Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

Drexel University decides 47,477 apps are too many

I can't quite remember when it started but once upon a time colleges and universities were first offered the opportunity to send "fast app" application forms to high school students who had not applied for admission. The apps were pretty much completely filled out in advance. About all you had to do was click and send to the school you received it from. No application fee was required.

As a way to boost the size of an application pool the "fast app" was a singular success. 

Some schools, it is said, just used the technique to boost application numbers and become more selective. Conversion percents almost always were much lower than for people who completed applications themselves. But if a school didn't care as much about conversions as the appearance of high demand and lower acceptance rates then conversion percent was not a problem. And some schools indeed used the extra apps to raise enrollment as Drexel once did.

Now comes recent news that Drexel University has decided to drop out of this system. You can get the details at "Drexel's freshmen applicants plunge - happily." Adopting the "fast app" in the 2005-06 recruitment cycle contributed to a 300 percent application increase. Even with a lower conversion rate overall freshmen enrollment also grew. But now goals have changed.

According to Randall Deike, new senior VP for enrollment management and student success, Drexel will now place more emphasis on the proverbial "better fit" to boost retention rates. That, of course, will help maintain or grow total enrollment. And Drexel has a wee bit of extra money by saving the cost of the "fast app" program.

20,052 Fewer Applications

For the freshman class that entered in 2014 Drexel had 47,477 applications... 2,925 were enrolled from that number. For the freshman class that will enroll in 2015 Drexel has 27,425 applications, or a drop of well over 40 percent. 

Reducing the applicant total is one part of a new strategy that includes adding back an application fee, using different admissions criteria for different academic programs, and shifting more financial resources to need-based aid.

A Smart Marketing Move?

Will Drexel be able to maintain the same freshman class size in 2015 as in 2014? 

We'll find out later this year. Right now some people understandably are nervous. But I'd bet that with more attention to a reduced applicant pool with a higher percent of genuinely interested people, Drexel will do just fine.

In 2011 the NY Times reported in "A College Opts Out of the Admissions Arms Race" that Ursinus College had made a similar change: dropping the fast app to reduce applications. Today, Ursinus reports that freshmen class size has increased. Very different schools indeed but one small encouragement for folks at Drexel.

That's all for now.

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"Improving Your Strategic Recruitment Communications Plan"

Join us at this Academic Impressions conference June 1-3. Review the program details and register here.
A February hello to subscribers new and old as admission application deadlines have arrived or are approaching for many of you. Best wishes that the quality and quantity of the applications meets your goals.

Attend the Academic Impressions conference on "Improving Your Strategic Recruitment Communication Plan" with myself and Paige Booth (St. Edward's University) and Michelle O'Donnell (Mount St. Mary's University) in Houston June 1-3. Details at 

The Call for Papers for the eduWeb Digital Summit in July in Chicago is extended until February 19. More about the conference and the paper submission process is 

Know someone who will like this newsletter? Send them to subscribe at 

And now here are your marketing news and notes for February.
Top Online Bachelor's and MBA Programs: US News and World Report

New rankings came out early last month, with Penn State World Campus in first place for bachelor's programs and a three-way MBA tie for first: Indiana University Bloomington, Temple University, and UNC Chapel Hill. 

Bachelor's programs ranking elements include Faculty Credentials and Training, Student Services and Technology, and Student Engagement. MBA program ranking use those criteria and add Admissions Selectivity.

See the US News rankings at 
9 University Websites: Top Task Design Champions

Top Task website design is based on a simple principle: the most prominent words and links on website pages should reflect the top tasks that bring visitors to those pages and help people complete those tasks as quickly as possible.

In this blog post I have collected 9 strong top task examples from Australia, Canada, and the U.S., including home pages, admissions, parents, donor options, faculty profiles, scholarships, and academic programs. Visit 
Advertising Online: 6 "Deadly Errors" to Avoid on Facebook

This is a report from a person who has been advertising on Facebook since ads started in 2010 and reports losing about $250,000 by not paying attention to the 6 points listed here.

If forced to pick a single place to start my favorite is "Ignoring New Features and Ad Types" since a response rate is often higher for early adopters than after everyone is using a new technique. See which ones are most important to you at 
Students of Color: Enrollment Success from Start to Finish

Jon Boeckenstedt at DePaul University loves to dive deep into data and he has done a masterful job to show how success in "diversity" enrollment efforts can be judged by the percent of minority students receiving an undergraduate degree.

