19 09, 2019

Higher Ed Recruitment 101

By | 2019-09-18T09:41:55+00:00 September 19th, 2019|Categories: Digital Marketing, Higher Education, SEO, Social Media|Tags: , , |

Ah, September… for those of us tired of sweating through the sweltering summer heat, this month offers a welcomed respite. It’s not quite sweater weather in much of the continental U.S., but, it’s certainly getting easier to keep your shirt perspiration-free… save for those Saturday tailgates, of course.

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For higher ed marketers, with the latest freshman class securely on campus, September brings a focus on recruiting the next set of prospective students. A new start is always nice. But, for those of you who feel that the task of recruiting is getting harder each year – you’re not imagining things.

According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, enrollment at American colleges and universities has declined for the eighth year in a row. This past spring saw 300,000 – or, 1.7% – less new students on U.S. campuses than the year before. The losses were even more steep the previous year.

Clearly, the competition – driven by a diminishing pool of prospects – is getting more intense. How successfully your school responds to the downshift in demand for higher education will undoubtedly influence the long-term health of your institution.

So, how can you stem the receding enrollment tide? Today, more than ever, you have to stay in front of your prospective students as much as possible in order to remain relevant throughout their decision-making process. Not only that, you have to foster positive personal connections through memorable and fun experiences.

It’s a buyer’s market out there. And, you’ve got to act like it if you are to keep your enrollment numbers up. The best way to do that is with great content marketing execution and imaginative, out-of-the-box recruiting events.

Effective Higher Ed Content Marketing

Not only are enrollment trends changing, students are changing, too. Our previous post described some of the different ways that the current generation of students – Generation Z – interacts with various forms of media. One of the most important takeaways from the piece is the need to be active across the social media landscape (not just one or two platforms) – because that’s how teens today find, and are exposed to, information.

Let’s extend that principle a bit further. Not only is a proactive content game a must, it has to be at peak form for all four quarters (pardon all the football references). What does that mean?

It means that you’ve got to be there from the start of your targets’ school selection process to the very end. You have to be there to answer questions (simple and complex), allay the myriad concerns that high schools students harbor and communicate compelling reasons why your school is the best for their specific interests. All this will help create a lasting connection between your school brand and your audience.

If your content consistently shows up when prospective students are looking into their school options or researching the college experience, you’ll stand a much better chance of winning their confidence, trust and, ultimately, a completed application.

If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, you might have noticed a number of posts this summer describing the various aspects of content creation and management. They’re a great start to formulating your content marketing plan.

Great Content Should Lead to Great Recruiting Events 

A detailed, well-researched and tailored content marketing plan is a must. But, you can’t rely on just content to close the deal. A personal connection is often needed to reinforce the positive attitude you’ve hopefully fostered via your content outreach. That connection is easier to make when you’re able to get your prospective students on campus for some face-to-face interactions.

Content will get them there, showing them value and a good time will get them to enroll. But, remember, your target audience’s expectations are pretty high. So, you’ll need to pull some new tricks out of the bag in order to impress.

Here are a few recruiting event ideas to help:

Unique Campus Tours

I can hear it now… “A campus tour is pretty much standard.” And, of course, you’re right. But that doesn’t mean that your school’s campus tour should be just like every other school’s. Hence, the emphasis on “unique.”

There are lots of ways to make strolling through a campus fun. For one, you can forgo strolling and replace it with a cooler mode of transportation. An electric scooter or a hover board tour sounds like a lot more fun than walking.

And, you don’t always have to go high-tech or futuristic. Sometimes legacy tech, like horses, can create novel experiences. If your campus can easily accommodate it, a horseback tour of your college or university might be THE highlight of a campus visit.

Additional ideas: bikes, golf carts, roller skates.

Take Advantage of the Surrounding Community

If there’s cool stuff going on around your campus, get in on it. Parades, fairs, street/block parties, concerts, barbecue competitions… find out what’s happening on the local scene and take your prospects there. Showing them a bit of the off-campus community will make them feel more familiar with the area and give them confidence that they’ll be able to traverse their new surroundings.

Shadow a Student Ambassador

You can tell them all about your campus. Or, you can help your prospective students experience a day in the life of an enrolled student. Recruit a few freshmen or sophomores who live on-campus, pair them with visiting students and let them hang out together for 24 hours.

This would require some matching work – pairing students from the same high school or town, for example. And, it’d be best if the prospect could experience the classroom portion of the campus experience.

Sporting Events 

College sporting events are like nothing else. There’s no way to not feel school spirit when you’re in the midst of the student section during a football or basketball game. You can bet it’s an experience your prospective student won’t soon forget.

