Mark Bochkis

About Mark Bochkis

Mark joined Beacon in 2018, bolstering the Digital Marketing Services team roster. In previous roles, he's helped healthcare clients with website redesigns and multi-channel digital campaigns, managing content development, SEO, social media and other digital marketing efforts. A skilled communicator and passionate marketer, Mark takes pride in understanding his clients, identifying differentiating brand attributes and developing content with a consistent and clear brand tone and voice. Mark is a proud alumnus of the University of Maryland, where he earned a B.A. in Communication/Public Relations.
27 05, 2020

Good Content & SEO Can Help College Websites During the COVID-19 Crisis

By | 2020-05-27T12:25:54+00:00 May 27th, 2020|Categories: Digital Marketing, Higher Education, SEO|Tags: , , , , |

online learning during pandemicThere is nothing normal about education right now. What’s worse, no one can say for sure when normal – the normal as we’ve known it, that is – might return. Or, should the old normal keep up its social distancing for a while, what the new normal in education might look like.

Despite all this uncertainty, colleges and universities still have to plan for providing the best education and value possible to their students. They still have to worry about attracting the next batch of prospective students. And, with a majority of Americans still expressing reservations about returning to business as usual, schools still have to do all this from a distance.

Which makes the college website more important than ever. Same as it ever was, right? (Thank goodness something is.)

Last month, we touched base with a couple of our higher education clients to see how they were able to manage the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis. Turns out that their respective websites were pretty instrumental in keeping their students, faculty and staff informed and safe. And, as we transition through various stages and phases of the pandemic, the school website will continue to play an important role in the college experience.

Which means that continued investment in SEO and fresh, relevant content, should be at or near the top of list for every higher ed marketer. Indeed, a recent survey of marketers found that 63% of respondents expected SEO to become more important this year. With SEO being one of the less expensive marketing strategies, these expectations might have something to do with the fact that 58% of the survey respondents were facing budgetary reductions.

So, we know that SEO efforts can help a school get the most bang for its marketing buck. Why else should you invest in SEO?

Why Should Schools Continue to Spend Money on SEO

Jim Yu, founder and CEO of BrightEdge, recently wrote this in a Search Engine Watch article about SEO and COVID-19:

“Given the uncertainty, SEO is our best option for responding to ongoing COVID-19-related business interruptions with speed and agility. Search is critical not only for discovery but as the channel that provides the greatest insight into consumer behaviour in real-time, as it continues to evolve in response to the pandemic… As the situation changes, SEO remains our most effective method of understanding and responding to our customers’ needs now and in the future.”

Yu has a great point (you may recall it from the opening paragraph): no one knows what’s going to happen. But, SEO tactics informed by real data from your website visitors and search trends of your demographic, can help you adjust and pivot when new developments arise.uncertainty

A recent survey of high school seniors conducted during the pandemic by CAPPEX, a firm specializing in helping students navigate the college selection process, is a great example of actionable insights. The survey found interest in the following topics:

  • Information about virtual events (57% or respondents)
  • Virtual tour options (58%)
  • Deadline changes (85%)
  • Virtual advising/counselor connecting (39%)
  • Financial aid decisions (66%)

Only one subject – financial aid – is a familiar concern; the rest are COVID-19-inspired interests.

Understanding your audience has great benefits, especially during a time of rapid change. Choosing a college during a global pandemic is very different than under normal circumstances. Knowing what prospective students and their parents are searching for right now can help you create content tailored to their needs.

Here are a few more nuggets from Yu’s Search Engine Watch piece translated for higher ed audiences:

Fresh content helps you be seen

Search engines love new content. It’s an important part of the secret ranking sauce. Knowing the search trends of college-hunting high school juniors and seniors can help you craft content to address their concerns and rank well in their search queries.

Nervous parents are looking for guidance

Keeping your prospective students and their families informed about the latest COVID-19 developments and its impact on education not only keeps them up to date, it establishes your site as a trustworthy source of important information for the future.

You’ll be noticed, even if they’re not currently applying

Tackling COVID-19-related topics may not yield an application download or completion right away, but that’s ok. College selection involves a fairly long sales cycle. Getting noticed early can help you stay relevant throughout the consideration process.

Optimizing Your College Website Content for COVID-19student wearing protective face mask

According to this April Search Engine Land piece, every site should have a COVID-19 page. The author is not wrong. A COVID-19 landing page is a great idea.

With so much uncertainty and anticipation about how institutions of higher learning are going to operate during the next academic year, the page will attract all of your target audiences. You can then use tailored content and calls-to-action to route the different audiences deeper into the site on their various user journeys.

Your COVID-19 landing page can also include:

  • Changing admission requirements
  • Virtual campus visits
  • Virtual orientation information
  • Updates regarding campus re-opening
  • Plans for the Fall semester
  • Available COVID-19 financial aid opportunities
  • Public health on campus
  • Latest COVID-19 vaccine, treatment updates

What are some additional ways to tailor website content for the pandemic?

Blog content

Remember, fresh content helps your site be viewed favorably by search engine ranking algorithms. And everyone is searching for and learning about COVID-19 online. The pandemic has impacted nearly every aspect of our lives, so there’s no shortage of material to work with. You can interview staff for narratives about how they adapted to the pandemic. Have students submit their own stories, reflections and observations. Tap your faculty for posts about interesting research inspired by the coronavirus.

Virtual Tour

Odds are, your campus isn’t seeing too many visitors today. That might change, depending on where in the country you are, and how hard your area has been impacted by the pandemic. But, there’s no guarantee a second or third wave won’t shut down your campus again next fall or winter. You can ensure that your recruiting efforts remain effective by investing into a top-notch virtual tour experience for your website visitors.

Shine Up Your Desktop User Experience

Apparently, with people no longer on the move, mobile search is trending down and desktop usage is trending up. When you think about it, it makes sense that a larger screen would be preferable to a smaller one when you’re lounging around your home. How does that translate to higher ed websites? A few ways. Immersive content, like the virtual tour we just mentioned, makes more of an impact on wider screens. Same for photography and video. With more real estate, you simply have more room for more content, copy or visual.

Beacon Knows SEO & Content

Looking for help with SEO and content strategy to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic? Beacon is here to help. Get in touch with our team today.

18 04, 2020

How Has Higher Ed Responded to Challenges Posed by COVID-19?

By | 2020-04-21T15:04:57+00:00 April 18th, 2020|Categories: Digital Marketing, Higher Education|Tags: , , |

Let’s not beat around the bush… the last few weeks have been difficult. In March, as the COVID-19 pandemic spread invisibly across the United States, it brought with it a cascading tsunami of unexpected change. Suddenly, everything about public life that we took for granted came to a crashing stop.

New words abruptly sprung up into our daily lexicon – terms like “social distancing,” “shelter-in-place,” and “PPE.” Familiar daily routines were altered and replaced with new, unfamiliar ones. Office parks were left drained of workers, streets largely desolate and classrooms forlornly empty.

But, despite our country grinding to a near complete halt while we deal with an indiscriminate, silent attack, we’ve fought through the fear, embraced the new reality, and established our new, temporary way of life. In these last few weeks, we’ve all worked hard to create our new normal.

Our colleges and universities are also facing unprecedented challenges, striving to find a handle on enormous changes, and managing it all on the fly.

How has the pandemic affected college campuses and millions of students, parents, faculty and staff? We spoke to a couple of our clients in higher education to get a sense. Here are four actions that Husson University and the College of Southern Idaho took in response to COVID-19.

4 Higher Ed Adjustments to COVID-19

Even for people who paid attention to the news and understood that the virus would create disruptions, the pace and breadth of the changes, once they began to unfold, was surprising. By early March, opinions, analyses and recommendations all seemed to change by the hour. And, every college campus is equipped with an over-abundance of all three.

