Appendix B
Episode 039 -

The Truth About Landing Pages in Higher Education

Appendix B Episode 39, text is present that reads, "The Truth About Landing Pages in Higher Education"

Kristin Van Dorn and Joel Goodman believe that Higher Ed Marketers are over-relying on third-party landing pages.
There’s an inherent disconnect between landing pages and the main institutional website, and it negatively affects both user experience and conversion. What can be done? 
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Kristin Van Dorn:

So Joel, what do you think about landing pages?

Joel Goodman:

Yuck. Oh. So I think landing pages are, they can be great. I think they are a useful tool, but I think that this industry of higher education and specifically marketing in higher education has come to rely on third party landing pages as something to fix problems with their own websites.

And that’s where the issue I have is. There are so many companies and agencies out there that are charging a lot of money to set up or to give you an example of a landing page. And these landing pages end up being oftentimes co-branded, maybe depending on what the thing is.

But there are inherent problems with using something that’s outside of your website. I think it’s similar to that whole time where higher ed decided everyone needed to have chat bots on their sites. But really, it was because their UX was broken. And so it was just kind of putting a Band-Aid over the top of it. But this has kind of more, this has some funkier things going on with it than just the typical like putting a tool on top to fix a different problem.


Well, first of all, I just want to acknowledge that you talked about chatbots as though they were a thing of the past, and I think that they are very much still going on.


Well, you’re right they are.

But now, but now you tag AI on it and you all of a sudden have the world’s most popular podcast because you’re talking about AI when really it’s, you know, it’s predict it’s predictive language models, but that’s fine.


Yeah, okay. But so when I think about these landing pages, I think oftentimes these external consultants or organizations that are brought on to help build enrollment or boost enrollment, that they’re looking for a way to prove their own value. And the best way to do that is to show unique traffic to a very specific page that they’re promoting.

And so what happens is, is that you give them the space where they’re directing all of their traffic to so they can very tightly control exactly how they’re going to boost enrollment. But that enrollment strategy doesn’t filter out to the rest of your site. It’s only located in one spot, and that spot might not be the easiest place to return to if you’re getting there via social media or by way of an advertisement.


Yeah, so one of the big things that we see in higher ed when we’re doing audits on university websites is these kind of muddied or non-existent journeys to take actions, right? And this is stuff that we tell our clients and the folks that we work with, like, you need to have a content strategy on page to build a hierarchy to get people to take action. It needs to be more than just having some calls to action sitting in the top right corner of your nav bar.

It means having prompts that are in really good contextual places. But it also means that the way that you organize content from a page standpoint, as well as from a text and image and prompt standpoint, needs to guide people through some path to get to that place. It’s not just like dump all of our content on here and hope for the best that someone’s going to find the thing. Like they need guidance.

And what happens with the search landing pages a lot of times is that a university will find that they’re not getting the applications that they think their website should be doing. And instead of looking at whether they’ve done the right things to optimize their content, optimize the website itself, they go to, oh, we need more leads because we know that X percentage of our leads are going to convert into applicants.

It’s a fine strategy to take. Sometimes that’s, I guess it’s actually not a strategy. That’s a fine tactic to take. It’s something that you might wanna put in place for a very short term in order to boost something while you’re getting that stuff fixed. The problem is the website gets ignored, right? In favor of these one-off landing pages and in favor of this mass lead generating approach.

The problem is that those leads are expensive compared to what your website could be doing organically. And so you put this in place, you kind of cut off any paths back to your actual site. Plus if anyone got to your site after visiting one of these search landing pages, you haven’t fixed the journey problems. So they’re not gonna be able to find the thing you want them to find. You haven’t fixed the informational problems. They’re not gonna find the information they need to make a good decision.

But you’re already spending money on this landing page seeing that, oh, it’s working because the agency or vendor that you’re working with is giving you these reports saying like, hey, look at all this traffic you got. Look at all these clicks that are happening on our ads or on our, you know, these submissions coming through our RFI forms. But the amount of money that you’re paying per actual lead and especially the amount of money that you’re paying per actual conversion into an applicant is so much higher than it could be if you took the time to fix the foundational problems on your website.


Yeah, so there’s that saying that when a measure becomes a metric, it ceases to be a measure, right? So agencies know how to game those measurements once they’re turned into metrics. So once that’s the criteria for evaluating the success of the agency-organization partnership, an agency will pour all of their effort into achieving that metric so that they can fulfill that contract, and they can re-up for the following year.

The tricky thing is when you’re creating a landing page that’s specific for another agency to prove their value, you’re bifurcating the user experience. So they’re not necessarily seeing the content that you’re putting on your home page. They’re not necessarily going through the same user journeys that you’re setting up for your organic search traffic. And it’s sort of changing how Google Search crawlers are evaluating the content on your site, because you’re now putting duplicative content in different places in order to make sure that those leads that are coming in from a different place have somewhere meaningful to land based on the campaign that you’re running.


And so I think there are ways to do landing pages that work and fit into an overarching content strategy. I don’t think you shouldn’t do them at all. I think the issue comes when they’re really about making the agency you’re working with look really good. When they’re not integrated into the rest of your site, not even necessarily through navigation, but through the types of content that you’re using, the design language that you use across the rest of your marketing.

And the idea is that, you know, you may want to set up a landing page to communicate a specific thing for a specific campaign, right? It may be that it’s, it’s like a brochure. It’s like, or maybe like a poster that you’re putting up in a hallway someplace. It’s giving specific information and trying to lead someone to take an action, but it shouldn’t exist in a vacuum.

It should have a reasonable familial relationship with the content that’s on the rest of your site. So that if you’re having someone land on, say it’s an MBA because people always want to get people in their MBA programs, right? Say it’s an MBA landing page. Cool, do that. But then make sure that the actual MBA program page on your website has enough information to allow those people to make decisions if they decide not to apply on that specific landing page that you’ve made.

Otherwise, you’re just kind of confusing them. But then on top of it, make sure that you have ways for them to get to that information from your homepage, from other areas of your main website. Use it as a tool to support the rest of the work that you’re doing, not as just a coverage bandaid for something that you’re doing poorly.


Yeah, and if you notice that these landing pages are effective at converting leads to applicants, then one thing you may want to look at is how do you steal from these landing pages and make the rest of your site mimic that user flow? So if that user journey is better, then you have almost a real life A-B test where you can say, oh, this is what prospective students are really interested in.

This is how I take them through a user journey that’s sense-making for them, and that’s going to lead them to fill out a request for information form, or that’s gonna lead them through to the application section where they’re going to meaningfully get excited about your program.


it’s always going to be better to manage one page versus managing two pages that have overlapping content and similar goals. Like your program pages should be about getting people to apply or request info in the same way that these search landing pages are. So yeah, learn from both sides of it. If one works better than the other, adopt those tactics and that overarching strategy of content and put it into the site so that your main website benefits from it too.