Which Will Best Boost Your Marketing Results?

The answer to that question is complex. Instagram, says author Dominque Jackson, is better for engagement within the network. Twitter is better at creating engagement outside the network.

See the reasons and review detailed demographics of the people using each site at 
Pell Grant Enrollment: Variations in Enrollment and Graduation Levels

How serious are universities about enrolling low-income students? A new report from the Institute for Higher Education Policy suggests that some schools are more serious than others.

In addition to four universities in California cited for strong performance with Pell Grant students, universities in four other states made a "Strong Student Outcomes" list: Indiana Wesleyan, Grand Valley State in Michigan, Stetson University in Florida, and University of Tennessee - Knoxville.

For a detailed review of how 18 universities are meeting the challenge of enrolling and graduating Pell Grant students at varying net price points see the report at 
Most Popular Topic in October Newsletter: Growing a New a Brand Reputation

It takes generations to grow a brand reputation and not nearly as long to lose one. The Cartoon of the Month gives pause for thought to anyone thinking about a rebranding campaign at 
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 

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

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
July greetings to everyone. Here in the U.S. we are looking forward to our holiday weekend. In Michigan, we even expect good weather! For Canadian readers, happy Canada Day today.

The most unusual news for July is that the University of Phoenix, in an effort to run faster than the avalanche that has been sweeping away its enrollment from a peak of more than 450,000 in 2010 to just over 200,000 now, is planning to downsize to a new enrollment level of 150,000 and new admission standards in search of a higher degree completion rate. 

Associate degrees are out and more physical locations will close. Various clich├ęs come to mind, but we'll pass on those and just suggest reading about a major strategy change 
Conference and Webinar Events in July and November

Gerry McGovern offers a free webinar on Top Task Identification on July 8. Learn more about how you can identify top tasks to set content priorities and navigation paths. Register 

The 5th "Writing Write for the Web: Improving Your Online Content" conference with Academic Impressions takes place in San Diego July 13-14. Still time to register 

Registration continues for eduWeb Digital Summit in Chicago in July. Check the program details, including my 3-hour pre-conference Digital Marketing Strategy workshop, 

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

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

And now here are your marketing news and notes for July.
Cartoon of the Month: Will Tech-Savvy Growth Hackers Replace Marketers?

Silicon Valley is buzzing over the power and potential of growth hacking. Will growth hackers replace traditional marketers? Start with the marketing cartoon at 
Increase Conversion with Better Online Forms: 14 Steps to Success

From the Nielsen-Normal Group comes a 14-step checklist to improve the form completion experience on your website. As a special fan of online enrollment inquiry forms, the first step was my favorite: Is this field absolutely necessary? Remember, the shorter the form, the higher the completion rate.

The other 13 steps are divided into Description, Visibility, Filling it in for the user, and Typing sections. Compare each step with your online inquiry, campus visit, application, and donation forms when you visit 
Anatomy of a Landing Page: Medill School at Northwestern University

No matter how good your online advertising, the landing page that appears after an ad generates a click is critical to converting visitors to inquiries. The Medill School got some things right and some things wrong in a landing page for the Master of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications that followed a banner ad on a site I was visiting. 

The major mistake: on either my laptop or my smartphone the type size for primary text is almost impossible to read, violating the "do not make them squint" maxim. 

Three good points: eyes are attracted immediately to the 4 bullet points used to present reasons to enroll in the program; the inquiry form is only 5 lines long; there is a phone number for people energized to call immediately. A second weak point: the pages opens with 8 long lines of marketing-speak text that just is not needed here. Most eyeballs will run to the bullet points and the inquiry form.

For me, a nearly 3-minute video is too cute, too slow, and too long. And although placed at the bottom of the page, it might distract people from moving directly from bullet points to inquiry form.

Test your own experience when you visit the landing page at
Kill Your Website Sliders: 5 Reasons Slides Hurt Your Website

A website design fad that started about 2011 may finally be disappearing from marketing-smart websites.

If you want to make the case on your campus that carousels hurt your website marketing strength, circulate the 5 reasons offered by Joel Klettke. Pay special attention to the 2nd reason: people ignore them. Or perhaps you will get a better reaction to the 5th reason: they do not work well at all on mobile.

More on the 5 reasons you should drive a stake through the heart of this fad 
Alverno College: Weekend College Is Out, Hybrid Programs Are In

Alverno College has long been a pioneer in higher education delivery innovation, starting over 40 years ago with one of the first Weekend College programs at a time when this was considered a radical approach to accommodating adults in search of college degrees.

Now the college, faced with declining weekend enrollments, has decided to move on, creating new degree programs with a hybrid course mix of online learning and a Wednesday evening on-campus class. While not as audacious a move as that early Weekend College, the change shows the flexibility that is critical for colleges like this to survive and thrive in higher education today. 

Next step: clean up the still-present website pages that are recruiting new weekend students.

More on the change in priorities at 
Rising College Costs: Detailed Review from CNBC

Detailed reviews like this one with short text and easy-to-follow graphics illustrate why higher education is not going to win a public relations battle over rising tuition costs. The title shows right where things start: "Debt by Degree." 

While the reasons included are not new(lower public funding, the gap between rising family incomes and rising tuition costs, an excess of administrators and amenities, an aversion to debt and more) the clear presentation of everything in one place is unusual and reminds us of everything involved in discussing the issue. Visit 
Student Recruitment: Influence of Parents

It still amazes me that although most people recruiting traditional-age students recognize the role parents play in selecting a college, almost no school has a communication plan for the parents of potential students.

An infographic from Boston Interactive outlines the similarities and differences in communication channels used by parents and their college-bound children. Points of note: the value of phone calls to parents, the status of Facebook and YouTube as the most important social media sites for both groups, and the high value both groups place on academic program and cost content on a website.

More on what moves parents and what does not at 
SEO Success: Get the Periodic Table

Have you ever used The Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors? Did you ever want the myriad of elements needed for successful SEO results available on a single easy-to-scan page?

If you answered "No" and "Yes" get yourself a copy of the Search Engine Marketing guide 
Mobile vs. Desktop Viewing: One is Growing, One is Stable

We all know that Internet access from smartphones continues to grow. What we might not be as aware of is that Internet access from desktop computers is stable. In other words, it is a mistake to assume that growth in one device means the death or even decline of the other. You still need eggs in both baskets.

More on this from Jonathon Low at 
Evaluating Your Institutional Website: Conference Presentation on SlideShare

My 3 presentations at the Academic Impressions conference on strategic recruitment communications are online now. You will find one on "value messaging" and another on "affordability and financial aid" after you start your visit with Evaluating Your Institutional Website at 
Most Popular Topic in June Newsletter: Why Branding is a Waste of Money

This is a great almost tongue-in-check description of the process branding firms use with a client who believes that "rebranding" will solve marketing problems.

The author of this Forbes article suggests a better approach is to save your money and invest in better stories about the experiences people have with you. See more on "Why Most Branding is a Waste of Money" at 
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

Bob Johnson
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