Creating a Focus Group for Your Higher Ed Redesign – Pt1

(This is part one of a two part article) At the time it was created, your website may have met every online objective defined by university administrators. However, things change with time. Shifting technologies, user habits and objectives change the ways in which we appeal to our target audience. A website redesign is needed every now and then. With so many audiences to address including students, prospective students, alumni, and more, this can seem a daunting task. What works well with your existing design? What needs to be changed? You may have your own ideas however, you can’t know what every user may be thinking.

Assembling a Focus Group

There are numerous ways to collect user data to assist you in your redesign. You can send a user survey or questionnaire, for example. While this method can provide some useful information, your feedback is one dimensional as there is no way to ask for explanation. Additionally, one cannot read the subject’s body language or witness the group dynamic. There is no opportunity for give and take.

I strongly suggest conducting focus groups in person, if possible. In person groups allow for follow up questions and clarification. One can more easily identify agreement across the group, provoke thought and prompt participants to offer suggestions.

Identify Your Primary Audience

Before you go any further, it is imperative that you identify your target audience(s). There may be many different potential user groups you’d like to address with your redesign. However, when you try to please everyone, you often please no one. So identify the 3 or 4 major players. This ensures that your website will have the required focus to be effective. It also works to keep your focus group at a manageable number.

How big should your focus group be?

I’ve found that the best way to facilitate the desired give and take is to keep the size of each group at around 10-15 individuals. Once you get beyond 15, it’s a case of diminishing returns. It becomes difficult for a moderator to steer the conversation and ask follow up questions if there are too many voices in the room.

Inviting Focus Group Participants

Be aware of the fact that each of your focus groups behave differently. That’s why they’re here. This extends to their willingness to participate. Extent invitations to more students than any other group. Their participation levels tend to be lower than others so provide an incentive to attend. For students, free food often does the trick.

How to Develop Questions for a Focus Group

While there are a certain number of questions you absolutely need the answer to, allow for amble time to address questions that your focus group participants have. These can be as illuminating as any questions you may have. Plan on 10 or fewer questions per 60 minute session. Answers to these will very likely lead to new questions you may have not anticipated. While the questions will differ for each of your four focus groups, there are some basic guidelines designed to facilitate meaningful responses and avoid “yes” and “no” answers.

Remember to:

  • Arrange your questions in a logical order.
  • Start with higher level questions and get more granular as you go.
  • Ask open ended questions. These include questions that address design, content and intended usage and require more than a “yes” or “no” answer.
  • Encourage questions by participants.

This concludes part one of a two part article entitled “Creating a Focus Group for your Higher Ed Redesign”. As one of the nation’s premier website builders for Higher Ed. Beacon has been providing colleges and universities with redesign consultation and services for almost 20 years. We invite questions or comments regarding your redesign goals. Feel free to contact me or call one of our team members at 1.855.467.5447.

By | 2017-09-18T07:19:02+00:00 September 19th, 2017|Higher Education|0 Comments

PPC Tips and Strategies for Increasing Student Yield

While one may or may not think of a college or university as a business, there is no arguing that those involved in student enrollment mean business. The playing field is more competitive every day. This is evidenced by the fact that more and more schools use PPC (pay per click) advertising as part of their appeal.

Since many more in your target audience communicate through digital channels than in the days when you and I went to school, it goes without saying that it doesn’t pay to stick with just traditional means of promotion. Besides, at the rate that the enrollment landscape is changing, PPC almost qualifies as traditional.

PPC Strategies for Higher Ed

Unlike large, profit generating entities, most colleges have limited budgets to work with. This means that while one may encourage ones students to experiment, to “find themselves”, you don’t want your marketing people to have to do so, too.

Make sure you have a clearly defined strategy going in. Higher Ed keywords are generally very expensive (again, the Higher Ed space is VERY competitive), so it’s essential that you use your marketing dollars efficiently. That having been said…

Branded Campaigns Don’t Work for Higher Ed

Many businesses use branded campaigns to make sure their competitors don’t pick off shoppers who are looking to pilfer their customers. However, your audience differs from most. With a college website, many students, alumni and faculty use the website as a constant resource.

Since you’re already at the top for a branded search, you don’t want to waste your money paying for those who choose to access your site through a PPC add. That’s a sure way to burn through your ad budget and see minimal return.

Higher Ed Remarketing Ads Do, Though

The enrollment funnel for Higher Ed is protracted when compared to other competitive spaces. That being the case, a conversion rarely happens as part of an early touch. This is true across the board, unless your brand is so big that you don’t need to advertise. That’s a very exclusive club.