1. College Websites Get the Word Out

In times of crisis, clear, concise and straight-forward communication is imperative. And, the most effective way to get the message out is online. So, one of the first things administrators set out to do was to provide reliable information to the campus community.

“We put an alert up on the site every time an announcement was made, which was pretty much every day for the first week or so, because everything was changing so quickly,” says Matt Green-Hamann, Director of Digital Communications at Husson University in Bangor, Maine.

The experience was similar in Twin Falls, Idaho.

“Things started changing on a week-by-week, and then day-by-day, and then even an hour-by-hour basis,” recalls Kim LaPray, College of Southern Idaho’s Public Information Officer.

As the situation changed in each of their locations, both Husson and CSI were able to keep students, faculty and staff informed, helping to preserve public health on their campuses.

As part of a comprehensive approach to crisis communication, the Husson digital marketing team created a COVID-19 landing page to display all of the latest information. The page continues to be one of the most heavily visited on the site. At CSI, Kim LaPray’s public information team coordinated social media messages with daily website updates and email blasts.

2. Everyone, Get Comfy with Your Screens

Once campus closures were enacted, school administrations had to figure out how to continue with the semester. And, once more, the school website was the called upon workhorse.

At Husson, the school was able to move all of its 700+ classes to online learning. No small task. But, they did have the benefit of a few extra days, thanks to a one-week extension of Spring Break.

Moving classes online was the first big initiative at CSI, as well.

“There were a lot of hurdles,” notes LaPray. “You think technology is everywhere, and it’s easy to use, and everybody knows how to use it.”

But, the reality is, not everyone is working with the same level of tech proficiency, and not everyone is working with the same technological resources. Everyone isn’t even guaranteed a reliable internet connection.

That’s why, at Husson, the administration allowed students to petition to stay on campus despite the school closure.

“We weren’t just sending them out on their own. We were there to help them,” says Green-Hamann.

3. Moving Events Online

There’s more to a college campus than just classes and labs.

“We’re really a hub of our community,” says LaPray. “There’s a lot going on on our campus.”

College campuses hold a lot of events: meetings, conferences, rodeos (if you happen to be in Idaho). The truth is, these events not only bring life to the campus, many of them also drive revenue and increase the school’s public profile. So, salvaging events by moving them to a digital setting is another action higher ed institutions had to consider.

“One of the biggest changes that we had to go through was moving all of the events that we planned to host on-campus to virtual sessions,” explains Green-Hamann. “It was a big rush and moving those events took some planning, not only because we had digital ads that were placed for events like our open house, but all of that messaging had to be changed too.”

4. Taking Recruiting Virtual

There are immediate concerns, and there are long-term imperatives. No one knows for sure when pandemic mitigation efforts will end. But, colleges and universities have to plan for next year. And that means adjusting how they approach prospective students in today’s social distancing reality.

Campus visits, a reliable recruiting tool in simpler times, are not an option for the immediate future. A better strategy for the present is meeting the audience where they are. Schools are accomplishing this via detailed social media plans and targeted digital campaigns. They are also pivoting to virtual tours and live chat options.

For Husson’s digital communication team, this required a collective effort to overhaul the messaging in their paid search campaigns.

“All our digital ads had to be revised and put back up as quickly as possible,” recalls Green-Hamann.

6 Things Schools Should Be Doing with Their Digital Marketing

Designed by macrovector / Freepik

If you work in higher ed, you can certainly be forgiven for wanting to catch your breath following some pretty big changes. In fact, promoting your school may feel like the absolute last thing you should be doing right now, especially with no students on campus. But, remember, social distancing is bound to end one day. How quickly your campus fills back up with students depends on how well you manage your school’s public profile today.

A retreat in your digital marketing efforts will not help your school recover. In fact, with internet use reportedly increasing anywhere between 20-50% during government-imposed lockdowns, pulling back on your digital marketing efforts may be a strategic mistake. With so many people using the web for so much more in their daily lives, the more prudent plan might be to leverage your digital marketing program to speak to a more captive set of audiences.

So, how can institutions of higher knowledge do this? We asked Beacon’s web developers, SEO gurus and Paid Search experts for suggestions. Here’s what they had to say:

  1. The pandemic has proven how essential it is to have a robust emergency communication system. Make sure your website is prepared to implement your crisis communication plan via emergency alerts, pop-up banners, special landing pages and social media messages.
  2. Build or improve upon your virtual tour experience.
  3. Expand and promote your online learning capabilities.
  4. Meet your prospective students where they are via paid search and social media campaigns.
  5. Provide immediate online help via Live Chat features for students and faculty pursuing online learning.
  6. Many people are losing their jobs due to the economic slowdown associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 22 million have filed unemployment claims in the last month. Some of these people will look to go back to school in order to improve their chances of finding a new job. Expand your marketing efforts to include this newly formed audience.

Beacon Is Here to Help

Our team at Beacon is still here and ready to help. We’re here to help answer your questions. We’re here to help you parse the data and identify actionable insights. We’re here to help you frame a message that resonates. We’re here to help your website stay not just competitive, but impactful.

We’re here. And so are you. Let’s work together to set the stage for an epic comeback.

12 03, 2020

If Beacon Was A Basketball Team…

By | 2020-03-13T13:03:54+00:00 March 12th, 2020|Categories: Digital Marketing, Google Analytics, PPC, SEO|Tags: , , , |

*** Please note that the below post was written prior to the announced cancellation of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. While we are sad that we will not have the chance to enjoy the competition this year, we recognize the need for public safety measures that protect against the spread of the novel coronavirus. With that said, the Beacon team is still out on the practice courts, running game on behalf of our clients. As a technology firm, we are well-positioned to continue providing services to our customers, even if large portions of our staff are relegated to working remotely. 

In times like this, it’s helpful to recall the British government’s advice to its people during public emergencies: Keep Calm and Carry On.  

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

march madnessHave you heard? Tourney time is here!

If you’re a die hard fan of college basketball… heck, even if you’re a casual fan of basketball in general, you’re probably well aware that the biggest event in the college basketball season is right around the corner.

March Madness. The Tourney. The Big Dance… It’s just about GO time!

This time of year, college campuses and office cubicles everywhere are notoriously immersed in NCAA tournament brackets and the obligatory cram sessions involving non-traditional basketball powerhouses (and quirky mascots). Some of our favorite underdog runs of the past decade include little-known outfits, like the UMBC Retrievers, Florida Gulf Coast Eagles, Norfolk State Spartans or the Lehigh University Mountain Hawks (we like giving the little guys their due). The 2020 tournament edition is expected to be no different as the field is primed to include darlings of the not-so-distant future, in the form of the Dayton Flyers, San Diego State Aztecs, Creighton University Bluejays and the Belmont Bruins.

silhouette of two basketball players And, let’s be honest. With tourney hype growing hour-by-hour seemingly, our thoughts, like yours, occasionally turn to hoops throughout the month. But, momentary lapses in concentration notwithstanding, we like to keep it professional here at the Beacon blog. Sooooo, when a surprisingly accurate idea was presented, suggesting that Beacon’s Digital Marketing Team (DMS) is really a lot like a successful NCAA tournament team, we absolutely had to run it down to its natural conclusions.

As such, what follows for your reading pleasure, is an interpretation of our DMS team roles as on-court basketball positions from your favorite college game.

Without further ado, here is your 2020 Beacon DMS team line-up (lights down, spotlight on):

Point Guards

The point guard is the coach’s representative out on the court. This position is the most responsible for communicating and carrying out in-game coaching instructions. Point guards are also often the embodiment of the coach’s philosophy. They exude the qualities their coaches value most – be it hard work, intelligence or teamwork.

