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.
14 06, 2019

User Engagement Analysis: Higher Ed Recruitment Made Smarter

By | 2019-06-14T10:32:50+00:00 June 14th, 2019|Categories: Digital Marketing, Google Analytics, Higher Education|Tags: , , , |

Congratulations from the Beacon team on completing another busy academic year!

In the last few months, your campus has hosted a myriad of visiting students and their families, completed another round of final exams, framed up your incoming freshman class and sent off your most recent group of accomplished graduates to a bright future.

Whew. After all that, for higher ed professionals, there’s no shame in picturing yourself on some wonderful tropical island paradise, soaking away your vacation days.

It’s June. You can absolutely be forgiven for taking a moment to revel in the accomplishments of the past year. Thank goodness for summer sessions, right?

However, while there’s undoubtedly many reasons to celebrate your achievements, summer’s slower pace is also an excellent opportunity to assess the efficacy of your marketing efforts. If you want your next recruiting class to be as good or better as the last, you have to know what you did right and what didn’t work out quite as you planned.

So, where can a higher ed marketer look for answers (once you’re back in the office with a nice tan, that is)?

As your flagship marketing asset, your higher ed website is a natural place to start. It’s also the place from where most of your prospective students will initiate their journey to your campus.

If your site is properly configured for tracking visitors (read: must-have), you can mine the used engagement data for a host of insights into the interests, motivators and behaviors of your target audiences. From that information, it’s easy to see how well your website is meeting all those needs.

Let’s dig into the benefits of used engagement analysis, shall we?

What is User Engagement Data?

First, let’s define what user engagement data are. Actually, let’s let Luke Pajer, Beacon’s resident data wiz, define it for us:

“User engagement data describe the interactions visitors have with your site. These data are important for measuring the performance of various webpages, including any featured elements – such as, videos, call-to-action buttons, internal links, social shares, and the like. User engagement analysis informs the rationale for any effective website strategy.”

Ok, now that we know what engagement data are, where can find them?

At Beacon, we trust Google Analytics (GA) to track user interaction. Let’s find out a little more about GA.

5 Key User Engagement Metrics to Analyze

There are a host of various indicators in a GA account, tracking everything from real-time user interactions to acquisition, behavior and conversion data points. Not only that, there are many different ways to parse all that data.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the tools at your disposal. And, for that very reason Google offers a series of trainings and certifications to help educate customers on strategic uses of the platforms.

However, while helpful, you don’t need certification to get a basic overall picture of how your website is performing. That can be accomplished by looking at just a handful of key indicators.

Google Analytics All Traffic View screenshotSessions

This is THE bottom line metric. Sessions track the number of times visitors have accessed a particular page. Note that this is not the same thing as “users,” which represents the unique visitors to the page (the same user can log several sessions by leaving and returning to your site).

Bounce rate

If a user accessed a page and then quickly moved on to another page or left your site altogether, they are said to have “bounced.” The bounce rate, then, is the percentage of sessions with no user interaction with a particular page.

Average session duration

This one is pretty straight forward. The average session duration defines how long you could expect a typical user to remain on a given page.

Pages per Session

This metric shows how many pages, on average, were accessed in a typical user session.

Goal Completions

You can track the actions that you want users to take on your site by setting up goal and event tracking (this can be done with Google Tag Manager). You can even assign a monetary value to a goal and determine how well each page performs financially.

Again, you can do a lot more with your GA account. However, in any analysis of your website traffic, you should probably take into account the above five metrics.

Using Engagement Data Strategically

laptop screen with charts and graphsSo, what can all of this data tell you?

You can use user engagement data to see how well content performs on your site. From there you’re empowered to make educated guesses on suitable improvements or fixes. With historical data, you can also compare the performance of various content updates against each other and evaluate their effectiveness.

A common analysis tactic is to break out user engagement data by audience (audience tracking can also be set up with Google Tag Manager). This way, you can tailor content adjustments based on the unique usage patterns of specific audiences – like, prospective students.

GA can also help you figure out the effectiveness of multi-channel marketing campaigns (email, paid search, social media, etc) by tracking how users get to your site.

