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.

4 04, 2019

Get More Students On Campus with Tailored Homepage Content

By | 2019-04-04T12:38:52+00:00 April 4th, 2019|Categories: Google Analytics, Higher Education, Creative Design|Tags: , , , , |

Spring is a popular time for campus visits. In April, campuses everywhere swell with high school upperclassmen, parents in tow, taking part in information sessions and embarking on campus tours. It’s an exciting time, filled with intrigue and possibilities.

A successful spring campus visit season is a result of much hard work, coordination and planning, especially by your school’s admission staff. As the flagship marketing asset, however, your higher ed site also has a lot to do with getting prospective students on-campus.

In the months prior, students and their families scour college websites, looking for insights into a multitude of different campuses. A user experience geared specifically to a prospective student’s interests can go a long way in helping your school stand out from the crowd.

Imagine a prospective student logging on to your homepage and being welcomed by a greeting featuring her first name. Or, an international prospect seeing a welcome image matching his time of day six time zones away.

Personalization is a powerful marketing force. But, tailoring your homepage experience for multiple audience groups can seem like a bit of a daunting proposition.

With a bit of strategic analysis and creative brainstorming, however, the process loses its mystery. All it takes to create an effective personalized web experience is applying what you learn about your audience groups to a slightly more sophisticated tracking setup. After that, you’ll need to teach your website when to fire up the right web experience for the right type of visitor.

Step 1: Identify Your Prospective Student Groups

In order to create a personalized experience, you’ll first need to identify your audience groups. Your admission staff can provide initial guidance on which major prospective student groups exist within your school’s typical applicant pool. Odds are, your school will have one or more of the following prospect groups: high school, international, transfer and graduate.

As the content expert on your school’s website, you’ll then need to identify which collection of pages each distinct prospect group is most likely to frequent. While all prospective students are likely to access admissions and financial aid information, international students, for example, may also visit pages with information about student visas. Transfer students, on the other hand, are likely to be interested in credit transfers.

Identifying the distinct mix of pages for each group is a key part of the process. The wrong step here can lead to confusion on the part of the end-user – or worse, a complete loss of interest. It’s helpful to engage several people in the brainstorming and examine user journeys and needs from as many angles as possible to get the full picture.

Step 2: Segment & Analyze Your Prospective Student Groups

Once the target pages are defined you’ll be able to do two things: 1) analyze historical data for further insights into each group (thru Google Analytics segments), and 2) set up tracking to segment incoming visitors for future analysis (via Google Tag Manager custom dimensions).

Make use of the historical data to confirm the assumptions you may have made about each group earlier in the process. You may also discover additional interests that may not have been obvious before.

Make note of trends in the data, such as geographical location, what other platforms or websites users are coming from and even type of device being used. Details like these will help you further determine what type of content will meet the needs of each group. Use this information to guide the design and creation of each personalized homepage.

Setting up the custom dimensions in Google Tag Manager is what will enable the cueing of the right personalized homepage to the appropriate prospect group.

Step 3: Build Custom Experience for Each Prospect Group

You’ve identified your prospect groups and learned the distinct needs and expectations of each. All that’s left is designing the actual personalized content.

Start small. Custom greetings and introductory text are among the easiest to customize. Once you have put those pieces in place, you can customize by the interests identified in the earlier stages.

High School Prospects 

Give this group lots of student life shots and direct access to on-campus happenings. This is the audience that wants to see that award-winning sunset over the stadium, or the spring festival on the main lawn. Links to a frequently asked questions page and information on housing and majors are also likely to be of importance.

Often, parents or other family members will also be searching with this group. This demographic might be interested in information on cost, class size and selection, campus safety, etc. You might consider adding a panel just geared to this audience on the high school prospect homepage. If this audience segment is large enough, it may warrant its own personalized page.

International Students

These students have a longer journey to campus. In many cases, there are also new language and cultural elements to get used to. This group may need to feel reassured that your school is worth the challenges. These visitors are likely to appreciate content that makes them feel welcome, secure and a part of the campus community.

You may want to feature images of other international students and multi-cultural events on campus. Information about various international communities that may be active in the area will let international prospects know that they are not far from a taste of home.

This group may also be looking for international student visa information, or any special international housing opportunities.

