Internet college recruiting and marketing: Web promotion, techniques and law
An Overview of Effective Search Engine Placement and Strategy for College Enrollment Management
After several years of using online recruiting techniques, researching the area of Internet marketing and consulting with companies regarding search engine ranking, we have made many observations about the evolution of the Internet as a tool for educating students and targeting enrollment for new admission.
All companies and trade names listed herein are the trademarks and intellectual property of the mentioned company, search engine or directory.
Exposure to the High School Students and the Applicant Pool
Schools train children to use the Internet. Today’s youth and future Internet culture generations use and will use the Internet to research colleges. They research and visit colleges from the comforts of their homes and the library1 and are informed candidates for admission. Discussions with recent high school graduates also reveal that, because it requires less interaction with people, many enjoy the privacy of searching online and using online forms2 and achieving instant answers to questions using Web navigation and FAQ links.
Ease of Use
The admission site creator’s challenge is to incorporate necessary information to promote the university. The admission and recruiting site’s main page illuminates benefits, accreditation, ranking or accolades, facilities, housing, tuition pricing, value, location, phone numbers, and contact names. Implement online forms your IT department can handle. You want to market your university, but enrollment Web sites need to allow the application to be harvested without distraction or clutter.
Most universities organize their Web sites in “egocentric” fashion, so the material’s organization mirrors the institution’s formal organization chart. Thus, a student may follow several different pathways from the main portal to find the information he wants. For example, the admission function may be in one vice president’s portfolio, housing in another’s and financial aid in a third’s. The “egocentric” nature of institutional Web sites assumes the prospective student understands the institution’s organizational structure-a shaky assumption at best. While layering information may make sense to those affiliated with the institution (current students, faculty, staff, administrators, and graduates), such an arrangement confuses a prospective student examining many institutions in a short period of time. Site navigation should be tailored toward prospective students.
Layout the admission process information from a student’s perspective. The following array of institutional information is intuitive to most high school students in the admission process:
* General Information for Prospective Students
* Applicant for Admission Information
* Accepted Student Information
* Enrolling Student Information
* Enrolled Student Information
While these major categories include redundancies, the value of presenting the information in process sequence outweighs them.
Focusing on Benefits,Value and Success
College marketing focuses on the product-the programs, majors and services-the college provides. This approach often leads to a “so what” reaction from the students because they are more interested in personal college attributes. A better approach focuses on the benefits and value of the experience. Understanding the connection between the educational process and the institution’s services refocuses thinking.
* Show enthusiasm for the university and the success of the endowment.
* Show alumni pictures, statements/testimonials.
* Tie in your academics, graduate programs and other supplemental centers.
* Show alumni salary and employment statistics.
Colleges and universities should promote professors and administrators. Students may want to learn from a faculty member known for his or her unusual field. Savvy colleges mention these professors, their publications and their renowned research.
Similarly, consider before presenting institutional characteristics. For example, college Web sites often address average class sizes with language like, “the average class size for lower division courses is 25.” Presenting data this way leaves the reader to determine the benefits of this average class size. Explain this fact’s associated benefit so students can understand it. For example, if the college says, “our average class size of 25 makes it possible for faculty to work closely with individual students, conduct substantive in-class discussions and coach students in their areas of interest,” the average class size data point becomes significant.
In Web site construction, those responsible for the design and content must assume the mindset of the student. They should articulate benefits and clearly link connections for those unfamiliar with the academy.
Integration of Price, Scholarship, Grant, and Financial Aid Information
Each admission site should contain clear application information, the process and turn around on applications and acceptance or rejection notices. Moreover, to appeal to all socioeconomic classes, each admission site must clearly explain the possibility of assistance in the area of paying for tuition or finding a job on campus. Web sites should present information on typical financial aid and net cost scenarios on the same data displays as published price, so students won’t prematurely select a university based on the full cost.
