Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

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Web content editors... new value from the Panda at Google

Earlier this year Google decided to give more weight to the quality of content on a website in deciding how to rank various sites. For some, consternation struck. More than a few websites reported a significant reduction in their previous search standing.

"Panda" was the evil that came upon the land. For some. For others it was a decided plus. If you haven't read much yet about about Panda the best place to start is with the May 6 entry at Google's own Webmaster Central Blog.

For web content editors, here's a special quote from the blog:
    • "Removing low quality pages, merging or improving the content of individual shallow pages into more useful pages, or moving low quality pages to a different domain could eventually help the rankings of your higher quality content."
In other words, fix "low quality content" or get it off the website you'd like to rank as high as possible in search results. You likely are not going to start an entire new domain location... but then why should poorly prepared content stay on a site anyway? Until now, who cared about it? Now, you may have a new weapon to either fix it or remove it.

Low Quality Website Content Defined

OK, but what are signs of "low quality" content that a web content editor should be able to fix, either individually or working with "content stewards" throughout the college or university? Here are some questions Google now is programmed to ask:
    • "Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?"
    • "Was the article edited well or does it appear hastily or sloppily produced?"
    • "Does this article a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?'
    • "Are the articles short, unsubstantial or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
And what just might be my favorite:
    • "Would users complain when they see pages from this site?"
Analytics to Help Google Spot "Low Quality" Content

How, you might ask, will Google measure some of these things? Expect new weight on these elements you can check in your web analytics results: length of time on a page, number of pages visited during a visit, and bounce rate (people who start at their "landing page," stay a few seconds, and "bounce" away from the site without going anywhere else). Yes, bounce rate is not a myth.

Take all this together and Google has just given every college and university in the land more reason to hire web content specialists and give them stronger positions in making website decisions. Web editors, of course, should not hesitate to leverage this change within their institutions.

Check "New" Visitor Behavior on Your Site

Set your Google Analytics to "new" visitors. Check the "Top Landing Pages" over the past 6 months. Compare the length of time on a landing page, where people went after that page, and the bounce rate from the landing page (assuming you expected or wanted them to go someplace else within the site). You just might find pages that are hurting your SEO results.

New "Writing Right for the Web" Event
That's all for now.

Writing Right for the Web... improving your web content one question at a time

During each Writing Right for the Web webinar with Academic Impressions, people participating send in questions that I answer in writing. We had several question from the May sessions and I'll include some of those here that seem of most general interest.

"Is it now okay to use numerals for 0-9 instead of spelling them out?"
  • That would very much depend on who you ask. Direct marketers would say yes (as they have done for years), while many if not most others would say no.
  • This isn't an issue I'd recommend going to war over in an academic environment.
  • In areas such as Twitter and texting, you're much more likely to see this happening. In regular websites, not so much.
  • I would try for it in headlines and primary page headings and sub-headings. "Top 5 Reasons to Visit Us" will always be more effective than "Top Five Reasons to Visit Us" and you may find that cases like that are easier for people to accept than in regular text writing.
  • You can also check the AP Style Book. After all, they recently approved "website" over "Web site" as proper use. Miracles can happen. 
"Are there any guidelines for using anchor tags for long, scrollable pages such as FAQs?"
I'll have more questions and answers here soon.

New "Writing Right for the Web" Event

That's all for now.

Mobile marketing in higher education: a student recruitment opportunity in 2011

Is it really almost March? Indeed it is. And that tells me it is time to start thinking about updates to last year's series of mobile marketing workshops done for ACT's Enrollment Planners Conference, eduWeb2010, and the AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education.

This year, new mobile marketing workshops are already set for J.Boye2011 in Philadelphia in May and again at the ACT Enrollment Planners Conference in July.

Mobile marketing in higher education was of high interest last year and that interest is continuing to grow in 2011. This is the year where lack of a mobile marketing strategy will give a major marketing advantage to your competitors.

Key points for recruitment success

As I get ready to make the updates in March, here are key points that come to mind from a marketing perspective.

  • Finding your list of academic programs is a top task for future students. Marketers must insist that a link to a list of academic programs is clearly visible when people start on the first mobile page, whether that's an app or a mobile website. Don't compromise on this.
  • A serious danger point happens when links for a list of academic programs lead to regular website pages that are not yet mobile friendly. If your mobile content strategy does not have a priority list to make academic programs of most interest to future students mobile friendly, that's a serious deficiency. Fix it.
  • Keep the inquiry form clean and simple, even more so than on a regular website. Remember, the longer the form, the fewer people will complete it. Ask only what you need to get info back to the person making the inquiry. Few schools need to know gender, date of birth, and similar demographic data. Be ruthless about this.
  • Start now to use web analytics data from your regular website to identify pages that are seldom if ever visited. When you get to the inevitable point of building a true mobile-friendly website, you'll need objective data to limit your workload to what's of most interest to your visitors. What percent of your present web pages are irrelevant based on actual use? Nobody needs to plan to convert their entire "traditional" website to a mobile-friendly site.

Mobile Marketing Workshop May 3 in Philadelphia

Join us at the J.Boye Phildelphia 2011 conference. The higher education track is great this year, with a special international flavor that you can't find at other conferences here in the U.S.