Transfer Students

Transfer students have already been in the college system. They are goal-oriented and in search of a better academic experience than where they came from. This group may be the most primed for a deep dive into the academic choices your school offers.

Greet them with classroom shots, or images of student creations and accomplishments. They are also likely to appreciate quick access to academic programs, transfer and degree requirements, post-graduate employment opportunities and accommodations.

You may also want to add links to extracurricular activities – social, physical and academic – to showcase ways they can get involved on their new campus.

Beacon Knows Custom Audiences

Need help segmenting and tracking your high-value audiences in Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager? Beacon can help. Give us a call, we’ll be glad to talk through your questions.

14 02, 2019

10 Things They Hate About Your Higher Ed Site

By | 2019-05-03T13:39:33+00:00 February 14th, 2019|Categories: Higher Education, Web Development|Tags: , , , |

Happy Valentine’s Day from all of us at Beacon! Many of us relish this day as an opportunity to express and share our appreciation with our partners and loved ones. We hope today is all about love for you, too.

But not all of us have that special someone to cuddle up beside this cozy, romantic evening. Not everyone is sipping champagne and eating chocolates on February 14.

For the singles among us, Valentine’s Day can feel cold, intrusive and, yes, maybe even a bit judgmental. It may not be an occasion to celebrate at all. In fact, let’s be honest, this day can easily bring out the sassy side of our personality.

Well, we just want to say, we hear ya. And, we’d like to put that emotional sentiment to good use. In honor of all the lonely hearts out there this Valentine’s Day, here’s a hate list of all the things that your favorite higher ed site might be doing wrong.

1. Poor Navigation

Ever tried to read a map with your eyes closed? That’s what it feels like using a site that has poor navigation. We come armed with an idea of what we want to accomplish but lack of clear calls-to-action (CTA) and visual cues makes the next steps anyone’s guess. So we stumble through the site and eventually give up and leave.

2. Clutter

A busy page isn’t a good thing. It is instantly overwhelming and leaves us wondering what do we concentrate on first? Not every page needs a widget, slider, pop-ups and video. Might we suggest choosing just the features that serve the purpose of the page and calling it a day? The right tools and tasteful use of white space will often enhance the appeal of a page.

3. Too Many Pop-ups

Pop-ups are universally despised and regularly misused. Nothing screams “LEAVE” louder than getting hit with the combo of a welcome message, virtual assistant and signup form all before you ever see the page content. This approach can come across as pushy and distracting, while making the back button look very appealing. Nowadays most users have ad and pop-up blockers installed to avoid being bothered. Strong CTA’s and intuitive design should be enough to guide your audience to their goals.

4. Not Mobile-Friendly

Few things will make a user rage-quit faster than having to execute the zoom-and-pan method to see your content. Even search engines are annoyed by pages that do not provide a mobile-friendly experience. So much so, that Google will exclude websites from mobile search results that they see unfit to use with smartphones and tablets. Mobile-friendly sites aren’t heavily adorned with fancy features, but they work. And consistent functionality on all our devices is all your users ask for.

5. Endless Scrolling

This feature is SO 2016. Your entire site doesn’t need to be one page. They do include page breaks in word processors for a reason. Pages that don’t end are annoying. A few seconds of scrolling makes it clear that what we are looking for may be there, but it won’t be easy to find. If we are determined to find what we need we might use your search bar. But most likely we are going to do business elsewhere and save ourselves the headache and hand cramp.

6. Stock Photos

Is there anything that shatters the illusion of authenticity quicker than the realization that you saw the same perfect, beautiful, smiling face on another website? Image search is a thing… passing off models as your students isn’t as easy anymore. Yes, it may be easier and cheaper to just buy photos from a pic farm. But your site is better served by pictures of your real students, doing real things on your real campus.

7. Auto-play Videos

Please stop doing this. Unsolicited videos are notorious for striking when there are no headphones to be found, in a quiet area, when we least expect it. We scramble, panicked and embarrassed, to find the offending page and close it immediately. Who cares what was on the page? Your users are now super annoyed… and gone.

