Ideas, insights and inspirations.

Top performing SEO agencies help their clients realize that fortune smiles on colleges and universities that pursue and achieve top organic rankings. Prosperity takes many shapes and forms for colleges ranked on page #1 of search engines. Their best practices arsenal includes:

1. Determine Goals and Objectives
The best SEO agencies help colleges and universities realize that a college website has numerous audiences and each enjoys unique benefits. They help their clients determine the right goal for each SEO campaign:

  • Prospective Students find them, get them to inquire, show up at open houses, apply and enroll
  • Prospective Talented Faculty and Staff find them and motivate them to apply for open job postings
  • Prospective Parents: find them and suggest their kids apply
  • Foundations and Donors: connect with mission-aligned centers of excellence
  • Corporations: seek and connect with faculty for research & development
  • News Makers: find faculty experts
  • Ranking and Rating Agencies: discover new emerging gems
  • Enrollment Officers: boast a low acceptance rate, making the college more exclusive
  • Financial Aid Officers: extend aid by design not compulsion
  • Presidents and Board Members: garner invitations to speak at top conferences for their expertise

2. 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. Leading SEO agencies steer their college clients to piggyback their websites, landing pages and microsites on their .edu domains.

3. Create a Keyword Lexicon, and Claim Top Search Engine Rankings
The best SEO agencies create a Keyword Lexicon for their college clients. 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

The best SEO agencies understand that 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). They write copy that responds to the issues that matter in each specific phase of the decision cycle.

higher education marketing SEO decision funnel

4. Optimize all Assets for Search Engine Bots
Google serves up a mix of overview copy, images, videos, maps and tabular data on a search results page, the top SEO agencies optimize copy, images, videos, pdf’s, tables, links, and meta-data on every college website page. Search engine bots also review and serve up assets on college social media channels, these assets also need to be optimized.

5. Multiply Social Signals 
The leading SEO agencies know the impact of social signals (a webpage’s shares, likes and social media visibility) on organic ranking. They collaborate with the college’s web/IT team to ensure that they are added to every page of a college website.

6. Secure Top Rankings for Mission-Critical Pages
The top SEO agencies help their clients secure top rankings for 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.

High-Fidelity Content Marketing

They also ensure that their clients claim thought leadership by re-packaging, optimiizing and re-marketing new content based on college’s natural wellspring of ideas, innovation, and intellectual capital.

7. Embrace Voice Search
The premier SEO agencies know that 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. Since they know that 30% of searches are now voice driven, they are taking the following steps to get ready for the voice era:

  • Getting responsive. Speeding it up. If a college website isn’t responsive yet (i.e. auto-adjusts gracefully to mobile devices, tablets and desktops), they are encouraging their college clients to build one – ensuring the websites are fast, fully SEO optimized and running in secure mode.
  • Writing colloquially. Since people won’t change their speaking habits for the computer, they are adapting by writing new content using everyday vernacular.
  • Writing page summaries. They are beginning to 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.
  • Building social shares. They are running 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.
  • Thinking globally. Acting locally. Since more than 20% of searches are local, they are adding phrases such as ‘near me’ into your copy, especially if a college is a local or regional brand.
  • Ranking high on desktop/mobile search. They are aware that if their clients’ website is not ranked on desktop/mobile search, it is unlikely that it will be ranked on voice search. Therefore, before investing in voice search, they are focused on achieving top rankings on desktop/mobile search for their clients’ websites.

8. Monitor and Protect Keyword Rankings
The best SEO agencies are diligently measuring keyword rankings to ensure their college clients rank on Google and sustain their rankings. They are watching college competitors for signs of encroachment, and countering their moves on an as-needed basis.

The Best SEO companies inform their college clients that leads generated from high-fidelity content out-convert paid advertising leads by three-folds (which, again, out-convert purchased names by three-folds). They are telling clients that their best prospects prefer to “discover” the college of their choice through word-of-mouth on social media and via “accidental finds” on Google page one.

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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At last count, more than 1,100 colleges have gone test optional. This translates to fewer names that ACT can sell to colleges for marketing.

As Included below are 12 proven strategies for increasing enrollment in your your college if you can’t rely on buying names of prospective students:

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. Embrace new methodologies based on right-fit, micro-segments, look-alikes, 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. Energize influencers, referral networks and reliable feeders.
Wholesale student streams provide a solid foundation upon which you build retail recruitment.

3. Befriend corporate and government HR & Training leaders.
Many corporations and government organizations use provision of advanced degrees as a retention tool. It behooves the enrollment officers to be the provider of choice for these organizations.

4. Avoid democratic budget allocation.
Lead with strengths. Bet on program champions and star programs. Let the star programs create prosperity to sustain others. Allocate pilot budgets for new approaches and tactics.