Just keep in mind, whether it’s horseback rides or hoopin’, the goal isn’t the novelty – it’s to foster a real connection between your prospective students and your campus community.

Beacon Knows Higher Ed Content

Is your content marketing plan driving the results you need? If you’re not sure, Beacon’s content strategists can help. Request a complimentary website audit today.

5 09, 2019

Changing the Game for Gen Z in the Age of Tech

By | 2019-09-10T07:59:38+00:00 September 5th, 2019|Categories: Digital Marketing, Higher Education, Social Media|Tags: , , |

As your flagship marketing instrument, one of the primary roles of your higher ed website is to attract applicants to your school. How well it’s able to do so depends on how appealing your site is to your target audience – high school juniors and seniors.

In order to draw in qualified prospects, you have to first understand your audience – or, at least their online behaviors. Today’s high school students are part of a generation that grew up using the internet from a very young age. Their relationship to technology can be completely different from older groups.

This cohort – sometimes referred to as Generation Z, or Gen Z – is similar to the Millennial generation. But, whereas Millennials came of age just as internet culture began hitting its stride, Gen Zers have never experienced a world without smart devices or social media.

That difference, while seemingly negligible, does create an entirely distinct persona. So, what separates Gen Zers from Millennials and other generations? A report from Vision Critical, a Canadian market research firm, sheds some light on a few Gen Z traits.

Here are a few insightful tidbits on Generation Z to ponder:

  • They prefer their smartphones to any other device and consume the least amount of TV content compared with other generations
  • They appreciate creative and edgy content and don’t always respond well to traditional marketing
  • They like videos
  • They’re extremely tech-savvy
  • They identify as DIYers, activists and agents of change

What does this information say about your primary audience?

For starters, that marketing campaigns targeting Gen Z have to be not only mobile-friendly, but mobile-first. That you’ll need to be active on several social media platforms, and it’d help if you promote an altruistic message. And, finally, that you should prioritize video content.

Let’s talk about how to apply these insights to your higher ed site.

Lean Into Edgy via Social Media and Blogs

You have to meet your audience where they are – that’s the golden rule of marketing. That means you have to get comfortable with all those social media platforms, especially ones that feature video content. More than comfortable, you’ll need to be fluent in social media-speak.

Embrace the Meme Culture

Memes correspond to the Gen Z preference for creativity, comic relief and edginess. They’ve also evolved into a powerful cultural force. Whatever it is you’re selling – whether a college education or a toothbrush – if you attach a topic-appropriate meme to your product, you’ll increase the odds of your marketing campaign going viral. (Just think of Cheryl’s She Shed in that State Farm commercial.)

But meme culture doesn’t just extend to posts on social media – it’s really more of a mindset. As such, it can be extended to other marketing channels, including blogs.

The low hanging fruit here is including or creating a suitable meme in a blog post. This would also add a critical visual element.

Be Everywhere…

… on social media. Gen Zers have their favorite platforms – YouTube, Facebook, Instagram – and they’re active across numerous social media sites, especially ones featuring video content. If they’re there, that means you’ve got to be there, too. And, you’ve got to be there with content that’s fresh, cool, funny and shareable. So, go ahead and start practicing producing those short-form videos.

Be Responsive

One thing many higher ed marketers forget is that social media platforms are two-way communication channels. Posting your curated content is just one half of the equation here.

If you’re going to spend time and energy beefing up your social media game, you’ve got to play it right. That means engaging with the users who comment on your posts. Don’t, don’t, DON’T forget this vital aspect of your social media efforts.

Bells and Whistles for Your Website

It should go without saying that all your social media efforts should lead back to your blog or website. But, when they get there, will your prospects stick around long enough to be compelled into setting up a campus visit or starting an application?

You can increase your conversion odds by including elements that resonate with Gen Zers.

Video Content

If they like video, give ’em video. Instead of a static image in your impact area, load it up with two or three short, action-packed videos that introduce your school in a visually compelling way. Maybe do that for all the important landing pages even.

Don’t stop there. Figuring out what student life is actually like on campus is notoriously difficult for prospective students. But, guess what? Getting a feel for a school is easier when you can see actual students doing real things on campus.

Make videos for all your on-campus housing options and be sure to feature real students. Create a bank of student testimonials to rotate on your Admissions pages. Better yet, harness your own students’ love of sharing by soliciting and posting their videos of campus events.

Make Social Visible

Since you’re going to be working crazy hard on all those social media platforms, be sure that all those awesome posts – and, more importantly, user comments – are highly visible on your website.

