10 04, 2018

Higher Ed Focus Groups & Surveys: Are You Listening to Your Students?

By | 2018-04-06T11:11:16+00:00 April 10th, 2018|Categories: Higher Education|Tags: , , , , |

Colleges and universities are in a constant state of change. Every year, graduates leaving for the “real world” are replaced on campus by an incoming freshman class.

While the demographic mix of incoming classes at a given school typically changes little year to year, the students themselves — their interests, use of technology, social media interactions — are prone to more frequent change.

So, how do higher education institutions keep up with the changing student profile? How do they ensure that their communication efforts achieve the wanted response? As with any marketing endeavor, understanding your target audience is essential to meeting your goals.

Focus Groups Are an Excellent Source of Qualitative Data

One way to get to know your audience is with an in-depth focus group interview. There are many focus group designs — dueling moderators, respondents-as-moderator, dual group, and more. But, the classic format involves one or two moderators leading the session, and a group of eight to 12 participants answering questions.

Focus groups provide the opportunity to gain deep insight into the attitudes, beliefs, behaviors and opinions of your target audience. In a higher education setting, the audience can be students already on campus, incoming students, or even parents of students (since they have a tendency to know their student pretty well).

Of course, you want to be selective in choosing your focus group participants. As the video demonstrates, “puppies” do tend to skew results.

You’ll also want to make sure that the group you end up interviewing is demographically representative of your target audience.

Surveys Provide Measurable, Quantitative Data

Another way to gain insight into your target audience is through surveys. In a survey, a small percentage of your target audience provides answers to a predetermined set of questions. The questions can be multiple choice, true/false, fill in the blank, or open-ended. If the goal of your survey is measurable data, you’ll want to focus on the first three types and avoid open-ended questions.

Surveys can be conducted as an interview (in-person, telephone, or video conference) or as a questionnaire (via email, snail mail, or online session). To get the most out of your survey, the questions should take five minutes or less to complete and be available to participants for at least two weeks. Providing an incentive (cash, school supplies, or coupons) and getting the word out to student influencers (club presidents, student government representatives, etc) can help boost your response rate.

Applying Your Data

So, you’ve collected your answers. Now what?

The next step is to analyze the data and pull out relevant insights. With focus group results, you’ll need to carefully examine each person’s responses, organize the answers into categories, and evaluate how the data applies to your research goals. The following questions can help:

  • What big themes emerge from the responses?
  • Do the responses confirm a known, or lead to a new discovery?
  • Do the responses change your perspective?
  • What insights can be gleaned?

Because survey results are typically numerical, the analysis process is more straightforward. Simply tabulate your results and draw conclusions from the final data.

Need Some Help Getting Started?

Beacon has managed countless focus groups and surveys on behalf of our clients. These tools are important aspects of the research and strategic analysis we perform for any successful website development or redesign projects. For expert advice, reach out to our Digital Marketing Services team today, or call us at (866) 708-1467.

13 03, 2018

Remarketing & Enrollment: Why it Works for Colleges & Universities

By | 2018-03-15T15:01:43+00:00 March 13th, 2018|Categories: Higher Education, PPC|Tags: , , , |

If you’re reading this article, you probably have at least a basic understanding of how remarketing works. For those who do not, remarketing ads identify those with a predisposition towards your product and nudge them to buy (or take some action).

Here’s the scenario: A user visits the admissions page for AGU (Amazingly Great University). Since AGU runs a remarketing campaign through Google, a cookie is placed that identifies the user after he or she leaves said website. The ad may be an enticement to request a course catalog, arrange for a campus visit or any number of desirable actions. As they visit other websites, your remarketing ads remind them of their initial interest and what they found compelling about your school.

Conversion rates tend to be greater with remarketing ads as the subject or target has already shown a familiarity with your school or interest in your product (an education). And the numbers say that the reminder, the subtle nudge often does the trick. Ultimately, they come back for more.

What makes Remarketing more effective for Higher Ed?

In the world of Higher Ed, the sales funnel is a protracted one. Leads must be nurtured over time as the selection of a college or university is a decision of great magnitude and has so many moving parts. It’s not something we typically do impetuously.

Remarketing campaigns appeal to a more deliberate decision making process. They can tactfully remind the potential student of the things they may have found attractive about your school or even entice a prospect to look elsewhere if your ad strategy is faulty.

Segmentation & Remarketing Strategy for Higher Ed

Segmenting your audience is the first step on the way to developing a sound remarketing strategy. Since Google enables you to target viewers based on a number of behaviors (users who visited your site or just a specific page, took a particular action, etc.), you can develop a tiered strategy based on these audiences. For example, your remarketing pitch may have a different message for those who visit your tuition and costs page as opposed to those who spend time perusing the course catalog for your school of business. Intent based segmentation can yield great results.

