7 08, 2019

Getting Your Freshman Class On Campus

By | 2019-08-08T07:05:15+00:00 August 7th, 2019|Categories: Digital Marketing, Higher Education, Web Development, Social Media|Tags: , , |

From a student’s perspective, picking the right college is getting more and more complicated. It might seem contradictory at a time when applying to schools is easier than ever. But, that reality is backed up by data.

A 2017 study noted that 35% of college freshmen apply to seven or more schools. That percentage more than doubled from just a decade ago. With more students applying to more schools in recent years, getting your freshman class on campus is becoming increasingly harder.

Today, college admissions officials can reasonably expect only 1 in 3 admitted applicants to actually enroll at their school. At the start of the century, that ratio was closer to 1 in 2. For higher ed marketers, who do so much to attract qualified applicants, it can be deflating watching their hard work walk out the proverbial door.

But, you can’t blame the students. Major life decisions are hard. Evaluating more options is just a smart way to make prudent choices.

What you can do is accept that the landscape has changed. Today, you might need to do a little, or a lot, more hand-holding to get your students into your classrooms.

How best to cut through the noise and make yourself be heard?

An integrated marketing campaign can be one of the better ways to maintain contact with your prospects between decision day and move-in day.

What is Integrated Marketing?

This is one of those terms that sounds more intimidating than it really is. Integrated marketing describes multi-channel campaigns aimed at specific audiences or the general public at large.

This isn’t a new concept. It’s just that, with the proliferation of new media – various social media platforms, YouTube, blogs, podcasts, etc – integrated marketing has gotten a bit more complicated and a degree more intense.

Before the rise of the internet, marketers just had to worry about matching content between print, TV and, maybe, radio. Today the media landscape is more complex, requiring more advanced tactics and strategies.

At it’s core, however, the concept is the same: reach audiences everywhere they are with a consistent, tailored message.

Why Integrated Marketing Works for Higher Ed 

Your target audience is a multi-tasking, online-savvy, info-hungry, anxious teenager. If you harbor hopes of capturing her attention, you need to keep a consistent brand presentation and message across multiple media channels.

More than that, you need to be there with pertinent content when she’s searching for answers or trying to quell her concerns. There are lots of questions and uncertainties that rising college freshmen have. If you can show her that, 1) you understand her concerns, and 2) have the answers she’s looking for, you’ll gain trust.

That trust is a big advantage when decision-making time arrives – whenever that is.

How to Get Students On Campus with Integrated Marketing

Let’s see how integrated marketing campaigns can help boost that admitted-to-enrolled ratio. Again, you’ll need a coordinated strategy encompassing your primary marketing channels (website, search, email) as well as the media platforms your target audience is known to use (social media, blogs, videos).

We’ll use a specific scenario to demonstrate how an integrated marketing campaign can work:

Emma has been accepted to your school, along with a few of your peer institutions. She’s undecided, but your school ranks in her top three. Emma is interested in studying natural sciences, and your school has top-tier Biology and Chemistry programs. She’s also on the shy side and worries about making friends and finding a comfort zone.

You can use the below channels to maintain contact with Emma and increase the odds of her picking your school.

Blog

Blogs are an excellent way of creating content for niche topics and categories. What topics might resonate with Emma?

A post from a chemistry major about a cool summer internship could entice a click. As could a student review of the chemistry department highlighting favorite faculty members and classes. Write-up of cutting-edge research by a faculty member may also stir interest.

Emma may also appreciate learning about your school’s on-campus environment. Posts describing a rich student life, including clubs and other student organizations, could paint a nice picture and allay her concern about finding groups to fit in with.

A post describing the challenges of being new to the campus and providing  suggestions for best ways to explore the school’s surroundings is also likely to hit home for Emma.

Social Media

Those blog ideas are all good and well. But, how will Emma find them?

This goes back to the importance of being where your target audience hangs out. And teenagers tend to spend a lot of time with social media.

Creating social media posts that link to your blog content is a no-brainer way to get in front of your prospective students. Just make sure the tone matches the content of the blog post.

Success here is having Emma click to follow your account, which would allow you to drip more content into her feed.

