Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

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This Thursday and Friday I'll be in Boston for the third annual "Writing Right for the Web" conference sponsored by Academic Impressions. We've done them in San Diego and Atlanta and I'm looking forward to meeting the people who will be with us this week.

The war on "Black Hat" SEO continues

An "extra" session on Friday will focus on writing and editing for search engine optimization. 

To help make sure I'm still close to the mark on that often-changing topic I have just watched a May video from Matt Cutts at Google (What to expect in SEO in the coming months). Here are my main take-away points:
  • Google continues to search for ways to but "black hat" SEO people out of business. That's great. I get regular offers from people who know little if anything about me to exchange links. At least 75 percent of these folk have little if any connection with anything I write about. 
  • Quality content remains the most important element for strong SEO results. What defines "quality content"? One important element for Google is whether or not anybody reads it. The "Panda" criteria are still important: if you have a large amount of content on your website that is seldom visited by anyone, your SEO rankings will suffer. 
"Be Natural" is still the best approach

The most important point that Cutts repeats over and over again: "Be natural."
  • Use keywords and phrases, but don't overdo them. 
  • Control the "marketing speak" that appears on your site. Too many higher education sites really are like Monster University from Pixar. Don't be Monster University.
  • Give people the content you know they want, not the content you think they must read. Long, dense "Welcome" statements from presidents and deans are my favorite candidates for purging.
Give the folks at Google credit for trying to chase the snake oil salesmen from our online lives and for crafting new ways to give more weight to quality content in SEO results. They may never win the war but let's hope they get close.

And put Matt Cutts on your regular reading and viewing schedule.

That's all for now.

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Late summer greetings to everyone. From the chatter on Twitter, it seems that the arrival of new freshmen on campuses across the country has been a marvelous event. Special congratulations to everyone who helped carry freight from cars to dorm rooms.

Check at the end of the newsletter for new fall presentations, including a conference in Denmark, a December webinar for "Writing Right for the Web," and the continuation of the "Bob$100" discount for the October Aslanian adult student recruitment conference.

Plan to attend the AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education and register for an updated and expanded "Marketing Communications in a World without Paper" Sunday tutorial. A highly rated summer version from eduWeb09 is the first one on SlideShare at

Check my blog for notes on Heather Mansfield's "10 Twitter Tips for Higher Education" at

Join me on Twitter at

For everyone here in the States, best wishes for a fine Labor Day weekend.

And now here are marketing news and notes for September.
Forbes Magazine 2009 College Rankings

Forbes released 2009 rankings in early August, based on "the quality of the education, the experience of the students, and how much they achieve."

While most of the usual suspects fill out the top spots, Forbes calls attention to unexpected additions at the highest levels, including Centre College and Union College. At the top of the list: West Point.

My favorite criterion: 25 percent of the ranking is based on student evaluations at That beats the "reputation" factor in another popular report.

Start the full report at
Evaluating Social Media Results

You should not worry if the people who sign on to your social media sites or read your blogs do not actively participate with comments and other contributions of new content. Most people just read,without joining or actively participating. And that, of course, has marketing value by itself.

By far the largest category for social media participation is from Spectators (79 percent), while Creators (24 percent) and Critics (37 percent) lag far behind. Indeed, only 51 percent will actually join a social media site where they are spectators.

What is the marketing lesson? Do not over promise active results when you start new social media ventures. For the details, check the latest research at the Groundswell blog site at
Drexel Gets First Place: Top University Websites for Search Engine Optimization

Find methodology you can use to test your own school as you review "Top SEO College Websites 2009" at

The writer gives most colleges and universities an "F" grade for SEO and includes four reasons why he thinks more schools do not do better. The first: over reliance on "brand recognition" to bring traffic to the website.

The increase in the importance of online education does seem to motivate some schools to do much better than others. The "Top Three" here: Drexel University, University of Phoenix, and Capella University.
Google Analytics Basics

Just getting started in web analytics? Thinking of using Google Analytics?

"Google Analytics 101" by Ron Jones at Search Engine Watch is a good place to start. The link at will take you to Part 2 and you can track back from there to Part 1.

Better use of analytics is an essential step to getting higher impact from your website. Pay special attention to the "bounce rate" (percent of people who leave a page without going further) at your admissions entry page and at each important page after that. Be sure that you filter out results for first-time visitors from those who are returning visitors.

Google advises that a bounce rate between 20 and 35 percent is acceptable.
Best Ad Sizes for Online Advertising

AdAge reviews what works best and why at

Special note: flash-based ads were the least effective of every type tested.
Time Magazine Picks Top 50 Websites

No college or university websites made the Time list, but the academic world is represented by selection #9, Academic Earth. That is a website for free college courses and lectures from 7 "leading universities."