You’ll likely want to target your prospects by geography, too. Campus visits are easier to get if the prospect is within a reasonable travel radius, for example. Facebook offers remarketing that enables geographical targeting, too. So Facebook remarketing becomes an option for this group.

For all groups, set frequency limits for your remarketing ads. Hit them too hard and you may alienate them.

Test Your Ad Copy

Use A/B testing to determine your most effective ad copy. Try using different copy, CTA’s, and ad placements. Even after settling on a successful campaign method and copy, change the design from time to time as ads can become stale or fade into the background after a while.

What You Need to Know About Higher Ed Remarketing

Still got questions? Beacon is one of the premier digital marketing firms for Higher Ed and we’d love the opportunity to show you why. Feel free to contact me directly or give the DMS team at Beacon a call to discuss your institution and enrollment. I’d love to talk strategy with you and suggest a course of action tailored to your specific student audience(s).

 

15 11, 2017

These Digital Marketing Tips Can Jump-Start your School’s Enrollment

By | 2017-11-08T13:43:37+00:00 November 15th, 2017|Categories: Digital Marketing, Higher Education|Tags: , , , |

In a recent survey, 51% of those between the ages of 18 and 29 said they could not imagine living without a smartphone. In a separate survey, 78% or high school students said that websites influence their perception of a school. This accentuates the changing landscape and hints toward the future of marketing in the Higher Ed space.

With an increasingly competitive environment, schools are becoming more and more creative when attempting to lure prospective students. We not only need to use our digital marketing budgets carefully, we need to use them creatively, too.

I’d like to share with you just a few ways in which colleges are leveraging digital marketing and social media to successfully jump-start their school’s enrollment.

3 Proven Ways to Boost Enrollment

Social Media can be a great tool for brand awareness and enhancement. That’s just the half of it. Social media can improve retention throughout the admissions funnel as well as to curb “summer melt” (accepted students who never enroll).

Through Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram, prospective students can stay on top of the application process. You can inform them of important deadlines and answer application questions. Since the vast majority of students use these platforms on a daily basis, social media can make a real difference in improving student yield.

Blogs are a great way to get the word out on deadlines, too. More than that, it’s a place to share information with all your target audiences including faculty, alumni, athletic boosters and the surrounding community. The reason a blog is desirable in addition to social media is that your content lives here. It is indexed by Google and matures, improving your position in organic search rankings.

It’s important to be constantly adding new content. Make use of this content on your social media channels as well so as to get the most from any new content you create.

The National Student Clearinghouse. This one is more of an overall tip but has digital marketing implications. Purdue University’s Office of Enrollment Management took a closer look at students who chose to attend elsewhere. Through information made available at the National Student Clearinghouse, the enrollment management team was able to identify where these students eventually enrolled. This enabled them to better understand who their competitors are.

Some students are predisposed to attend college in state. There are various reasons for this. However, by examining the behavior of students who have the means to attend anywhere, a school can hone in on its primary competition.

Break down your data, perhaps by state or region. What patterns emerge? The good folks at Purdue were able to determine that students on the East coast were more likely to attend out of state institutions. This was just one of many insights gained through PU’s research.

It’s Our Niche

Beacon has been recognized as one of the top Higher Ed web design and digital marketing firms in the country. If you’d like the kind of insight into student behavior that 20 years of Higher Ed website design provides, we’re here to help. 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.

 

 

18 10, 2017

Love Quiz: Fall In Love with Your Website Again

By | 2017-11-17T09:31:34+00:00 October 18th, 2017|Categories: Web Development|Tags: , |

You have genuine feelings for your website, but you’re not entirely sure you’d call it love. Or, maybe your digital relationship has been less than fulfilling and you’re starting to wonder… is this a relationship worth saving?

Take this quiz to find out if it’s time to get more serious about a website redesign.

Question #1: How do you feel about your website’s friends?

If you’ve been “dating” your website for a long time, you’ve more than likely met the friends. If not, it’s time you do. Meet Google Analytics and Google Site Search. Believe it or not, they’re your best friends, too. Get to know them well as they can be the key to opening your significant other’s digital heart.

The “E” Word

That’s right. Engagement. Google Analytics can provide insights into the type of content that drives visitors and captivates users. Find out which pages are under-performing and adjust your new content strategy accordingly.

More importantly, ask yourself which pages are performing best. Exploit these subject areas in your new, updated content strategy. Some topics may need to be called out more. Knowing your website’s likes and dislikes can only make for a more healthy relationship.

Google Site Search

Google Site Search can tell you what users are searching for when they first meet your website. Are users satisfied with what they find? The results may be surprising. You may find new areas of opportunity that you’d never thought of. Are they searching for a product or online course that you don’t yet offer? Maybe it’s time to expand your catalog.

Get Your Friends’ Input, too.

A focus group is an ideal way to find out what your users need and want from this relationship. Identify your audience correctly and your focus group will be effective.