5. Think student life cycle.
From prospect to current students to alumni and donors. Take the long view. Insist on providing robust academic support, career guidance and campus experiences to your students. Graduate brand ambassadors that generate referrals and donate their time, treasure and talent to the institution.

6. Insist on offering a distinctive portfolio of programs.
Foster creation of new programs where you have indisputable competitive advantage. Fight the temptation to start new me-too programs. No one has realized prosperity with boring me-too offerings.

7. Deploy a unique game plan for every stage of the admissions funnel.
Know what prospects and influencers need at every stage of the admissions funnel, and cater to their needs. Pay as much attention to the follow-up and yield communications as you do to the lead-generation and lead-nurturing communications.

8. Augment integrated marketing with timely follow up, and boots-on-the-ground activities.
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, belly-to-belly relationship building.

9. Combine data, intuition. and courageous action.
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.

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 hearts and minds of prospects. Imagination, passion and purpose — not process — is what prospects ultimately buy and are buying into.

11. Know industry benchmarks, but don’t benchmark.
Forge your own path. Perform better than how you did last year. Measure what matters to you, not to others. Keep an eye out on your student quality, melt rates, graduation rates, placement rates, and alumni giving rates.

12. Balance profit and purpose.
No money, no mission. No mission, no soul. You need both to survive and thrive.

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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Top performing higher education marketing agencies help their clients deploy the following best practices:

1. You become the story you choose to tell.
It’s how institutions make meaning from the arc of their history, and operate with a sense of destiny to create purpose that propels them into the future. This story is what students, parents, donors, funders and partners buy into. A brand rarely exceeds the size of its ambition.

2. Students, not the institution, are the real heroes of your story.
Colleges and universities are generative when they feed their students’ passions to enable them to realize their personal hero’s journey.

3. Invest in brand. Speak with one brand voice.
Know your core promise, values, ideals, distinctions and what you stand for. Articulate your brand value cheerfully irrespective of whether you are a liberal arts college, STEM university, research powered, experiential brand, college of access, online educator or an integrative brand. Speak with one brand voice to all audiences, but strike different notes for each segment of students, donors, partners and influencers.

4. Prove your brand claims.
Buyers are smart and skeptical. Persuade them by providing proofs in the form of stories, stats and third-party validations. In this day and age, it’s better to be long on proofs and short on claims.

5. Invest in first impressions.
First impressions matter.

  • Brand your college because in the sea of sameness, brands win. Speak with one brand voice to all audiences striking different notes for each audience segment. Tell a better story.
  • Fortify every touch point – including websites, social media channels, your Wikipedia entry, email signatures, newsletters, tours, information sessions, and all your presentations.
  • Celebrate your star students, alumni and faculty because they, not the institution, are the real heroes of your story.
  • Claim your Google page 1 rankings – ensuring the information that appears on search engine results is persuasive and inviting.
  • Make your facilities and grounds beautiful because beauty engenders confidence.

6. Romance prospects with high-fidelity academic program pages.
They are the “money pages” on a website used by value-minded prospects and their families to make their college choices. Build them with the right balance of persuasion architecture, argument construction and beauty.

7. Pursue right-fit students.
Invert the admissions funnel by marketing your students and alumni heroes to attract like-minded prospects. This will create admission pipes, not funnels. Leads generated here out-convert paid advertising leads by three-folds (which in turn out-convert purchased names by three-folds).

8. Surround and engage prospects and influencers where they hang out.
Fish where the fish are. Allocate marketing investments in digital channels where students roam. Invest marketing dollars in both traditional and digital channels where influencers live.

9. Claim your mountain.
If you are ranked on US News & World Report, then secure your Google page one rankings too. Don’t surrender top search rankings for your star programs to competitors, lead aggregators and commoditizers.

10. Reimagine your publishing potential. Claim your thought leadership.
Weaponize your content based on your college’s natural wellspring of ideas, innovation, and intellectual capital with a thoughtful Keyword Lexicon, search engine optimization, social sharing and automation.

Leads generated from high-fidelity content out-convert paid advertising leads by three-folds (which, again, out-convert purchased names by three-folds). The best prospects prefer to “discover” the college of their choice through word-of-mouth on social media and via “accidental finds” on Google page one.

11. Stand for something. Win battle for meaning.
Stand for a societal or global cause that is meaningful and consequential yet rooted in your institutional core strengths. Actively participate in it and promote it. In a fragmented world where there are competing voices and narratives, it’s vital for a brand to win battle for meaning – with intentionality – by owning mindshare, social shares and Google rankings for your distinct point-of-view.