In "Which Colleges Graduate the Most Students of Color?" you can quickly search by individual ethnicities, Carnegie status, state, and public or private status. Check your school and your competitors at 
FAQs: Improving the Visitor Experience

Just about every college and university website has one or more Frequently Asked Question sections.

Jakob Nielsen has a new Alertbox report on "An FAQ's User Experience Deconstructed" that might help improve the visitor experience at your site. Improvements noted here include the use of video, jump links to quickly scan questions and get to answers of interest, attention to new content, and links that are easily visible from the general text.

My note: pay attention and remove an FAQ when you know it is not getting frequent attention. I am always puzzled about FAQ lists that start with "When were you founded?" or "What is your mission?"

Compare your FAQ pages with advice from Nielsen at 
Social Media: Demographic and Use Research from Pew Internet

Start off 2015 with a review from Pew Research on demographics of people using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Pinterest. 

As you knew, just about everybody has a Facebook account. Everything else is under 30 percent of adults 18 or older. Gender use is comparable for each one except Pinterest, where women at 42 percent still far outnumber men at 18 percent. People with a college degree or more dominate at LinkedIn.

Those details and more are at 
Top 15 Advertising Campaigns in 2015: AdAge Selects the Best

Take a break from higher education marketing to check the ad campaigns of 2015 that AdAge has selected as the best to date.

A UNICEF campaign is in 15th spot and Dove takes first place. Details on those and 13 others are at 
Writing Right for the Web: Gerry McGovern on the "Pair Writing" Technique

Your web content will improve when two people write major content together, preferably a content specialist and a marketing person with a joint interest in top task priority.

That is the essence of a new Gerry McGovern article on "How to do pair writing well" that gives details on how to adopt this technique on your campus. 

If you like the article you can also register for a February 11 webinar at on best practices in a pair writing program based on the experience of two of our Carewords partners.
Admissions Innovation: Early Report on Goucher and Bennington Colleges

Serious deviations from standard admissions criteria seldom happen but both Goucher and Bennington have made national news in this area: Goucher for accepting 2-minute video profiles to judge and Bennington for allowing students to submit, in essence, whatever information they want without requiring high school transcripts.

A report by Inside Higher Education has both schools doing well this year, although it is too early to know whether early action and early decision application increases are due to the criteria changes. See the details on the results to date at 
Cartoon of the Month: Beware of Data Manipulators 

Do you live in a world where too many people refuse to change anything without data that proves the value of the change before it happens? Or try to use data to destroy a new idea before it is tested?

If so, laugh or weep with the Tom Fishburne "Give me a moment to find unbiased data that supports calling you and your idea stupid" cartoon at 
Most Popular Topic in January Newsletter: "What Your Website Needs in 2015"

The run-away favorite topic last month for wise people who know a website needs constant attention was this Website Magazine article at 
Be a marketing champion on your campus.

Bob Johnson, Ph.D. 
Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC
Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC

Increase your marketing success with these services. Contact me for details at 

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Websites gain marketing advantage with top task design

The secret to making your website an effective marketing tool: clean and simple design that lets visitors complete their tasks as quickly as possible. Experience on the site is more important than "stunning" hero images or other design fads.

For years now I've been a partner in the Customer Carewords team that promotes the use of top task research as the basis of successful website design. Carewords partners work for government agencies, private business corporations, and health care organizations as well as colleges and universities. Top task rules apply everywhere.

What are examples of effective top task use in higher education? Over my years of making Link of the Week selections I've often included top task examples. Now, prompted by a recent query from Anne Lutgerink at Internationalizing Education, I'm collecting here several of the best of those examples.

Key design elements: speed, task visibility, and "care" words

Three elements are key to top task design: Visibility in 5 seconds or less as a page opens and use of words that visitors care about. The rules don't change for mobile, except that the right words are even more important.

Examples from 9 higher education websites

University of Ottawa home page. When it went online early in 2013 this page was a thing of beauty as it gave prominent display to just four topics linking to tasks: "Find a program" and "University fees" for the primary external audience and "News, events and dates" and "Search library" for faculty and current students. Since then the page has fallen victim on occasion to someone's urge to add special events above the task links. It still remains one of the cleanest university home pages.