At Beacon, our point guards are easy to spot – they are our project managers. Project managers know the game plan (client account) inside and out, and relay assignments to other team members. They are responsible for keeping everyone on the same page and ensuring that projects are completed the right way.

basketball on its way to the basket

Shooting Guards

Shooting guards have a reputation for being flashy. But, that’s only because their role is so noticeable. A shooting guard’s job is the primary goal of the game: to score. They don’t just put the ball in the basket – they score using a high-value skill: outside shooting (it’s a lot harder to score from 20 feet out than it is from under the basket).

For Beacon’s Digital Marketing Team, the primary goal is to drive customer transactions and online goal conversions on behalf of our clients. No one does that more or better than our Paid Search team. They create online search ads that not only target the audiences most appropriate for our clients, but also deliver exactly what those audiences are searching for.

The Paid Search team is all about driving sales, just like the shooting guard is all about helping the team score the most points.

Small Forwards

The small forward is a little bit like the shooting guard. But, then again, the position can also resemble the power forward role. In fact, small forwards are a little bit like Swiss Army knives – they do a little bit of everything and are involved in most of the action.

This is strongly representative of Beacon’s Search Engine Optimization (SEO) team. The job of our SEO team members is to drive as much organic traffic to our clients’ websites as possible based on a vast array of highly qualified keywords. This is an incredibly broad assignment that requires competency in many different areas, from technical know-how (sitemaps and schema) to creative output (content development and optimization). Our SEO team delivers across the spectrum of digital marketing needs.

basketball player standing on basketball courtPower Forwards

Traditionally, power forwards were the unsung heroes of basketball teams. They do the “dirty” work: rebounding, defense, setting screens. They made the play that led to a basket, or recovered the ball to put the team back on offense. But, while their efforts are appreciated by teammates and coaches, a power forward’s contributions may not be as easily apparent to a casual fan.

At Beacon, our power forwards are our data science experts. Everything we do here starts with data. It’s how we’re able to track the behavior of online audiences, how we come up with long- and short-term trends and how we’re able to deliver recommendations that maximize the value of a website.

Centers

Last, but definitely not least, are the centers. Centers have the greatest ability to impact the game. They’re usually the tallest player on the court, and are almost always posted closest to the basket.

The best basketball teams tend to play “inside-out,” meaning the ball goes to the center (next to the basket) first, and the next pass is determined by how the defense reacts to the center putting pressure on the basket.

At Beacon, our centers are our clients. First and foremost, we absolutely consider our clients to be an integral part of our team. There wouldn’t be a game without them.

Secondly, our actions are always determined by how our clients are positioned in their respective industries. Their positioning drives their needs, which drives our recommendations and actions.

Lastly, we achieve the best results with close collaboration with our clients – the pass inside (client call) leads to a perimeter player being open (clear course of action), and then to a bucket (successful implementation of a program or campaign).

The center is the straw that stirs the whole drink.

Beacon Knows Teamwork

Want to be part of the Beacon team? We can’t wait to welcome you aboard. A great center is always in demand. Give us a call today to see how we can win a championship together.

25 02, 2020

One Extra Day… to Update Your PPC Ads

By | 2020-02-25T09:18:08+00:00 February 25th, 2020|Categories: Digital Marketing, PPC|Tags: , , , , |

I’ll be honest, we’ve kind of been a little obsessed with Leap Day here at Beacon this past month. If you happened to notice, it featured prominently into our last post. And, here we are, talking about it again.

February 29On the surface, February 29 is just another day. You wake up the same. Eat breakfast the same. Drink your coffee the same.

So, what is it about Leap Day that is so special?

Is it the novelty of this day popping into existence just once every four years? The lingering of the winter season for a little while longer? The thrill of adding something different to a concept as quintessentially steady as a calendar? A small taste of the – literally – extraordinary?

Perhaps it is all those things. But, to us, February 29 is special because it offers something we can all use more of.

Time.

In our workaholic business culture, time is a precious commodity that is loath to be wasted. Project plans, deadlines, contract lengths, due dates, billable hours… all these things stress the importance of using time wisely and efficiently.

Typically, we all hustle about trying to make the most of the little time we have. But, for one day every four years, instead of worrying about it running out prematurely, we are gifted the benefit of just a little bit of extra time.

How are you going to spend your extra time?

We posed a similar question to our Paid Search Team. Given a hypothetical day free from the pressures of time, how would you improve the paid ad experience for both clients and consumers?

The below list is a synthesis of their responses.

Pay per click isometric landing page

If Time Were No Issue Paid Search Task List

To be clear, we are not suggesting that the below tasks should only be completed once every blue moon or, February 29 or, just when there’s spare time. All of the discussed processes should be applied to campaigns as needed. The list represents a best case scenario where all of the below can be applied to every campaign, every time.

Take advantage of new ad types in the Google Ads platform

Google is in an ever-present cycle of enhancing their search and advertising offerings. As such, new capabilities are made available routinely. That said, keeping track of everything new that comes out is nearly impossible.

So, with a bit of extra time on their hands, paid search professionals can explore and apply more sophisticated ad types, such as:

Responsive ads – these ads reflect the reality that search is increasingly moving to mobile. Responsive ads allow for an automatic adjustment of the size, appearance and format of an ad based on the unique characteristics of the viewer’s screen. They also match the feel of the hosting webpage, making the ads appear more natural in their display environment.

Dynamic ads – these ads are great for advertisers with a substantial number of products on their website. The content of dynamic ads are automatically generated from the existing website copy, and are targeted to users who are searching specifically for products on the site. Dynamic ads save time, cover gaps in keyword-based campaigns and provide granular control over which group of products are advertised.

Remarketing ads – this ad form targets users who visited your website and can help to increase conversion rates and ROI. If a customer visited a product page on your site and left without placing an order, you can increase the probability that she will return by showing her an ad when she searches for the same product later.

Ad copy adjustments

The more generic your ad copy is, the lower the chance for conversion. But, you can always make your ad campaigns more effective when you apply what you know about your customers. Customers at different stages of the sales funnel search for different things. If you understand the intent behind a user’s search, you can tailor a headline to appeal precisely to what the customer is looking for.

Bid adjustments

If you know that your customers buy more at a certain time of day, from a certain geographic location or, using a specific type of device, you can adjust your bid amounts in order to show more of your ads at the right time, place and device.

Seasonal changes 

You don’t sell a lot of skis in July, and not a whole lot of people buy swimwear in January. If your product mix changes seasonally, it’s important that your ads reflect what your customers are looking for at that time. Reviewing your ads for seasonality is a must.

Keywords Research bannerKeyword management – cut the bloat

The longer an ad campaign runs, the more information you have about what keywords convert and which ones don’t. You might start a campaign with a long list of target keywords. But, taking the time to cut the list down can help save your budget and increase your conversion rate.

Negating customer groups

You learn just as much about what doesn’t work as you do about what does. And that information is just as valuable. You can stretch your budget further if you cut down on the number of times your ads are shown to customer groups that are unlikely to convert. One way to do so is with negative keywords. Negative keywords prevent your ads from being triggered by the wrong kind of search. If your brand is high-end, for example, you’ll probably want to eliminate ad views for users searching for “cheap” or “discount,” or “inexpensive.”

Beacon Knows Paid Search

Need help getting the most out of your paid search strategy? Beacon can help. Request a complimentary PPC audit today.

13 02, 2020

Are You Waiting for the Stars to Align to Redesign Your Site?

By | 2020-02-13T14:07:20+00:00 February 13th, 2020|Categories: Digital Marketing, Higher Education, Creative Design, SEO|Tags: , , , |

Something magical happens in February.