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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In 2020, higher education marketers are battling to win an outsized share of a shrinking pool of domestic and international students. Future students are expected to be more racially and ethnically diverse than ever before. Increased marketing funding by for-profit colleges and some large public universities has unleashed a marketing arms race. Workforce preparation for non-traditional students has been thrown into the product/revenue mix. Students and families are expecting to receive larger scholarships.

To offset these, here are the 10 innovative responses by enrollment managers that we are seeing:

Enrollment Management Trends

1. Supporting Diverse Student Populations
Racial, ethnic, gender and age diversity are all on the rise in colleges and universities. Enrollment managers are catering to the needs of these audience.

Enrollment Management-Balancing Act

Enrollment managers are infusing signals of diversity in every digital touch point including websites, social media channels, search engine meta-descriptions, paid campaigns and brand anthem videos.

They are hiring admissions counselors and faculty from diverse backgrounds, fostering creation of clubs and organizations for diverse student populations, and providing other support services for these student populations.

2. New Student Search Models
Enrollment managers have started abandoning traditional student search models. They have come to recognize that the era of buying prospects names, spamming them, seeing who sticks and praying that some convert is over. They are embracing new big-data, algorithmic methodologies based on:

  • right-fit
  • micro-targeting
  • look-alike audiences
  • machine learning
  • big-data algorithms
  • affinity groups

New College Student Search Model

The goal of these tactics is to invert the admissions funnel by promoting their students and alumni heroes to attract like-minded prospects. Enrollment managers are trying to create admission pipes, not funnels because like-minded prospects are three times more likely to convert than paid advertising leads, which in turn are three times more likely to convert than purchased names.

3. Marketing to Teachers, College Counselors, and Parents
To generate wholesale student streams, enrollment managers are embracing influencers such as parents, teachers, college counselors, high school principals, and community leaders.

4. Admissions Microsites
The argument for “why consider us” is usually distributed across dozens of website pages. To distill this argument, colleges are increasingly creating admissions microsites. Two example include admissions.princeton.edu and apply.jhu.edu.

5. Merchandising Star Programs
In accordance with the mantra of “Leading with strengths”, enrollment managers are betting on program champions and star programs. They are counting on their star programs to generate revenue to sustain non-distinctive programs.

6. Always-On Marketing
Enrollment managers realize that once a student submits an application, their marketing efforts must be ramped up to woo each student to enroll. Once the students are accepted, they must pay as much attention to follow-up and yield communications as they do to lead-generation and lead-nurturing.

Once the students arrive on campus, colleges are investing in student retention and student engagement programs to prevent first year melt and second year transfers.

Some schools are also offering graduate-in-four-years guarantee (e.g. Randolph-Macon College), a job guarantee (e.g. Capitol Technology University) or a tuition lock. Parents and students are attracted to colleges willing to stand behind their commitments.

7. Conversation Marketing

  • Turning brand Ambassadors into brand evangelists on social media
  • Transforming social media influencers into brand champions
  • Allowing student ambassadors to takeover of college social media accounts for a day or a week
  • Creating user-generated content with hashtag campaigns

8. High-Fidelity Content Marketing Powered by Keyword Guide
Enrollment Managers are creating their Keyword Guides comprised of the keywords and key phrases they want to claim. Categories in the lexicon include program keywords, brand positioning keywords, reputation keywords, decisioning keywords and location keywords.

Program pages are the “money pages” on a website and are used by value-minded prospects to make their college choices. Informed by the Keyword Guide, Enrollment Managers are building them with the right balance of persuasion, argument construction and beauty.

High-Fidelity Content Marketing

Also, as more marketers have started creating fresh content, enrollment managers are realizing they must up their game and start producing high-fidelity content. They are promoting this content through college’s earned, owned and paid media with the goal of reaching new prospect pools, fostering peer-to-peer sharing, and claiming thought leadership. Done well, the high-fidelity content elevates brand reputation and dislodges competitors from search engines for tough-to-rank keywords.

9. People, Process and Technology
Enrollment Managers are testing new tools such as:

  • chat bots
  • live streaming
  • personalization
  • brand sentiment analysis
  • algorithmic micro-segmentation
  • predictive enrollment
  • A/B testing
  • CRM systems
  • marketing automation software

However, in doing so, they aim to maintain the humanity in their creative and personal interactions. They know that to win the hearts and minds of prospects, relationship building must be done one person at a time.

They deploy processes, but remember that imagination, passion and purpose — not process — is what prospects ultimately buy and are buying into.

10. Data-Driven Decision Making
Enrollment Managers are embracing data-driven decision making and measuring what matters.

