Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

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February greetings to long-time and new readers. 

The 2106 eduWeb Digital Summit Call for Papers is extended until February 7. Review the 5 track choices and send a presentation proposal this week. Start at and plan to join us in Denver in August.

My December article on "6 Great Website Examples" for connecting quickly on a website starts with a very unusual home page from Xavier University. See how Xavier and 5 other schools distinguish themselves at 
Conference Event in February

Whether you are planning a major website update in 2016 or will just keep making incremental quality improvements, register for the Academic Impressions conference on "Higher Ed Web Redesign" starting February 29. I will do sessions on "Top Task Website Examples" and "Web Writing." Check the full program and register at 

Join 7,110+ followers on Twitter at for my daily marketing updates.

And now here are your February marketing news and notes.
Cartoon of the Month: Creativity and Brand Reality

Does the reality of your brand create special challenges for the agency you hired to promote it with an "original, interesting, memorable" campaign?

That's the theme behind the Cartoon of the Month at 
Deceptive Advertising and DeVry University: Implications for Higher Ed Marketing

The Federal Trade Commission has filed suit against DeVry University for deceptive advertising. One specific concern is with claims about employment after graduation, including jobs in graduates' fields of study.

My friends in advertising have often asked me how colleges and universities can make the claims they do in recruitment materials. The DeVry suit suggests that every school should review ads, publications, and websites to eliminate marketing claims that cannot be substantiated.

The text of an FTC statement on the suit and a rebuttal from DeVry are at 
Advertising Online: Preferred Ad Formats in 2016

Mobile advertising continues to grow in higher education and elsewhere. But what format is most in favor in the advertising world?

Native advertising is projected to decline from a 2015 high point while still remaining the most preferred format by 42 percent of advertisers. Interest in both rich media and banner ads also is declining. Interest is growing in interstitial ads that take up the entire mobile screen. Will that boost even higher the growing use of ad-blockers? 

More on what to expect in 2016 advertising online from Mobile Marketing Daily at 
Email Popularity: Why a "Most Reviled" Technology Still Thrives

Here is a review of email use and popularity since the first one was sent (and had to be printed to read) in 1971. Today, Adrienne LaFrance reports in The Atlantic, it thrives because it is a perfect medium for smartphones in the mobile era. More on the email we love to hate at 
Writing Right for the Web: Creating Great Headlines

Ken Bowen at Marketing Experiments has summarized major research from 2015 in "The Surprising Sensitivity of a Single Line of Text," with special attention to headings on email and landing pages that increase visitor conversions. When you visit you will notice a more generous version of my 5-second rule. Ken says you have 7 seconds to connect as your page opens.

My favorite finding: Section lists 3 principles for effective headlines, including an admonition to make sure that a headline matches the current motivation of the person who receives it. In other words, is it really best in the first response to an inquiry from a high school student to invite that person to visit campus?

Whether you aim for 5 seconds (or less) for an immediate impact, your online communications with potential students will benefit from attention to the Bowen article at 
Recruiting International Students: 5 Steps to a Better Website

If enrolling international students is important to you, be sure to compare your website content with the 5 steps outlined by Megan Brenn-White in "5 Ways International Students View Your Website Differently."

Pay special attention to creating content that speaks to the three top concerns of international students and their parents: funding, campus safety, and safety in the areas around your campus.

Find more wise advice when you visit 
Top 200 International Universities: A Times Higher Education List

Is this perhaps one list too far? The U.K. publication has reviewed the number of international students and staff and the number of journal articles authored with someone from outside the host country to create a this list of the 200 most international universities.

The first U.S. university is M.I.T. at number 90. From the comments to the article, more than a few people are skeptical about the value of a list like this and the criteria used to compile it. Decide for yourself after you review the 200 schools at 
Creating a SUNY Brand: Stony Brook Not Yet on Board

Creating a system-wide brand with national recognition has long been a goal of State University of New York chancellors. At the same time, New York's four major research universities (Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, and Stony Brook) have not been especially eager to adopt the "SUNY" affiliation.