No, we’re not talking about Punxsutawney Phil’s annual winter re-emergence and weather prediction on February 2. And, no, this isn’t about the national flowers-and-chocolate day – otherwise known as Valentine’s Day.

If you guessed National Drink Wine Day (February 18), Cherry Pie Day (February 20) or National Tortilla Chip Day (February 24), we are officially impressed by your knowledge of trivial celebrations. But, no, that’s not what we’re referring to, either.

This “something magical” doesn’t happen every year. In fact, it doesn’t even happen every other year. You’ve got to wait out four trips around the sun before it comes again.

366Yeah, now you’re on it… Leap Day. And, in case you’re wondering: yes, there is a February 29 in 2020. Hurray!

Now, this isn’t a calendar appreciation blog. We’re typically more concerned with keeping your websites running smoothly and supporting your organizational goals effectively. So, what does Leap Day have to do with your website?

It turns out that for many resource-strapped colleges and universities, talk of a web redesign emerges only once every four years. That’s once per graduating class, once every presidential election, once every Olympic Games, or… once every Leap Year (connection landed, whew).

Does that seem too long to go without a site refresh? And, if so, how often should you redesign your website? Let’s find out.

When Should You Redesign Your Website?

This may not be a particularly popular answer, but, a website should be refreshed whenever, a) significant changes are made to your brand, b) the perception of your institution changes (or, needs to change), or, c) new technology raises user expectations beyond the capabilities of your site.

You’ll notice that none of the above are time-driven concerns. As such, time isn’t the definitive metric by which to measure the need for a design refresh. Rather, internal priorities and target audience considerations should drive the decision-making process.

In other words, if your marketing plan features significant changes, or your users show you that things aren’t working for them, it’s time for your website to adjust. Don’t wait for a leap year.

7 Signs Your Website Needs a Refresh

Marketing decisions and other internal signals for change are pretty easy to discern. They are usually presented as directives in a report or some other official presentation.

Your users, however, aren’t likely to send you a bulleted list of requested upgrades. Instead, you have to pay attention to what your visitors care about and identify where your current site might be falling short.

Here are a few situations where a website redesign might be warranted:

hand holding a smartphoneNot mobile-friendly

Bottom line, if your site isn’t built to be viewed on a smartphone, you need to start over. According to Google, more than 50% of online search queries are completed on mobile devices. So, if you’re not catering to the mobile experience, you’re kissing 50% (or more) of your target audience good-bye. We recommend testing your site on multiple mobile devices and browsers regularly to keep up with mobile technology.

Looks and feels outdated

It’s hard to overcome a bad first impression. That’s why your homepage has to be crafted to capture your visitors’ attention. If your users go “ugh” as soon as your homepage loads, you’re already playing catch-up. A homepage with a modern feel and featuring contemporary design elements can go a long way to meeting your users’ expectations.

That said, an unremarkable homepage experience can be overcome with superior navigation, intuitive information architecture and appealing graphics. If you’re behind the curve in all these factors and your homepage is nothing to write home about, your website’s got problems, friend.

Reviewing your user engagement data at least twice a year will alert you to problems with user experience on your site.

Doesn’t keep up with the competition

You may not need to feature the absolute latest design trends. And, you certainly don’t need to load up your site with the flashiest, most popular-at-the-moment elements. But, you do need to keep an eye on what your closest competitors are doing on their websites, and aim to do just a tad bit better.

Low search rankings

Organic search is a big factor in the success of your website. If you’re not winning in search results, it can be hard to attract the audiences you want. There are many factors that can tank your site’s ranking in search results. These include thin or duplicate content, non-optimized URL structure, low crawlability, slow page speed, insufficient link structure and improper keyword targeting.

If you find your most important pages consistently losing position, you should assess how SEO-friendly your site currently is. Odds are, it could use some help in a few of the above areas.

Plus, search engine algorithms change all the time, causing all sorts of unexpected ranking movements. Pages that historically rank well can drop suddenly.

Designing your new site using the most advanced SEO tactics should help to shield you from significant ranking drops and the associated traffic losses. And, quarterly SEO health checks will help you keep your site in the best shape possible.

Not aligned to your goals

Things change. And, in the online world, things tend to change quickly. Yesterday, you may have been trying to drive campus visits as your major recruitment strategy. Tomorrow, you may prioritize virtual meet-and-greets with your student leaders, or information sessions with your leading faculty members.

Whatever your goals are, your website has to be geared to fulfill those goals. When the goals change, your website needs to, as well. If you introduce a new strategy or sense a decline in activity, pay attention to the data and adjust (or redesign).

Complaints from users

We mentioned above that users aren’t likely to bring you a neat, organized list of improvements they’d like to see. They won’t bring you solutions, but they’ll definitely be more vocal about the problems they perceive. Pay attention to the feedback your users give. It’s truly a gift… because it will make you address issues and improve.  If you observe an increasing number of complaints, that’s a sure-fire signal that your site may need a refresh.

Not successful with your target audience

Your site may be bringing in the visitors. But, are they the right kind of visitors?

For colleges and universities, if you’re not seeing prospective students and their parents as a significant portion of your incoming traffic, you’re doing something wrong. That’s as good a signal as any to start considering a redesign that will better align your site with your key performance indicators.

a grouping of gears with web-related symbolsIn the Meanwhile… Optimize

You may not need a complete redesign if one or two of the above factors are problematic. And, there’s no guarantee that some of these issues won’t crop up even after a successful redesign.  Watch for the signals, assess the issues, then decide if it’s time for a redesign, or just some enhancements.

It’s important to remember that a website is not a product – or, better put, a website is never a finished product. You should constantly be looking for ways to optimize the performance of your site.

You can always tweak page content, modify a CTA button or introduce a new video. By continually analyzing your user behavior, you can identify the sections of your site that are not performing to expectations and create a plan to attack the problem.

As you can tell by now, the “set it and forget it” approach to website maintenance is not recommended. Waiting for a leap year to start fresh with a new site won’t keep your users happy or help you achieve your marketing goals. As with most things in life, you’ve got to be proactive to stay successful.

Beacon Knows Website Redesigns

Is your website ready for a facelift? Our team of digital marketing experts can help you make that determination. Request a complimentary website audit from Beacon today.

28 01, 2020

Top 20 Digital Marketing Trends for 2020 – Part II

By | 2020-01-28T14:11:11+00:00 January 28th, 2020|Categories: Digital Marketing, Web Development, Creative Design|Tags: , , |

Trends written on chalkboardIn our last post, we discussed nine marketing trends that are expected to impact SEO (search engine optimization), Paid Search advertising and user behavior analysis in 2020 and beyond. These digital marketing specialties concern themselves with how users access and interact with online content. But, before you can hope to attract anyone to your site, you first have to create an attractive, welcoming and informative experience for your visitors.

A substantial amount of work is completed before your users ever lay their eyes on your (hopefully prominent) search results and web pages. In the second installment of our Top 20 Digital Marketing Trends for 2020 blog series, we are taking a look at some new influences in the spheres of web design, content creation and web development.

Web Design Trends

Trend #10: Minimalist navigation

You rarely get a second chance to make a great first impression. For websites, this makes the homepage a critical area of introduction for your all-important primary audience.

You’ve got to wow them at your very first opportunity. And, an overbearing or overly complex navigation bar is likely to take away from that goal.

More and more, forward-looking web designs are featuring simple navigation menus in combination with stunning visual presentations. This allows users to take the page in without the distraction of thinking about where they need to go next.

Some sites are foregoing the default presentation of a navigation bar on a homepage altogether, opting instead to let users dictate when to start looking around for additional information.