Paid Search Remarketing

So, let’s say Emma spotted one of your posts on Instagram and clicked on the accompanying blog on what to expect on campus. A good next step would be to remind her about important dates (housing registration, freshman orientation, class registration, etc).

This can be accomplished with PPC remarketing ad campaigns, which would be initiated by Emma’s view of the blog and include calls-to-action geared to registration.

Email Marketing

Another way to get your blog and other content in front of Emma is through email. The open-rate for email marketing campaigns tend to be low. Nonetheless, you’ll (hopefully) be sending important information through this channel in the future. So, it makes sense to initiate and keep contact via email.

If Emma does end up choosing your school, you can apply email campaigns to prompt her to register for orientation, classes, etc.

Texting

Another thing that teens do a lot? They text – those speedy little thumbs moving faster than the eye can see.

Text messages are another great way to remind Emma about important registration dates.

Website

All of your efforts in the above marketing channels should lead Emma back to your website. After all, that’s where conversions happen – all those registrations you hope Emma will complete.

Beacon Knows Higher Ed Websites

Want to make sure your website is ready to handle all that traffic from your integrated marketing campaigns? Beacon can help. Request a complimentary website audit from our team of experts.

24 07, 2019

Students Are Ripe Pickings for Web Content

By | 2019-07-24T09:22:21+00:00 July 24th, 2019|Categories: Digital Marketing, Higher Education|Tags: , , |

Have you ever seen the movie Big?

Definitely one of Tom Hanks’ best. If you don’t recall, it’s the one where he plays a 12 year-old boy – Josh Baskin – who makes a wish to be “big” and wakes up in the body of a 30 year-old man the next morning. Before he finds a way to turn back into a pre-teen, Josh has to navigate the world as an adult, including getting a job as a data entry clerk for a toy manufacturer. Hilarious antics ensue.

In the process, Josh lands a top executive post with the company he works for. How? He demonstrates an uncanny ability to correctly predict the market sentiment toward new toy products. Because he’s really a kid, and he actually plays with the toys the company designs, Josh is able to provide an accurate prediction of how much other kids would enjoy the same toys.

Josh’s insights move the needle because they come from the point of view of the company’s target demographic.

Can you guess why we’re dissecting this 80’s-ear movie like we’re the Harvard Business Review? If you’re thinking because it perfectly illustrates why colleges and universities should be looking to their own students more for compelling website content, give yourself a pat on the back.

Sometimes, the best marketing tactic is to let your real customers talk to your prospective customers. In the world of higher ed, that means having your current students speak to the prospects you hope to see as part of your next freshman class.

Let’s talk about how that can be best accomplished.

Academic Content

What do prospective students look for on your website?

Unsurprisingly, information about academic programs tops the list of factors high school seniors consider when adding a school to their short list. So, if your school’s program pages have thin content or are difficult to find, optimization efforts in these areas could yield some quick gains for your site.

But prospective students are not just looking into their curriculum choices and scoping out the faculty. Research indicates that they’re also looking for information about what graduates do when they hit the job market and how well the program prepares them for success in the real world. However, this information is rarely provided.

This is precisely where the voices of real students can carry the most weight. This 2016 article on InsideHigherEd makes an excellent case for current students and recent alumni to be featured on well-designed, easy to find pages dedicated to your school’s academic majors.

Student Spotlights

The best way to help prospective students see themselves on your campus is to introduce them to someone who is just like them, and who has only just recently been where they are. Student spotlights are a great way to accomplish that goal.

A couple of suggestions for these write-ups.

First, recognize that teens love video content. Incorporating a clip as part of the narrative, or using the medium as the primary mode of presentation, will be sure to engage the attention of page visitors.

Secondly, authenticity counts more than polish. This means, whenever possible, you should let the students speak for themselves. Have them write the spotlight piece in their own voice, or record a video using their own phone. Remember, prospective students identify better with their peers.

Social media posts 

Speaking of identifying with peers… when high school seniors want to know what’s really going on on your campus, they check social media. And, considering that one of the golden rules of marketing is to meet your audience where they are, the case for investing your time and efforts into developing your school’s social media presence is a good one.

A great way to demonstrate authenticity and gain a social media following for your school social media accounts is to involve your current students and alumni in creating your social media content.