A new campaign video for Stony Brook University illustrates the SUNY brand challenge. See if you can find any reference at all to a SUNY connection when you watch the video at 
Website Obesity: You Really Must Read This Plea for Restraint

No illusions exist in my head that John Allsopp will succeed in convincing people to dramatically reduce the weight of websites collapsing under ads, tracking codes, new video and photo features and much more. Not enough people care that "heavy pages tend to be slow pages, and slow pages mean unhappy users."

But maybe, just maybe, if you get people you know to read "The Website Obesity Crisis" you might encourage at least some level of restraint that is missing on many if not most websites today, including higher education sites. Is your site obese? Do you really think responsive design solves your mobile challenges? 

Journey along with John as he rails against website pages that surpass the weight of Russian novels at 
The Alpha Generation: An Early Introduction from AdAge

What is the Alpha Generation? They are the folks between just born minutes ago and two years of age.

AdAge has decided it is not too early to be thinking about the challenges Aphas might bring with them to the marketing world. Laugh along with writer David Berkowitz and pray that current behaviors will fade away when you visit "13 Things to Know about the Alpha Generation" at 
The Mobile Revolution: Net Yet Complete for High School Students?

Last week I completed a CCI survey of potential future freshman students in the inquiry pool of a Midwestern university. We asked a question about the device types used most often to access the university website. Desktop or laptop computers were used most often by 62 percent. Smartphones were used most often by 30 percent. Just 8 percent said they preferred tablets.

A qualitative question asked people to list the most important tasks they visited the site to complete. Most often mentioned were academic program content and cost and affordability.

What is a CCI survey? See our Customer Carewords page to "Find out what's really annoying your customers" at 
Most Popular Topic in January Newsletter: 7 Marketing Resolutions for 2016

Before you start chasing after Virtual Reality this year, pause to review the marketing resolutions in this Tom Fishburne cartoon 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
Happy New Year! Best wishes to everyone for marketing success in 2016. 

My December article on "6 Great Website Examples" for connecting quickly on a website starts with a unique home page from Xavier University. See how 5 other schools distinguish themselves at 

The Call for Papers for the 2106 eduWeb Digital Summit in August is open until January 15. Review the 5 track topics and send a presentation proposal. Start at 

Share with your marketing team: A full set of slides from my Digital Marketing Strategy tutorial at the AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education last November 
Conference Event in February

If you are planning serious website work in 2016, register for the Academic Impressions conference on "Higher Ed Web Redesign" starting February 29. Check the program and register at 

Follow me on Twitter at for daily marketing updates.

And now here are your December marketing news and notes.
Cartoon of the Month: 7 Marketing Resolutions for the New Year

How long will your marketing resolutions last this year? Every resolution you will see here starting with "This year I will focus on fundamentals" has merit. How long will you resist the last one on chasing fads?

Laugh, maybe weep a bit, and start your next marketing meeting with the cartoon 
Customer Experience Trends: The Most Important Topic for 2016

We all can find a plethora of articles on trends and innovations to follow in 2016. If you only have the time and patience to read one such list, make it "The Year of the Customer: 16 Customer Service and Experience Trends For 2016" from Shep Hyken at Forbes Magazine.

No matter what type of students you are recruiting, take special note of the first item: "Customers are smarter than ever." 

After you circulate the Cartoon of the Month, have your team discover what is most important to marketing success when you scan the other 15 customer experience trends 
Recruiting Out-of-State Students: Where Do People Travel?

How successful are you likely to be recruiting students who do not already live in your state? Distance from the home state is an important factor according to a new review of 2014 IPEDS data from Jon Boeckenstedt at DePaul University. California, New Jersey, Illinois, and New York are the leading exporters.

The legions of students exiting California, for instance, travel all about the country. University of Alabama and New York University are their most popular destinations. The many students from New Jersey, on the other hand, stay close to their home state.