Metrics That Matter

  • For Enrollment: They know and benchmark their admission funnels, cost-per-enroll, conversion-rates, yield rates, retention rates, graduation rates, placement rates and return-on-investment.
  • For Websites: They are tracking bounce rates, scroll rates for longer web pages, request info/visit/apply conversion rates, funnel melt rates, giving rates, keyword rankings and visitor/sources trends.
  • For Brand: They are monitoring their brand strength, brand sentiments, and brand reach — with both brand-aware and non-brand-aware audiences.

They are measuring only what matters, connecting the dots between the seen and the unseen.

Innovative enrollment managers are tweaking their strategies to adapt to changing demographics and social habits. They are harnessing data to make more intelligent data-driven decisions to give themselves an edge in a competitive environment.

If you are seeking enrollment marketing agencies, please see our work and consider partnering with us.

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In 2020, higher education marketers are battling to win an outsized share of a shrinking pool of domestic and international students. Here are the 20 innovative trends that are underpinning higher education marketing.

Higher Education Marketing Trends

 

OUTLOOK & CULTURE

1. Celebrating Heroes
Colleges and universities are realizing that students, alumni and faculty — not the institution — are the real heroes of a college’s story. That’s why they are increasingly spotlighting them and the consequential problems of humanity they are solving.

2. Storytelling
You become the story you choose to tell. Colleges and universities are mining their history and mission to create purpose and propel themselves into the future. This story is what students, parents, donors, funders and partners are buying. Institutions are realizing that a brand rarely exceeds the size of its ambition.

3. Student Lifecycles
As one college president said “we are recruiting future brand ambassadors and donors”. Colleges are taking the long view and seeing prospective students, current students, alumni and donors in a single continuum.

4. Collaboration
Silos are finally dissolving and bridges are forming across the campus.

  • Between Admissions/Enrollment and Marketing: Colleges are augmenting integrated marketing with timely follow-up and boots-on-the-ground activities.
  • Between Academic Departments: Colleges are creating a new, distinct interdisciplinary portfolio of programs, where they can secure an indisputable competitive advantage. They are resisting the temptation to start new, commodity programs.
  • With Advancement: Colleges are creating war chests to fund scholarships, hire talented faculty, build labs and facilities, and form new centers of excellence.
  • With Board Committees: Colleges are persuading board committees to expand their marketing budget to 10 percent of total revenue to keep pace with their peers.
  • With Marketing Partners: Colleges are avoiding the trap of democratic budget allocation. They are prioritizing programs and allocating budgets equitably, not equally. They are creating budgets for piloting new approaches and tactics, and are orchestrating marketing partners smartly to prevent fracturing of their brands.

BRANDING

Branding
5. Brand Anthem Videos
Colleges have become adept at knowing their core promise, values, ideals, distinctions and uniqueness. They are articulating their brand value cheerfully irrespective of whether it’s a liberal arts college, STEM university, research powered, experiential brand, college of access, online educator or an integrative brand.

Colleges are persuading increasingly skeptical buyers with proofs of their marketing claims in the form of stories, stats and third-party validations. They know it’s better to be long on proofs and short on claims.

They are speaking with one brand voice to all audiences, but striking different notes for each segment of students, donors, partners and influencers.

To distill the argument for their brand, colleges are investing in brand anthem videos. 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:

6. Standing for a Cause
Colleges are adopting societal or global causes that are meaningful and consequential, but are rooted in their institutional core strengths. They are active participants and promoters of the cause. In a fragmented world where there are competing voices and narratives, they are trying to win the battle for meaning – with intentionality – by owning mindshare, social shares and Google rankings for their distinct point-of-view.

7. Investing in First Impressions
Perceptions account for half of popular college ranking on surveys like the US News rankings. To influence them, colleges are paying close attention to both physical and virtual touch points.

They are fortifying every digital touch point including websites, social media channels, search engine descriptions, paid campaigns and brand anthem videos.

They are also infusing beauty and strength in every physical touch point such as campus grounds, campus signage, classrooms, college tours, admissions office décor, open houses, and information sessions.

8. High-Fidelity Academic Program Pages
Program pages are the “money pages” on a website and are used by value-minded prospects to make their college choices. Colleges are building them with the right balance of persuasion, argument construction and beauty.

TARGETING

9. Pursuit of the Right-Fit
Colleges are inverting the admissions funnel by promoting their students and alumni heroes to attract like-minded prospects. They wish to create admission pipes, not funnels. Like-minded prospects are three times more likely to convert than paid advertising leads.
Inverted Admissions Funnel

10. Influencers & Feeders
Colleges are embracing wholesale student streams because they outperform retail recruitment models.

11. Surround & Engage
Colleges are fishing where the fish are. They are allocating marketing investments in digital channels where students roam. They are investing marketing dollars in both traditional and digital channels where influencers live.

