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Consumers are now used to interfacing with things in bits, bytes and and bite-sized chunks. When it comes to reeling in a broad audience, marketers are using vanity URLs to do exactly this by shortening lengthy, confusing URLs into readable and accessible links.

What are Vanity URLs?

Vanity URLs:

  • Are short and clean, easy to remember and easy to read website URLs
  • Are seen as more trustworthy than long links and perform better in terms of clicks
  • Can increase rankings on search engines if keywords are embedded in them
  • Can be monitored so that you can track where traffic is coming from, and which advertisements or platforms are performing best

What are The Two Types of Vanity URLs?

Vanity URLs are very useful for a variety of purposes, but depending on the need they can be utilized in two places within a URL. A subdomain (prefix) occurs at the beginning of a URL (e.g. xyz.college.edu) while a subfolder (suffix) occurs after a slash (e.g. www.college.edu/xyz).

  1. Subdomains are used for
    • securing rankings on search engines
    • marketing of departments and schools within a larger institution
  2. Subfolders are used for
    • promotional campaigns
    • directing people from printed materials, radio ads, tv ads, etc.

Few Words of Caution When Using Vanity URLs

Avoid:

  • Overusing them for every page on a website. This is unnecessary, can hurt rankings, and defeats the purpose of using them in the first place: simplicity.
  • Using keywords that are too similar to one another or you will have to compete with your own rankings, ultimately hurting yourself.
  • Creating a new URL because you will have to start from scratch. Instead, vanity URLs will serve the same function while still being within the existing domain.
  • Using too many slashes for subfolders. Vanity URLs are supposed to be simple, and too many subfolders can clog the URL unnecessarily

Guidelines for Managing Vanity URLs

  • Designate a vanity URL administrator who’s authorized to approve/disapprove
  • Describe guidelines for when vanity URLs should be used so that people can determine whether or not to submit a request
  • Create a form that includes: name, email, vanity URL, internal destination URL, start date, expiration date, how it’ll be used, and legitimate need/rationale
  • Define rules such as the length limits, use of lower case alpha-numeric characters only with hyphen for spaces, must end with alpha, ease of typing, ease of communication over phone or conversation, avoiding acronyms, right to refuse, etc.
  • Provide a list of vanity URLs that are currently in use.

Guidelines for Awarding Vanity URLs

  • Who needs them:
    • Schools within an institution
    • Marketing campaigns
    • Enrollment campaigns
    • Capital campaigns
  • Who could or could not have them:
    • Centers of Excellence, depending on how much money they’re bringing in
    • Academic departments and other key departments such as communications and the registrar’s office
  • Who does not need them:
    • Academic programs
    • Clubs and organizations
    • Individual athletic teams
    • Faculty and student profiles
    • Suppliers such as dining services, housing services, etc.

Remember, for every rule there is an exception. So make judgments based on a case-by-case basis.

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This checklist is designed for new presidents sizing up an enrollment department and prospective vice presidents for enrollment as they size up a new job opportunity.

1. Key Strategy Question

  • What’s our position in the market place?
  • What’s our institutional brand?
  • Given that diverse student populations are growing and white student population is shrinking, what are we doing to intentionally target diverse student communities?

2. Right-Fit

  • Who thrives here?
  • Who considers the school as their #1 choice school?
  • What percentage of applicants use us as their #1 choice and as a safety school?

3. Key Metrics & KPIs

  • What’s our total marketing budget?
  • Marketing budget as a % of overall college revenue? (should be greater than 10%, but most colleges are investing between 2% to 5% only).
  • What’s the ratio between Digital vs. Traditional in our marketing budget?
  • What are our cost-per-lead, cost-per-enroll, and yield rates? How do we stack up vis-à-vis competitors?
  • What’s our website lead-generation rate? How are these leads performing vis-a-vis paid advertising leads?
  • What’s the number of prospective student names we buy annually from ACT/NRCCUA, GRE/GMAT and other sources?
  • How many Google page 1 rankings do we have?

4. Signature Programs

  • What are our top 10 signature programs?
  • Do their web pages look as strong as BMW 3 or 5 series pages?
  • What percentage of our enrollment is driven by these signature programs?