Pick your favorite state(s) or school(s) to review when you visit 
Writing Right for the Web: New Academic Program Introduction

Every once in a while you see an example of academic program writing and content presentation that you wish would spread throughout higher education. This example from the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University is one of them.

Visit the unusually clean, simple, and easy-to-scan presentation at 
CollegeNET vs. Common App: Wrestling in the Mud?

CollegeNet is appealing an adverse court ruling on an anti-trust suit against the Common Application last spring. CollegeNet is the choice of the Coalition for College Access, Affordability, and Success to deliver future application services.

Review the reasons why a U.S. District Court dismissed the suit as well as the reason CollegeNet is challenging that decision at 
Goldman Sachs and College Value: Avoid the Bottom 25 Percent

A December note from Goldman Sachs reporting that graduates of the bottom 25 percent of universities earn less on average than high school graduates received no small amount of media attention. A quick Google search brings links to CBS News, CNN Money, Business Insider, and more. 

Estimate the PR impact from a typical report that "gives parents good reasons not to send kids to college right now" at 

The original Goldman Sachs warning is in a PDF at 
Digital Marketing Campaigns: The Best in Higher Ed in 2015

I have known the smart folks at Terminal Four since I first met Piero Tintori at a J.Boye conference in Denmark years ago and started my collection of red-covered notebooks.

And that is why it is easy to recommend a visit to the first installment of "The Best Higher Education Digital Marketing Campaigns of 2015." No guarantee that you will be a fan of each one but check the variety of approaches for insight and inspiration for your 2016 efforts.

My personal favorite: several faculty simply reading short notes about why students liked Keele University.

To review campaigns from the U.K. and the U.S., visit 
Disney World Marketing Content: Two Schools Merge in Philadelphia

The merits of the impending merger aside, the December press release announcing the tentative deal is a truly remarkable example of over-the-top content marketing. 

See how many superlatives can dance on the head of a pin when you read the announcement story at 
Nielsen Alertbox Report: Website Simplicity Almost Always Wins

Do you need more reasons to convince people that keeping lots of links on a website page isn't harmful, even when many are almost never used?

To help clean the clutter from your web pages and increase top task completion, get people to read "Simplicity Wins over Abundance of Choice" at 
A Fad You Can Miss in 2016: 9 Reasons to Skip Virtual Reality

You do not have to rush to create a virtual reality version of your campus visit experience if you believe the AdAge take that this emergent 2015 marketing darling just is not practical.

If you insist on early adoption, follow the link to the example for Stanford University football.

Root yourself in reality by reading "Reality Check: 2016 Won't Be the Year of VR" 
Most Popular Topic in December Newsletter: Content Marketing Cartoon

Everyone loves content marketing, ice cream, and apple pie. Cartoonist Tom Fishburne gently urges that we spend more time editing and less time publishing in his "Branded Content" cartoon 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 to schedule your project at 

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

Join 7,050+ people and follow me on Twitter.
September greetings. A bright new 2015-16 academic year is underway almost everywhere. Let us all enjoy the feelings that come with welcoming new students, opening new classes, and awaiting fine fall weather. 

In the digital marketing era the website is the most important element for successful student recruitment. See why that is true at "4 Top Marketing Lessons for Student Recruitment" 

My partner Gerry McGovern is interested in what you think about how organizations adapt themselves to the Digital Transformation underway. Take his 60-second survey at 
Conference Event Upcoming

The program for the AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education in November is online now. Add my Digital Marketing Strategy tutorial Sunday afternoon when you register 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 September.
Cartoon of the Month: Marketing to Younger Generations

Check this cartoon for a reminder of why it is not always best for an organization to adopt the language and look of a particular generation in an effort to gain acceptance. See 
Content Marketing: Sorting the Definitions

How much of content marketing is "really just convoluted advertising"? And is producing more content a strategy for effective marketing?