SEARCH ENGINE RANKINGS

Colleges know that leads generated from high-fidelity content out-convert paid advertising leads. The best prospects prefer to “discover” the college of their choice through word-of-mouth on social media and via “accidental finds” on Google page one.

12. Keyword Guides
Colleges are creating their Keyword Guides comprised of the keywords and key phrases they want to claim. Categories in the lexicon include program keywords, brand positioning keywords, reputation keywords, decisioning keywords and location keywords.

SEO Keyword Lexicon

  • Claiming rankings for top programs. If a college or a program is top ranked, they are developing shareable, high-fidelity content to secure top rankings for it on Google. They are refusing to surrender their rightful claims to Google rankings to competitors and lead aggregators.
  • Claiming thought leadership by weaponized content. Colleges are activating content based on their natural wellspring of ideas, innovation, and intellectual capital with a thoughtful Keyword Lexicon, search engine optimization, social sharing and automation.
  • Protecting your keyword rankings. Colleges are diligently measuring Google rankings. They are watching competitors for signs of encroachment. They are actively creating new content to defend their positions.

13. Voice Search
Colleges know 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 (Google Assistant, Siri, Microsoft Cortana, Amazon Alexa and others) and gadgets (Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple HomePod and others). Since colleges know that 30 percent of searches are now voice driven, they are taking the following steps to get ready for the voice era:

  • Getting responsive. Speeding it up. College marketers are ensuring their websites are fully responsive, download fast, fully SEO optimized and running in secure mode.
  • Writing colloquially. Since people won’t change their speaking habits for the computer, colleges are adapting by writing content using everyday vernacular.
  • Writing page summaries. They are beginning to 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. The summaries also appear as answer boxes on desktop search results.
  • Building social shares. They are running social share campaigns. They are realizing that the more shared a page is on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social channels, the more likely it will surface on voice search.
  • Thinking globally. Acting locally. Since more than 20 percent of searches are local, they are adding phrases such as ‘near me’ into their copy, especially if a college is a local or regional brand.
  • Ranking high on desktop/mobile search. They are aware that if their website is not ranked on desktop/mobile search, it is unlikely that it will be ranked on voice search. Therefore, before investing in voice search, they are focused on achieving top rankings on desktop/mobile search.

SOCIAL MEDIA

14. Conversation Marketing

  • Turning brand Ambassadors into brand evangelists on social media
  • Transforming social media influencers into brand champions
  • Allowing student ambassadors to takeover of college social media accounts for a day or a week
  • Creating user-generated content with hashtag campaigns

ENROLLMENT

15. New Student Search Models
Colleges have started abandoning traditional student search models. They have come to recognize that the era of buying prospects names, spamming them, seeing who sticks and praying that some convert is over. They are embracing new methodologies based on:

  • right-fit
  • micro-segmentation
  • look-alike audiences
  • machine learning
  • big-data algorithms
  • affinity groups

16. Admissions Microsites
Since an argument for why consider a college is distributed across dozens of website pages, colleges are increasingly creating admissions microsites that distill the argument for why consider that school. Here is an example of one we created for Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business MBA programs:

Admissions Microsite

17. Never Stop Marketing
Identifying the priorities of prospects and influencers at every stage of the admissions funnel, colleges are catering to each segment’s needs. They are paying as much attention to follow-up and yield communications as they do to lead-generation and lead-nurturing communications.

Once the students arrive on campus, colleges are investing in student retention and student engagement programs to prevent first year melt and second year transfers.

TECHNOLOGY

18. Mobile First & Responsive
Colleges are not only creating responsive websites, but are ensuring that CRM forms, giving forms, and emails are also responsive. Colleges are also writing smarter but shorter copy that fill the single screens of mobile devices.

19. Tools, Technologies & Processes

Colleges are testing new tools such as:

  • chat bots
  • live streaming
  • personalization
  • brand sentiment analysis
  • algorithmic micro-segmentation
  • predictive enrollment
  • A/B testing
  • CRM systems
  • marketing automation software

However, in doing so, they aim to maintain the humanity in their creative and personal interactions. They know that to win the hearts and minds of prospects, relationship building must be done one person at a time.

They deploy processes, but remember that imagination, passion and purpose — not process — is what prospects ultimately buy and are buying into.

METRICS

20. Measuring What Matters
Colleges are embracing data-driven decision making and measuring what matters.

Metrics That Matter

  • For Enrollment: They know and benchmark their cost-per-enroll, conversion-rates, yield rates, retention rates, graduation rates, placement rates and return-on-investment.
  • For Websites: They are tracking bounce rates, scroll rates for longer web pages, request info/visit/apply conversion rates, funnel melt rates, giving rates, keyword rankings and visitor/sources trends.
  • For Brand: They are monitoring their brand strength, brand sentiments, and brand reach — with both brand-aware and non-brand-aware audiences.