5. New Programs

  • What’s our process for creating new academic programs?
  • What budget do we allocate for marketing the new programs?

6. Enrollment Marketing Tactics

  • What tactics do we deploy? What’s working best? worst? How do you plan these initiatives to mutually reinforce each other?
  • What’s our best argument for the specialty of education we offer?
  • What geographies do we consider our primary territories?
  • In our paid advertising, do we engage in A/B testing, look-alike marketing, micro-targeting and machine learning?
  • What’s our SEO strategy? How many page 1 Google rankings do we have?

7. Boots-On-The-Ground Activities

  • How many high schools do we visit annually?
  • How many college fairs (virtual or physical) do we attend annually?
  • How many high school principals and teachers do we meet annually?
  • How many college counselors in high school do we meet annually?
  • How many related trade shows do we visit annually?

8. Follow-up & Lead Nurturing

  • How many counselors/representatives do we have?
  • What are their territories?
  • How many open houses do we hold annually? How are they organized?
  • How many discovery days do we hold annually? How are they organized?
  • What tactics do we deploy? What’s working? and what’s not?
  • What’s the role of program chairs and Deans and faculty in follow up and yield?

9. Retention

  • What’s our retention rate?
  • Do we have a first-year and second-year student engagement plan?
  • Do we have a student retention committee?
  • What’s the #1 reason for students transferring out of our school?

10. Technology

  • What CRM are we using?
  • What marketing automation technology are we using?
  • What lead attribution software do we use?
  • What A/B testing tool do we use?
  • What brand sentiment tools are we using?
  • What’s our best enrollment marketing weapon tool?

If you are seeking higher education marketing agencies to grow your enrollment, endowment and reputation, view our higher education marketing capabilities and consider partnering with us.

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2021 is finally here. Here are some of our predictions for this coming year. Covid’s drag on students and colleges will persist at least through the summer. The previous administration’s negative impact on international recruitment will begin to ease. Celebration of diversity will be in vogue again due to continued growth in underrepresented students. Paid media prices will continue their meteoric climb. The absence of high-school travel and standardized test-takers will continue. Due to economic uncertainty, the decline in number of high school graduates enrolling in college immediately after high school will continue.

In this time of volatile change, here is our advice for higher education marketers to overcome the challenges and make the most of emerging opportunities:

1. Celebrate Diversity
Gen-Z and Millenials are race-blind, faith-blind and gender-blind. As part of the most diverse generation in U.S. history, they take diversity for granted. They accept, not just respect, others for who they are – irrespective of their race, religious beliefs, and their gender preferences.
The Many Faces of Gen-Z

2. Celebrate Your Heroes and Their Achievements
College is the gateway to a student’s ambitions and ultimate destiny. Remember, students and faculty, not the institution, are the real heroes of your story. Celebrate them and their journeys. Tell their stories with gusto.
Celebrate Achievements of Your Heroes

3. Celebrate Your Brand
In the sea of sameness, brands win. Stand for something unique and let the world know about it. Speak with one brand voice to all audiences striking different notes for each audience segment. Tell a better story. Provide proof of your brand claims. Infuse your brand in every touch point.

Branding

Distill the argument for your brand in a brand anthem video. Here is one example of a brand anthem video we produced for New York Chiropractic College:

And another one for Boler College of Business at John Carroll University:

4. Project Your College as a School of Consequence
You must look and behave like a school of consequence.

  • Invest in first impressions. In the era of Covid, all your digital touch points must be right, tight and bright. Fortify every touch point – including websites, social media channels, your Wikipedia entry, email signatures, newsletters, tours, information sessions, and all presentations.
  • Celebrate your star students, alumni and faculty because they, not the institution, are the real heroes of your story.
  • Amplify your college blog, YouTube channel and publications to achieve Google page 1 rankings. Weaponize your content based on your schools’ thought leadership, innovation, and intellectual capital with a Keyword Lexicon, and an ongoing search engine optimization campaign that attains top Google rankings and fosters social sharing. Invest in a more robust content mix for your college academic blog, developing a deep archive of student and alumni stories that can be used by your enrollment counseling team. Prioritize stories of audiences that drive institutional revenue.Develop a “SEO Keyword Guide” comprised of keywords and phrases your college can rightfully claim.Infuse your stories with targeted search engine optimization keywords to realize regional, national and international Google page 1 rankings.
  • Organize virtual conferences and annual professional meetings in your areas of distinction. These give peers and recruiters a reason to engage with your faculty, students and alumni.
  • Create an enviable peer and corporate advisory board. Invite aspirational peers and recruiters to your advisory board and involve them in teaching, shaping your curriculum and charting your institutional future.