Those questions are posed by David Germano as he reviews the variety of definitions and practices used by people with different marketing backgrounds. Do not miss his link to 40 "anecdotal perspectives."

If you are serious about content marketing have your team read and discuss the article you will find at 
10 Innovative College Presidents: How Does Yours Compare?

Washington Monthly has compiled a list of 10 college and university presidents it believes may well shape the future of higher education. The list begins with Mark Becker at Georgia State University and ends with Cheryl Hyman at City Colleges of Chicago.

The complete list and reasons for selecting each president is at 
Bold and Brassy Landing Page: Best Campus Visit Ever at Best University in the State

Take a moment to visit a landing page for an online ad that "guaranteed" the campus visit to this school was the "best ever." The landing page itself makes the claim that this is the "best university" in the state.

The faculty is "outstanding," the campus is "gorgeous," and the facilities are "first-class." Visit a landing page for potential students that knows no restraints at 
Tuition Discount Rate: Still Climbing at 48 percent for 2014 Private-Sector Freshman Class

How high is too high? NACUBO reports that 89 percent of full-time freshmen in 2014 received a discount of some sort, based on either need or merit. Price sensitivity is cited as a continuing factor. Many if not most private colleges cannot maintain the number or blend of students they seek without substantial price discounting. In 2008 the average discount rate was 39.9 percent.

More details are in the Inside Higher Education report at 

Money Magazine notes that the size of the average discount increases with higher acceptance rates and adds mentions of Freddy Krueger and retail store discounts at 
Writing Effective Headlines: 5 Tips from Nielsen Norman Group

Headlines, whether for email, web pages, or search results, play a key role in marketing conversions.

An August Alertbox tells us that "Headlines are Pick-up Lines" and offers "5 Tips for Writing Headlines that Convert." My two favorites: "Do not succumb to cute or faddish vocabulary" and "Omit nonessential words."

See 3 more tips to help improve your web writing at 
Digital Ads in Higher Education: Not Working Well in the U.K.

Decide for yourself if this translates to online advertising in the U.S. and elsewhere, but do read the results of a recent survey reported in the Journal of Marketing for Higher Education.

Only 26 percent of university-bound students said they trusted higher education ads. Social media did even worse at 14.4 percent trust level. University websites did better at 46.6 percent. Printed publications were trusted by 42.8 percent.

Read more on the survey results at 
College Tag Lines: 88 that Create Poetry

Would college tag lines disappear if someone could figure out how to calculate the ROI from the time and money spent creating them?

Whatever you think of their marketing value, check this enterprising effort to combine 88 higher education tag lines into a single poem. Poetry starts with "Change Your Life. Start Here" and ends with "You're One of a Kind. So are We."

See if your school in included among the 88 when you visit 
Defining Affordability: The Lumina Foundation Makes a New Effort

Policy proposals to make higher education more "affordable" are sprouting from presidential candidates but the definition of how much cost is affordable to how many people is elusive.

The Lumina Foundation is proposing a new formula that asks families to save a percent of disposable income over 10 years along with a student work load while in college of 10 hours per week.

One Lumina goal was a definition that was "easily understandable." See how close you think they came when you start at 
World Without FAFSA: Is That Possible?

An "Economic View" column by Susan Dynarski, a professor at the University of Michigan, in the NY Times argues that more low income students with the ability to complete college would actually attend college if the FAFSA were not required for financial aid consideration. 

Dynarski highlights a bi-partisan proposal in the U.S. Senate that would reduce the present FAFSA to just two questions. Indeed, she questions whether any version is needed at all noting information already available from income tax returns.

The highest anticipated benefit would be an increase in low-income students attending college.

Decide if you agree or disagree after reading the article at 
Comparing Graduation Rates: Pell Grant Students vs. All Students

How do 6-year graduation rates compare at the schools enrolling the highest numbers of Pell Grant students? 

