All posts by Andy Sulhoff

Simple (and Impactful) Website Marketing Strategies for Small Teams

With the launch of every new website comes a fresh opportunity to update your digital marketing toolkit and rethink strategies for generating buzz around your brand. What are these best practices you might ask and how can I implement them with a small staff?

First things first: big things are possibleeven with small teams.

Over the past few years, we’ve partnered with Eureka College, a small liberal arts institution in Eureka, Illinois. Together, we’ve defined their target audiences, designed a website, developed a blog content calendar and created over 100 pages of content for the school’s website and blog. For a small college with limited staff, these are huge accomplishments. By the end of the project, the marketing team could stand proudly behind their new website.

We recently transitioned into the post-launch polishing phase of our partnership and recognized a need for continued marketing and web support. During a recent visit, the client asked: “What do we need to do to keep our website fresh and growing?”

The guidance we provided is simple and manageable for small teams. Now that your site is live, you have three goals:

  1. Generate traffic.
  2. Drive demand for programs.
  3. Support ongoing updates.

Below, I’ve outlined a few simple (and affordable) steps you can implement today to begin marketing your website like a pro.

Step 1 – Create a content calendar.

This step will help you work towards all three of the three goals listed above. A content calendar targeting prospective students, current students and/or alumni will keep your team focused and consistent with publishing. Do a brainstorming session with staff members from admissions, student life and/or alumni and I’ll guarantee you they can come up with at least one idea per month to support the calendar. With one piece from each of those three groups per month and one general blog post, you’ve got one blog post per week that will help drive traffic to your site. Simple, right?

Step 2 – Organize a group of student workers.

With a team of four to six student workers you can produce at least four blog pieces per month. Start with student workers in admissions, student life and/or the alumni offices. These students will be the most plugged into what’s happening in each of those areas. If you can’t procure student workers in those offices, go to a relevant student organization such as communications, marketing or campus newspapers. The key is to find students that can write and/or produce photos or videos.

Step 3 – Build a publishing queue.

Trello is a great free tool to use for content planning and execution. If you haven’t used it before, I’d highly recommend checking it out. Each Trello board allows you to create columns that make the most sense for your system. I recommend creating columns for Planned, On Deck, In Progress, Under Review, Approved & Published. Create a Trello card for each piece of blog content on your calendar. Invite your team of student workers to the Trello board and assign them to the Trello card for the piece of content they’ll be producing. Use a standard checklist with dates to make sure there is a set schedule for content production and review.

 

Step 4 – Schedule regular meetings to keep things moving.

Meet each week to make sure everyone is on schedule. You can use this time to meet with your team of workers and discuss the upcoming posts and to discuss how previous posts have performed with a review of Google Analytics data. I also recommend meeting once per quarter to create the content calendar. Getting that meeting on the calendar early will help make sure all parties will be able to attend.

 

Effective Website Marketing for Higher Education

A good strategy and properly written content can help you generate web traffic and create demand for your institution. I hope these simple steps will help you begin marketing your website today. Have questions or comments on any of the points above? Get more information on web design best practices for higher education or message me directly to continue the discussion.

How Eye-Tracking Research is Revolutionizing the Web

In today’s digital world, web analytics and user insights are in demand.

One tool marketers can use to gain insight into user preference is eye tracking. Eye-tracking research is another form of user experience testing. Like user experience tests, eye-tracking research is based in scientific methodology. However, unlike simple questionnaires or surveys, eye-tracking research uses participants’ physical reactions to validate (or invalidate) feedback expressed during the user test.

When it comes to web projects, eye tracking can provide valuable information at any phase of a project.

  • Old site evaluation – What are people looking at when they arrive on your site? Understanding what works well (or poorly) can help you decide what needs to be updated. This can be for a full website redesign or standard site maintenance.
  • Wireframes – At Converge, we use wireframes to validate three primary assumptions: 1.) Do we have the right elements on the page? 2.) Are the elements in the correct order? 3.) Are the elements sized appropriately in relation to other elements on the page? Eye-tracking research tests these assumptions and ensures your templates effectively use page elements.
  • New page designs – Using eye-tracking research on new page designs can help you evaluate the effectiveness of your site’s navigational components. We often use multiple navigational components on a page (text links, menu navigation, icons and images). With eye-tracking research, we can determine if those methods are garnering the interest necessary to be effective navigational components.