5. Invest in the Marketing of Signature Program Portfolios
Lead with strengths. Fortify signature program pages with high-fidelity content. Market distinctive programs where you have an indisputable competitive advantage.
Investment in Programs
Fight the temptation to start new me-too programs. No one has realized prosperity with me-too commodity offerings.

6. Embrace Inverted Enrollment Funnel
Abandon traditional student search models. Hunt like sharks. Don’t feed like whales. The era of buying prospects names, spamming them, seeing who sticks, and praying some convert is over. Tell stories of successful students and alumni; let like-minded prospects find them. Embrace new digital methodologies based on micro-segmentation, machine learning, big-data algorithms and affinity groups. Think right-fit, admission pipes and inverted admissions funnels, not traditional admissions funnels.

Inverted Admissions Funnel

7. Claim Your Local SEO Rankings
One third of students are considering attending a local/regional school due to fear of contracting coronavirus far from home. Prioritize existing budgets to give your top 10 most distinct academic program pages an immediate boost towards page-one local/regional SEO rankings.

Since more than 20% of searches are local and one third of students are considering attending a local/regional college due to fear of contracting Corona far from home, re-prioritize your SEO efforts to win page-one local/regional SEO rankings. “Bake” phrases such as ‘near me’ and geographies you serve into the page copy of all your programs.

8. Embrace Voice Search
We have entered a new era of “natural language”, “sentence based” and “question based” search with the advent of voice-activated search on mobile phones (like Google Assistant, Siri, Microsoft Cortana and Amazon Alexa) and gadgets like Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple HomePod and others. 30 percent of searches are now voice driven. Get ready for the voice era by taking the following steps:

  • Write colloquially. Since people won’t change their speaking habits for the computer, write new content using everyday vernacular.
  • Write page summaries. Write short, persuasive, 29-word page summaries above the screen fold on long-form pages. These summaries act as pop-up snippets served up by voice searches on mobile devices and home gadgets; they also appear as answer boxes on desktop search results.
  • Build social shares. Implement social share campaigns because the more shared the page is on Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn and other social channels, the more likely it will surface on voice search.
  • Rank high on desktop/mobile search. If a website is not ranked on desktop/mobile search, it is unlikely that it will be ranked on voice search. Therefore, focus on achieving top rankings on desktop/mobile search for your college website.

9. Create Story-based Virtual Tours
Create a virtual tour that combines the best of still photography, student/alumni testimonials/quotes and a sense of place and culture. Use the testimonials/quotes to convey your school’s culture, not as a way-finding device. Don’t show a dorm as a physical space, tell the story of a dorm friendship that endured for many years.

Imagine creating a digital version of iSpeak booklet which we produced for North Central College, or the Wellesley 100 microsite.

Alternatively, engage student ambassadors to post authentic Instagram moments a couple of times a week.

10. Embrace Experimentation
If your college is investing at least 10% of your revenue in marketing like academic leaders are, set aside some play money to explore new marketing tactics, strategies and channels. Remember that your prospects are surrounded by an increasing proliferation of channels. Invest in content and paid media to see if these channels generate better returns.
Brian Solis Conversation Prim

If you are seeking higher education marketing agencies to grow your enrollment, endowment and reputation, view our higher education marketing capabilities and consider partnering with us.

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Changing the name of your college or university can stretch 5-10 years. Name change isn’t the answer to declining enrollments, but it could signal a new strategic direction, or an expansion of the audiences you serve, or a clarification of your mission; or it could be all three.