In many cases, the rates are remarkable close. Harvard leads the way with 97 percent completion for Pell students matching the overall rate. At Cornell, there is only a .5 percent difference. Other highly selective schools have rates over 90 percent for both groups. Yale, we must note, was not on the list. 

Perhaps more of note: the 69 percent Pell rate at DePaul University nearly matches the overall 70 percent rate. At a few schools, Indiana Wesleyan is one, the Pell rate is higher than the overall rate.

Review the full list at 
Most Popular Topic in August Newsletter: Prominent "Search" Feature on Xavier Homepage

Xavier University makes a bold departure from the usual home page design by placing a large "Find Activities, Programs, and More..." search box on top of the opening image. See 
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
Websites gain marketing advantage with top task design

The secret to making your website an effective marketing tool: clean and simple design that lets visitors complete their tasks as quickly as possible. Experience on the site is more important than "stunning" hero images or other design fads.

For years now I've been a partner in the Customer Carewords team that promotes the use of top task research as the basis of successful website design. Carewords partners work for government agencies, private business corporations, and health care organizations as well as colleges and universities. Top task rules apply everywhere.

What are examples of effective top task use in higher education? Over my years of making Link of the Week selections I've often included top task examples. Now, prompted by a recent query from Anne Lutgerink at Internationalizing Education, I'm collecting here several of the best of those examples.

Key design elements: speed, task visibility, and "care" words

Three elements are key to top task design: Visibility in 5 seconds or less as a page opens and use of words that visitors care about. The rules don't change for mobile, except that the right words are even more important.

Examples from 9 higher education websites

University of Ottawa home page. When it went online early in 2013 this page was a thing of beauty as it gave prominent display to just four topics linking to tasks: "Find a program" and "University fees" for the primary external audience and "News, events and dates" and "Search library" for faculty and current students. Since then the page has fallen victim on occasion to someone's urge to add special events above the task links. It still remains one of the cleanest university home pages.

Victoria University home page: If you must use a carousel on your home page, don't let it drive a key top task lower on the page. In this example, "Find a course" and "Browse for courses" links take the prime upper left position and the carousel starts to the right of the task.

East Stroudsburg University admissions page: Highlighting top tasks on an admissions page is especially challenging as the tasks change as people move through the recruitment cycle. ESU meets the challenge in a simple but effective way: divide the page into 4 recruitment cycle segments and list the tasks for each segment directly to the right. Just about perfect.

Arcadia University study abroad page. The program entry page illustrates how you can use a strong image along with a branding statement and still include just 3 "can't miss" task words as the page opens. So simple. So clean. So seldom done. You can apply the same approach to just about any entry page.

Northern Alberta Institute of Technology academic program page: You won't find any photos here but you will immediately see "Grad Employment Rate" and "Median Starting Salary," two points about academic programs that are of increasing interest to potential students. Quickly following those are "Quick Facts," "Tuition & Fees" and "Entrance Requirements."

Williams College parents page: Open this page to find 6 images with word topics that you can scan easily to see the links to tasks for each topic. The first "Parent Resources" heading includes links to "Information for First-Year Students" and "Information for Returning Students" as well as a link to "Key Williams Contacts." The ability to 'find a person" is one of the most neglected top tasks on many websites.

Middlebury College department of English and American Literatures: Here is an admirable example of how to make it easy to contact your faculty. Each right-sized block for the 30 people listed includes email, phone number, and office hours. Sound simple? On many faculty website pages it isn't.

Rochester Institute of Technology Merit Scholarships: For sure this page will win no beauty awards but it offers in a single place what is so often missing from scholarship pages: name of the award, eligibility (including in some cases specific ACT & SAT scores), amount of the award, and what to do, if anything, to apply.

University of Oregon gift options page: Alumni and other potential donors want to know what their options are for giving to areas that match their special interests. Visit here to see 9 areas of interest that start with "Schools and Colleges" and end with "Athletics."

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.

Join 6,775+ people and follow me on Twitter

Bob Johnson
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