The takeaway: Don’t be afraid to tuck away your navigation bar into a hamburger menu. Trust your users’ digital instincts to find their way.

picture of night sky and a landscape

Photo by Luck Galindo from Pexels

Trend #11: Dark mode

Another trend aimed at optimizing the visual presentation of your site is the use of dark background colors on your web pages. This really makes the featured photography/video/art jump right off the page.

While some of our clients request designs that fully embrace the dark mode concept, others prefer to give their users the choice to switch into dark mode. In our opinion, there is no right or wrong method, but both are trending.

“As more of the popular apps and websites we use every day give users that dark mode option, I think we’ll see more sites start to adopt this as well,” says AJ Pope, Beacon’s Lead UX Visual Designer. “Not only does it look nice, it helps boost accessibility by making elements stand out and text easier to read.”

The takeaway: Embrace the dark side, young Jedi.

Trend #12: 3D elements and motion effects

Stunning, immersive 3D presentations that span the entirety of the user’s screen is another great way to draw in your audience. Up till now, the technology used to create 3D elements was a bit cost-prohibitive for your everyday websites. But, we are seeing more of these features recently and expect it to continue as development of 3D effects has become more affordable. The “cool” factor and the cutting-edge feel may make the added cost worthwhile for your brand.

The takeaway: Bold and interesting presentation will be the rule, not the exception, in 2020.

Trend #13: Mixing photography with art/graphics

Navigation making room for visuals, dark backgrounds to boost art, 3D and motion effects… Are we sensing a theme here? Overall, it seems that visual presentation is getting more and more sophisticated in 2020.  Sites are finally moving toward a more creative and artistic feel.

This last web design trend follows the established pattern. Expect to see more bold mash-ups of photography with overlayed art or other graphic elements in the coming years.

“Using real photographs mixed with illustrations or graphics communicates a really customized message,” says Hiroshy, a Top Level designer featured on 99designs. “Whether photos of products or people, these images can more fully support branding and help websites stand out from the crowd.”

The takeaway: Photo-art mixing can help define your brand as sophisticated and fashion-forward.

Web Content Trends

person recording a video on smartphone

Photo by Ingo Joseph from Pexels

Trend #14: Video content to reign in content marketing

Whether in design or content development, the visual mediums appear set to rule the 2020s. In this case, video content is poised for a major role.

According to our friends over at Convince & Convert, “more than 50% of shoppers say online video has helped them decide which specific brand or product to buy.” That vibes with Google’s finding that 80% of people cross over from online search to video when researching buying decisions.

That said, producing your video doesn’t have to be an all-out production. You can do a lot with just a little nowadays.

The takeaway: Go ahead and get real comfortable with your phone camera.

Trend #15: User-generated content

Here’s a breaking headline: consumers tend to trust other consumers. Not really a surprise, is it? We’ve seen this in the prevalence of online reviews, the popularity of influencers and with engagement brands generated on social media.

None of this is slowing down. So, you’ll need to find ways to harness the voices of your loyal customers and share them with your audience in order to stay relevant.

The takeaway: Your 2020 content marketing strategy must enable the conversion of your most trusted customers into brand champions.

Trend #16: Content length and quality to influence search ranking positioning

Ok, so length alone isn’t going to win you better placement. And, really, length isn’t the goal. The concept with content marketing, as always, is to deliver content that your users find valuable. That’s also what search engine algorithms are measuring.  In other words, your visitors gain confidence in your brand by finding what they want and getting their questions answered clearly, yet concisely.

And, what’s more valuable to a consumer? A short, anecdotal blog post about how cool your product is; or, a comprehensive article referencing studies, statistics and real-life use cases of a particular product that also plays up the cool angle?

Hands down, it’s that latter. And this type of content almost always runs longer. The trend is reflected in longer, more comprehensive articles populating the top results in SERPs (search engine results pages).

The takeaway: What you’re shooting for in 2020 is polished, compelling and comprehensive content.

Trend #17: Publish less, reach more people via more channels

We just got through saying more is better… now we’re saying “less is more?”

Sorry for the confusion. Let us explain.

“Less” here refers to the number of content pieces you publish, not the number of words on the page. This kind of makes sense. If you’re putting out longer, higher-quality copy, you’ll probably be publishing less content pieces overall.

The goal is to leverage your high-quality content more with a multi-channel approach. After all, your Facebook audience may have little overlap with your Pinterest users.

Trend #8 in Part I of our post discussed going beyond Google and Facebook for your paid search strategy. The same applies to your content marketing tactics. Plus, if you’re confident in the quality of your content, you SHOULD expend more effort placing it in front of all the relevant audiences.

The takeaway: You can get the most out of your content by tailoring it to various different channels.

Web Development Trends

Trend #18: Modular design 

What is modular design? According to Simplicable:

“Modular design is a design approach that creates things out of independent parts with standard interfaces. This allows designs to be customized, upgraded, repaired and for parts to be reused.”

In short, think Legos.

In web development, modular design contrasts with the more familiar templates. Templates take longer to develop and are more difficult to customize.

The takeaway: If you’re re-developing your site in 2020, a modular design can help you save on development costs.

Trend #19: Responsive, mobile-first design

The need for your site to display well on smartphones is not new. What is? Moving forward, Google will be analyzing how well your website functions on mobile screens, not desktops, first.  Yes, good mobile design scores points with Google and consequently, your website visibilty.

“Responsive modular templates are, and will most likely always be, a development trend for websites in the modern age,” says Wayne Garrett, one of Beacon’s UI (user interface) Developers. “More devices/screen sizes are being released every year. Having a website that is fluid and tailored to meet all variables is crucial. And it’s often very noticeable and detrimental when your website is not.”

The takeaway: Mobile-first development is no longer an option, it’s a must-have.

chatbot graphicTrend #20: Chatbots and customer support 

Will chatbots be taking over consumer experiences in 2020?

Businesses and higher education institutions alike have typically struggled to provide satisfactory customer service during after-business hours. That may have been ok 10 years ago. But, in today’s ultra-connected, globalized marketplace, consumers expect answers to their questions 24/7.

Powered by AI and machine-learning applications, chatbots have proliferated as the logical solution.

“We’re seeing a huge rise in chatbots on websites, especially for higher education,” says Wayne. “And we expect to see more this year.”

Is there a reason why you need to speak to someone in order to make sure that your tuition check was received? Are call center employees any better at handling routine customer queries, like bank account balances or appointment confirmations?

These questions were debatable as recently as a few years ago. But, today, there’s no doubt that automated systems can easily handle this level of customer interaction.

Another plus: chatbots can be a lot more affordable than a fully staffed call center.

The takeaway: Chatbots are a superior method of providing direct, immediate service to your site visitors at all times of day or night.

Beacon Knows (the Future of) Digital Marketing

Is your digital marketing program ready for a banner 2020? Not sure? With Beacon lighting the way, your path to success can only get brighter. Get in touch with our team to discuss solutions to your digital marketing needs.

22 01, 2020

Top 20 Digital Marketing Trends for 2020 (Part I)

By | 2020-01-23T08:43:21+00:00 January 22nd, 2020|Categories: Digital Marketing, Ecommerce, PPC, SEO|Tags: , , , |

horoscope wheelEverybody likes predictions. What’s not to like? It can be very helpful to have someone tell you what to expect or look forward to as you face your day, week, month or year.

That’s why the horoscope is still, to this day, one of the most popular columns in any newspaper. It’s all right there, in a nice little concise statement with just enough ambiguity to be applicable to 1/12 of the world’s population.

Snark aside, some predictions are more worthwhile and telling than others. That’s especially true if they are made at a perceived beginning.