8. Slow Loading Times

These days, we all live for and love instant gratification. So, when a website takes more than five seconds to load, we are likely already on to the next thing… or we want to be. Large files and lengthy auto-play videos are often the culprit behind glacial loading times. These page additions typically aren’t crucial to the overall experience and are hindering your users from getting to the content they came for. It’s even more important for mobile pages to be super fast.

9. Broken Links

Broken links are like an “Under Construction” sign in the middle of a beautiful museum exhibit. They ruin the aesthetic of your site, and if there are too many of them, they also ruin user experience and your ranking potential. You can’t always avoid 404s on your site. But, in the least, you should have a plan in place to regularly monitor for broken links.

10. Lack of Accessibility

This has been a hot topic in website design circles in recent years, and one close to our hearts. Not meeting accessibility standards reduces your site usability for people with disabilities. Your site may be a work of pure design genius, but you’ll definitely lose brownie points if not everyone can read or use it. And search engines will ding you for it, too. Poor contrast choices, limited keyboard accessibility, lack of alt tags and open/closed captioning for videos all impede users’ ability to fruitfully navigate your site.

Beacon Knows Web Design

Is your higher ed site guilty of some of the above offenses? Not to worry. Beacon can bring the love of your prospective students back to your webpages. Request a free website audit today.

29 01, 2019

Maintaining Content Focus on Your Higher Ed Site

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

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

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

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

Setting the Stage

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

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

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

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

Quality Content, On Deadline

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

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

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

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

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

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

Staying the Course

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

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

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

Beacon Knows Higher Ed Content

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

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.

19 12, 2018

Is Website Personalization Right For Your School?

By | 2018-12-19T13:16:58+00:00 December 19th, 2018|Categories: Higher Education, Web Development, Creative Design|Tags: , , |

This time of year, as students flee campus for winter break, the usual bustle of activity slows considerably. This affords the opportunity for faculty and staff to take a break from the breakneck speed of the semester.

For many institutions of higher learning, this is a good time to explore some new ideas and tactics to meet strategic goals. The end of the calendar year is, after all, a time for reflection and goal setting. For your higher ed marketing team, this may take the form of evaluating your website performance for optimization opportunities, or a discussion about implementing new processes or concepts.

One concept that’s been gaining steam in higher ed marketing for a couple of years now is website personalization. Can a personalized web experience make a difference for your school’s recruiting and marketing efforts?

Website Personalization Explained 

A personalization-enabled website delivers tailored content to visitors, providing a quicker pathway to relevant information and, hopefully, enabling deeper engagement with the site. The assumption behind personalization is that it will promote more loyalty from visitors. And increased consumer loyalty translates to better financial performance.

Traditionally, early adopters of the concept (see: Amazon and Netflix) would create a unique homepage experience for each visitor. The founder and CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, famously said this way back in 1998:

“If we have 4.5 million customers, we shouldn’t have one store. We should have 4.5 million stores.”

Research backs up Mr. Bezos’ affinity for highly personalized web content. And the success of Amazon speaks for itself. For e-commerce websites, personalization has proven effective in improving conversion rates, engagement, customer loyalty and more.

That said, colleges and universities don’t run e-commerce sites. So, what works for Amazon may not necessarily work for your school.

In the higher ed sector, it’s difficult to personalize a web experience to the individual level. For one, schools just don’t have access to the same type of information about students that e-commerce sites are able to collect from their customers. It’s easy for Amazon to come up with unique content for you, specifically, when it can analyze your shopping queries for the last six months (or six years).

Without that level of insight, it’s more prudent to personalize content for a distinct higher ed audience, rather than each individual visitor. If you’re already segmenting your audiences, you have the data you need to begin differentiating your content strategy for each group. There’s a treasure trove of actionable audience data aching to be put to good use.

Implementing Personalization

If you haven’t gone through the audience segmentation process yet, make that the jump off point. You’ll want to start with the obvious groups: prospective students, current students, faculty, alumni, etc. Digging deeper, however, can reveal additional opportunities for personalization. Prospective students, for example, can be further broken up into geographic regions, undergraduate vs. graduate, or by academic interests.

With your groups defined, you’ll need to match each audience group with actions you want them to complete (conversions). For prospective students, that could be submitting a request for information, interest in a campus visit, or downloading an application. This is when tracking comes in – you’ll need to be able to analyze the number of conversions to know if your strategy is paying off.

