In this industry, we know (sort of) that our websites are important to our institutions. But do we know that? I think a lot of times we put a lot of money in Higher Ed into paid advertising, whether that’s search advertising or more likely social media advertising.
And we kind of ignore the website or you know the attention that we pay to the website is like a visual refresh on it you know and maybe a content strategy that gets you know that probably you’re working with an agency that kind of develops a content strategy for you and you’re like yeah this is great and then by the time it launches it gets messed up because everyone in Higher Ed thinks they’re a content strategist and a web designer and a web developer.
And so they’ve got to put their mark on it. Right? But all of that points to, I think, this underlying truth that shouts at us, the website isn’t important. I mean, the website’s important, but the website’s not important. What is it? So I want to go back to basics a little bit on this episode of Appendix B and talk about why the college or university website is so important and what we can do to give it that importance, right? And yeah, let’s dig in a little.
Kristin Van Dorn:
Okay, so let’s first talk about why a campus might think that their website is not that important to their prospective students. For one thing, they have other journeys to bring their students to that application, right? So you’re sending out recruiters to college fairs, you’re meeting with students directly.
You’re using your social media accounts, you’re spending on paid advertising, you’re driving people into the fray of your program pages, but overall you’re sending them out view books, you’re getting them, like there’s all these different touch points that students experience. And the website is this big contested space, whereas in enrollment marketing, social media tends not to be a contested space, you can post what you want.
And paid advertising tends not to be a contested space. And view books and any collateral materials that you’re producing tend not to be contested spaces. So the only contested space in your journey happens to be this monolithic giant website, where you have to work with all kinds of key stakeholders, from your foundation and your alumni relations, to faculty, to administrators, to program coordinators that want to put very detailed instructions for how someone matriculates through a program all on your website.
So we can definitely see why it’d be tempting to back away from the website as your core feature in that user journey and focus on all of these other touch points where you don’t have to utilize the website in order to get someone through to that application.
Yeah, so it’s sort of the path of least resistance for a group of marketers that are just tired of having to fight and push against the status quo. And the reality is that we’ve had, you know, .edu websites for 30 plus years.
What you’re saying to me sounds like a governance issue. It sounds like there isn’t anyone that’s willing to actually own the purpose of the website, which to be honest, like even if you’re doing college fairs and social media posts, like you’re still linking people back to the website.
Like you’re not ignoring the website that’s there. You’re not just saying, like, hey, go to this form that’s going to be our application. You can’t build enough brand voice and you can’t trust that your posts on social media are going to make it into the algorithm of, you know, a corporation that doesn’t care about you, that only cares about selling their advertising like.
There’s this whole issue where if we are only willing to go after the things that are super easy for us, we ignore the most important things that are gonna have the biggest value. But I think it does come down to this issue of ownership or franchise. Maybe this needs to come from the top down.
Maybe the college of university president or chancellor or whoever it is needs to say, no, marketing owns this and marketing knows exactly what they’re going to do with what needs to be done with this website. And it doesn’t matter if you as faculty want your course listings on this site. And it doesn’t matter if, you know, advancement wants a giving link on the homepage. Like if it’s not serving the goal of what the website’s supposed to do.
And in this case, I think we’re kind of assuming it’s getting people to apply. It, you know, like they’re gonna say no, and they’re totally within their rights to do it. But we don’t have that today. And so like what ends up happening is that the website, becomes a little bit of a dumping ground. I think more institutions are moving towards that recruitment focus on website and have been for the last decade.
But when Bravery Media comes into a new project with a website, like we always focus on okay your goal is to get more inquiries and more applications with this web design. We are going to design journeys. We’re going to design interfaces, we’re going to design clear paths and a clear content strategy to get your prospective students to take one of those actions. And the number one things that get cut out of that are all this stuff for internal people like because that’s the stuff that gets in the way.
And if you’re putting stuff in the way of those journeys, then you’re decreasing the potential applicant pool that you have. And if you’re ignoring the website completely and just expecting your paid media to do that, you’re also decreasing your applicant pool and your perspective reach to find new students and new applicants.
Yeah, a good paid media strategy is always going to be built on a strong, organic strategy first. You need that organic base in order for that paid strategy to pay off. That’s just simply because if your site is not discoverable, if it’s not findable, and if it’s not usable, then investing a lot of money and driving people to it isn’t necessarily going to give your users the best experience that they can have.
And it doesn’t mean that they’re going to easily be able to find their way back when the ad is not there. It doesn’t mean that they’re going to be able to have a journey that lasts over several visits. It means that in order for you to convert, you’re relying on a one-time experience.
And t doesn’t matter how many leads that you get from click through rates on ads. If they get to your website and can’t figure out how to take that action you want them to take, you’ve just, you’ve just wasted that, you know, I mean, like, acquisition costs on paid media for Higher Ed are so high as it is. You’re just making that more expensive for yourself. You’re wasting that money.
Yeah. And if anything, you’re reducing trust, right? Because if you’ve shown them a flashy advertising campaign and they feel like, oh, this looks like an interesting place, and then you drop them off in a site that’s made for current audiences that’s confusing, that’s hard to find answers to questions that they logically have, that makes it difficult to navigate and weed through a lot of dense, thickly drawn content, then what you’ve done is you’ve proven to them that your departments don’t care as much about that brand as the people that are buying those ads, like that are spending those advertising dollars.
You’ve signaled to them that the ad doesn’t match the product before they’ve even had a chance to interact with someone.
Paid advertising, I think, is seen as a silver bullet for figuring, like for fixing your applicant woes or whatever. Or, I mean, there are a lot of other strategies coming up. There’s all these other things that institutions are spending a lot of money on because third party places they’re doing it.
But it all is predicated on this assumption that more people in the funnel equals more applicants, more conversion. So you get a ton of a ton of leads. Oh, sure. I mean, yeah, you’re probably going to get if you’re, you know, if your conversion percentage on that is five percent because you’re doing real good. Cool. Like more people in like, yeah, you’ll get a couple more applications, but you’re also spending more money on that at the expense of ignoring your website, which could organically change that anyway, right?
You could fix your content, fix your design, fix your UX, fix the journeys on your website fairly easily for the same amount of money, maybe less than you’re paying on paid advertising and all these other, you know, get leads quick sort of sort of approaches.
But rather than do that, no, no, we’re going to dump a bunch of money in these other strategies and then, you know, cut ourselves off at the knees because we have a website that doesn’t actually convert, that doesn’t actually help people figure out how to get to that end game.