Your data analysis can be basic, moderate, advanced, a combination of all, or something in between. As with most data analytics tools, the end product is dependent on the skill level of the user. (From experience, we advise that the level of analysis in your reporting match the comfort level of the report audience.)

Beacon Knows Google Analytics

Is your higher ed website properly configured to take full advantage of Google Analytics insights? Beacon can make sure you’re set up for success. Request a complimentary website audit from our team of GA experts.

22 05, 2019

Did Your Mother Dress Your Website?

By | 2019-05-22T12:54:48+00:00 May 22nd, 2019|Categories: Digital Marketing, Higher Education, Creative Design|Tags: , , , |

For many juniors and seniors, one major decision comes to dominate the closing chapters of their high school careers: where to go to college. It’s not a secret that your higher ed website can – should, even – play a large role in the decision-making process. Often, it’s the first interaction between a prospective student and your school.

It’s important, then, for your site to create a good first impression by presenting and defining your school brand for visitors in a compelling, accessible and fun manner. It helps if your brand lends itself to memorable presentation. However, if your brand isn’t compelling, accessible or fun, you’ll likely struggle to create the first impression you want.

The truth is, bad branding – including sub-optimal visual presentation – can stymie the performance of an otherwise perfectly good college site.

Bad Branding Is Real

You remember those looks you’d get as a kid when your parents would dress you up in something real “cute” – like a sailor suit or a bumble bee costume (stifles traumatic childhood memory)? That bumble bee costume wasn’t your idea, and isn’t you… but to everyone on the outside, you were a bumble bee. Thanks, mom!

What made those experiences feel, um, awkward – other than the stares and the laughs – is your personal brand being badly misrepresented. Normally, you wouldn’t have been caught dead in that outfit. As a result, you were rightfully concerned about the consequences of that disharmony.

Putting painful childhood memories aside, kids are not the only ones to suffer from badly misaligned branding (though, thankfully, we get oversight powers of our personal brands eventually). Traverse the interwebs for even just a little while and you’re bound to run across sites that look like they were dressed by your mother.

And, higher ed sites can be some of the worst dressers.

Brand Style Guide: Your Wardrobe Organizer

So, how do you put better threads on your site?

A visual refresh or redesign may be the solution if your higher ed site is technically sound but lacking a contemporary look and feel. Let’s be clear, though – you don’t necessarily need to reinvent your brand. To use your branding more strategically, you may just need to define it better.

The best way to do that is with a brand style guide  – a comprehensive document that explicitly defines key attributes and elements of your school’s brand (sometimes referred to as a brand bible). The brand bible is best used as your road map for all future marketing initiatives, including website redesigns.

A brand style guide is a foundational marketing document, but many higher ed marketing departments operate without one. That’s probably because style guides have a reputation for being cumbersome and difficult to produce.

However, there’s no reason why a functional brand style guide can’t be developed in-house by a dedicated team. With careful planning and buy-in from key stakeholders, no task is insurmountable. The most difficult task might be getting everyone in the same room for the requisite brand brainstorming sessions.

Defining Brand Components

To define a thing as elusive as your school brand, you’ll need to discuss certain key attributes of your school. This is where you’ll need all those VIPs – for their institutional knowledge and decision-making prowess.

Schedule a brainstorming session (or several) to discuss the following key brand components:

School Values

This may be as simple as pulling from your school charter. It’s just as likely to find that no one has ever bothered to record your school values, or maybe even thought about defining them. In which case, the input from your school leadership will be critical to completing this task.

Target Audience

Develop a full persona, or several personas, of your prospective student groups. This will help calibrate all your marketing efforts.

Mission

If your school has a mission statement already, ask if your stakeholders feel that it still accurately represents what your school aims to accomplish. This may lead to a revision or a re-statement.

Vision

A vision statement speaks to goals or outcomes that your school wants to accomplish. As with the mission statement, you may find that an existing one may need to be brought up to date.