For example, in the case of a college or university, your focus group may be made up of a combination of students, prospective students and alumni. Keep the size at a manageable number (about 10-15). With the right moderator, you’ll find out what you need to know about your user’s habits and objectives so that you can design optimally for a more fulfilling relationship next go-round.

Question #2: Is your online presence responsive to your needs?

Responsive is the key word here. 86% of those between the ages of 18 and 29 have a smart phone. If this is your audience (that’s you, Higher Ed), this one’s a no-brainer. By contrast, 87% of those living in households making in excess of $75,000 a year have a smart phone (that’s your audience, online retailers). If your current website isn’t responsive, this is step one to a more healthy relationship.

Beauty is More Than Skin Deep (although that counts, too)

Often, websites fall behind as organizational branding requirements evolve. This is a chance to update a color theme, new logo, etc. And while looks are important, inner beauty is even more so. Make sure the voice of your website is consistent with your other collateral.

Incorporate images and video where appropriate. In short, it’s a great time to make sure that you and your website are speaking the same language – the language of (digital) love.

Question #3: Does your website’s content still give you butterflies?

We’ve all seen the data on declining attention spans. That’s very likely true for your audience, too. Creating a logical navigation and page structure ensures that your site is easily scanned – an essential element to today’s website design.

Start with an overview and make sure you’ve written relevant headings and used SEO friendly tags accordingly (H2s, H3s. etc.). Use bulleted or numbered lists where appropriate. Link to other relevant internal pages and make sure that link text is meaningful.

Breaking up (blocks of text) is hard to do. Not really. Nevertheless, it always seems to be overlooked. This one’s an easy fix. Don’t forget it.

Call Me

If you’re looking for a new website, that is. We at Beacon don’t claim to be “doctors of love” but we’ve been helping guide clients through their digital relationships for almost 20 years. Feel free to contact me with questions or call one of our team members at 1.855.467.5447.

 

4 10, 2017

Creating a Focus Group for Your Higher Ed Redesign – Part 2

By | 2017-10-11T07:45:01+00:00 October 4th, 2017|Categories: Higher Education|Tags: , |

Below is part two of “How to Create an Effective Focus Group for Your Higher Ed Redesign”. To read part one, visit here.

How to Choose a Focus Group Moderator

A moderator is much more than a note taker. You’ll need one of those, too. However, your moderator will be responsible for eliciting the most from your focus group. The moderator has a profound effect on the success (or failure) of your focus group as they are expected to set a relaxed tone, keep the discussion focused, observe body language and other cues, and create an environment that elicits the most valuable input from your participants.

Moderators must be good listeners. They must be able to manage a group dynamic and facilitate the kind of environment that makes participants want to share. Moderators have different styles. However, a good moderator will adapt to the personality of the focus group. For example, a moderator may joke with student participants while taking a more serious tact with faculty or administrators.

An experienced moderator will effectively manage the group and keep everyone focused. A good listener can ask the right follow up questions and get your participants to share things they might not otherwise.

Analyzing the Results

Before any analysis begins, take a few moments immediately after the focus group leaves to recall the day’s events and fill in any gaps that may exist in your notes. If you’ve taped the session, transcribe it immediately and note any observations regarding body language or behavioral anomalies within the context of the conversation.

After you’ve got each answer grouped with the question it addresses, take a look at your data and ask yourself the following:

  • For each question, are there any responses that stand out?
  • Does the data answer your research objectives?
  • Are there any recurring themes?
  • Are these themes unexpected?
  • What insights have been gained?

Writing a Focus Group Report

A report on your findings should begin with a summary of your objectives. What specifically did you hope to learn from the focus group?

Be sure to include your methodology. How many different focus groups were there, how large were these groups and what questions did the moderator ask the focus group in the search for answers?

What stood out from the answers provided by the focus groups? Provide a bulleted list of key takeaways that can be scanned at a glance. These will serve as talking points when stakeholders gather to discuss redesign priorities and strategy.

Summarize Your Findings and Make Recommendations

Highlight repetitive themes, particularly if they directly address previously stated concerns and objectives. What do these findings mean for the proposed redesign? Based on your redesign objectives and focus group feedback, make recommendations to the stakeholders involved.

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.

This concludes part two of two. Read part one of “Creating a Focus Group for your Higher Ed Redesign” here.

19 09, 2017

Creating a Focus Group for Your Higher Ed Redesign – Pt1

By | 2017-09-21T12:51:06+00:00 September 19th, 2017|Categories: Higher Education|Tags: , |

(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. Extend 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 ample 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.

6 09, 2017

PPC Tips and Strategies for Increasing Student Yield

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

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.

30 06, 2015

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

By | 2017-07-20T08:46:52+00:00 June 30th, 2015|Categories: Digital Marketing|Tags: , , , , , , , , |

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.