And, seeing as we find ourselves at the start of a new year, AND a brand new decade, we thought this is a pretty good time to lay out some bold statements. So, without further ado, here are 20 things you can expect to happen in the world of digital marketing in the coming months of 2020 (broken down by various industry specialties).

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) Trends

Trend #1: Zero-click searches are risingSEO

Organic search isn’t what it used to be. According to SEO evangelist Rand Fishkin, everyone’s favorite search engine – Google – is no longer a search engine but a “walled-garden.” Huh?

What Rand is saying is that Google has optimized the methods by which it keeps users in its suite of products, as opposed to passing on the traffic to the links it judges as the best results.

Increasingly, users are getting the information they want from Google-curated products: Knowledge graphs, Local Packs, featured snippets, and the like. Rand crunched the numbers, and as of July 2019, a majority of searches on Google have resulted in a zero-click session.

The takeaway: High placement in SERPs (search engine results pages) is no longer enough.

Trend #2: Optimizing for rich/featured snippets 

In addition to the placement of your page in search results, you’ll have to pay attention to additional parts of the SERP: the featured snippet (chosen by Google as the best answer to a user question), the rich snippet (structured data to help search engines understand the information being presented) and local listings (such as, Google My Business).

“By optimizing for all of these features in parallel with traditional SEO, you increase the probability of getting more clicks and create a higher chance of showing up in more places,” says Jonathan Wilkinson, Beacon’s structured data expert.

The takeaway: Optimizing for rich and featured snippets is more important than ever, as more than 50% of all Google searches now end without a click.

Trend #3: Voice search is taking off

Not only are users implementing an after-search click less, they may not be clicking at all. That’s because more and more searches are initiated by voice.

“The good news here is that by focusing on featured snippet optimizations, you’re also optimizing for voice search,” says Logan Ray, Beacon’s Chief Strategist – Digital Optimization. “If you have Google Assistant, ask a ‘how-to’ question and then search that exact phrase in your browser. You’ll notice the read-out from Google voice search is identical to the featured snippet.”

Voice searches tend to be more long-tailed and local. For ecommerce, that means that voice searches represent users closer to a buying decision.

The takeaway: Optimize your website content to provide answers to relevant voice queries.

Trend #4: Linkless mentions

Since the beginning of the internet, links have been viewed as content recommendations. If someone links to your site, they’re saying: “This is good stuff. Go here for more information you’ll like.”

And ever since, people have been trying to game the system by garnering as many backlinks as they could get. Going forward, however, this strategy will yield less and less results.

Why?

Because Google and other search engines have evolved to the point that unlinked mentions hold as much, or more, sway in their algorithms as links.

The takeaway: Good, old-fashioned brand mentions are new again – no link required. Growing and tracking your organic brand mentions will be key to your SEO strategy in 2020 and beyond.

Paid Search Trends 

Trend #5: Rising CPC (cost-per-click) 

Nobody likes to pay more. But, if you’re in Paid Search advertising, you’ll need to get used to explaining to your clients or bosses (same thing) why they should expect to spend more in 2020 for the same results.

“With the SERP now being set and static with paid text ads, shopping carousels, and organic listings, as well as saturation in paid display networks, the demand of advertisers is outpacing the supply of online real estate,” says Jordan Burleson, Beacon’s Chief Strategist – Digital Advertising. “Increasing CPC is unavoidable in 2020.”

The takeaway: Skilled paid search marketers will need to amend strategy in order to increase results from fewer budgeted clicks.

Trend #6: AI/Machine Learning bidding strategies will propagate

All signs point to automation in 2020, as search engines and online advertising platforms are steaming ahead with AI- and machine-learning-enabled bidding strategies.

“Keywords aren’t going anywhere anytime soon – the robots still need us to speak to the other humans properly; however, whatever can be made into a math problem is now the domain of the machines,” says Jeff Furguson, CEO of Fang Marketing, in Search Engine Journal.

Efficiency is the clear upside. The drawback with automation is losing the ability to tweak bids for keywords by hand.

The takeaway: Knowledge of a client’s/business’ audience, goals and KPIs (key performance indicators) will be more important than ever to get the most out of your Paid Search budget.

Trend #7: Audience-based marketing 

Whether you’re human or machine, there is no substitute for knowing the audience.

Once more from Beacon’s own Jordan Burleson:

“The ability to tap into demographic targeting, interests, previous search and browsing behavior, and predictors from the spoken word, are all hugely important to continued success from paid search in 2020.”

The takeaway: Detailed knowledge of your audience behavioral trends can help you leverage customized messaging and calls-to-actions in order to shorten the buying timeline and optimize your budget.

Trend #8: Going beyond Google and Facebook 

Yes, Google and Facebook are still the 800-lb gorillas in the online advertising jungle. But, you can’t ignore the baby gorillas who are maturing in their own right.

Quora, Reddit, Pinterest, and especially Amazon all have engaged and growing communities of users. And that’s just a few of the popular established digital platforms. Every year brings more.

“This does not mean you need to be on every ad platform above. It does mean you need to have a better understanding of where your customers spend their time online,” says Duane Brown, Founder at Take Some Risk. “If your audience is on one of the ad platforms above then you should at least test it out and see if you can make it work for your business.”

The takeaway: Don’t overlook the smaller ad platforms. Your audience surely won’t. Today’s consumers are likely to play in several different sandboxes.

Data Analysis TrendData

Trend #9: User restrictions on personal data

In 2018, legislators passed the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in the largest state in the union. The law, which went into effect on January 1, 2020, now provides internet users the right to opt out of being tracked online. This is likely to result in less user data available for analysis.

“For marketers, this legislation drives the need to infer what users are doing on their websites,” says Luke Pajer, Beacon’s in-house Data Analytics Specialist. “Inferential statistics is how agencies will overcome gaps in user data.”

The takeaway: Data analysts will rely on smaller population samples to track broader user trends. The skills and experience of your analytics team will become more critical.

*** We’ve reached the end of our blog post, and astute readers may have noticed that we’ve only covered 9 of the promised Top 20 Website Trends for 2020. Don’t despair. Stay tuned next week for the second installment in our series.

Beacon Knows (the Future of) Digital Marketing

Is your digital marketing program ready for a banner 2020? Not sure? With Beacon lighting the way, your path to success can only get brighter. Get in touch with our team to discuss solutions to your digital marketing needs.

11 12, 2019

Beacon’s Favorite Web Design Projects of 2019

By | 2019-12-11T15:38:26+00:00 December 11th, 2019|Categories: Higher Education, Web Development, Creative Design|Tags: , , |

Well, it’s almost here… 2020, the new year, the start of a new decade (depending on whom you ask). And that means we’ve nearly made it through another memorable 12 months.

For us, at Beacon, 2019 was filled with lots of great projects, conversations, innovations and new beginnings. We’ve welcomed in talented new staff and began relationships with awesome new clients. We’ve also strengthened our existing customer relationships and added to our already considerable skill set.

Through it all, we’ve worked as a team of equals to support our clients’ business goals, advance our understanding of the digital landscape and collaborate on outcomes that really move the needle.Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

It’s natural this time of year to reflect on all that’s been accomplished. We’re no different. There are quite a few Beacon projects that deserve recognition. Unfortunately, we don’t have the time or space to touch on them all.

What follows below is just a small representation of our successes in web design from the past year.

But, before we dive into highlights of those great new client websites, let’s review what a great new website should look like in 2020 and beyond.