Victoria University home page: If you must use a carousel on your home page, don't let it drive a key top task lower on the page. In this example, "Find a course" and "Browse for courses" links take the prime upper left position and the carousel starts to the right of the task.

East Stroudsburg University admissions page: Highlighting top tasks on an admissions page is especially challenging as the tasks change as people move through the recruitment cycle. ESU meets the challenge in a simple but effective way: divide the page into 4 recruitment cycle segments and list the tasks for each segment directly to the right. Just about perfect.

Arcadia University study abroad page. The program entry page illustrates how you can use a strong image along with a branding statement and still include just 3 "can't miss" task words as the page opens. So simple. So clean. So seldom done. You can apply the same approach to just about any entry page.

Northern Alberta Institute of Technology academic program page: You won't find any photos here but you will immediately see "Grad Employment Rate" and "Median Starting Salary," two points about academic programs that are of increasing interest to potential students. Quickly following those are "Quick Facts," "Tuition & Fees" and "Entrance Requirements."

Williams College parents page: Open this page to find 6 images with word topics that you can scan easily to see the links to tasks for each topic. The first "Parent Resources" heading includes links to "Information for First-Year Students" and "Information for Returning Students" as well as a link to "Key Williams Contacts." The ability to 'find a person" is one of the most neglected top tasks on many websites.

Middlebury College department of English and American Literatures: Here is an admirable example of how to make it easy to contact your faculty. Each right-sized block for the 30 people listed includes email, phone number, and office hours. Sound simple? On many faculty website pages it isn't.

Rochester Institute of Technology Merit Scholarships: For sure this page will win no beauty awards but it offers in a single place what is so often missing from scholarship pages: name of the award, eligibility (including in some cases specific ACT & SAT scores), amount of the award, and what to do, if anything, to apply.

University of Oregon gift options page: Alumni and other potential donors want to know what their options are for giving to areas that match their special interests. Visit here to see 9 areas of interest that start with "Schools and Colleges" and end with "Athletics."

That's all for now.

Subscribe to "Your Higher Education Marketing Newsletter" for monthly marketing news and notes and weekly Link of the Week selections.

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Happy New Year to everyone as we begin 2015. As many of you are likely doing just now, I am busy catching up this week after an extended break. There are many emails to review, including an interesting collection that arrived over the holidays from my most recent cluster of secret shopping schools.

You will see as you scan the items below that I have assembled a collection of items built around the inevitable predictions of what might and might not happen in 2015, from websites to college ratings. 

It is no small measure of our times that the January issue of Money Magazine included an article advising parents on how to best take advantage of merit awards to reduce costs. I expect affordability and tuition discounting to continue as top marketing issues this year. For private sector schools, the challenges are large and the solutions difficult.

The Call for Papers for the eduWeb Digital Summit in July is open until January 30. More about the conference and the paper submission process is at 

And now here are your marketing news and notes for January.
Website Magazine: What Your Website Needs for 2015

Start off 2015 by reviewing 6 elements of website design that might or might not work well for your website. 

Note that two of the headings refer to "stunning images" as a new imperative for successful sites. That's scary. Stunning images that do not relate to tasks that people want to do on your site will not improve your chances for marketing success. Words still count, even if this article downplays their importance.

But do take note of the admonition that responsive design is best done by taking a mobile-first approach. Responsive design that tries to convert an existing large-screen site to the mobile world without first making difficult content reduction choices is not especially effective.

Start a 2015 conversation after everyone reads the website design article at 
College Ratings Systems in 2015: Public vs. Private Sectors

Kevin Carey explores the various elements of the college rating system announced by the Department of Education last month, with attention to the different views of private and public sector schools and lobbyists. Expect dismay and debate on this to increase in 2015.

Three elements are important: affordability, access, and outcomes. It is not yet clear just what will be used to measure each. And it is not yet clear what the relative weightings will be. According to Carey, the private sector is more concerned than the public sector with the impact of the DOE system, a fact that he believes shows why the DOE plan is a "worthy effort."

See "Sizing Up the College Ratings System" at 
Future of Email Marketing: Scan 11 Articles for 2015 and Beyond

By now most people will agree that email marketing is not dead. That prediction has been made too many times in the past decade and email continues to thrive as an important part of a marketing communications program.