Together with Nathan Gerber from Utah Valley University, I'll be doing a tutorial on "Mobile Communication Challenges in Higher Education: Issues, Perils, Potential." The first two hours will be an overview of what's happening in higher education, replete with best practice examples and some not-so-best practices. Nathan will close things out with a Utah Valley case study.

Register after you check the full conference agenda.

That's all for now 

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My mobile marketing workshops at the ACT Enrollment Planners Conference last week and eduWeb2010 on Monday attracted some great people, ready to share questions and experiences with everyone attending. Before leaving for Carol Aslanian's graduate marketing seminar in NYC tomorrow, time for some quick notes on mobile marketing and higher education.

First, a special thinks to Suzanne Petrusch and her team at St. Mary's University and Dave Marshall at Mongoose Research for assembling recruitment cycle conversion data that was of special interest to people at the workshops. Here's my summary of the St. Mary's experience using text messaging as part of the communications mix with potential new students since last November:

  • Relatively few inquiries (about 4 percent) opted in for text messaging at or near the start of the recruitment cycle. That confirms findings in the 2010 E-Expectations research that college-bound high school students are wary of receiving text messages for student recruitment.
  • But, and this is a very major "but": almost everyone (about 80 percent) who did opt-in early for text contacts continued along and applied for admission.
  • Almost 50 percent of the people sending enrollment deposits by the end of June were people who had signed to receive text contacts.

Texting Offer Identifies Best Prospects Early

The learning here: offering the texting option was a great way to identify early in the recruitment cycle the people who were already very interested in St. Mary's and were willing to commit to a "text relationship" from the start. While this was destined to be a higher-than-normal yield group, identifying the most likely future students as easly as possible so they are not lost among (in this case) 35,000 total inquiries is an important role for mobile marketing to play.

Experience Your Site from a Smartphone

One item from the E-Expectations survey seemed a major surprise to many people: more than 20 percent of college-bound high school seniors have used a smartphone to access a higher education website. Why such a surprise? After all, somebody has been buying all those iPhones and Androids over the last 12 months.

  • The real question should be this: how many people will not return after the experience they had on that first visit? Be sure to check your web analytics to see (1) how many new visitors are arriving at your site from a mobile device and (2) how the bounce rate for those people compares to the bounce rate for people arriving from a regular computer.

More next week on mobile apps vs. mobile websites, but there is a bottom line here: you will need a mobile-friendly website in the not distant future.

Mobile Marketing Presentation on SlideShare

The eduWeb version of the workshop, "Mobile in the Marketing Mix: Crafting a New Communications Strategy," is online now at SlideShare.

Look for more "notes on mobile" next week. More then about the frequency of the texting and other items that people brought up at the workshops.

That's all for now 

 

iPhone Dominates Mobile Access: for a small group of website visitors

Two mobile marketing workshops are set for this summer, both in July in Chicago. I'm busy with that research now, including new online inquiries at schools venturing into mobile marketing.

The first workshop, at the ACT Enrollment Planners Conference, is especially for people who need to weave mobile marketing into their mix of student recruitment marketing activities. The second, at eduWeb 2010, is for anyone interested in higher education online communications.

A key question, of course, is whether or not people are using mobile devices in sufficient quantity to make the expenditure of scarce time, energy, and dollars in this area at all.

Mobile Access on Google Analytics

If you have Google Analytics on your website, that's easy to find out. When you get to your dashboard, open "Visitors" in the left hand column, scroll down to "Mobile" and open that to "Mobile Devices." You'll immediately see how many visitors you are getting at all from mobile devices, as well as which ones people are using. Here's a screen shot from my website today. Mobile devices on GA.ppt

The first thing to note (I'll bet real money this is true at your site as well) is that most of your web visitors do not yet arrive from a mobile device. The second thing is that for those who do, the iPhone has a huge lead over anything else.

iPad: Track the Growth

Will the iPad be important? Easy enough to track that week by week if you want, or at least month by month. Today, for instance, I noted the first 3 people using iPads to visit my website.

Mobile Apps or Mobile Websites?

What's going to be most important to your marketing success, mobile apps or mobile websites?

Count on both, of course. Who said life would be so simple that you'd only have to work on one or the other? But don't get carried away with app development without also preparing your site for direct access from mobile devices. Check this article at ReadWriteWeb for a presentation of the need to ensure that your official website works well for visitors using a variety of mobile devices. 

While the iPhone dominates now, expect to see Android-based smartphones increase their market share between now and the end of the year. If that happens, you'll see it in your analytics tracking. At some point, you may need to move past iPhone/iPad apps.

Check iPhone Apps on the iPad 

Don't assume that all iPhone apps will work well on an iPad. Early reports note that some do not play well on the larger iPad screen. If you already have iPhone apps, check them now on the iPad. Some are being described as "ugly" and even Steve Jobs banned some popular Apple apps from the iPad.

The good news is that web analytics can help you make informed decisions about all of this based on the trends you see emerging for new and returning visitors as you track this in the months ahead.

Web Analytics for Recruitment: Conference Presentation in June 

I'll be covering more about web analytics tracking in my session at Carol Aslanian's conference on recruiting adult students in June in Chicago

That's all for now 

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Bob Johnson
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