Here are some pearls of wisdom gleaned from experience and a step-by-step process on how to rollout a new name.

Preparing for Change

  • Get input from the institution’s faculty, staff, students, alumni, cabinet and board members.
  • Prepare and present the alternative names and a final recommendation. Present a thoughtful rationale for your choice to the cabinet, board members and campus community to get their support.
  • Create a microsite which explains the strategic underpinnings of the name change and the new institutional direction.
  • Create a website FAQ page that answers common questions that may be posed by different stakeholders. Answer a range of questions, from the very broad ones like “Why did you change the name?”, to philosophical ones such as “Does this change our mission and vision?”, and to practical ones like “Can I request a new diploma/certificate with the new name?” Here is a good example of an FAQ page.

The Silent Phase

  • Check with The US Patent and Trademark Office to ensure the name is not taken by another institution and can be claimed by you.
  • Secure a new .edu domain. Also secure the .com, .org and .net domains to prevent future domain squatters from tarnishing your brand. Prepare web server 301 redirects to activate the day the name change is released. Prepare the web servers to accept both the old and new domain names.
  • Configure email servers to create aliases from old email addresses to the new ones.
  • Secure social media handles for popular channels such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and others.
  • Create a new brand identity guide.
  • Consider DBA (doing business as) in state filings, bank accounts, etc.
  • Notify the post office.
  • Notify the IPEDs (Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System) office of the Department of Education for a new FICE (Federal Interagency Committee on Education) code.

The Public Phase

  • Update the logo on the website. Globally replace all references of the old name to the new one in the website header, footer and body copy.
  • Update the logo/name on all active landing pages and ad campaigns.
  • Activate 301 redirects from the old domain to the new one for both the website and landing pages.
  • Update print materials including letterheads, business cards, memo templates, recruitment materials, class schedules, course related materials, parking and shuttle maps, computer and financial reports, invoices, bills, and other forms.
  • Update patches for safety officers, grounds crew and maintenance employees.
  • Update identification cards, parking tags, license plates, name tags, and podium name plates.
  • Send announcements to high schools, other institutions of higher education, college guides, libraries, the Higher Education Directory, accrediting agencies, athletic conferences, suppliers, vendors, and contractors; businesses where the university places or desires to place graduates; and professional organizations of which the university is a member.
  • Send press releases out to media organizations informing them of key developments and events related to the name change.
  • Consider holding a “Midnight Madness” celebration on the night of the name change. Invite all living past presidents and board members, key alumni, donors, student representatives, state officials, and the board of governors to participate. Publicly recognize all private donors who funded the name-change activities.
  • Ask university representatives to deliver a series of presentations to various civic groups explaining the name change and why it was important.
  • Consider leaving intact some items on display across campus with the old name of school such as facility dedication plaques, engraved benches, and bronze seals.

Ongoing Efforts

  • Ensure that Google searches for your old name surface the name change web page.
  • Notify off-campus organizations that link to the university’s Web pages to change their hyperlinks to reflect the new name and domain.
  • Monitor your site analytics monthly to determine the half-life of your old name. Expect your old name to surface for approximately 5-7 years if not longer.

Abraham Lincoln once said “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.” The success of renaming a school, too, depends on the preparation work done upfront.

If you are planning a name change, explore our branding services and consider partnering with us.

What’s the difference between a college with an abundance of applications and one with an unacceptably high acceptance rate? Sometimes, it’s curiosity and nerve. Adversity — brought on by geographic isolation, shifting demographics, deep-pocketed for-profits and other Goliath competitors — can inspire a college and university to challenge assumptions and try new approaches to gain an unfair competitive advantage.

We call these schools underdog brands — and salute the leaders willing to rethink the potential of a school website, blog and related interactive marketing.

Underdog brands evolve from thinking of marketing assets as a fixed cost — an unwelcome guest knocking at the capital budget’s door — to seeing its potential to enlarge the vision and change institutional culture.

Underdog brands tend to serve a lot of first generation in college families, and students who are willing to try harder, and are unafraid to roll up their sleeves and get things done.