Brand Personality

This is where things can get fun. The goal is to come up with three to five adjectives to serve as brand attributes. There are lots of exercises that can help get the ball rolling. If your group gets stuck, start with deciding what your brand is not, or identify its opposite traits.

Discussions that involve abstract ideas can be difficult to get going initially. You’ll want to have some ice breakers and exercises prepared beforehand to guide the discussion and keep it on track. More than one brainstorming session may be required to complete the task.

Shape Your Brand Elements

Once you’ve got the brand components down, use them to define your brand elements.

Brand Story

The brand story can draw upon your mission and vision statements to tell a narrative about your school.

Logo

A logo update may not always be necessary. That said, if you’re introducing something substantially different or new to your brand, a new or updated logo can help signal that change.

Color palette

In this section of your brand style guide, provide explicit examples of all official brand colors and include information to help your vendors recreate the right hues.

Imagery 

There are several ways to provide guidance on creating on-brand imagery. Find and present images that convey the feelings you want to evoke. You should also include imagery that has historically performed well on your website and other marketing assets.

Voice

Your brand voice is closely related to your brand personality. Identify and document how you want your brand to sound to your target audience.

Typography 

In branding, details matter… down to the typeface selection. Choose your typeface family and provide explicit instruction on usage. Direct how you want copy to align and identify the spacing ratios to ensure consistency when typeface sizes change.

Beacon Knows Higher Ed Websites

Is your school website meeting your recruiting and conversion goals? Find out with a complimentary audit from Beacon’s digital marketing experts.

16 04, 2019

Drive Recruitment with Campus Virtual Tours

By | 2019-05-03T12:44:14+00:00 April 16th, 2019|Categories: Digital Marketing, Higher Education, Creative Design|Tags: , , |

Is there a better way to approach campus visits in the information age?

Campus tours are an excellent way to showcase your campus to prospective students. In fact, as you’re reading this, admissions offices across the country are in the midst of preparations for a very busy campus visit season.

From an admissions perspective, few things signal serious interest in your school louder than an investment of time and resources into a visit to your campus in-person.

But, today, students looking to make a decision on their academic future want as much information about your school at their fingertips as possible – and, not just about academic programs or meal plans. Your future students want to know how it feels to be on-campus, what student life is really like and whether they’ll easily be able to fit into the school culture. Oh, and, they want this information before actually committing to a campus visit.

It’s also important to remember that not every potential student has the ability to come check out your school in all it’s splendor.

More than ever and for a myriad of reasons, your website serves as a prerequisite – even a substitute – for a physical experience of your school. As such, a well-designed, high-quality virtual tour of your campus, featured prominently in high-traffic areas of your website, can be very helpful in meeting your academic recruitment goals.

What You Need to Create a Virtual Tour of Your Campus

It’s easy enough to cobble together a few short videos or images for a quick-and-easy version of a digital campus tour. However, with a too-simple approach, you’d be risking alienating your digitally native target audience, who quickly abandon and don’t easily forgive weak user experiences.

To keep the attention of your visitors, you’ll need a well-designed and skillfully executed digital strategy. That strategy should include professional-quality video/image production, a narrative tailored to the needs of your prospective students and their families, and technical skills to integrate the tour into your current higher ed website.

Your internal marketing team can handle the script writing and your site developers/webmasters can create the digital experience on the website. However, unless your school has a top-notch film program, you’ll need to procure the services of a qualified videographer to manage the video production of your virtual tour.

Virtual Tour Best Practices

Your school’s virtual tour does not have to be just like your rival school’s virtual tour. Every college and university has something that makes it unique and special, and your virtual tour should reflect the qualities that make your school stand out.

That said, to create a virtual tour with maximum potential for conversion, you should consider the following best practices:

Narration

The virtual tour should be a guided experience, just like an in-person campus tour. Recruit your current student tour leaders for the role of video campus tour guide, or find a few willing student participants. Having a real student provide the narration will help your prospective students better connect with the content of the tour.

Interactive campus map and controls

The best part of a digital tour is that you can skip to the parts you’re interested in the most. An interactive campus map and controls put your site visitors in charge – exactly how digital users prefer.