Ease of Contact
We stress the importance of having an 800 number because long distance students might not have the money to call admission to ask questions or make requests. The student’s ability to find the application form, fill it out, send it online, and receive a response, confirmation or feedback is fundamental to the student’s and your school’s success.
A well-designed Web site may group information in logical phases, but no Web site can accurately sequence information for every student’s demands. The application for admission, the list of majors, financial aid programs, and the institutional catalog are always in high demand. These items should be included on the top layer of the admission Web site as process stage independent selections.
As for responses, many colleges and universities have compliance approved (by your legal department) standard responses developed and ready to be emailed or mailed to candidates. Some universities may use auto responders to send specific information to students who submit an email with certain questions checked.3
Creating Search Engine Friendly College Web Sites
We love beautiful graphics, pictures, fancy design, and Flash4. However, many students who live in rural areas or use an inexpensive computer system have traditional dial-up Internet services. The candidate’s dial-up may take 30-45 seconds to download your entire admission Web site or home page. Their patience may run out. Further, if the home page takes 30 seconds to load and the next click for an application is in a format that can’t be translated by the candidate’s computer, you lose a prospect. Admission should offer several formats.
Integration of Online Applications, Online Forms and Other Submissions and Email and Customer Service: The Use of Email and the Savings Involved
Having your student applications online reduces hard copy expenses and paper use. Similarly, these forms help IT to harvest email addresses and other data for sending future mailings and updates. College email increases savings in the area of postage, labor, paper, printing expenses, and administrative time.5 Some colleges rejoice in the savings of their seasonal mass mailings.6
Today mailing list providers routinely harvest email addresses which are commonly used and much more stable than they were a few years ago. Email provides a low-cost, high-speed communication mechanism for colleges and universities.
Several of the more popular email applications in college recruitment are:
* Distribution of text documents such as PDF files for information pertaining to majors, financial aid, etc.
* Notification of incomplete applications identifying the documents needed to complete the packet
* Invitations for college-sponsored events with built in RSVP mechanisms
* Market research surveys
* Newsletters containing information related to campus events
* Rich text format email
The admission department’s creativity is email’s only limit. Since the cost is extremely low, the admission office can be in constant, interactive contact with members of the target population.
The University Online: Benefits, Features and Search Keywords
Linguistics can cause confusion when students search for “football” or “free tuition” while the university site uses traditional terms such as “athletics” and “financial aid.” The universities must target the search engine keywords youth may use in seeking a college to attend. The institution’s job is to integrate the information below with all Web pages related to the university Web site or admission.
Search Engine Friendly College Web Sites and Domains Contain:
* Title: The title of each Web page should target specific Web surfers.7
* Meta Tags: Place these individualized tags on all university recruiting and other Web pages. It doesn’t matter how unrelated the information is. In essence, a student could discover you via any major department of the university while surfing.
* Content: The text of each page should be keyword rich with the target audience in mind.”
* Headings: The headings and keyword rich text should be closest to the top left of the page and throughout the rest of the page without stuffing too many key words or phrases into the page.
* Germane URL Names and Sub-Directory Names: The URL name is important, but the rest of the URL can have significance too. For example, http://www.tulane.edu/ collegeranking.html is likely to be picked up by a student searching for Tulane’s rank or college ranking in general.