Here are some guidelines for creating and managing blog content for underdog college brands:

Goals

  • Know your goals
  • Create a readership that engages with your passion for delivering practical, valuable and advice-oriented content

Target Audience

  • Speak to different generations of prospective students: high school, adult, online, and undergraduate

Start with a Keyword or Key Phrase

  • Identify the keyword or key phrase you would like your blog post to be ranked for, and search Google to see who else appears on page 1 of Google for that phrase
  • Infuse the keyword or key phrase into your blog post
  • Use SEO best practices to ensure that the blog has a fighting chance at securing page 1 Google ranking

Content Focus

  • Act as a guidance counselor
  • Educate prospective students
  • Quote other authoritative peers and aspirational brands who’ll lend you credibility
  • Tie content to the keyword or phrase
  • Limit the length of blog post to less than 500 words
  • Build topic authority by creating a series of small blog posts
  • Write blog posts with commensurate fidelity, which is less than that of an academic program page or a news item
  • Tie it back to the institutional offerings
  • Honor the blog writing style guide for the institution

Voice

  • Be positive, real, helpful, accessible, insightful, professional and knowledgeable
  • Avoid jargon

Engagement

  • Encourage questions and comments on the blog
  • Share the blog post on your institutional social networks
  • Respond to comments on the blog and social media

Measurement

  • Measure the number of shares and likes
  • Measure the traffic on the blog post
  • Monitor Google rankings for the chosen keyword or key phrase

We welcome you to share your guidelines with us.

Learn more about our inbound marketing services and consider partnering with us.

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Over the last 25 years, Elliance has developed .edu websites using proprietary, open-source and commercial grade content management systems (CMS). As one of the few technology agnostic agencies, we try and support the prior investments of our clients. However, for medium to large colleges and universities, we recommend Hannon Hill’s Cascade CMS (content management system). Here are five reasons why:

1. Cascade CMS Allows Us to Implement our “Smart Page Builder”.
Cascade CMS enables us to construct a “Smart Page Builder” tool which combines building blocks to create all website pages easily and cost-effectively via a single interface. In sharp contrast to template-based websites, this gives our clients the flexibility to create custom layouts as needed for various parts of the website. This dramatically reduces their training and website maintenance costs.

As an example, we created a custom “Smart Page Builder” for Catholic University of America’s online presence. Their online universe comprises the main .edu website, 12 graduate school websites, and promotional landing pages. Even though each of these websites have a unique look and feel, they belong to the same brand family because they are built using a single interface. The beauty of this system is that it allows differentiation while maintaining brand consistency across all divisions. See some examples:

2. Apache Velocity Software Easily Integrates with Cascade CMS to Create Custom Applications
Velocity is a nice way to extend the capabilities of the Cascade CMS. For instance, Elliance built Catholic University of America’s Degree Explorer tool to allow a prospective student to quickly sift through more than 400 degrees the university offers.

3. Ease of Use for Content Teams
Here is what our university clients love about Cascade CMS:

  • Ease of use for non-technical content teams
  • View content you are responsible for
  • Manage drafts and schedule publishing dates
  • Track changes with audit trails and version history
  • Crop and resize images
  • Generate reports for stale content, broken links, spelling errors and accessibility compliance

4. Strong Development Environment
As developers, we appreciate these features of the Cascade CMS:

  • Integrates easily with third party systems (CRM, Marketing Automation, Faculty & Staff Directory, Course Catalog, Events Calendar, and more) using web services, connectors, and feeds
  • Provides great support for templating with XSLT – enabling separation of design and content layers
  • Supports Apache Velocity for custom development
  • Offers a granular permission system and access control lists
  • Enables a personalized user experience

5. Secure Hosting
Finally, Cascade CMS gives us and our clients peace of mind by decoupling the hosting of the CMS from the production website(s).

Higher Education Web Development with Hannon Hill Cascade CMS

We understand that there are numerous other content management systems for higher education, but Hannon Hill Cascade remains the top ranked CMS in this space. We have partnered with Hannon Hill because we are committed to offering the best solutions to our clients.

If you are seeking a higher education web development agency, consider partnering with us.