Design Features of a Great Website

Reasonable people can disagree on what they view as the most important elements of a modern website. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That said, our experience informs us that your next website should be built with the following concepts in mind:

  • Simplicity – like a beautiful piece of recorded music, you don’t want your site to feel overproduced. And that can (and does) happen if you try to pack too much into every page. A tasteful page design that prioritizes spacing and a natural flow is the rule. Your users shouldn’t feel lost or overwhelmed by information on a busy screen.
  • Responsiveness – today, your users will access your site from more than one platform. You want their experience to be equally awesome on their phones, desktops and tablets. Moreover, there isn’t a standard screen size for any of the platforms. Your site has to be built to accommodate the smallest and largest screen dimensions, and everything in between.
  • Legible typography – don’t get too cute with your choice of fonts. Yes, you want your branding to stand apart, but not so much that it takes attention away from the information your visitors are looking for. Subtle differences from the typical are appreciated; major departures from the norm are a distraction.
  • Accessibility – keep in mind that some visitors to your site will have special needs and/or physical limitations that may impact their ability to access information on your pages. Account for these needs by following the widely accepted Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1).
  • Easy, intuitive navigation – the last thing that you want is your visitors getting lost on your site. Navigation menus offer the map to your site content. You want to make the map as easy to read and use as possible.
  • A careful balance between visual storytelling and text – you don’t want to overwhelm your visitors with too much information at once. And, let’s remember, attention spans are getting notoriously short. That means you have to keep your text scannable and easily digestible. Wherever possible, lean on visuals to relay information to your users.
  • Professional imagery – you wouldn’t include amateur photography in your printed marketing collateral. Why would you on your flagship marketing asset? The extra cost is worth it if you want to look polished and professional.
  • Strong branding – again, your website is your most important marketing tool. You want your brand to be well represented in the design, but without appearing overbearing and too in-your-face. There’s a fine line, certainly. But, you don’t want your users to be guessing that they’re in the right place.

Some of Our Favorite Websites of 2019

Ok, without further ado, here are some of our favorite web design projects from the past year, along with the design attributes that make the websites really pop.

North Carolina A&T State University

NC A&T University website homepage

  • Streamlined, out-of-the-box homepage design and functionality
  • Mobile-first approach and navigation design
  • High contrast toggle for accessibility
  • Degrees and Programs pages with branding for each college/department and extensive filtering capabilities

Eastern Connecticut State University

Eastern Connecticut State University website homepage

  • Artistic take on a higher ed website, with exceptionally sharp presentation
  • Imagery, content and branding integrated into a modern, sleek design
  • A ton of subtle design touches, like paint-brush edges and golden arrows accents always pointing East
  • Newly developed content written to take full advantage of customized page templates

Atlantic Cape Community College

Atlantic Cape Comm College website homepage

  • Multiple parallax design attributes
  • A really cool social media wall
  • Interior pages featuring an intuitive “navigate this section” menu
  • Animated “Cape Man” icon in the utility navigation

Crosspointe Homes

Crosspointe Home website homepage

  • Modular design optimized for the specialized needs of the real estate industry
  • Page templates coded for easy addition of new content
  • SEO-optimized content developed by Beacon content strategy experts
  • Simple and easy to use navigation

Beacon Knows Web Design

Need to refresh your website for 2020? We’re here to help. Learn about our approach to website redesign projects and get in touch with our talented team today.

18 11, 2019

Inclusive Holiday Marketing: How to Appeal to Today’s Culturally Diverse Generation of Students

By | 2019-11-18T09:23:05+00:00 November 18th, 2019|Categories: Digital Marketing, Higher Education|Tags: , , |

With Thanksgiving almost upon us, many marketers are in full bore prep mode for Christmas season. We don’t need to, but we’ll warn you anyway… we are about to enter maximum Christmas saturation.

While today you may notice some introductory hints of the holiday at your favorite retailers, before long, those hints will turn into a wall-to-wall, inescapable barrage of imagery featuring good ole’ Saint Nick, his reindeer, Christmas trees, Christmas stockings and everything else clad in red and green.

As we wrote in our last post, Americans spend trillions of dollars during the holiday season. So, from a marketing perspective, it’s just smart business to go all in on the popular Christian holiday. Right?

While that may be true for traditional retailers, the story might be different when your primary audience is substantially younger. If you’re a higher ed marketer trying to appeal to the disposition of the quickly growing Generation Z, it may be wise to rethink the traditional strategy.

Generation Z Lives & Breathes Diversity

many faces being looked at through a looking glass

Gen Z is the most diverse generation in history. Shifting your marketing strategy to be more inclusive will engage them more than all the Instagram ads you can buy. – GenZInsights.com

Roughly 7 out of 10 Gen Z respondents (71 percent) in a recent Facebook-commissioned study replied that they would like to see more diversity in advertising. Facebook IQ, the social network’s research division, noted that: “Strategists can engage this new generation by developing messaging that embraces diversity, inclusion and adaptable lifestyles.”

The takeaway for anyone who wants to gain the trust of Gen Zers is to be more socially conscious in your marketing approach. And that’s precisely the type of messaging that’s generally lacking in the time of year that traditionally belongs to Santa.

What can you, as a higher ed marketer, do to become more “woke” (see: inclusive) in your holiday-season marketing appeals? We’ve got a few suggestions to ponder.

Reign in your holiday bias

It’s safe to say that an overwhelming number of Americans love Christmas. And, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Kwanzaa candle and figurine

But many college campuses are melting pots, with people from a number of different cultures, religions and traditions. That’s not surprising considering that the U.S. annually hosts more than a million international students from countries such as China, India, South Korea and Saudi Arabia. In these countries, Christmas is not the predominant celebration this time of year.

And American-born students aren’t a homogeneous group, either.

There are a number of cultural holidays that are celebrated in December, in the US and around the world: Hanukkah (Judaism), Kwanzaa (pan-African), Bodhi Day (Buddhism), Pancha Ganapati (Hinduism), Fiesta of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Mexican), St Lucia Day (Swedish), Boxing Day (Australian, Canadian, English, Irish), Omisoka (Japanese), Yule (Pagan). If you celebrate any of these holidays, it’s hard not to feel overshadowed by the annual immersion into all things Christmas by the American public at large.

gold star of david ornament next to red christmas tree ornament

That’s not to say that Americans of the Christian faith are intentionally (or, even unintentionally) disrespectful of other cultures. It’s just that the overwhelming focus on Christmas tends to make members of other faiths and cultures feel like “the other.”

That goes directly against the ethos of the youngest generation. So, if you want to appeal to Gen Z, you’d be well served by exploring how to approach holiday messaging in a more culturally sensitive manner.

Mix up that traditional color palette

One way to even out holiday season imagery is to eschew the traditional red-and-green and blue-and-white color schemes. There are other colors in your color wheel.

You may consider leaning into more of your school colors. Some pastels or soft tropical colors can communicate warmth – a welcome respite from the cold, winter hues. Certain earth tones could also strike the right chord.

Here’s a great post that speaks to some awesome non-traditional holiday color palettes.

Value-based, rather than holiday-based messaging

One way to not step on anyone’s holiday toes is to forgo holiday-based messaging in the first place. Instead of centering your message on gift-giving or tree-lighting, speak to the values of generosity and community.

Drastic, we know. But, if you’re afraid that the pitchforks and “war on Christmas” mantras will come flying out… let’s remember that you’re aiming the message at the youngest generation, not the older ones who may find the absence of a “Merry Christmas” more jarring.

Besides, the essence of the holiday season is to make others feel good. And that’s exactly what you’re doing when you take into account Gen Z’s preference for inclusivity and diversity.

Use more inclusive imagery

If your campus is one of those melting pots, this couldn’t be easier. Just take some candid photos of your real students out and about on the quad. If not, you may have to do some extra work by hunting photo sharing sites like Pixabay, Flickr or Pexels.

Regardless, you want to paint a picture that meets your target audience expectations and ideals. And, in the case of Gen Z, a homogeneous cast of characters just won’t cut it.