Colleges need to be ethical while aggressively extolling the virtues of their campuses.9 For instance, it is a crime to target a competitor’s candidates with code, keywords and Meta tags that allow your site to rank when a student is searching for another college.10
Search Engine Factors-Your college Web site can easily be found by potential candidates and alumni on search engines or directories:
* The Top Engines: http://www.searchenginewatch.com” displays the Net Ratings,12 which explain the market share of the following search engines and directories along with surfcr exposure and overlap. See Jupiter Media Metrix Ratings. ” Yahoo, MSN, AOL, Google, Askjeeves, InfoSpace, Overture, and a few others have the widest appeal to the potential recruiting market. To keep tabs on the dynamic search engine/directory market share, you must closely follow the industry. 14
* Variables: Domain name15, keyword rich text and Meta tags in the html source code, affect your college exposure dramatically.16 Search engines use different methods (algorithms’7) to list your Web sites and rank them when a word search is run for “colleges,” “ranking” or “admission.” Helpful variables include the name of your domain, its relation to the search terms, the title of the page, the Meta tags which include your site description and keywords, the text and content of the page, image file names, alt tag text, and link popularity.18 The search engines and directories change the algorithms and ranking criteria from time to time. Some major engines use a partner, which can change, to provide their search results. Thus, the variables and algorithms are dynamic and IT, Webmasters and college departments need to actively watch and innovate search engine ranking strategies. Keep in mind, a Web-master can ineffectively use these variables. Understand the guidelines and rules for each major search engine.
* Pay for Inclusion or Pay Per Performance Engines and Programs: Yahoo, Google, AdWords, and Overture are increasingly important to Web site performance and targeted visitors. Many search engines such as Looksmart19 (which provides results for MSN) and Overture20 (which sponsors results for AOL and Yahoo) give you a bid-for placement advantage over Webmasters because you pay for per-click marketing placement where your visitor sees a sponsored listing on the first page of results. Recently, Yahoo bought Inktomi, another relevant consideration for listings.
* Your College Domain Name and Web Address: A fair percentage of your Web visitors will locate your home page by simply typing the name of the college into the browser coupled with dot edu.
Universities and Search Engine Listings for Education Institutions
Because you are a non-profit or education and research institution, search directories like Google may list all of your Web pages for free. Placing all of your forms in html versions online increases your visibility and link popularity. However, universities and colleges can be banned for spam (over-submitting Web sites to search engines). You may want your site’s links, forms, and other documents in hyperlink text format so search engines you submit to can catalog (spider) them.
Admitting Your Best Prospects Online and In Person: Use of Superlatives
Search engines frown upon the use of superlatives in Internet marketing. So be careful using statements like, “The top school in the region… ” Insert aggressive marketing copy on Web sites Utilize credentials, benefits, accolades, testimonials, and all other positive points. University Web sites do their jobs if they produce leads and applications. In the end, it is the enrollment department’s job to enlist extraordinary students who are undecided, in need of financial aid, seeking competition, and looking for a personal touch. Many students want to be convinced of the opportunity and prestige that comes from attending your university.
Links Back to Your Home Page
Consult your IT department and administration about college departmental Web sites linking back to admission. This increases your exposure.
These links are critical in leading the prospective student to a Web location that logically presents information with regard to the admission and financial aid processes. Many prospective students arrive at a departmental Web site by executing a discipline field search. The search engine they use may return Web addresses for particular departments within the institution-useful for providing program-specific information, but useless for linking the student to the admission process.
Many search engines rank sites according to the amount of links other sites have to yours. Some sites pick up all links, but many search engines only observe hyperlinks to your college that are attached to text. Ask people affiliated with the university to add a university link to their Web site.
Ranking and Recruitment
Ranking is said to be unfair in many cases, but is a great way to market your university.21 Students consider ranking in their decisions to attend a college or university. LfS News, Business Week, Kiplinger, Petersons, and The Financial Times have a temporary monopoly on this. Because more unofficial rankings than you can imagine exist, obscure college ranking information sites may out rank the U.S. News and Business Week sites on several search engines. Additionally, if you are ranked, your Web site link is usually listed.
High school students tend to use ranking systems to locate an institution within a broad category of similar institutions, regarding quality for the cost. Students evaluate an institution by examining the surrounding group of institutions, looking for names they recognize. In the student’s mind, an institution’s position on the continuum is determined by the company it keeps!