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The Covid pandemic has changed the landscape of enrollment management. Counselors aren’t able to travel to schools and meet prospective applicants face to face. Many students aren’t visiting colleges and aren’t able to take SAT and ACT tests. So how does a college enroll students in the absence of travel, the ability to purchase College Board lists or meet students face-to-face?

Here are 10 tactics for growing enrollment in these challenging times:

1. Abandon Traditional Student Search Models. Hunt Like Sharks. Don’t Feed Like Whales.
The era of buying prospects names, spamming them, seeing who sticks, and praying some convert is over.
Tell stories of successful students and alumni; let like-minded prospects find them. Embrace new digital methodologies based on micro-segmentation, machine learning, big-data algorithms and affinity groups. Think right-fit, admission pipes and inverted admissions funnels, not traditional admissions funnels.

Inverted Admissions Funnel

2. Hold Scholarship Essay Competitions
Shift existing scholarship dollars to support a national Scholarship Essay Competition. Use owned, paid, and earned media to attract prospective students.

3. Create Story-based Virtual Tours
Create a virtual tour that combines the best of still photography, student/alumni testimonials/quotes and a sense of place and culture. Use the testimonials/quotes to convey your school’s culture, not as a way finding device. Don’t show a dorm as a physical space, tell the story of a dorm friendship that endured for many years.

Imagine creating a digital version of iSpeak booklet which we produced for North Central College, or the Wellesley 100 microsite.

4. Develop a “Future of Work” Microsite for Guidance Counselors
Create an information-rich microsite aimed at helping high school guidance counselors convey how your college is preparing students for emergent careers. Tap your faculty, alumni, financial aid and career counseling staff to prepare the guide. Use owned, paid, and earned media to promote the guide to school counselors, students and the media.

5. Amplify Your College Blog and Publications to Achieve Google Page 1 Rankings
Invest in a more robust content mix for your college academic blog, developing a deep archive of student and alumni stories that can be used by your enrollment counseling team. Prioritize stories of audiences that drive institutional revenue.

Develop a “SEO Keyword Guide” comprised of keywords and phrases your college can rightfully claim. SEO Keyword Guide

Infuse your stories with targeted search engine optimization keywords to realize regional, national and international Google page 1 rankings.

6. Energize Influencers, Referral Networks and Reliable Feeders
Befriend high school college counselors, principals, teachers, and corporate/government training leaders. Wholesale student streams provide a solid foundation to supplement your retail one-on-one recruitment.

7. Invest in the Marketing of Signature Program Portfolios
Lead with strengths. Market distinctive programs where you have an indisputable competitive advantage.
Investment in Programs
Fight the temptation to start new me-too programs. No one has realized prosperity with me-too commodity offerings.

8. Invest in Smart Paid Advertising
Avoid democratic budget allocation. Target right-fit prospects where they hang out. Leverage machine learning, reliance on algorithms, and micro-segmentation techniques but balance them with your judgment. Embrace data-driven decision making. Measure what matters, watch what you see, see the unseen — but also trust your instinct and gut. Take bold action once you gather the insights from your data.

9. Augment Integrated Marketing with Timely Follow-up and Outreach
This trifecta is the holy grail of higher education enrollment and marketing. You take one out, and success will elude you. Don’t let automation get in the way of personalized and timely follow-up. There are no short-cuts for old-fashioned relationship building.

10. Leverage Tools, Technologies, Process and Imagination
Adopt CRM and marketing automation, but not to replace the essential relationship building work that needs to be done to win the hearts and minds of prospects. Imagination, passion and purpose — not process — is what prospects ultimately buy and are buying into.

In a nutshell, during the pandemic, enrollment managers have to be creative, smart and strategic.

If you are seeking higher education marketing agencies to fortify the reputation of your college or university, view our higher education marketing capabilities and consider partnering with us.

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Communicating before, during and after a capital campaign requires the kind of symphonic thinking that author Daniel Pink explores in A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age.

Strategic visions and campaign priorities can quickly deconstruct into campaign inventory and itemization — losing all connection to a larger and more compelling story about why a college matters and to the invitation for how donors might connect their singular sense of purpose to something larger.