Summer Internship Write-ups

This goes back to the importance of speaking to the needs that your audience has expressed. Rising college freshmen want to know as much as possible about the kinds of jobs they can expect to compete for after graduating from your program. First-hand accounts of summer internships with a prestigious company or organization can go a long way to paint a picture of what’s possible.

Beacon Knows Higher Ed Content

Could you use some help optimizing your higher ed site performance. Beacon’s content experts can help fine tune your content strategy. Request a free website audit to get started.

9 07, 2019

4 Ways to Leverage Your Faculty For Awesome Web Content

By | 2019-07-09T09:15:01+00:00 July 9th, 2019|Categories: Digital Marketing, Higher Education, SEO|Tags: , , , |

two people in conversationHave your friends or family members ever surprised you with great insight into a decision you were making or problem you were trying to solve? Maybe someone helped you with great advice on the best neighborhood for your home purchase or pushed you to chase the next challenge in your career.

It happens to me all the time. And, aside from maybe having to reluctantly relinquish the “know-it-all” crown to a friend or close relative, the results are almost always  positive.

Sometimes, the knowledge or resources you seek can be surprisingly close to you. That can definitely be the case if you’re struggling to find exciting, fresh content ideas for your higher ed website.

Keeping a college site appealing to a young, digitally fluent audience is challenging work. And, sometimes it’s easy to fall in the trap of pushing out glitzy, thin content that’s perhaps too tailor-made for social media shares.

But, catering to your prospective students doesn’t need to be kitschy or insincere. And you really don’t need influencers to be dropping your school’s name in order to communicate relevance.

Again, sometimes the things we need the most are right under our noses – we just have to know to look for them. For higher ed websites, that means not overlooking your faculty members as inspiration for, or sources of, awesome, interesting, engaging content.

Faculty… Great Content? Really!?

Really.

First, if you’re picturing a leather-patched sweater, glasses and wood pipe type droning on and on… you’re in the wrong century.

Today, college instructors (like college marketers) have to contend with the oh-so-short attention spans of their students, who are more equipped than ever to tune them out with the help of their personal devices. The good professors have mastered the art of keeping the teenage masses interested – at least long enough to get their message across.

Odds are, every university department features at least one legend professor. She – whose classes fill up within minutes of registration opening and lectures are observed with quiet awe – is out there.

Find her. Talk to her. Better yet, get her to talk to the audience you’re most responsible for – your next freshman class.

Four Types of Faculty-inspired Content 

Once you’ve found your star faculty members, you need to decide how to best tell their stories. There are several options available as your delivery vehicles. These can be written up by the faculty member himself, a writer you have on staff or even a student. The copy just has to tell an engaging narrative that captivates the attention of your target audience.

1. Travel Post

University professors travel. Some of them travel quite a bit. From academic conferences and research expeditions to sabbaticals, they get to experience lots of cool places and do many interesting things (and not always academic in nature, either).

Travel is inherently interesting. Write-ups featuring exotic or extraordinary locations and tales of adventure are bound to earn a bevy of clicks on your university blog or even homepage.

2. Research Write-up

This may seem like a boring proposition. Then again, there are lots of very interesting research areas that resonate with rising college freshmen interests: space exploration, new transportation technology, virtual reality, robotics, social sciences… the list is rather endless.

The trick with research write-ups/updates is to gear them to a lay audience and leave out the technical jargon. This may require the skills of an experienced writer.

3. Opinion 

Using their academic training and expertise, university professors are able to provide fact-based perspectives on many issues captured in today’s headlines. In fact, major media organizations solicit such observations from respected sources. Though opinion pieces can at times be perceived as somewhat controversial, they are a great method for correcting misconceptions held by the public at large or misrepresentations of reported information.

Publishing opinion articles by your faculty members can signal to prospective students that your school stays on the cutting edge of public interests. And, of course, they also boost the reputation of the academic.

4. Spotlight

Faculty spotlights are an excellent way to communicate the strength of a particular academic department, recognize the contribution or achievements of a rising star academician and/or bring to life instructors with an outsized reputation. Spotlights should not be treated as career sum-ups – or worse, obituaries. Care should be given to presenting a narrative that will resonate with a wide range of audiences.

Beacon Knows Higher Ed Content

Need some help planning and managing your school’s website content? Let Beacon’s experienced content strategists help. Request a complimentary website audit today.