Ease of Recall
Most universities facilitate a campaign to include the Web site with contact information on every piece of hard copy or email sent from the university. Don’t overlook the Web name’s “ease of recall.” The producers of marketing copy may want to include a mirror domain that uses a supplemental name or a dot com extension. Overall, put your Web address or URL on everything from brochures, to licensed products, letterhead, and university trucks.22
Make Your Site Sticky
Consult with your university Webmasters and Web design team to build the best site navigation, graphics and search engine friendly site. Make sure your site is sticky, meaning you can capture and keep an audience.
Add the features:
* “Add Page to Favorites” or “Bookmark”
* “Email this Web address and site information to a friend”
* If your college admits a large percentage of Spanish-speaking or other bilingual students each year, it may be advisable for enrollment Web sites to include admission and college information in that language. Many parents and guardians assist their children in paying for college tuition and believe they have a right to know about your college’s benefits, locale, prices, and more. When you speak the same language, you can communicate with the person behind the financial decisions.
Having access to password-protected statistical information for your Web sites helps you track your progress. This information explains what part of the world your visitors come from, what other sites send you traffic, what prospects download, the average time visitors spend on your site, errors or outages on your site, and other information.23
Legal Trademarks, Copyright Notices and Disclaimers
The university and IT departments should protect their intellectual property, trade names, trademarks, and copy-rights24 Have your legal department provide the proper text, disclaimers, and marks to notify all visitors of potential violations and protections.
All admission and enrollment departments should clarify the use of email, address, name, and other information submitted along with general warranty clarification on the university Web site.25 Enrollment may want to illuminate the contractual nature of any agreement with the admission department. Moreover, the disclaimers should protect the university in all financial dealings with students.26
Remember your audience. This generation is comfortable using the Internet to search for colleges. If a student can find your site, you have implemented a search engine strategy. If your presentation and site navigation converts Web visitors into enrolled students and informs your recruits, students and alumni, your strategy is effective. Colleges and universities can and will dramatically improve their applicant pools if the institutions can continuously improve Web content, the ability to be found on the Internet, site navigation, and student focus.
Glossary and Supplement!
Algorithms: A search engine or directory uses this criteria set to rank pages relevant to a given query.There may be as many as 120 different criteria used, including content, placement within the title, keyword density, text placement, use of Meta tags, image file names, use of themes, etc. Each search engine or directory uses its ranking standards or algorithm, which changes often in an effort to improve pages’ rankings.
Google:This directory and search engine is becoming more powerful and is expanding its market share. Google gives preference to text and content deep into the Web page while recognizing your title and link popularity. Now that Google is the backup search engine for Yahoo and a search engine partner with AOL, Google’s market share is broad. Google is the fastest loading search engine.
Image File Names: All images on a Web site have a file name. Some search engines observe the names of images as a variable in search results.
Keyword Rich Dot Com Extension: You should have a keyword rich domain name along with keyword rich sub file names.
Keyword and Content Rich Text: Your Web site text should include targeted words. Include at least four to six paragraphs of informative text on every page (use no more than 250 words and no less than 100). Insert the selected keyword phrase multiple times throughout the text. Some repetition is of benefit, but don’t be too aggressive with this because search engines may punish a blanket of keywords. Also remember students and parents are reading this and excellent marketing copy sells.
Link Popularity: Most search engine algorithms now include link popularity. This technology ranks individual pages based on the number and importance of pages linked back to them. Identifying your inbound links and increasing the number of relevant inbound links is an essential part of your recruiting search engine ranking strategy to increase ranking in search results.
Main Portal or Portal Site: Search engines, directories and service provider homepages are examples of this generic term. Basically, any site providing an entry point to the Internet for a significant number of users can be called a portal site.
Meta Code or MetaTags: Meta tags are hidden html tags of an html document that are not displayed in a browser, but provide a browser or search engine robot with useful information. Despite less focus on Meta tags by search engines, it takes quality research and effort to provide a strategic title, description, keywords, heading, and alternate tags in the head section (of your Web code) of all your pages that may be indexed.Your university Meta code should be individually applied to a specific page while targeting specific traffic.