It’s not enough to just put up logos of the social media platforms where you have an active account. Incorporate a social media feed into as many of your pages as possible.

One way to signal your social media savvy is by including a social media panel on your homepage.

Personalization

We’ve covered the benefits of personalization in a previous post. One of the biggest benefits of personalized content is that it makes the user feel like you’ve created an experience just for them.

That’s an extremely powerful feeling, and something that Gen Zers are sure to appreciate. A personalized experience is sure to win some brownie points.

Virtual Tours

You can’t always get your prospects on campus for an in-person visit. But you can still make sure that every visitor “walks” the grounds and sees the best of what your school has to offer. This can be accomplished with a virtual tour that features real videos of various locations on your campus.

Just be sure to not skimp on this virtual experience. Gen Zers will absolutely ding you for bad execution.

Beacon Knows Higher Ed

Want to know if your website is meeting the needs of your future students? Beacon can help. Request a complimentary website audit by our digital marketing experts.

27 08, 2019

Taking Your Higher Ed Site International

By | 2019-08-27T12:20:32+00:00 August 27th, 2019|Categories: Digital Marketing, Higher Education|Tags: , , |

The U.S. is home to the largest population of international students in the world. And, up until recently, the number of new international students arriving on U.S. college campuses each year has been climbing higher. However, it appears that the trend might be over.

According to the 2017 Open Doors report from the Institute of International Education (IIE), new international student enrollment in US was down 3.3% in Fall 2016. That drop was followed by a steeper 6.9% decline the following year (Fall 2017).

The most recent Open Doors report (2018) confirms that this is not just a blip:

“new student enrollments fell by 6.6 percent in 2017/18, corroborating findings from the 2017 fall enrollment survey and continuing a slowing or downward trend first observed in the 2015/16 academic year.”

What’s the reason for the reversal?

Analysis by the Migration Policy Institute attributes the decline noted in the 2017 fall enrollment survey to a number of factors, including: visa denials and delays, increasing cost of higher education in the U.S., an uncertain social and political climate, and concerns about securing a job after graduation.

That’s a lot of head wind. Add in concerted efforts by schools in other countries to increase their share of international students, and it’s easy to see that American schools are going to have to work harder to retain their international prospects.

So, what can your school do to better your odds of winning over students from other countries? Glad you asked.

3 Ways to Win Over International Students

As with any audience you are hoping to win over, you need a well-crafted, tailored marketing approach based on the identified needs of your audience members. So, what do international college students look for while skimming your higher ed website?

To begin with, they want to feel welcome and wanted on your campus. They’ll also benefit from an easy-to-follow, step-by-step application process that takes into account all the complexities of international education and travel. Last, but definitely not least, your prospective international students will want to know that there is a campus or nearby community that can give them a taste of home when they’re feeling homesick.

Personalize For Country/Region

Want to convince students from India, Saudi Arabia, China, Brazil or anywhere else that your school is the one for them? A dedicated landing page for native students of each country or region could help you make your case.

Optimally, you’d want an optimized landing page for every country or region that sends a considerable number of students to your school. But, if you’re just getting going, start with your largest, most important international market.

Here are the most important elements you should consider in your page design:

Language  to really make your international prospects feel welcomed and wanted, it’s helpful to be able to speak to them in their language. As such, your optimized country/region page should be written in the native language of the targeted location. You may want to consult with or hire a native speaker to make sure that your page content is written in the vernacular and targeted for the appropriate demographic group.

Student testimonials – students trust their peers, at least more so than other groups. Hearing another international student, who has been through the same process, address common concerns can help prove that your school is dedicated to serving the needs of international students.

Infographics – sometimes numbers can tell a story easier or better than words. If your school has historically drawn a lot of international students from a particular country, make that a point of emphasis and present it in a visually appealing way. Matching great visual design with pertinent data points can help you enhance your pitch.

Videos – ultimately, you want your international prospects to picture themselves on your campus. So, don’t wait for them to find your campus tour videos – feature them prominently on your optimized country/region pages. Just be sure to have the narration translated to the appropriate language(s).

Make Getting to Campus Easy

After you’ve convinced your prospects that your school is right for them, you’ll want to help them with the application, acceptance and enrollment processes. Provide links to the appropriate content from your optimized landing page. If you have the resources, translate these important applications and instructions into students’ native languages. At the very least, provide a clear, step-by-step overview of the application process in the native language.

Providing information about student visas is another way to help your international students and their families. Immigration paperwork can be confusing. Having a clear set of instructions in a language they can understand can go a long way to clearing up concern and answering important questions.