25 06, 2019

Higher Ed Content Analysis: Stay Current with Recruitment

By | 2019-06-25T15:11:39+00:00 June 25th, 2019|Categories: Digital Marketing, Higher Education, SEO|Tags: , , |

“The early bird gets the worm.”  – English proverb

The battle for higher ed students starts early. If you harbor hopes of success for the upcoming recruiting year, the summer months are the best time to fine-tune your game plan.

For higher ed staff tasked with maintaining your school’s website, that means assessing how well your website content is geared to your most important audience – your prospective students.

As with anything else, you have to know what you’re doing well and where a little tinkering could improve the final product. Below, we’ll take a look at the different kinds of content required to meet the needs of you prospective students, and how to decide if a particular page or section deserves to remain on your school’s site.

graphic of man looking at paper with sad, happy and neutral faces

Great Content for Recruiting

Before you can tailor content to any audience, you have to know the  motivations and interests of its members. Luckily, there’s lots of good information out there with respect to how prospective college students make decisions.

A 2017 Survey of Admitted Students by consulting company Eduventures, for example, assessed the responses of more than 90,000 college-bound high school students nationwide. The study found that over 70% of respondents cited at least one of these six factors in their final decision-making process:

  • Feeling of fit
  • Academic quality and reputation
  • Availability of desired program
  • Affordability
  • Cost of attending
  • Job opportunities for graduates

A successful higher ed site incorporates these interest points into the user experience of prospective students. Of course, these are just the broad strokes, best used as guidelines to structuring prospective student user journeys. That said, be sure to identify the pages that do not speak to any of the above interest areas. These pages are sure to require your attention.

In addition to answering common questions that your prospects have about your school, your website also has to be engaging. Great sites provide rich graphics, captive page elements and well-positioned and articulate calls-to-actions.

A key part of your assessment will be determining if current page elements and features do enough to drive interaction and goal completion.

What else is needed for great recruiting content?

Considering that attending a college is often a family decision and that the financial responsibilities typically fall on parents, you may consider adding, expanding or updating a section of your site devoted to the families of your prospective students.

The end goal is to increase application submissions. Winning over the parents can go a long way to helping you reach that goal.

Five star rating on a tabletContent That’s Working

So, how do you identify what content works?

In a post earlier this month, we explored key website user engagement metrics in the Google Analytics platform. An analysis of user data for the pages aimed at your prospective students will tell you how well they’re performing.

In a January blog post, we also discussed how a content audit can help optimize the performance of your higher ed site. Conducting regular audits will help you identify the pages that are regularly hitting their marks. A content audit can also help you zero in on information that your users want but are not getting on your site.

These insights reveal the traits that move the needle for your users and guide content development efforts in the future.

What to Do With Content That Isn’t Working

Ok. So, we’ve found the content that works. We’ve even identified content holes we might have that need to be filled with new copy. But, what do we do with the pages that don’t perform to expectation?

It really comes down to whether a given page maintains the potential to meet your recruitment-oriented needs, or whether the page’s intended purpose no longer provides any strategic value.

Signs for "waste" and "recycling"Ultimately, pages that no longer serve a purpose should be relegated to the archives. On the other hand, a page that corresponds to a prospective student interest but is lagging on key engagement metrics should be analyzed further.

There are many reasons why good content fails to perform. It’s helpful to combine GA data with a practical look at how users are intended to reach and interact with the page.

Is the copy too far down the page, past the point where most users scroll? Are there clear CTAs leading to the page from content in earlier stages of the user journey? Is the page ranking in search results?

If you find that you haven’t done everything to set the page up for success, corrective measures could still be applied to rescue the page. That’s an important finding – one that can save content and web development costs. Identify the fixes that could improve the page and note them in your content inventory database for implementation in the following stage.

Beacon Knows Content Strategy

Need some help with your content audit? Beacon is here for you. Our team of content gurus is ready to assist with your content strategy. Request a complimentary audit today.

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.

19 04, 2019

Attracting Prospects: 7 Traffic Metrics for Higher Ed Sites

By | 2019-06-06T09:07:57+00:00 April 19th, 2019|Categories: Digital Marketing, Higher Education|Tags: , , |

Editorial Note: Please enjoy this guest blog post from our partners at OmniUpdate. 

