Appendix B
Episode 002 -

Higher Ed Wishlist for 2023

Appendix B Episode 2, text says "Higher Ed Wishlist for 2023."

New year, new Higher Ed wishlist! Joel and Kristin talk about their hopes and dreams for Higher Ed in 2023.

Joel hopes web professionals will keep their eyes fixed on page speed optimization, while Kristin is focused on efficient content strategies.

What’s gonna happen?

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Carl Gratiot: From Bravery Media, this is Appendix B, candid conversations about Higher Ed in 10 minutes or less. And now, here are your hosts, Kristin Van Dorn and Joel Goodman.

Joel Goodman: We wanted to talk a little bit about the things and trends that we want Higher Ed to adopt. So these are things that we don’t see often, but we wanna see more of.

Or maybe we’ve never seen it, we just want to see get started.

Kristin Van Dorn: Yeah. There’s a lot of lists out there in the beginning of the year about predictions and pontifications about what people expect to see in the field, and a lot of them leave a little bit to be desired. So Joel and I wanna talk about our wishlists.

Joel Goodman: What’s at the top of yours, Kristin?

Kristin Van Dorn: At the top of mine is content strategy built to operations specifications. So the reason I put it at the top of my list is, very often I see people develop a content strategy that’s sort of divorced from how they run their admissions process or from how they do advising or from how they even return phone calls and emails.

So they’ll put a bunch of content out there hoping that people just react and call an advisor plan to talk to a faculty member, and that’s not always the way the department or the college is ready to respond. So I think that we need to be a little bit more cognizant of when we’re setting up, our content strategy, that it aligns with the business process that we have already functioning.

Cause if it doesn’t, then we’re going to lead a lot of people to take a lot of action. That’s not going to lead them anywhere in terms of the goals that they set out.

Joel Goodman: Interesting. I think that’s very true. We do see that a lot, this disconnect between how an institution’s actually set up to run and then how, how they tell people to take action or how they inform, their users and that just causes bigger, bigger problems. I think for me, top of my list, or number one anyway. Uh, I wanna see more focus on page speed optimization and site speed optimization for Higher Ed websites. And I feel like I’ve been talking about this ad nauseum for years and years and years and years, but really when it comes down to it, it, it takes having some knowledge of the code underneath the hood of your website so that you can make sure you’re not loading JavaScript that doesn’t need to be there, or, loading images that are larger than they need to be or in the wrong formats. And a lot of this stuff can be automated, so like, it’s really not that hard to do. It just takes a little bit of time to get in there. But even beyond that, you know, the trends as you go through redesigning a website, getting away from the assumption that you have to have something that’s flashy and animated and super dense with all kinds of photos and videos and everything else, and just making sure that you communicate clearly and, and quickly. Because you know, if you jump onto a website and it takes two minutes to load, or, I mean, that’s hyperbole, but you know, it takes, it takes 20 seconds, which is legitimately something we see to load you’re not really doing anyone a service. You’re not doing your prospective students a service. You’re not doing yourself a service and you’re only hurting that kind of first impression. So focus on page speed.

Kristin Van Dorn: Another one for me is more explainer content. Um, I find that there’s a lot of Higher Ed content that is written in a marketing voice about like, come here, we’re really excited to have you.

Welcome new student. Um, but there isn’t a lot of explainer content on what they’re actually gonna get out of their degrees or what their degrees or programs actually really mean. Like how does it fit inside the industry? What are these programs preparing students to actually do? And I think. Overall, you see a lot of trends in journalism or in other industries that explain a little bit more the what is this, or how do I do this? And I think that there’s just not enough of that content on Higher Ed websites. In lieu of a lot of heavy marketing content.

Joel Goodman: You mean those bulleted lists of the jobs that you can get with this degree aren’t enough?

Kristin Van Dorn: Believe it or not, I don’t think that students find those very helpful because they don’t see the pathway at all.

All they see is that some alumni somewhere got this job, which is fantastic. I mean, it’s albeit. pretty spectacular that an alumni got to work as like the head media producer at NPR or got to work in distribution at Target. Now those are exciting positions to have, but if prospective students don’t see any kind of path forward, they don’t know how to replicate that or hope to be something similar in the industry.

Joel Goodman: My next one is I would like to see a leaning into kind of an organic first kind of acquisition strategy. So I think a lot of times there’s a ton of cash spent in paid media advertising. Yes. When you haven’t done any work on the organic side of it and, You know, like paying for Google ads doesn’t lift your SEO rankings.

Like you’re not, you’re not gonna be higher up the page on search results. Um, paying for ads on social media doesn’t really do anything to reinforce your brand unless you’re really good at it. And I just don’t think many institutions are, or at least many of the, many of the agencies that, uh, institutions are outsourcing that paid media.