But email marketing always is changing. To review what industry experts are predicting and planning, scan the titles and short synopses of 11 "future" email marketing articles 
20 Generous Merit Aid Colleges: Money Magazine Highlights

Money Magazine started off 2015 with an article in the January issue briefing parents on "How to Find a Generous College." Money notes that while selective schools are usually not high on the generosity list many less selective schools do indeed have high academic profiles as measured by test scores. 

Six of the 20 most generous schools give average awards of more than 50 percent of tuition: Dordt College (67 percent), Millsaps College (60 percent), University of Tulsa (52 percent), Illinois Institute of Technology (51 percent), Ohio Wesleyan University (51 percent), Southwestern University (50 percent.) Many others are in the 40 percent range. 

The least generous among this group: St. Mary's College (38 percent), Furman University (38 percent), Denison University (39 percent.)

Find the percent of students who receive merit aid, the average award amount, and the complete list of the percent of tuition covered at 
Important Google Change: Designation of Mobile Friendly Sites

Is your website mobile-friendly according to new Google criteria that likely will soon be used to rank websites?

Google is giving priority to responsive design sites over sites although RD sites almost always take longer to load. But other points will count as well. Expect to suffer if your site requires horizontal scrolling on a smartphone or if the text is too small to read when it first opens. "Don't make them squint," a phrase I often use in web writing workshops, is alive and well.

For more on what makes a site mobile-friendly for Google see the Mobile Marketer article by Chantal Tode at 
Advertising Online: A Future for Wearables?

Will people accept advertising on smartwatches? Yes, it is far too early to consider this in a practical sense but that is not stopping early speculation about the possibilities. An important first point: ads will have to be more closely related to the interests of the person receiving them than just about anywhere else. Direct marketing principles will drive whatever is done. This is likely not a place for brand awareness activity.

Right now relatively few people even say they might buy a smartwatch in 2015. The near-term adoption rate is low enough that advertisers at this point are not paying much attention. Smartphones remain enough of a challenge.

But if you want to be first among your friends and colleagues as a person who can talk wisely about the possibilities and limitations, start with "Will Advertising Work on Wearables," an article by Greg Sterling on Marketing Land at 
Killing the Carousel: A Poem from Terminal Four

While "stunning images" gain in popularity, the plague of web carousels finally is shrinking.

If you need extra ammunition on your campus to eliminate a carousel, direct people to the "The web content merry-go-round," a poem by Terminal Four blogger Vincent O'Malley 

Prediction for the end of 2015: we will go after "stunning images" that completely fill a home page when it first opens. 
Mergers and Acquisitions: Enrollment Marketing in Higher Education

Did you know that Hobson's generates about 3 percent of the revenue of the company that owns it, Daily Mail and General Trust in the U.K.? 

The folks at International Education Advantage plan a series of articles on mergers and acquisitions among companies providing marketing services to higher education. Hobson's is the first of these. Other upcoming possibilities include Chegg, Blackboard, and Princeton Review. 

The Hobson's review is at
Gerry McGovern on Content Priorities: A Short Video Interview

Can you set website content priorities without data on what tasks people using the website want to complete?

Data is best, but in this just under 3 minute interview Gerry suggests alternatives when decisions must be made without data. Check 
Most Popular Topic in December Newsletter: Northeastern University Teen Survey

What do teens think about higher education and a host of other topics? If you recruit teens for college, review this report where "affordability" and "job placement rate and/or average graduate salary" rank highest among choice factors. See 
Be a marketing champion on your campus.

Bob Johnson, Ph.D. 
Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC
Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC

Increase the success of your digital marketing strategy. Contact me for details at 

Communication Audits
Expert Marketing Communications Website Reviews
Top Task Website Research with Gerry McGovern
Writing Right for the Web: Webinars, Conferences, and Campus Workshops
Competitive Website Reviews and Secret Shopping Projects
December and the holiday season are upon us. Early season greetings to everyone reading this. Thanks for your support throughout the year. Merry Christmas. 

Just over 50 people attended my AMA tutorial at the Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education. I will be taking the session on the road next week to Costa Rica and the Universidad Hispanoamericana. Slides from the original presentation are at 

More than 1100 people attended the AMA marketing symposium this year, a record number. Six lessons I took from sessions and keynotes are at 

And now here are your marketing news and notes for December.
The Common Application: Too Common for Elite Schools?