 

Eye Tracking 101

Eye tracking measures an individual’s eye activity by recording eye position and movement. Eye-tracking technology monitors the movement of participants’ corneas to assess:

 

1. What draws users’ attention first

 

Understanding what users first look at is key to making sure they understand the purpose of the page and how to navigate to their destination.

 

 

This is a heat map of prospective students’ initial view of the University of Wyoming home page. In this example, the University of Wyoming has included a video on their home page. As you can see in the red areas on the bronco flag video, it attracts users’ initial attention. However, we also see that the content on the first featured text area grabs users.

This is significant because we can utilize those areas to feature important initiatives in the future.

 

2. What doesn’t attract attention

 

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound? If your website has content but no one views it, should it still exist?

 

 

The video component and resource links toward the bottom of the home page don’t command as much attention.

We can use Google Tag Manager to understand how many times a link is being clicked, but that only tells us part of the story. The heat map eye-tracking research helps us understand why the link isn’t being clicked and can give us a strategy moving forward.

In this instance, we could increase the size of the video. Maybe we cut the resource links by half and increase the size of the links. Or maybe we leave the page as is because the elements we want users to notice are already commanding attention.

 

3. What users look at over time and how they browse the page

 

Which elements get attention in a non-linear way? For example, which elements do users notice before (or after) we’d expect based on the element’s position on the page?

 

 

Eye-tracking research allows us to understand the order in which web page elements are consumed. In this example, users consume the navigational components at the top right of the page after their initial review of the video component and featured text. While we know the video and text command initial attention, users don’t ignore the navigational components and still use them early on to navigate the site.

 

4. How certain elements impact the consumption of other elements

 

It’s no secret that photos and videos can draw attention to your website. That’s often the purpose of visual elements, and the key is making sure these components serve a purpose.

 

 

As you can see with the heat map on this page, the visual elements on the right half of the page consistently attract less attention than their text counterparts. This page highlights the different colleges at the University of Wyoming, and we’d like users to understand the colleges and programs offered through the text on the page. In this respect, the page design successfully conveys the colleges and programs offered.

However, the long-scroll page means the elements at the bottom do not attract as much attention as the elements at the top. It’s difficult to say if this long scroll has a negative impact on the programs lower on the page, but it does provide a hypothesis to test if we updated the format of this page.

The insights from eye-tracking research can provide the information you need to make impactful changes to your website.

 

Thinking about making updates to your website to make it more dynamic? Contact us to talk about new ideas.

301 Redirect Best Practice FAQs

301 redirects are commonly misunderstood components of a website redesign project. To alleviate that stress, we’ve answered some of the most frequently asked questions we get during website redesign projects.

301-redirect-faq_twitter_feature-image

Who should be involved in creating 301 redirects?

People often ask, “Who should be responsible for creating 301 redirects?” It depends on the type of knowledge required.

  • Web content – You’ll need someone with a thorough understanding of your web content. Blindly redirecting all pages to your home page won’t suffice, so you’ll need someone to connect the old pages with the new. The person who understands or can understand your web content is essential.
  • Technical knowledge – Different content management systems require different formatting and procedures for placing 301 redirects. Having someone with technical knowledge is always helpful.
  • SEO – You’ll need someone who understands which pages are currently ranking for various keywords to make sure you redirect the pages that drive the most organic traffic. While you can plan to create redirects for every page, having someone with SEO insights could save you time and effort.
  • Web analytics – Another role that could save you time is someone who understands your current web traffic. For large websites, there are typically few pages that receive most of the traffic. Alternatively, there are a large number of pages that receive a small amount of traffic. Having someone who can access your web traffic and decide which pages need to be redirected and which can be removed is another helpful skillset.

Do I need a developer to implement 301 redirects?

Maybe. Most content management systems – including enterprise options and open source options WordPress and Drupal – provide easy-to-use interfaces for a non-technical user to create and maintain 301 redirects. You don’t need to know any coding language to do the job.

However, it’s always nice to have a developer on hand just in case you have questions. Additionally, if your CMS does not have an easy-to-use interface, we suggest having your web content owner drive the strategy and work with a web developer to create the syntax and implement.