It’s not a matter of longer versus shorter content, but a question of what Pink calls the “relationship between relationships.”

Pink talks of the three types of people that thrive when asked to overlay little and big pictures.

Boundary Crossers: comfortable with abstraction, they understand how a concept like regulation can inspire donors to support the training of future financial accountants who will police insider trading and osteopathic doctors equipped to ease an epidemic of diabetes.

Inventors: able to project new ideas, such as why relocating physical therapy and pharmacy majors in one location will anticipate the development of regenerative rehabilitation drugs and therapies.

Metaphor Makers: willing to risk bold scenarios, such as reframing the combative border between the US and Mexico as a shared resource, where the harnessing of scarce water and the capture of abundant sunshine eases the very economic pressure that strains policy and diplomacy.

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Imagine a college or university making a capital campaign pitch with this kind of clear return-on-investment data: every $1 given to scholarships generates nearly four times the amount in lifetime student earnings.

That’s the case with Macomb Community College, which raised more than $10 million for its largest-ever fundraising campaign concluding in 2018. The campaign, called “Mission Macomb: Creating Opportunities & Channing Lives” exceeded its goal by 8 percent and doubled the number of private scholarships available to students.

While capital campaigns have traditionally been associated with four-year institutions, robust fundraising efforts are gaining momentum in community colleges around the country. The data from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) shows that over the last decade, the average community college endowment grew by 76 percent.

This data suggests a big opportunity for community colleges that are not already running a capital campaign. Successful capital campaigns can help community colleges fund their educational missions, diversify funding sources so that they are less vulnerable to volatility of public funding, and become more competitive by funding high-quality programs.

However, what makes capital campaigns a unique opportunity for community colleges is that they are ideally positioned to make a strong case to their donors:

Donor contributions make an immediate and measurable student impact.
Given lower community college tuition, donors can realize a significant impact from their contribution. Each contribution goes further in supporting student aid. Also, because community colleges tend to serve low-income students, they boost economic mobility at a greater rate than their four-year institutional peers. See the Macomb Community College example.

Donor contributions will fuel economic prosperity.
Across the county, industries such as manufacturing, infrastructure and transportation — those that require education somewhere between a high school diploma and a four-year degree — are seeing shortages of skilled workers. Research shows that some 30 million jobs in the United States that pay an average of $55,000 per year don’t require bachelor’s degrees.

Community colleges are poised to answer this demand by offering high-quality training programs that will support the economy and create pathways to high-paying jobs. Donors who want to see their contributions create a real economic impact in their community see community colleges as great partners in their philanthropy efforts.

In 2014, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) commissioned Economic Modeling Specialists International to quantify the economic impact of community colleges in the United States. According to the report, “community college-educated workers have higher earnings than workers without any postsecondary education, which leads to higher tax revenues and increased demand for goods and services throughout the economy.”

Convincing donors requires more than just facts and figures.
While making the case to community college donors rests on the transformative impact their contributions will have on the lives of students and their community, facts and figures are not enough. Community colleges who are looking to motivate donors must balance between proof and heart. They must tell stories of lives that have changed, businesses that have prospered and communities that have been reenergized — all in some way touched by their school.

If your institution needs help creating capital campaign communications, consider partnering with us.

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Google page 1 is destiny. 90% of users never go beyond page 1 of Google results. Organic rankings (i.e. the 10 natural search results) are trusted more, and convert three-folds better than paid ads.

Here are a 10-step plan for colleges, universities and higher education institutions to secure coveted Google page 1 rankings.

10-Step SEO Plan for Colleges, Universities and Higher Education Institutions

1. Identify Your Goals and Objectives
Here are a few common goals:

  • Grow enrollment in undergraduate, graduate, doctoral, or online programs
  • Strengthen Brand Reputation locally, regionally, nationally — in new areas of expertise, strategic priorities, and centers of excellence — all in service of positioning the institution as a school of consequence
  • Expand Fundraising to serve students, secure high caliber students, secure talent, or to fulfill the vision of the strategic/master plan
  • Improve External Relations with trade groups, foundations, corporations and government partners
  • Recruit Talent personified by great faculty, staff and students

Your tactics should change depending on your selected goal(s).