Browse the full 50 to learn more about the expectations that some of these sites will create for users of higher education websites. The Times list is at,28804,1809858_1809957,00.html

And visit the clean and simple Academic Earth home page at
Mobile Web Help from MIT

Expect more and more people to access your website from iPhones and similar smartphone devices. And more and more schools are developing special mobile-friendly web content rather than forcing people to navigate and use their regular websites.

Review in detail the strong effort from MIT at or access it from a mobile browser at

Not only MIT can do this. For a smaller school alternative, visit the Azusa Pacific University example at

MIT will help you get started. Contact Information Services & Technology at
Old School Marketing: 5 Tips for Better Envelope Copy

Still using mail to prospect for potential new students? Then "mystique" and "relevance" are especially important first impression goals.

Learn more at
7 High End Twitter Analysis Tools

If you are very interested in Twitter, take time to explore the tools profiled at and you will likely find something of interest.

Scroll down to the end of the report for more links to other Twitter tools.

If you are not that interested in Twitter, keep reading.
National Merit Scholarships End at UT Austin

What is the future of merit scholarships in the present economy?

The move by University of Texas at Austin to stop funding over 200 National Merit full-tuition scholarships reflects new pressures to focus scare funds on need-based awards. That is the rationale given to explain why UT Austin is dropping out of the National Merit competition and rolling those funds over to students with financial need.

What is the marketing impact of fewer National Merit scholars? UT Austin does not believe it will be great. Current brand strength is sufficiently strong that the SAT and GPA components of the academic profile are not expected to suffer.

Teens and Twitter: Age is Not the Problem

New research on how people use Twitter makes an important point. Yes, the "great majority" of teens do not use Twitter. But then, neither do the "great majority" of adults use Twitter.

A key finding: Teens use Twitter at a higher rate than people from 25 to 44 years of age.

Another key finding: the reason most adults and teens do not use Twitter is simple: they can do the same things elsewhere on other sites that they prefer. Not using Twitter, it seems, is not related to age.

See the in-depth details at
Distance Learning Gains Faculty Support

A detailed report from the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities brings good news to marketers who recognize that student interest at every age level is shifting in favor of online learning.

Professors, both senior and junior, are more willing to entertain teaching online courses than ever before. That is an important message for the not-for-profit sector as for-profit competitors continue to expand their online offerings.

Of course there is a caveat. Faculty do not think they are receiving enough support for the effort it takes to develop and introduce new online courses. Read an outline of the report at and see where senior enrollment and marketing professionals might give support and encouragement to people willing to expand product in this key area.
Web Writer Position at Alma College

Alma College is taking applications for a web content writer position within the marketing and public relations office. Details for the position are at
My Upcoming Presentations in 2009

Share questions and answers with people like yourself who are building a competitive edge in higher education marketing. Join me for one or more of these events.

October 21-22, Chicago, IL: Aslanian Group Seminars: Competing for Adults Students, "Branding and the Web: The Value of Your Official Website in the Social Media Era." Download conference brochure at Save $100 when you enter "Bob$100" in the discount code box as you register.

October 26-27, Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin System, Adult Student Recruitment & Retention Conference, "Key Website Features for Adult Student Recruitment." Conference information is at

November 3-5, Aarhus, Denmark: J. Boye Conference: Aarhus09, "Improving Higher Education Websites: Lessons from the Student Experience." Conference program and registration at

November 15-17, Boston, MA: AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education, "Marketing in a World without Paper: Creating a Recruitment Communications Plan in an Online Future" (3.5 hour Sunday afternoon tutorial). Details at

December 8, Webinar: "Writing Right for the Web." Program details soon from Academic Impressions at

Increase ROI from your online marketing. Expand the writing, editing, and search marketing skills of people on your campus. Host a campus workshop on online marketing.

Contact me at
That's All for Now

Be a marketing champion on your campus.

Bob Johnson, Ph.D. (
President and Senior Consultant
Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC
Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC

Increase your online marketing success with these 6 services.
• Customer Carewords Research with Gerry McGovern
• Writing Right for the Web On-Campus Workshops
• Marketing Communications Website Review
• Competitive Website Reviews
• Content Copywriting Services
• Usability Analysis

Start now at

Check Title Tags to Improve Search Marketing Results

Just a few minutes ago a visit to the Traffic Resources website reminded me that there is low hanging fruit in the online higher education marketing world that isn't being harvested.

On that page is a "daily poll" that's been running since January: "What's The Most Important SEO Element For Google Ranking For A Given Keyword?" Visitors select from 9 choices:

  • Title tag
  • Quality of inbound links
  • Quantity of inbound links
  • Link texts
  • Outbound links
  • Site structure
  • Overall keyword density
  • Unique content
  • Other

This isn't the most popular poll on the planet. So far there have been 33 responses... 36.4% for quality of inbound links, 24.2% for title tag and not much for anything else. Despite the low poll number, the results are accurate: title tags on web pages are important.