What’s the first step in creating 301 redirects?

The first step is building a 404 page with some form of utility. Your website will have 404 errors. Period. You cannot and do not want to create a 301 redirect for every 404 you see, but you do want to keep users on your site, regardless of their entry point. Any steps you can take to keep the user on your site are steps in the right direction. To keep the user engaged, you can add a list of popular links, related searches or other components that are on brand.

Which pages do I need to redirect?

There are two ways we recommend identifying which pages to redirect:

  • Look at your analytics traffic and only redirect pages with a certain amount of traffic. This suggestion pre-supposes you have reporting and analytics properly installed. If that’s the case, you should be able to export a list of all web traffic within a certain time period and use that as the starting point for your redirect list. We recommend a year, but you could make the case for other durations depending on your situation.
  • Look at SEO rankings and only redirect pages in the top xxx of search engine results. This option requires you to have access to an organic SEO tool like Google Search Console, Moz or Spyfu. If you do, it’s a simple export into Excel and you’re off.

How long should we keep 301 redirects active?

There are two prevailing thoughts on how long to keep 301 redirects active:

  • Keep them active until you see the updated link in the Google search results. Once you begin receiving independent confirmation Google has indexed your new page, you can remove the 301 redirect. The key here is independent. This requires a tool like Google Search Console, Moz or Spyfu. With one of these tools in place, you can easily identify which pages are receiving traffic and adjust your 301 redirect list accordingly.

Need help with your website redesign project? Let us know how we can help!

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13 Ways to Convert Inbound Marketing Leads Through the Recruitment Funnel

While others may call out the 2nd Line “parade” and Dinner Lab as their 398a134aa8a57e5186246afb66541027_f312favorite part of #Converge2015, I’d have to respectfully disagree. My favorite part was getting to meet and sit in on Dan Noonan’s session. Not only was he a dynamic and engaging speaker, he provided some directly actionable items for every admissions department across the country. No smoke and mirrors. Dan opened the doors (and Excel spreadsheet reports) to how he’s converting inbound leads into enrolled students.

13 ways to convert inbound leads from Dan’s presentation:

1. 80/20 – people will forget 80% of what you tell them, they will NEVER forget how you made them feel

2. Everything you do with admissions must have a metric to it – stop throwing money towards initiatives that you can’t prove that they work

3. Texting is the next big thing in recruitment

  • The communication channels have changed. People aren’t emailing. Students are ignoring emails from people they care about. Why would they respond to your emails?

4. Ask students where they hang out and get there

5. Stay top of mind between inquiry and enrollment – don’t lose them to someone else while they’re waiting for you to get your shit together

6. Social media – Goodwin doesn’t get a lot of leads but it’s great for top of mind awareness

  • Develop a like and follow policy
  • Constantly state your competitive differentiation

7. 70/20/10

  • 70% budget goes to workhorse initiatives
  • 20% on what we believe will work
  • 10% on flyers

8. Internet radio – was a flyer and is killing it for them

  • Human brain can only interpret 1 audio message at a time – look at your students ears, they all have headphones in

9. Understand financial aid – 80% of his students apply for financial aid, so the financial aid process is crucial to their admissions success

  • 29 minutes on average the time to fill out FAFSA
  • 3:13 – average time on a website internet wide

10. The ISIR – Institutional Student Information Record

  • They receive an ISIR every day – follow up on them – enroll more students

11. High touch is more important than high tech

12. Create an enrollment cancellation procedure

  • Follow up via phone to figure out why they really cancelled and then solve their problems

13. Admissions is a 24/7 job – no great way to handle off hour follow up – you must follow up ASAP to see if the individual has questions, you don’t have to do work, you just have to show the applicant you’re willing to work to help them

Ready for more great information on what’s new and next in higher education? Reserve your spot at Converge 2017 in Palm Springs and save with early bird pricing.

Build a Culture of Web & Social Media Measurement at Your Institution

A survey of 747 top marketing executives from Fortune 500 Companies revealed that the largest gap between industry demand and work force supply is in analytics skills. In every obstacle there is an opportunity and this is no different. Professor Michael Holmes and Julie Campbell have partnered to find a solution to fill the talent gap using an innovative solution originally developed at Ball State University.