Remarketing ads follow visitors from their initial visit to your site (or mobile App). As they visit other competing sites, your ad will pop up, keeping your school fresh in their mind. It’s a great way to maintain a familiarity and nurture the process. These remarketing ads can include periodic offerings such as a limited time discount on an application fee in exchange for contact information.

Get even more granular by using Google’s RLSA’s. You can target users based on their behavior, which page on your site they visited and how long they stayed. So, if they visited the page for your dental school, they’ll receive remarketing ads specific to that discipline.

Higher Ed PPC & Mobile

Make sure the landing pages for your PPC ads are responsive. Recent surveys indicate that roughly 80% of high school seniors and their parents view college websites on their phones. If your site is mobile friendly, you’ll also be able to take advantage of Google’s new Expanded Text.

You’ve spent the money to get your visitors to your website. Don’t blow the experience now.

And that’s Just the Beginning

Want to know more about how you can pull more candidates into your school’s enrollment funnel? Beacon is recognized as one of the top Higher Ed web design firms in the country. We’ve been helping colleges and universities with PPC marketing for over 20 years. Feel free to contact me with questions regarding your institution’s admissions goals or call a member of the Beacon digital marketing team at 1.855.851.0109.

By | 2017-09-01T09:28:27+00:00 September 6th, 2017|Higher Education, PPC|0 Comments

Higher Ed Sites: Understanding Your Most Common Target Audiences, Part I: The Millennial

Designing Higher Ed Web Sites for StudentsAll websites have at least one challenge in common:  They all have a target audience, and the success – or demise – of their site rests heavily on how well their site ‘speaks’ to that particular demographic.

But wait – let’s back up to the beginning! First, let’s understand what a target audience really is:  To put it simply, a target audience is a particular group of people that have been identified as the deliberate recipient of advertising or messaging relating to a product or service a brand is ‘selling’. Given this definition, higher education sites face a hefty challenge – they generally have 6-7 unique targets for one web site! The following are the typical categories:  Prospective students, current students, prospective parents, current parents, faculty and staff, alumni and donors.

In this series, we will cover some of the key considerations a higher education web site should incorporate to attract each audience most effectively.

First, let’s visit prospective and current students, who the majority of them today are categorized as Millennials. Today’s Millennial is technologically savvy, so developing a responsive site is a must, especially considering that the average Millennial interacts the majority of their time on a smart phone. They tend to have a very high sense of urgency and if they aren’t satisfied with their findings on your higher education site in 1-2 clicks, they will likely bail and go somewhere else. Asking questions via surveys or focus groups prior to higher ed web development will help to ensure you are answering their searching needs. This generation is intensely social (at least via social media channels!) and they look to their peers for advice or referrals. Millennials trust their friends much more so than any other marketing tactic employed today, so the use of testimonials, videos and reviews on your site greatly impacts their perception of the school. In conjunction with their social nature, Millennials love to engage, contribute to content and broadcast their own thoughts. Sites that have boldly incorporated a full social media feed, such as Nazareth College for example, are perfecting that channel as it relates to this audience. Higher Ed UX DesignInterestingly enough, 26% of all Millennials rank Twitter as their number one social media platform, and 59% of all Millennials currently have a Twitter account. Many Millennials have been ‘awarded’ their entire lives so the use of game-like elements with corresponding ‘rewards’ resonates with this demographic. For example, Saint Joseph’s University incorporates “+” symbols that allow the viewer to interact in a game-like way to learn more. Lastly, this audience also visits your site to get a sense of the experience they will have while attending. Ensuring your site a) reflects your school’s brand and b) visually feels modern and ‘real’ and c) demonstrates through photography student’s life-experiences will all help to convince this group that your offering fits their needs.

So let’s recap:

  1. Responsive design
  2. Listen to understand their needs
  3. Use testimonials, videos and reviews
  4. Up-to-date social media feeds – notably via Twitter
  5. Game-like elements with corresponding rewards
  6. Visuals reflect the brand and personality of the school

While surveys are paramount in understanding any audience – and keeping in mind that each school is not ‘cookie-cutter,’ these six points will help most higher education sites start their develop on the right foot and most effectively target today’s prospective and current students.

By | 2017-07-20T08:46:52+00:00 June 30th, 2015|Digital Marketing|Comments Off on Higher Ed Sites: Understanding Your Most Common Target Audiences, Part I: The Millennial
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