Incomplete, Brief Title Tags Reduce Search Marketing Results

The poll flashed me back to a phone conversation this morning re online marketing capabilities and what one college might do to make them stronger. Some steps require time and money... but some don't require nearly as much effort. One of those is improving the title tags, those key words that appear in the thin blue line at the top of my ME7 browser page.

In this case, the intro page for graduate programs clearly listed three degree programs in the main text area: business, engineering, health care. In the title tag space appeared only the words "Graduate Programs." How easy it would be to just add the names of the three degree programs themselves: MBA - Engineering - Health Care.

We also did a quick test while we talked to see the results if we added the name of the college's geographic area to a Google search... "MBA - Sahara Desert" to keep things anonymous. That turned up 8 paid "sponsored links" ads from schools interested in MBA leads from that region and the name of a competitor about 8 spots down on the organic list.

Based on that, the new title tag might read:

  • Graduate programs - MBA - Engineering - Health Care - Sahara Desert

And yes, there's still room to add the name of the school although it isn't likely as important a search element for new leads.

Quality of inbound links is important but that requires more time and energy to improve. Review the pages on your website and you're likely to find more than a few title tag examples to enhance. Reach up and harvest that fruit.

Quick, Detailed, Inexpensive Search Marketing Page Reviews

No time to review your pages? Let me use my WebPostion license to review pages you pick on your website for title tag recommendations and edits to primary page content. Minimum of 5 pages at $75 per page. Contact me at  

That's all for now.



Muhlenberg College and the "Real Deal" on Financial Aid

In yesterday's blog post on a parent's reaction to the cost difference between Northeastern University and University of Connecticut, I mentioned the practice of "preferential packaging" that is widespread in the private sector and not unknown among public institutions.

Preferential packaging isn't new in 2009. Financial magazines like Kiplingers and Money have been writing about it since the mid-1990s. But you won't find much straight talk about it on college and university websites.

Muhlenberg College has been an outstanding exception to that practice for over 10 years. Visit "The Real Deal on Financial Aid" and you'll find an explantion of how financial aid is awarded that is quite rare.

Preferential Packaging Defined

Muhlenberg provides this definition: "Preferential packaging means, simply, that the students a college would most like to enroll will receive the most advantageous financial aid packages" created from a mix of grants, loans, and work opportunities.

  • People who are most desired may even receive awards higher than their actual "need."
  • People who are in the "bottom half" of the class will see loans and more work to meet their costs.

That's it. The language is clear. The page is easy to find from the first admissions page.

Reality Marketing Builds Credibility

Those familar with Muhlenberg's enrollment history since the mid-1990s know that that this page did not hinder steady progress toward increased applications, a higher academic profile, and a lower tuition discount rate.

Parents and students who visit the site just might think that a college that speaks honestly about how it awards financial aid will also speak honestly about other elements critical to the college selection process.

Credibility like that builds brand strength. 

In this age where transparency in financial matters is increasingly desired, more institutions might follow the Muhlenberg example.

That's all for now.



The news came first on the radio driving to Marshall last night on my trip back from CASE V in Chicago... ironic perhaps that I'd just that morning done a "Writing Right for the Web" workshop that holds up direct marketing and journalism as two precursors of an effective web writing style.

The Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News (two parts of the same corporate conglomerate) will end most home delivery of the newspapers next year, citing increased costs for fuel, ink, and news print. And, no doubt, continued shrinking of the advertising income.

Just a symbol of the economy in Michigan? Hardly. The news report quoted a high level person whose name escapes me now that it was time to get heads out of the sand and take a major step in recognition of the changing ways that people get news.

Then came an email from David Anger, editor of the Free Press, to home subscribers, citing two major reasons for the change:

  • "First, the newspaper industry must completely transform its way of doing business in order to survive. With generations of readers and advertisers using digital media more and more, we simply cannot continue to bear the cost of delivering the ink-on-paper newspaper every day.

    "Second, we need to invest in new ways to deliver information digitally, whether on our Web site or on the mobile devices so many people carry now. The changes we're announcing will enable us to do that. We need to move even more rapidly into the digital age."

And so the transformation of how we get our information continues, away from print and toward the online world. These newspapers may be leading the way on the home delivery front, but others certainly will follow.

For college and university marketing, the change highlights the ongoing shift away from newspaper advertising and toward organic search optimization and online advertising.

I've read the Free Press since arriving in Michigan in 1973. Always, right after the front page headline, the comics were the first attraction. But that's changed within the last few years, as the size of most strips was reduced to tiny print matching shrinkage of the page size of the paper itself.

Life will go on. Major news headlines will appear each morning as the laptop comes to life. And there's Yahoo2Go on the smartphone for headlines anytime, anywhere when the connection works.

The Free Press editor's message to subscribers is 

Bob Johnson
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