They are measuring only what matters, connecting the dots between the seen and the unseen.

In summary, smarter higher education marketers will win an outsized share of a shrinking pool of prospective students.

If you are planning a brand makeover, website redesign, high-fidelity content marketing, or an enrollment campaign, please see our work 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. Occasionally, we are asked to make a recommendation on whether to build the higher education website in Drupal or WordPress, especially if the client can’t afford to invest in a commercial grade CMS. Here is our take on this important question.

The Origin Story Matters
To answer this question, it is important to look back at the origin stories of WordPress and Drupal.

At the dawn of the age of user-generated content and the death of authoritative voices, WordPress was started as a DIY blogging platform for everyone. It was designed to be an easy, point-click-and-start-publishing web platform that enabled anyone, irrespective of their technical knowhow, to share their opinions and passions.

In contrast, Drupal was created as an open-source content management system (CMS). It was born in reaction to the skyrocketing prices of commercial CMS systems during the tech explosion of the late 90’s. It was designed to help professional software developers build sophisticated websites. These websites would support a plurality of content types, and would need to run on a proliferation of digital platforms such as mobile devices, laptops, desktops, and even print publishing systems.

Over the last two decades, the two platforms matured in interesting ways. The WordPress development community decided to change its focus from simply being a blogging platform to a fully-featured CMS. A whole marketplace developed that would extend the core capability of WordPress by using plugins and design themes. Drupal, too, evolved and became even more sophisticated with modules, design themes and frameworks for various industries. Drupal never lost sight of its mission to become a choice CMS platform for the serious software professional.

Capabilities of WordPress vs. Drupal
WordPress evolved into a lego-block-like system, while Drupal became a system built by modeling clay.

As WordPress became more template-driven, Drupal evolved into the CMS of choice for developers who wanted to create smart, flexible, customized, personalized and extensible websites. The Drupal community added features such as personalization, multi-language capabilities and ADA compliance – features that can be added to WordPress, but not easily.

Administrative Features of WordPress vs. Drupal
Since WordPress was conceived as a single-user blog-publishing system, to support multiple users and sophisticated features, a community emerged that developed new plugins that were added to the WordPress engine. Because these plugins are developed by numerous developers, a security hole in any one of them makes the entire website vulnerable to security hacks. Despite these efforts, WordPress still hasn’t developed elegant solutions for workflows, access control lists (ACL) and development-staging-production environments.

In contrast, Drupal is more secure and it supports enterprise-wide collaboration, work-flows, access control lists, and development-staging-production environments.

As a result, WordPress has become the choice solution for small schools while Drupal has become the preferred CMS for medium-to-large colleges and universities.

In its 2018 “Website Hack Trend Report 2018“, Sucuri Inc., an authority in malware removal and security, said that 90% of all infected websites were powered by WordPress.

The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has cited over 500 colleges for website non-compliance with ADA regulations. It is not known how many of these websites are powered by WordPress, but the built-in ADA compliance capabilities of Drupal certainly accelerate the detection and remediation of issues.

Drupal vs WordPress CMS for your edu

It is no surprise that Drupal has become the CMS choice for institutions that value security, scale, ACL, ADA compliance, and workflow management. Drupal is not only the go-to choice for universities, but also most government institutions. Additionally, schools challenged by rapid change appreciate the flexibility offered by Drupal.

Elliance can, and has, built school websites in both WordPress and Drupal. Given a choice, we encourage our clients to consider Drupal as a more robust solution. We have found that developing and maintaining a Drupal website takes less effort over time than a website built with WordPress.

Drupal vs. WordPress: Effort Over Time

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As a newly selected college president, you may view your pending move in traditional terms — relocating to a new city, occupying a new office or executive residence and joining a new campus culture.

You’re also inheriting a .edu web address that can help accelerate or impede your best laid presidential plans.

Here’s a field guide for new or aspiring presidents that’s designed to help you read between the lines — code and content — and better understand the power and perils of your new .edu.

Revenue

Your college or university website should have one unquestioned priority — generating reliable and repeatable revenue.

KPI: Is the website converting right-fit enrollment prospects, engaging alumni, attracting strategic partners and inspiring donors?

Quick Check: How quickly does the site experience connect diverse enrollment audiences with the academic program, admissions and financial aid essentials? Can prospective full-time undergraduates, doctoral students, international applicants and non-traditional military prospects all easily find their lane? Are calls to actions (visit, inquire, apply) persistent — on both the desktop and mobile experience? Is it easy to share program pages, blog posts, faculty profiles and other proof points via social buttons?