You’ll also want to make sure that your international prospects feel secure about travelling to and from your campus. Make sure to include information about international airports near your school. You can even go as far as providing recommended airlines, routes of travel, etc..

Make Them Feel At Home

After getting in and getting there, fitting in is the next big concern for students coming from different cultures. You’ll want to make sure that you have good content to address these important deliberations. The aim of this content should be two-fold: 1) to assure your international prospects that they’ll be able to easily transition to life on campus, and 2) that a small taste of home is always readily available.

Information about the following topics can help:

International housing – the first dip into American culture can definitely be a bit of a shock. Navigating this unfamiliar territory can be easier with a buddy or a roommate who is going through the same thing. If your school offers special housing for international students, be sure to present them with the option.

Study abroad programs/students – students preparing for a study abroad experience and international students from the host country make for natural match. International students can teach the American students all about their culture, and the American kids can return the favor by helping international students navigate their new surroundings.

Expat communities – when you’re far from home, it can be reassuring to know that even a small taste of your culture is available nearby. Let your international students know if an expatriate community from their home country exists in proximity to your campus. Even better, invite the expat community to your campus for an event celebrating your new-arriving international students.

Beacon Knows Higher Ed Websites

Want to make sure internationally optimized pages are doing as well as possible? Let Beacon’s team of experts take a look. Request a complimentary higher ed website audit today.

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.

29 05, 2019

What to Expect When Expecting a Website

By | 2019-05-29T07:29:33+00:00 May 29th, 2019|Categories: Higher Education, Web Development|Tags: , , , |

Is your institution thinking about a redesign? Perhaps it is time for a new look and feel, or maybe you are trying to attract more prospective students. With a busy academic schedule, it can seem daunting to tackle a redesign. However, with some planning and a little help from Beacon your redesign can become a reality.

To help you tackle your project, we enlisted the help of Christy Dunman, Beacon’s Director of Project Management. Christy knows a thing or two about getting a job done. She has led thousands of projects and helped several higher education clients meet their redesign goals. She has shared a few key items to help make your site redesign process go smoothly.

Identify Your Goals 

First and foremost, setting goals for your redesign is the most important step in the process. Identifying the goals for your redesign is a key element to the success of your project. What is the purpose for your redesign? Who is you target audience? How will you measure success? Understanding these items will help define your project.

Goals set the tone and expectations for what will transpire over the next few months. These goals also help outside teams, like Beacon, understand what you want to accomplish. We use this guidance to help you create a plan of action to get your site where it needs to be. Establishing clear, attainable goals, will create an impactful and focused site redesign.

Pick an Internal Team

When creating your internal team, stakeholders, department heads and IT staff are common choices. Their responsibilities will include anything from content creation to design feedback and approvals. This team will help keep an eye on progress in their respective areas and ensure deliverables are received on schedule. In some cases, having more than one team may be helpful depending on the scope of your redesign.

There is no right or wrong way to put your team together. Defining a team, or teams, will be unique to your institution and project needs. Regardless of team size, remember to clearly communicate project goals and expectations to everyone.

Develop A Plan

The internal project plan will be one of your most valued resources. Its purpose is to set clear expectations for project deliverables and due dates. While planning, identify who the major decision makers are for each stage of the project. This maybe one person or it could be a committee who will sign off on designs, content, and testing. Make sure to plan in enough time for the approval process and edits. Keep in mind that deliverables from one team are often dependent on items from another.

Speaking of requested deliverables, we want to stop here and note that content is key to a redesign. Content is the biggest obstacle in the redesign process, and it is easy to underestimate how much time it will take. Do not save it for last. Start creating, organizing and updating content as early as possible.

Status Meetings

Now that you have your site redesign planned out, be sure to communicate this plan out to your team. Status meetings are the perfect way to do this. Meeting with your team regularly lets you touch base, gauge progress and address any questions. The length and frequency of your meetings depend on your project and your team.

For Beacon, we meet with our clients once a week and we encourage them to do the same with their teams.

And Don’t Forget to Celebrate

Seriously, we mean it. Don’t wait until launch day to pat yourselves on the back. Celebrate milestones like content hand off and design approvals throughout the process. You don’t have to have a blowout party just focus on acknowledging everyone’s contributions.

The Beacon team not only celebrates internally, we share successes with our clients as well. It is important that our clients know how important their contributions are and what they did well. It builds confidence and it feels good to be recognized for a job well done.

Beacon Knows Higher Ed Project Management

Upcoming project more than your team can handle? Let Beacon help. From conception to hosting, Beacon’s got the mother lode of higher ed web dev components. Reach out today and let us know how we can help.

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.

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