So the problem is clear, the media and business industries are demanding candidates with digital marketing and analytics skills and the educational institutions and training centers are failing at preparing individuals to fill those roles.

How to fix the problem? As Professor Holmes states, “You put the cart before the horse.” As a Professor at Ball State, Holmes realized he would not be able to educate students in analytics unless he could offer classes to teach the subject matter. He could not create classes or curriculum unless he could hire the faculty to develop the curriculum and teach the classes. With additional funding being hard to come by and pressure from the Dean’s Advisory Council to better prepare students in media research and analytics Holmes and Campbell partnered to create a Media Research and Analytics Agency on campus.

Holmes, a professor and chairperson in the Ball State Department of Journalism and Campbell then the Director of Interactive Marketing partnered to develop this unique solution because they quickly realized neither one of them would be able to make this endeavor happen alone.

As a professor, Holmes brings a scholarly expertise to curriculum development and the connection to students that would help make the program a success. The yin to Holmes’ yang, Campbell helped provide professional experience and access to the tools and resources that helped create the successful foundation for a successful endeavor.

Unintentional shameless plug alert, Julie and Michael partnered with Converge Consulting to create the original curriculum to get the program off the ground. While Campbell did have limited resources to develop the training curriculum, they needed assistance expediting the process for getting the program off the ground.

At the outset, the challenges to the plan were numerous, but the program is quickly gaining traction for university organizations and students alike. The Media Research and Analytics Agency provides research services of needs/audience analytics, survey, focus group, lab study or field work methods, usability testing and A/B testing. The group also provides Analytics services of web traffic analytics, social media traffic and sentiment analysis, and digital advertising analytics.

While the process for creating the agency wasn’t easy, Holmes and Campbell have successfully created a Media Research and Analytics Agency on the campus of Ball State. The agency will primarily serve student groups until the entity matures and develops the skills and process for serving paying customers from external organizations. The success of the agency has also helped develop media analytics courses serving Journalism, Telecommunications and College of Business Students and already benefited students in internship and job placements.

Want to learn more from thought leaders in #HigherEd? Register for Converge 2017 today!

4 Project Management Tips to Keep Contributors on Track

posted by on October 22, 2015 in Converge Blog

4 Project Management Tips to Keep Contributors on Track

Managing a project is largely about managing expectations. This is often difficult in large and complex projects because there are so many unknowns.

One of the largest unknowns arises in situations where parties responsible for delivering assets for a project (contributors) are not under direct control by a project manager. This is true in many cases and in each case, a project manager is subject to that person’s willingness to participate and supply the resources necessary to make the project successful.

But how do you manage projects when you don’t have authority over contributors?

Set Clear Expectations

First set clear expectations of their required involvement in a project. Let them know the hourly commitment per week and project as a whole. You should also let them know the phases that will require their greatest involvement so they can plan accordingly.

Build Trust

Work to build trust with the contributor by engaging them in the planning of the project. In many cases, the scope of the project may already be predetermined. But that doesn’t mean you can’t let the person doing the work have some level of autonomy to determine how the work will get completed. Once you establish the “how” with the contributor, it is your responsibility as the project manager to hold that person accountable to their commitments.

Set a Communication Schedule

As referenced in my FAC video, you should also establish a standard communication schedule and make the contributor aware of the situations in which you’ll be forced to reach out to their direct supervisor. Hopefully you never have to reach out to a supervisor, but if you do, it’s best to be up front about how, when and why you’re reaching out to the contributor’s supervisor so you don’t permanently damage a relationship.

Keep Stakeholders in the Loop

There will be situations where your project is competing against other priorities on the contributor’s schedule. It’s inevitable that your project will eventually need to come after another. When all else fails, you should always know how different circumstances will impact the project from a cost and timeline perspective. Once you realize the impact of an occurrence, it’s then your responsibility to notify all stakeholders as soon as possible.

The tough part about notifying the stakeholders is that there will undoubtedly be some level of pushback. In most cases, stakeholders don’t like to hear a project is going to take longer or cost more. The flip side is that in most cases, the stakeholders can help alleviate the roadblocks that may stand in the way of the on-time delivery of your project. In that instance, outline the possible ways for a project to get done on time and use stakeholder influence to make a positive impact on the project.

I’d love to get your feedback on these tips. What are your project management struggles?