Panoramic, feature-rich images

Providing users with even more opportunity to explore on their own, panoramic images deliver breathtaking, encompassing views that can be further explored through exploratory clicks.

Mobile-friendly design

Keep in mind that your school’s virtual tour is almost as likely to be accessed from a mobile device as it is from a desktop. As such, it’s important to gear the experience for mobile use. This includes keeping video and image files as small as possible to keep load times low. Breaking up video into small chunks – a short clip at each location, as opposed to one, long, continuous video – will also help keep the experience lively.

Accessibility

It’s imperative that the development of the virtual tour digital experience take into account web accessibility guidelines. This will ensure that screen readers and other devices that help people access and navigate the internet will be able to do their jobs. Accessibility should be considered in layout and control design. And, don’t forget to include closed captioning for the narrated portions of your tour.

Tracking 

Tracking user interaction with your site can yield tons of information about your target audience. It’s something that you’re probably doing already with other parts of your site. Tracking how visitors navigate to the virtual tour and their subsequent user journeys can help you better understand your user needs and interests. That, in turn, can help you optimize your call-to-actions and provide valued information that drives users to begin the application process.

Beacon Knows Digital Marketing

Want to know how to maximize your investment in a virtual tour? Request a complimentary website audit, and let Beacon digital marketing experts show you how to get the most out of your higher ed website.

21 02, 2019

5 Ways to Fall in Love with Your Site All Over Again

By | 2019-03-26T08:42:22+00:00 February 21st, 2019|Categories: Web Development|

Sometimes it’s hard to appreciate the routine things we use every day. Tools, possessions and even people we see on a daily basis tend to get less and less of our full attention.

That may be one of the reasons why Valentine’s Day is such a big celebration every February. It’s a great reminder for all of us of the need to show the most important people in our lives our love. It’s also an opportunity to see our loved ones with fresh eyes… maybe how we used to see our significant other when we just started dating.

For digital marketers and web designers, however, there is no day to remind us to take a look at the websites we manage with fresh, passionate eyes. It’s easy to fall into a routine and assume our sites are doing great. Our days are busy, and we can easily miss signs that our sites need some love and attention. But if we’re not careful, we can end up with an outdated, buggy site with cratering traffic and zero relevance.

So consider this your reminder to treat your website right. Successful relationships are about change and rediscovery. No one stays the same for long. Put on those fresh eyes, get out on the cutting edge and find out what your site needs in order to be all it can be. Start with the following web design trends, and you’ll be falling in love with your higher ed site all over again in no time.

Full Accessibility

Accessibility is a huge area of prioritization, as well it should be. You can’t serve your audience needs if they can’t access the information on your site. Nowadays, most websites follows accessibility guidelines, as the price for not doing so is irrelevance (not showing up in search results). But, some forward-looking institutions are going above and beyond. These sites give users the choice to view their pages in full accessibility mode.

What does this mean? Beacon’s UX expert, AJ Pope explains:

“With the changes, the non-accessible text will darken to a fully accessible color. Images with text overlays will also darken to make the text stand out more. Small text may increase in size, as well as graphics that utilize text.”

Personalization

Marketing is all about making personal connections. Tailoring your website experience to the audience or even personal level can absolutely make a difference for your engagement KPIs. Personalizing your website experience requires some careful planning and setup. But it’s well worth the effort. Here’s a great tutorial on web personalization from marketing expert Neil Patel.

Video

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many pictures is a video worth? Video has long been a feature on websites. The trend is actually for more videos. Videos are increasingly showing up where banner and impact images used to live. Simply put, they’re a better way to tell your story. They can also showcase your campus in a broader way and provide your visitors with a more immersive experience.

Display Interactivity and Animation

Video isn’t the only captivating visual option. There are other active graphical elements that can be deployed to attract user attention. Animation, hover effects and pop-out navigation menus are just a few ways of signaling that your website is rich in user experience features. Slideshows and gallery views also engage your users and put them in the driver seat. Science says that we’re naturally attracted to motion. Be sure to pepper in movement into the pages of your higher ed site.

