Why Content Strategy is a Must for Successful Higher Ed Marketing

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Published May 2, 2024 | Categories: Higher Education

Want to really attract students before other schools do? Don't be too hasty or you just might overlook your sharpest tool. 

In a time saturated with constant content and flashy visuals, there's one way to make sure your message rises above the noise, while also keeping the show running behind the scenes: strategy. Content strategy, in particular.  

Without content strategy, maintaining any level of impact online would be almost impossible. With it, you can build a marketing campaign that reaches the best and largest audience and truly connects them to your college or university, leading to more applications, enrollments, donations, and more. 

So, what does it take to achieve a content strategy slam-dunk? What separates the effective from the ineffective? To give you an inside look at how Beacon creates effective content strategy for our clients—and why it's so important—we had a chat with our Lead UX Strategist, Sarah Strickler.  

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Q: With any site redesign project, why is content strategy so important?

A: Content is the true backbone of a website, but it's often neglected during a redesign. A lot of times we see clients get hyper-focused on design or technical capabilities, but they won't start thinking about their website's content until the 11th hour. Your site can have the most vibrant, attractive designs and intuitive CMS, but if its pages aren't communicating what needs to be communicated to your audience(s), then no amount of flashy parallax banners or dynamic elements in the world can fix that.

It's both important and necessary to think about your content early and often during a redesign process. You should be planning what you want to do with your content from the jump, not once development is almost complete. This is why, at Beacon, we pay a lot of attention to content in the Strategy Phase. We offer insights on which pages need to be refreshed, which can be removed, which pages should be consolidated, and how all the tasks that each of those entail will be completed. 


Q: How does Beacon approach content strategy?

A: Research, research, and more research. We start by creating a content inventory that crawls all the URLs on your site. This lets us know how many pages we're working with, if you're utilizing lots of PDFs, the number of redirects, and more. During this, we're also reviewing your Google Analytics data to see how your pages are performing. Then we can get into the weeds with a content audit, going through your top pages one-by-one. I'm talking testing every link, checking every button—the works! Simultaneously, we often have other tasks occurring during our Strategy Phase to discover more about your website audience via focus groups, heatmap analysis, and surveys. 

Sometimes, we'll do specific keyword/key-phrase research page-by-page to see just how your audiences search for and find your website's content, and we lend a hand with developing specific audience personas to inform the direction of your content creation later on. We'll then research your Content Governance strategies to help guide you toward best practices. Finally, if it's part of the contracted project, we will perform content mapping for any content development or content migration.

Once this content phase begins, we kick things off with more in-depth research. Our team interviews your stakeholders either over a call or through questionnaires to gather the information we need. From there we can develop an internal style guide and content briefs to craft a consistent format and set guidelines in place. During all this, we'll be working in conjunction with what your designs have to offer and the functionality of your CMS to ensure your content is presented in the best light. Once we have our ducks in a row, then the writing begins! 


Q: Terms in this realm can often get mixed up. For clarity, what is the difference between content mapping and a content audit?

A: Content mapping is essentially a plan for new content (which personas to use, the overall message, how and where it should be communicated). A content audit (one of our services) is a look at your site's existing content. For Beacon's purposes, our audits ask key questions like:

  1. Is the style guide being followed?
  2. Does the content make sense and communicate what the page needs to say?
  3. Is the content laid out in an attractive and engaging way?

Think of it this way: A good audit can help you figure out a map for the future by identifying problem areas and showing you what kind of content you need to prioritize. 


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Q: In your opinion, what is the difference between a good, useful content audit and bad one?

A: Bad content audits are surface level and rushed, where you're maybe only spending a minute or two reviewing each page. It really is crucial to give each page its due. If you don't check all of the buttons or calls to action (CTAs) on a page, you might miss a broken link—or two—or sometimes a dozen!

Good content audits takes TIME, which is something a lot of content owners don't have in spades, unfortunately. But I can't stress enough, the importance of being intentional and critical of the contents of your site. One of the most apparent ways I can tell if time hasn't been spent on a page's content is if the naming conventions and style are all over the place. I've seen so many cases where degrees, programs and faculty titles are referred to inconsistently on the same page. But during an audit, you'll only catch those things if you take your time. 


Q: How do web traffic and site analytics inform the approach to developing content?

A: It may seem obvious to pay attention to your pages with the most traffic, but you should also be keeping your low-traffic pages in mind too. For example, ask: Are there any major landing pages that you think should be getting more traffic, but are lacking in page visits and engagement?

I like to look at the degree and program pages that have higher bounce rates and exit percentages. Why might someone immediately jump off of the page? Is it because the content is not what they expected? You can snowball into follow-up questions from there based on your analytics data. 

"How many visitors are on mobile vs. desktop?"

'What are their demographics?'

'How long do they stay on the page?'

These are the kinds of questions that can lead to the development of audience personas, which will then lead to your strategies for writing content. 


Q: Aside from site analytics data, focus groups are a key method for learning about how a site works and is perceived. How do you go about putting together a focus group that delivers results?

A: There are a few factors to always keep in mind when developing a focus group. We like to hear from a variety of people in different roles and keep the groups relatively small so that everyone involved has a voice and an opportunity to contribute. I also try to hear from a wide scope of both content owners and stakeholders.

With content, the primary audience we're speaking to in Higher Education is incoming students 90% of the time. So, with each content-related focus group, we definitely try to speak with anyone who has a finger on the pulse in that arena.  Admissions departments almost always make it into our focus groups since they have the most insight into the wants and needs of the school's prospective students. 

Huddle up with Beacon!

Remember, without a game-winning plan, your content won't be reaching anyone (especially not your preferred audience). So, with your upcoming website redesign waiting just around the corner, don't forget to strategize. 

Every team needs a secret weapon. And at Beacon, we look forward to being yours: a trustworthy and experienced partner creating a customized plan for you and your site! From strategy and content creation to design and development, we've got you covered.

Let's get to work!

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