2. Establish a Multi-Year Attack Plan
Take the long view. Develop a plan that goes after the lowest hanging fruit first (local rankings), then harder-to-achieve rankings (regional), and finally the hardest-to-achieve national and reputation rankings. Slow and steady wins the race.

Multi-Year Plan for Securing Google Page 1 Rankings

3. Use .edu Instead of Using .com, .org and Other Domains
Since each college and university can be awarded only one (and occasionally two) .edu domains, search engines generally rank .edu websites higher than other domain extensions. Use .edu domains for websites, landing pages and microsites.

4. Make your website responsive, secure and fast
Google rewards responsive websites – the ones that auto-adjust gracefully on smartphones, tablets or desktops. Google also ranks higher those websites that load fast and are running in secure mode.

5. Create a Keyword Lexicon, and Claim Top Search Engine Rankings
Develop a Keyword Lexicon for your college. The lexicon is comprised of keywords and key phrases the college should claim. Categories in the lexicon include program keywords, brand positioning keywords, reputation keywords, decisioning keywords, and location keywords.

SEO Keyword Lexicon

Prospective students use different clusters of keywords at each phase of the decision funnel. (e.g. they’ll use reputation keywords during the awareness phase, category keywords during the consideration phase and branded keywords during the preference/purchase phase). Write copy that responds to the issues that matter in each specific phase of the decision cycle.

higher education marketing SEO decision funnel

6. Optimize all Assets for Search Engine Bots
Optimize copy, images, videos, pdf’s, tables, links, and meta-data on every college website page. This will ensure that Google serves up your copy, images, videos, maps and tabular data on a search results page. Since search engine bots also review and serve up assets on college social media channels, ensure that they are also optimized.

7. Multiply Social Signals 
Social signals (a webpage’s shares, likes and social media visibility) impact organic rankings. Add them to every page of your college website.

8. Secure Top Rankings for Mission-Critical Pages
Secure top rankings for your signature academic programs by developing high-fidelity, sharable and optimized content to secure top rankings for each on Google. This helps colleges combat competitors and lead aggregators.

The more competitive a keyword, the more high-fidelity content you’ll have to create to secure page 1 rankings.

High-Fidelity Content Marketing

Alternatively, claim thought leadership by re-packaging, optimizing and re-marketing new content assets based on your college’s natural wellspring of ideas, innovation, and intellectual capital.

9. Embrace Voice Search
We have entered a new era of “natural language”, “sentence based” and “question based” search with the advent of voice-activated search on mobile phones (like Google Assistant, Siri, Microsoft Cortana and Amazon Alexa) and gadgets like Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple HomePod and others. 30 percent of searches are now voice driven. Get ready for the voice era by taking the following steps:

  • Write colloquially. Since people won’t change their speaking habits for the computer, write new content using everyday vernacular.
  • Write page summaries. Write short, persuasive, 29-word page summaries above the screen fold on long-form pages. These summaries act as pop-up snippets served up by voice searches on mobile devices and home gadgets; they also appear as answer boxes on desktop search results.
  • Build social shares. Implemnt social share campaigns because the more shared the page is on Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn and other social channels, the more likely it will surface on voice search.
  • Think globally. Act locally. Since more than 20% of searches are local, add phrases such as ‘near me’ into your copy, especially if a college is a local or regional brand.
  • Rank high on desktop/mobile search. If a website is not ranked on desktop/mobile search, it is unlikely that it will be ranked on voice search. Therefore, focus on achieving top rankings on desktop/mobile search for your college website.

10. Monitor and Protect Keyword Rankings
Measure keyword rankings to ensure your college ranks on Google and sustain your rankings. Watch your college competitors for signs of encroachment, and counter their moves on an as-needed basis.

Ideally SEO thinking should be baked into every aspect of a new website construction project: all the way from strategy, information architecture, design, content, front-end development, back-end development to site launch and post-launch marketing. However, on most occasions, we are either called in at the tail end of a website redesign project or after it has been relaunched.

If you are seeking higher education marketing agencies for your college or university, view our SEO capabilities and consider partnering with us.

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