Voice Search

To stay relevant, you have to meet your audience where it is. And increasingly, search is being initiated by voice commands whispered/shouted/annoyingly yelled at a digital assistant of choice.

Get in front of this trend by optimizing your site content for voice search. To begin, check out this article from Search Engine Watch for ideas on how to isolate and analyze voice search data.

Beacon Knows Higher Ed Web Design

Need a little help applying these trends to your higher ed website? Beacon can help. Request a free website audit and let our team show you what’s possible.

29 01, 2019

Maintaining Content Focus on Your Higher Ed Site

By | 2019-05-03T13:54:57+00:00 January 29th, 2019|Categories: Higher Education, Web Development|Tags: , , , |

You’ve done it! Months of late nights and dedications to the design of the perfect higher ed website have culminated in a beautiful launch. It is all easy sailing from here, right? Well, maybe not.

Sure, your school’s new website is up and running. But, if your various content managers aren’t aligned in how they create, update, improve and retire the hundreds of pieces of content they are responsible for, things can spin out of control very quickly. It doesn’t take long for that beautiful, unifying design to get ruined. All it takes is a couple of content managers to do their own thing.

Content managers need a common set of instructions to work from. A clearly outlined, centralized content strategy will help them to stay on the same page. This will also ensure a consistent experience for users and a shared focus across the entire site.

Setting the Stage

So, how do you create a shared content strategy? If you haven’t yet, start by defining your organization-wide tone and voice. Next, set some content guidelines – word limits by page type, specific CTA usage for certain circumstances, image use directions, etc. You should also establish a school-wide content calendar and identify broad themes for specific parts of the year, or even month-by-month.

All of these tasks are best accomplished by the school’s marketing department – the marketing staff is the owner of the school brand, after all.

Be sure to disseminate the content guidelines and the content calendar to the content managers of the various departments. It may be worthwhile to hold a workshop to go over the guidelines and the publishing plans for the upcoming academic year. This will ensure that everybody creating your website content is moving to the same beat.

This doesn’t mean that your departments can’t pursue their own identities, voices and content ideas. They absolutely should. But departmental content guidelines should be subordinate to and not violate the organization-wide guidelines created by the marketing team.

Quality Content, On Deadline

Ok, we got everyone responsible for producing content on the same page. Now, how do we make sure that the content is produced on time and up to established quality standards?

What’s needed is a solid workflow and approval process. At Beacon, we like to lean on GatherContent to manage the content creation process. The cloud-based service has an intuitive CMS and easy-to-set-up workflows. A typical workflow may look something like this:

  1. First draft
  2. Primary review and feedback
  3. Editing/Revisions
  4. Approval
  5. Publishing
  6. Live on website

The above workflow is fairly simple. However, you may need to tailor your workflows for each department to account for how each separate team handles the writing and approval processes. You may need to add more steps to the process if the content has to pass through several people before being approved for publication. The workflow is where your departments can flex their individuality (not in the copy).

Workflows are great at moving content projects along. They’re also terrific at identifying bottle necks (who hasn’t had co-workers or directors who’ve hoarded content and held it hostage).

We recommend making your workflows accessible to all staff involved in content creation. This way, everyone is aware at all times where any piece of content is in the writing process. It should also encourage those reviewers who like to take their time to move the item along to the next step in the workflow.

Staying the Course

So, we have everyone on the same page and following the same rules and processes. What’s left?

Well, things move fast in higher ed. Your team of content managers will not stay static – turn over on college campuses is fairly high. You’ll need to assure that institutional knowledge is passed on when your people leave. While you can rely on the goodwill of your departing staff to train their replacements, the more prudent option is to simply provide regular trainings to your content team.

At minimum, schedule an annual review of your school’s content guidelines, workflows and content calendars. You may even want to do one every semester.

Beacon Knows Higher Ed Content

Are workflows and content guidelines a bit too intimidating? Don’t worry, we hear that a lot. Beacon experts are here to help. Give us a call and we’ll be glad to lend a hand.