There are additional pitfalls to consider. For example, you don’t just want to add one culturally diverse photo into a collage of images portraying mostly white students. Or, worse, include one student of color in a large non-diverse group. That may give the appearance of tokenism – fulfilling a requirement with a half-hearted attempt at being seen as diverse.

It may be best to institute a policy requiring images on your school website and in other marketing collateral to be representative of your campus’ diverse populations. You may also want to go further and undertake a review of images currently being displayed and making a concerted effort to bring the site in compliance with your new policy.

Beacon Knows Content & Content Strategy

Is your site content meeting the needs of your prospective students? Find out with a complimentary content audit by Beacon’s digital marketing experts. Request one today.

7 11, 2019

Be Thankful for Your Paid Search Team

By | 2019-11-07T15:19:28+00:00 November 7th, 2019|Categories: Digital Marketing, Ecommerce, PPC|Tags: , , |

red and silver ornaments on christmas treeWelcome to the holiday season, everyone.

Wait, what? It’s barely past October. We’re still working through our Halloween candy stash, you might be thinking. It’s still pushing 70 degrees on the East Coast on many days.

This may all be true. Yet, that hasn’t stopped brick-and-mortar retailers from already decking out their stores with Christmas trees and stocking their shelves with red and green holiday paraphernalia.

Uh huh. That’s right. The holiday season is upon us. And there’s nowhere to hide.

The average consumer might be getting that descended upon feeling right about now. That’s because for us marketers, these are the most important weeks in the calendar. And, it’s not our fault…

Collectively, American consumers spend an unholy sum of money this time of year on gifts for loved ones and “I deserve this” presents for themselves. Vacations and cool travel experiences, expensive dinners out with the family, new cars, new big screen TVs… heck, throw in that super modern, mostly automated, you barely have to carry the load of laundry downstairs washer/dryer combo.

As a country, the US spends trillions of dollars every year between the start of November and December 31. That’s trillions, with a “t.” It’s big business, with a capital “B.”

man holding a credit card and typing on laptopA good portion of those funds get spent online. During the 2018 holiday season, for example, Americans were estimated to have spent nearly $120 billion (it’s with a “b” this time) on the web.

A solid online advertising plan is a must if you hope to tap into all of that consumer holiday spending. If you’re a small or moderate-size retail business, however, you might feel a little intimidated or even drowned out by all the noise that traditionally comes from the heavy hitters – your Amazons, Walmarts, Best Buys, Macy’s’ and the like.

But there’s no need to get discouraged. With the internet being the great equalizer, the right paid search strategy can yield huge returns and pay off big.

“What might that right strategy be?”, you might ask. To find out, we sat down with our Digital Advertising Team. The following insights from Beacon’s paid search experts are some of the most essential parts of a winning holiday season advertising strategy.

Insight 1: Be prepared to spend more when the holiday season rolls around 

dollar bills

Like that old adage goes: “You have to spend money to make money.” That couldn’t be more true when the trees start shedding their leaf coats and the shopping season approaches.

In the paid search world, this is the time of year when ad spends get an extra boost. There are two related reasons for this.

One, it’s the start of a feeding frenzy, and everyone is getting in on the action. That increase in competition means that you’ve got to allocate more funds just to attain the same results from earlier in the year. And, if you hope to beat out your top competitors, you’ll probably need to beat their spend budget. Everybody is spending more, and you’ve got to keep up.

Secondly, that increase in competition also drives up the cost of the keywords you’re bidding on. Depending on how many competitors are bidding on it, a term that cost you $1 yesterday can quickly double, or even triple, tomorrow.

“For many advertisers, holiday sales and Q4 earnings make up a significant amount of their annual revenue,” says Jordan Burleson, Chief Strategist for Digital Marketing at Beacon. “Online search traffic will spike in the months of November and December. And therefore, your average cost-per-click will increase 20% to 50%, resulting in less traffic for the same cost.”

Don’t be shocked or upset when this happens. In fact, building this expected increase into your allocated advertising budget in advance can help you stay both sane and competitive.

Speaking of planning…

Insight 2: Have your advertising plan ready well before Black Friday rolls around

woman holding up shopping bagsA lot of transactions happen on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. But, there’s a healthy number of people who prefer to get their shopping done early. In fact, as many as 39% of all holiday purchases take place before the Thanksgiving holiday. That means, you’ve got to be ready to roll with your paid ads… like, now.

On the other hand, you also don’t want to blow through your budget too early and miss a rush on your products or services later in the season. Are there mid-December sales that you’re planning to run? After Christmas promotions? New Year’s specials?

You may want to reserve some of your budget to target potential customers for those sales events. To maximize these opportunities, it’s also important to be intimately familiar with your business and industry seasonal cycle.

Having a good plan based on known customer trends is key to holiday season success.

Insight 3: Make use of negative terms 

Ok, so far, we have “spend more money” and “make a plan.” Good advice, but not the type to satisfy the cost-conscious crowd, right?

Well, don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten about you. After all, successful businesses know how to spend wisely.

One way to optimize your ad dollars is by ensuring that they’re not spent on bad or non-strategic keywords. Savvy PPC marketers create a black list of negative keywords which prevents automated platforms from displaying your ads for searches that include those terms.

“Negative keywords are essential for any good PPC campaign,” says Olivia Earley, one of Beacon’s Paid Search Specialists. “Acting as a barrier for unwanted search terms, negative keywords protect your account from unwanted key phrases, saving you money while increasing conversions and click-through rates.”

Insight 4: Use all available space on the playing field

An online ad is pretty simple, right? It appears at the top of a search engine results page (SERP) and displays a short description of a product, event, sale or promotion.

Well, as with everything related to the digital world, paid ads have continually evolved to deliver more nuanced, targeted and specific information. On top of the space for the typical advertising copy, online ads now feature ad extensions. Extensions are extra opportunities to deliver specific types of content.

“Paid ads have expanded to feature a lot more useful information for potential customers,” reports Beacon paid search analyst Zach Wellman. “Ad extensions allow you to deliver actionable content that empowers consumers to more easily reach the content they intend to find.”

Extensions can be links to specific pages on your website (sitelinks), a phone number that can be automatically dialed from your mobile device, your average product/seller rating, the physical address of your store, even pictures of your products.

In fact, image-based product listing ads (or, shopping ads) are the newest paid search fad. In a product listing ad, the main feature of the ad are photos of your products rather than marketing copy.

Extensions and product listing ads also have the advantage of occupying more space in SERPs than the typical online ad. And, the more space you take up, the less you leave for your competitors.

Which brings us to our last point…

100 m race trackInsight 5: It’s all about the competition

If you hope to beat your digital competitors, there are two things you absolutely have to do: 1) know how they’re selling, and 2) sell where they’re selling.

That means that you should keep an eye on the ads that your top competitors run. Tracking your competitors’ ads gives you a good idea of what keywords they’re targeting. It also allows you to match or improve upon the offers your potential customers see and increases your odds of earning their clicks.

Another thing you should do is bid on your competitors’ branded keywords (their names).

“Bidding on competitors is essential to making sure you are staying relevant to your potential leads,” says PPC specialist Sammy Kleege. “Not only do they get a comparison in products, you get to stay on top of what your competitors are doing that you may not be.”

Advertising in your competitor’s wheelhouse may seem like an aggressive tactic. And, in some ways it is. But, it’s also how savvy marketers get a leg up. Besides, if your competitors are worthy opponents, they’re probably doing the same to you.

Beacon Knows PPC

Want a more sophisticated approach to your paid search efforts? Beacon is here to help. Give us a call, we’re eager to talk to you about your business.

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