Brand

While you can find plenty of insights on brand from marketing gurus and corporate CEOs, I like what Sister Jeanne Knoerle, S.P, President of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, (1968-1983) said about reputation as it relates to mission-driven colleges. “The identity of an institution lies, not in what anyone says of it from time to time, but in what everyone does about it every day.” That’s as good a definition of brand as any.

KPI: Do first-time visitors (rising high school juniors and seniors and parents) cobble together loose impressions (tour guide, costs, upkeep of grounds, dorm size) or do they arrive on campus and leave with a larger sense of what the college stands for and why it matters?

Quick Check: Click from home page, to the about router, to student life, alumni, academics and back to home. Is the school’s brand position clear? Has the essence of the institution – the true self – been given a full-throated articulation. Beyond a logo or tag line, do you hear a strong brand voice across various messages, stories and videos that define a shared identity, purpose and greater good?

Transparency

Despite the tsunami of information available to your stakeholders, it’s often difficult to learn what’s essential. As St. Olaf President David Anderson says: “Having a compelling account of the value of the experience a college offers, relative to its cost, is among the institution’s most critical tasks.”  

KPI: Is there a concerted effort between Institutional Research, Career Office, Dean of Students, and Alumni Affairs to share a detailed accounting of outcomes?

Quick Check: How willing is your new college to share retention and four-year graduation rates, average student indebtedness, and detailed  first destination employment data? Does the website elevate and contextualize NSSE Student Engagement Indicators and High-Impact Practice data? Does the website give first-generation prospects and families full consideration, helping them connect the information dots and make an informed decision?

Content

Too often, new college presidents define too narrowly the actual impact and reach of their bully pulpit. Content, in the age of the search engine, carries strategic importance far beyond the inaugural address or message from the president’s column.

KPI: In the course of your search and interview process, did anyone raise the matter of strategic content planning and its importance to future strategic plans, capital campaigns, corporate and foundation partners, faculty attraction and retention, and reputation?

Quick Check: Imagine you are the investment banker who will hear your college’s pitch for a proposed issue of AA-rated bonds for a major capital investment. Or the program officer from a national foundation looking for education partners to raise data literacy among first-generation undergraduates. What are the chances that they will have stumbled upon faculty research, centers of excellence speakers, student innovations or other core accomplishments in their daily news and Google searches? Content, in the digital age, is one of the currencies that a president can use to attract partners, investment and talent.

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Making a business case for investing in a comprehensive website redesign to ROI-minded, quant-driven cabinet members is vastly different than making a case to marketing leaders who intuitively understand the value of a great website.

For quantitively inclined cabinet members, here are five ROI metrics that we have used to justify the investment in a comprehensive website redesign:

College and University Website Redesign ROI

1. Better Student Quality: Fortifying program pages and the “why us” pages motivates better-fit students to raise their hands, dissuading wrong-fits from applying. You should expect to see conversion rates improve by as much as 25%.

2. Reduced Bounce Rate: Improving page architecture results in engaged traffic to your website. This should reduce your website bounce rate so it sits between 20% and 30%. The industry average exceeds 50%.

3. Stronger Google Rankings: Baking search engine thinking into every phase of redesign enhances your website’s Google rankings. One year after relaunch, you should see an increase in search engine traffic by 25% to 30%.

4. Higher U.S. News Rankings: A new website impacts both peer and employer perceptions, which together account for almost half of U.S. News rankings. Your school’s rankings should improve by several positions.

5. Improved Alumni Giving Rate: Money follows schools that look consequential. A website launch should result in the doubling of online giving rate, and in some cases receiving multi-million dollar donations.

Beyond the quantitative ROI, we have observed that website redesign projects are a catalyst for transforming a college, liberating new prosperity and realizing destiny. As part of this journey, power structures are realigned, the school community is energized, and a new organizational inflection point is created.

If you are seeking college website design agencies, please see our work and consider partnering with us.

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The responsibilities of an academic Dean rival those of a big city mayor. They set strategic direction, gather allies, hunt revenue, champion ideas and ideals, administer day-to-day operations and accrue power. How can Deans best flourish in their current role and prepare for their next incarnation — as college provosts and president?

Five Faces of a Dean

1. Balance Perspectives
Deans, like mayors, typically arrive on the job with insufficient knowledge. Even as they engage constituents — the listening period — they weigh immediate questions and concerns about revenue, enrollment, donor relations, alumni engagement, student success, reputation and other strategic goals. The challenge: lean into the job without becoming part of the existing culture. Hold on to enough of the outsider perspective to allow for bold decisions, political imagination and a new mythology to emerge.

2. Balance Overt/Covert Change
Schools remain averse to change. Tenured faculty, entrenched staff, squeaky wheel alumni and simple habit all add to the historic weight. To effect change, Deans must be keen observers, strong persuaders, and strategic communicators. The challenge: effectively use key framing questions to challenge old ways; tell stories that project new worldviews; create intelligent frameworks and Key Performance Indicators to challenge assumptions and incentivize believers.