Another helpful step can be to develop personas for the groups most important to you. Creating a “real” person to embody the needs and goals of the audience group will help you zero in on how these users will want to interact with your site.

Finally, you’ll need to design the personalized experience for each target audience group. This involves identifying the proper calls to action and conversion points, creating the actual content, tasking your development team with building out the needed pages, and making a plan to track performance, evaluate and iterate if necessary.

Beacon Knows Content Strategy

Not sure if personalization can work with your content strategy? Let Beacon help. Our expert team is happy to evaluate your website content and governance structure against your goals. Give us a call today.

27 11, 2018

Cohesion: Key To Great Web Design

By | 2018-11-21T13:51:47+00:00 November 27th, 2018|Categories: Higher Education, Web Development, Creative Design|Tags: , , |

Does this sounds familiar?

You’re exploring a website and click into a major navigation menu item. The new page loads and, suddenly, you feel like you’ve been transported somewhere completely different. Nothing about the experience on the new page ties back to the page you just came from. The type face is different, the navigation menu is completely unrecognizable in both style and selections, the color scheme is brand new, as is the overall page layout. You check the URL… yep, still the same domain.

This confusing experience is replicated surprisingly often across the web. In fact, this issue crops up fairly consistently for colleges and universities, as well as other large organizations.

What gives? It’s 2018! Doesn’t anybody know how to design and maintain a good website?

Putting our incredulity aside, it’s important to remember that the reasons behind a bad user experience aren’t usually intentional. No one sets out to confuse their audience on purpose.

In most cases, a confusing website is just a result of competing needs. Sometimes you need to add a new landing page quickly. Sometimes, staff turnover makes replicating older page templates challenging. Sometimes, you’re asked to try something new and different just to see if it works.

All of these reasons are plausible enough. Also, the web is a fast-moving place. The instincts to evolve, try new things and move quickly are usually the right ones.

That said, nothing on your website should be a one-off. If you want to implement change, you have to have a plan.

Creating & Maintaining a Cohesive Web Design

It should go without saying that a cohesive website design will keep your users engaged, on task and able to replicate their sessions easily and intuitively. So, how can one create and maintain cohesion through the design process and beyond?

The first objective is to create consistency for the user throughout their journey. This is best accomplished by establishing your brand elements and maintaining predictable page layouts and navigation. Predictable doesn’t have to mean boring. You can have a great page, with lots of great, engaging content, that still follows an intuitive layout.

The other on-page elements that you must painstakingly keep constant throughout your site include:

  • navigation menus
  • header and footer
  • type face
  • color palette
  • accent graphics
  • imagery (quality and tone)

There are aspects of your higher ed website that can be tailored to highlight special features of various departments or schools. The above list, however, is absolutely hands off.

Elements of Cohesive Interior Pages

While the homepage introduces your users to your brand, the job of landing and interior pages is to deliver information that your users are searching for and help them complete a specific goal. These objectives are best accomplished by different means, and this should be acknowledged by your design.

Branding is done best through visual elements. As such, homepage design leans heavily on imagery and graphics.

Interior pages are concerned with delivering hard information. As such, the design and layout need to reflect the text-heavy nature of these pages. Branding can be injected through the use of consistent header  and text styles, button colors, voice and tone of the text.

Visual elements, while still very much important, are, nonetheless, a secondary priority – they help break up the text and keep the user’s attention on the page. Despite the reduced emphasis, the visual elements help tie interior pages in with the branding of the rest of the site.

Elements of Cohesive Landing Pages

Landing pages are a cross between the homepage and an interior page. When arriving at a landing page on your higher ed website, your users should feel like they’ve just flipped open to a start of a new chapter in a book. There’s an introductory feel, but also hard information presented for consumption.

Due to the dual-nature purpose of landing pages, they tend to integrate a bit more graphic elements than interior pages. The landing page are really a continuation of the user experience from the homepage. As such, they tend to carry over some of the visual design and interactive elements of the homepage.

Beacon Knows Higher Ed Web Design

Want to know how your higher ed website stacks up? Not sure if you need a refresh or a complete overhaul? Request a complimentary website audit from Beacon’s expert team. We’ll be happy to discuss your most pressing needs.

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