Was it inevitable that as use of the Common Application became more common, some elite schools would look for an alternative?

A group of highly selective private colleges and universities and a handful of similar public universities is considering a 2016 alternative. Criteria for membership would include a high academic quality enrollment profile and the ability to meet full financial need of potential students. Initial schools in the discussion include Harvard, Yale, Carlton, Williams, Vanderbilt, William and Mary, Illinois, and North Carolina.

More on the possible changes, including other schools in the initial "Coalition" studying the move, in a Chronicle report at 
Marketers Must Read: Northeastern University Teen Survey

Do you still not have clear information on affordability and success after graduation on your website?

Northeastern University has released the latest in a series of higher education reports, in this case based on a survey of 1,000+ teens, over half of whom (54 percent) say they plan to attend a four-year college or university while 11 percent say they plan to attend a two-year school. 

One section of the survey asked teens to identify the factors that were most important to them in selecting a college to attend. Heading the list at 77 percent was "affordability" followed by "job placement rate and/or average graduate salary" at 70 percent.

Download the complete report in PDF format at 
Gerry McGovern: On the Decline in Marketing Value of the (Traditional) Home Page

Marketers spend so much time agonizing over the design and content of a home page as it really was the most important real estate on a website. But it is not.

Very few people, if any, visit a website home page to gaze at the splendor of it all. Most will start a visit someplace else if they can find the desired content through a search. And if they must start at a traditional home page, they do not want revolving carousel images, rotating news releases or anything else slowing down their journey from the home page to what really interests them.

Join Gerry as he expands on why "Every page you have is a home page for someone" 
Tuition Discounting Increases: No Relief in Sight in 2015

Declining enrollment prospects for less selective private sector colleges and universities and regional public universities will force continued reliance on discounting to maintain enrollment. That will in turn restrict revenue growth in nearly 50 percent of higher education schools. That's the prediction in the latest update from the bond raters at Moody's.

Read a brief summary of the report at 
Communicating Online: Keys to Video Usability

Video content continues to increase in popularity and YouTube remains the second most popular social media network. That said, the key to success as always is in the execution.

The Nielsen-Norman usability folk have a new "Video Usability" report on creating successful videos that starts by making a clear distinction between entertainment and informational videos. Blur that distinction in your creative process and you are likely to fail. 

Key points include telling people what to expect in the video and starting strong from the first second. A Penn State video that gets it right is included for review at 
National Survey of Student Engagement: 2014 Report Available

Student engagement with faculty is not related to the selectivity of a college or university: that is the finding for 2014 that the NSSE authors are highlighting on their website. This year 622 schools participated in the survey.

Check to see if your school has participated. Ask to see the results if it has.

You can download the full report at 
Content Marketing: 3 Examples from History

From some presentations, you might almost think content marketing was a recent discovery related only to achieving success in the online world. But is anything in marketing completely new? 

Brian Honigman gives us "3 Lessons in Content Marketing from the Past" (Jello-O, Westinghouse, General Mills) to keep things in perspective and challenge your creativity to match them today at 
Writing Right for the Web: Is Calibri a Better Font than Ariel?

Which Test Won asks readers to pick which of two examples was more effective.

A recent email contest noted that the example using Calibri received 70 percent more clicks than the example using Ariel. People commenting also noted that the Calibri example had more white space between the text lines. 

Presentation makes a difference. See the contest, the results, and the comments 
A Landing Page Challenge: Find the Master's in Nursing Program

If you are investing in online advertising, extend the investment to create a special landing page that repeats and reinforces the message in the ad. Do not, ever, just drop people into an existing page on your website. That is a quick way to kill any chance of a decent ROI on your ad.

Take this challenge: find information on the Master's degree in nursing that Oakland University was advertising online when you visit the landing page for Graduate Admissions 
Bates College: Reviewing a New Home Page

For an entertaining and informative review of Bates College home pages in 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2014, see the review by the always insightful Jens Larson at
Most Popular Topic in November Newsletter: 7 Deadly Sins of Social Media Marketing

By a wide margin, the most visited item was a cartoon on sinful ways of social media marketing, starting with lust and ending with wrath. Sloth, gluttony, pride, greed, and envy complete the set at 

Bob Johnson
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