Um, and especially creative creation too, are that good at it. There are exceptions, but for the most part, not great in this industry. Uh, but you know, there needs to be a little bit more brand building, a little bit more focus on actually connecting with not just, not just engagement metrics, but like actually connecting with prospective students to get them to come to your website and then while they’re on your website, really working to convert them through that reinforcement of the unique selling points of your institution, the unique selling points of your community.

I’ve heard you talk a a lot recently, Kristin, about how the community is really a big part or maybe the primary part of an institution’s product because it is the most unique part. Everyone has the same degrees, but not everyone has the same community. And leaning into that sort of connection I think is important for longevity in Higher Ed, where all this paid media purchasing is just kind of flashing the pan like, cool, if you really want unqualified leads, but if you’re not doing the work to actually then connect with them, it’s just a waste of cash.

Kristin Van Dorn: Yeah. Again, it’s a little bit of that strategy built on operation specs that I talked about earlier, too, in the sense that if you’re building these ad campaigns, that’s great. But are the people, the administrators on the other side of those ad campaigns ready to capitalize on the traffic you drive to your site?

Are they ready to answer questions? Are they ready to field inquiries? Are they ready to provide more information to make that a seamless business process? So it all gets back to building a good service blueprint that you know exactly how you’re generating these leads. Exactly where they’re coming from.

And you have the content and the people to match that so that they feel when they arrive at your site that they know what they’re supposed to do and they feel connected and appreciated for being there. So my last wishlist item for trends I’d like to see in Higher Ed web environments is quality over quantity.

And I think part of this stems back to you, a lot of the conversations taking place around artificial intelligence and can we get, ChatGPT to write up some cool blog posts for us and it gets to me like, the way that I see it is that there’s so many Higher Ed websites that don’t even know how to produce content that’s gonna convert students, or that’s going to create the persuasive argument for why students should be interested in coming to their institution.

And so when I say I want quality over quantity, I don’t mean like, blog posts. We don’t need to spam our users or send out so many newsletters that they feel overwhelmed with the connection. But what we need are the quality moments where someone’s gonna say, this feels like it was written specifically for me, and I love it.

Joel Goodman: Totally, and I think we see that a lot. This idea that you have to turn tons and tons of news stories or blog content or social media posts or whatever, and a lot of times they just end up falling flat because there isn’t that focus on whether or not it’s something that’s genuinely going to connect with a prospective student or a faculty person or staff member, you know, like not knowing your audience and not having the time put into producing something that’s really good versus just producing a lot of okay or bad content. Yep, partially along with all of this, well, I guess entirely along with all of this, I, my last one is a desire to see, a shift from being super reactive on the web, uh, to being really diligent and proactive about putting sort of like product cycle planning in place, right? Like I think we on the agency side hear this a lot and I know that the many friends and colleagues that I have that work on campuses always hear this from higher-ups, but this idea that, someone thinks something needs to be done and then it has to get done.

But there isn’t any like discussion around whether there are goals for it, whether it fits in the strategy, whether it’s something that people want, it’s just it, it’s kind of more vanity a lot of times, or it’s a lot of ego product projects and I think for the most part, a lot of times what you see is websites that end up being just a mess, right?

There’s, it’s content that doesn’t make sense. It’s information architecture that gets broken. It’s just stuff that’s bloated because someone thought this needs to happen. Because of something, you know, like maybe, oh, enrollment’s down. Well, what do we need to do? We need to spend a bunch of money on ads.

Right? Or it’s or, you know, uh, people aren’t, people aren’t staying on our homepage. We need to have a slideshow or a new video that grabs people. But the truth of it is like, are those the actual things that you need to happen, are those the actual things people want to get done? And I, product, product planning and, and putting in place product cycles where you’re purposefully releasing new features or new content or new parts of your design is something that can help slow down the pace and make sure that the choices being made are relevant and good for your website.

Kristin Van Dorn: Yeah. I see a lot of project management materials coming out of universities and colleges about the different functionality and features that they want on their websites. But what I often see is they get to that minimum viable project or product, and then they move on and they’re onto the next fancy thing that they wanna put on their website.

And so that MVP never gets upgraded or treated as something that needs to be on a product lifecycle, where there’d be new features or new incremental developments happening to make that a better product for the site.

Carl Gratiot: Thanks for listening to Appendix B. If you’ve got thoughts, well, we’d love for you to share them on Apple Podcasts or here in the comments section. For more info, please consider subscribing to our weekly newsletter at Thanks, and we’ll see you soon!