3. Balance Sufficing/Optimizing
Deans rise as high and fast as the talent that they attract and gather. The challenge: don’t settle for status quo approaches or results. Deans claim and/or elevate thought leadership by recruiting, retaining, diversifying and inspiring department chairs, directors of centers of excellence, teaching and research faculty. Deans decide destiny by their willingness to champion a move away from traditional funnel thinking to the wilder and more sustainable shore of existence — true right-fit recruiting that understands the downstream implications for successful outcomes, improved alumni engagement, reputation gains and greater lifetime student value. Deans define their resource pool and political capital by identifying like-minded major gift donors, employers, peers, corporate partners and allies from outside the institution.

4. Balance Data/Story.
Deans understand that perception drives reality. Everything rests on a thin film of understanding, faith and trust. The challenge: recognize that you become the story that you choose to tell. Advancing school rankings, protecting intellectual property, raising academic standards, earning accreditations and securing major gifts require a balance of operating data and imagination. You can’t manage what you can’t measure, and you can’t persuade — prospective students, faculty, recruiters, donors — without proof and the power of a great story.

5. Balance Near/Far
Deans build a donor culture on the power of shared beliefs and purpose. The challenge: approach advisory boards, alumni leaders and key donors with a dual perspective of immediate needs and long-term donor interest and potential. Alignment comes from an ability to imagine and create alongside alumni, foundations, corporate partners and other constituents. Strength comes by cultivating faculty thought leaders to become visible and influential conduits to like-minded donors.

Successful Deans are not lone wolves. They excel as strategists, change agents and fundraisers. They surround themselves with a supporting cabinet of associate deans and a chief-of-staff that help them accomplish their administrative and stewardship roles.

If you are seeking a seasoned partner in your new adventure, please consider contacting us.

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Experience tells us that great beginnings matter for these reasons:

  • clear purpose calms winds of change
  • seeing (“our future”) becomes believing
  • strong messages invite loyalists
  • trust takes root

A New Business School Dean’s Guide to Life

The number and variety of decisions, opportunities and challenges that come with assuming leadership of a major business school require a steady hand. Below, we’ve put together 10 strategic considerations for your first 100 days to help you navigate from analysis to synthesis.

1. Strategic Planning
What mix of analytical insights, high-level metrics, broad directional focus and ambitions will galvanize faculty, partners and prospects — and tap unrealized energies and potential within your school?

2. Brand
How do I mature our understanding of and grow our aptitude for brand — visual and voice — so that internal teams can communicate with broad and fine brush strokes, and inspire the school community to act more as one, bound by a newfound sense of shared purpose?

3. Reputation
How do I empower various teams — communications, development, alumni, recruiting, corporate/government relations — to transcend outdated silo thinking and embrace the integrated nature of reputation building in the age of digital channels and content?

4. Enrollment
How do I look beyond broad measures — school-wide and department-wide enrollment trends — and arrive at a more granular and precise assessment of our ability to achieve predictable and reliable enrollments for my school, and attract increasingly robust, motivated and diverse students?

5. Content & Publishing
How do I bring a “content is destiny” perspective to my school, and turn all publishing — academic, research, alumni, general audience — into a reputation-building, Google-dominating cooperative enterprise that powers enrollment, reputation and fundraising?

6. Institutional Collaboration
How do I position my school within the larger university system? How do we transcend the high-revenue, low-prestige (“enrollment cash cow”) trap familiar to many schools, and assert our faculty productivity and intellectual capital as essential to the larger strategic goals?

7. Program Development
How do I evaluate market potential and timing for new and re-imagined programs? What programs drive brand, revenue, reputation — and in what proportions? What opportunities exist for corporate partners and donors to coalesce around signature program (capital building) initiatives?

8. Corporate Relations
How do I differentiate my school as a source of vision, talent, executive education, joint-research projects, high-content events and global connections for the extended corporate community?

9. Donor Relations
How do I build a culture of shared beliefs and purpose across my school (advisory boards, key corporate partners, alumni leaders and emerging stakeholders)? How do I balance annual and long-term fundraising priorities? Can I inspire others to create next generation alumni activities and constituent relations programs, and train thought leaders and more visible/influential representatives?

10. Legacy
While it takes considerable confidence and charisma to succeed as the Dean of a major school, ultimately the qualities of humility and curiosity become the defining features of the most effective leaders. How do I lead and communicate so that others join me in the greater ambition to build something larger and more lasting than ourselves? How do we come together so that attention shines not on ourselves, but on what we create and contribute?

If you are seeking a seasoned partner in your new adventure, please consider contacting us.

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