If you’re a marketing professional in the field of higher education, you already know how important your institution’s website is in terms of attracting prospective students. This audience is an important, if not the most important, segment of your website’s traffic.

Measuring your site’s traffic can be an intimidating task. But it’s not just traffic that you have to keep in mind—there are multiple ways to look at the visitors your website receives. To help you learn more about your prospective students, attract them to your site, and convert them into applicants, we’ve compiled a list of the seven most important traffic metrics to consider:

  1. Average time spent on site
  2. Bounce rate
  3. New visitors vs. old visitors
  4. Landing page rates
  5. Source information
  6. Geographic information
  7. Conversion rates

When you consider your traffic data in tandem with these other metrics, you’ll find yourself with a better understanding of your prospective students’ online experience. These insights can help you improve that experience, which will in turn improve your conversion rate. Let’s dive in.

1. Average Time Spent on Site

The first metric to consider is the average time spent on your site, or the length of a visitor’s stay on your site. When someone comes to your site, you want them to be immediately engaged with the content.

Average time gives you a better understanding of the quality of your page because it indicates how long a visitor is willing to interact with the content on that page. If you’re not sure that your site is attracting your target audience, consider revamping your SEO strategy with some easy best practices.

2. Bounce rate

The bounce rate of your website, or of individual pages, indicates the percentage of visitors that visit that page and then leave your website without looking at any other pages.

A high bounce rate indicates that your page is not providing what the visitor is looking for. However, when combined with a long time spent on the site, it indicates that visitors aren’t finding the right calls to action to navigate to other resources, like your lead capture pages.

While this also isn’t the ideal scenario, it just means that you need to provide more opportunities to stay on your site.

3. New visitors vs. old visitors

Not all website traffic is the same—it’s valuable to know if your website is drawing visitors back again.

A high percentage of new visitors means that your site is drawing in interested people, but that they’re not interested enough to return after that first visit. A high percentage of old visitors means that your website is doing a good job of providing value to prospective students, but it’s not as effective in reaching new audiences.

Aim to create a healthy balance between new and old visitors.

4. Landing page rates

A landing page is the first page on your site that a visitor sees. It’s important to track your top landing pages because they’re your best chance to make a good first impression on a prospective student.

If you know that your most popular landing page is your homepage, make sure that you check the bounce rate to ensure that you’re retaining your visitors. If your most popular landing page is a departmental homepage or admission FAQ page, make sure that they’re the best representatives of your institution.

5. Source information

Knowing where your visitors are coming from is as important as knowing what they do on your site once they arrive. Common sources include email, social media, organic search (like Google or Bing) and direct, which means they typed your website’s URL into the address bar.

Source information can tell you a lot, like where your marketing campaigns are paying off or how your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts are performing. If you find that certain sources aren’t driving traffic to your site, it’s time to head back to the drawing board.

6. Geographic information

Understanding where your site visitors are located geographically is a valuable insight, especially during application season. Whether you’re looking to increase your population of international students or searching for more out-of-state applicants, you should measure where your traffic is coming from, geographically.

If you find that a lot of your traffic is coming from other states, but your information pages for prospective out-of-state students aren’t getting many visitors, it’s time to make those links more prominent or improve your SEO strategy for those keywords.

7. Conversion rates

This metric is crucial for higher ed institutions. Your conversion rate measures what percentage of site visitors actually hit that “Apply Now!” button. The primary goal of your website is to attract prospective students, so this is the most important metric for making sure that you’re achieving that goal.

Measuring your conversion rate can help show you where your site excels and determine where your engagement strategies can be improved, especially when analyzed in conjunction with landing pages and time on site.

Be Inspired 

Understanding your college or university website’s metrics gives you solid data to reference when creating future content and will help you make your website the best it can be.

To be inspired by some of the best college websites, check out this list from OmniUpdate.

About the Guest Author: 

Court Campion is director of marketing at OmniUpdate, creator of award-winning OU Campus®, the most popular commercial content management system (CMS) for higher education professionals. Check out the OmniUpdate blog for more information about university and college website redesign, accessibility, student engagement, and other topics of interest to higher ed marketers, developers, and administrators.

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.

15 01, 2019

Could Your Higher Ed Website Stand to Lose Some Weight?

By | 2019-01-29T08:52:20+00:00 January 15th, 2019|Categories: Digital Marketing, Google Analytics, Higher Education, SEO|Tags: , , , |

Happy New Year, everyone! How are you doing with your resolutions?

Ok, ok… put down the pitchforks. This is a safe space.

Every year, as the calendar turns, Americans rush to empower themselves to do those things that we find difficult. One of the most popular resolutions, year after year, is the commitment to get in shape. Come January, gyms swell with new members, even if the new recruits only stick around through March.

January seems to be THE months to shed those extra pounds that have accumulated throughout the previous 11. But, as we’re all collectively and diligently keeping our minds on our waistlines, I thought I’d shift our focus just a tad… to overweight websites.

Did you know that your higher ed website is also prone to unhealthy weight gain? It’s true.

The digital “weight” is the content that your website hosts. Your site can’t function without content, just like a human body cannot survive without food. But, too much content, wrong content or old content can prove to be counterproductive to the goal of maintaining a vibrant, inviting and healthy website.

Thankfully, keeping your site in peak digital condition does not require a gym membership. What you will need, however, is a good model of what you want your site to be, an objective analysis of your current site as is, and a plan of action to get you to your goals.

Step One: Define Good Content

What is good content? That’s not a philosophical or a rhetorical question. It has a real answer. It’s just that that answer can be complicated and completely unique to your site.

When they choose to pay attention, people learn through personal experiences which foods work best for fueling their bodies. You may notice an extra energy in the mornings whenever you add fruit to your breakfast cereal. Or, you might feel more creative and productive in your afternoon meetings after you have a healthy smoothie for lunch, instead of the generic burger value meal.

But, what works for you, may not work for someone else.

Same with your website content. Content that performs well on another website may not deliver the same results on your site. You can’t replace those learning experiences that define what “good” is for you.

Define good content by identifying the goals that you are trying to accomplish. Is it to improve engagement? Are you trying to share knowledge? Increase conversion? Describe the ideal attributes of content for each goal.

Then, compile a short list of your top-performing content and analyze what makes those pieces work. What value does a particular page provide to your target audience? What needs are being met? Is anything relevant being left out?

At the end of this process, you’ll have a fairly good working concept of “good content” for your site.

Step Two: Audit Your Content

Once you decide what good content is, you can evaluate your site for what you’re missing, what you have too much of, and what is no longer needed. Dig in and become an expert on your website content.

Begin with a content inventory to identify all the pieces of content currently live on your site. This will help you break down your content into different categories.  At Beacon, we like Screaming Frog for these types of audits.

Once you have your list, you can segment your content any number of ways: content type (blog, landing page, toaster message), format (text, video, pic), user journey stages (awareness, consideration, conversion), etc. Include as much information and data – metadata (meta descriptions, title tags), content length, social shares, posting date, etc – as possible.

Next, add performance data for each piece of content. Google Analytics can help you identify the pages and content that attract the most visitors and drive engagement.

And finally, assess each piece of content by the goals you established. Focus your attention on content that does not accomplish any goals and leave the content that already meets your criteria alone. Once this is complete, you’ll need to decide what to do with each piece of content individually.

Step Three: Prune Your Content

This is where some of your content will meet its end.

After you’ve split out the good content from the bad, you’ll need to evaluate whether the sub-optimal content is worthy of efforts to update and improve it. Keep in mind that not all of your content can or should be salvaged.

That said, many pieces of content can be improved or re-purposed. Just because a page is not attracting a lot of visitors or driving goal completions doesn’t make it useless. A new angle, better keywords or a more sophisticated use of keywords, improved structure or a more optimized CTA can all rescue copy from the digital waste bin.

The resources and bandwidth that you have at your disposal will affect what can and should be salvaged. You may only have the ability to work on a limited number of pages. Make an action plan to improve the content with the most potential to meet your website goals.

The remaining pieces of content are the excess fat that should be trimmed.

Beacon Knows Content Strategy

Pruning your website content can be a big job. Beacon can help. Our content experts can provide valuable advice and help you come up with a strategic plan of action. Give us a call.

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