* Title Tag: Use five- 12 words to insert a keyword rich title relevant to the Web page. Begin with keywords, using sentence format. Many search engines utilize the content and copy as the link to your page in search results.
* Description Tag: Search engines often use the descriptive code as the description in the search results. Use 14-22 words, starting with several strategic keywords (about 175 characters). Make it compelling and relevant to receive qualified traffic.
* Meta Keywords Tag: List your strategic keyword phrases up to 740 characters in length. Use keywords germane to the page, separated by commas.
* HeadingTags: Insert these tags at the top of your pages, using strategic keywords relevant to the page. Check the font and size of your text after applying headers.
* AltTags:Also called image tags because alt tags contain the text that appears when you mouse over an image with your arrow or pointer. Use keywords to describe the image appropriately. Use strategic keywords in the alt tags if possible.
Mirror Domain: This points to an existing Web site. The visited Web site is exactly the same no matter which domain name they type into their browser.
Rich Text Format Email: You send this email as a Web page (looks like a Web page when you open the email).
Search Engine: A search engine is an index that houses millions of URLs.The term “search engine” is commonly used to describe both directories and search engines. As a server or a collection of servers, search engines are dedicated to indexing and storing Web pages and allowing Internet searchers to obtain an ordered list of pages that match a particular query. These indexes are generated using indexing spiders.Yahoo, sometimes mistaken as a search engine, is a directory.
Search Engine Optimization: This involves making Web page changes that comport to the criteria search engines use for ranking. Each search engine has its own variables or algorithms, and correct page optimization can greatly improve the positioning of that page. Optimization may involve navigation and design changes, content rich text in the title, description, body text, and a host of other factors. Since most search engines change their algorithms over time, optimization strategies must be adjusted frequently.
Search Engine Partner: A search engine such as MSN may use a partner to deliver results for a search. For example, MSN uses Looksmart and lnktomi as a search engine partner. AOL and Yahoo use Google as a search engine partner.
Search Engine Promotion: Search engine promotion consists of optimizing Web site pages and creating content rich pages to target specific keyword phrases. It also requires persistent submitting of pages to the search engines and directories at reasonable intervals.
Spider: A spider is a robot program that crawls the Web to index keywords and page text and then rank and order Web pages according to what it deems most relevant.Web pages are then stored for retrieval by Internet queries.
URL or Domain Name: Domain is another name for Internet address. Domains follow a hierarchy where higher or toplevel domains (which usually end with .com, .edu, .gov, .org, etc.) have Web sites or lower-level domains below them, sub-divided into different usable areas. In general, Web sites that have their own domain name like http://www.icecc.com often achieve better ranking position than a sub-directory Web site such as http://www.icecc.com/ certifications.html
Web Site Statistics: A system where a user can view the amount of visitors, hits and other demographic information about their Web site including keywords used and departments visited.
1 Michael Pastore, “Internet.com”, Internet Key to Communication Among Youth, (2002) http:// cyberatlas.Internet.com/ big_picture/demographics/arttcle/ 0,,5901_961881,00.html> (1 June 2003)
2 Rachel Hartigan “Search4 CommunityColleges.com”, Surfing for schools – How students can use the Web to research colleges, 2002, http:// www.search4communitycolleges. com/articles/site surfing_4_ schools, asp >(1 June 2003)
3 Auto responder Links and Information, “Homepage” 2002 http://www.autoresponder-review.com/> (1 June 2003)
4 Macromedia Co, 2003, Flash is the Web standard for vector graphics and animation. Web designers use Macromedia Flash to create beautiful, resizable, and extremely compact navigation interfaces, technical illustrations, long-form animations, and other dazzling effects for their site. Macromedia Flash files can play back with the Macromedia Shockwave Player or Java. (1 June 2003)
5 Jackie Gallogly and Lynne Rolls, “Clickz.com”, Email SWOT, 10 June 2002, (1 June 2003)
6 Knowledge@Wharton (Anonymous), “Special to CNET News.com”, The future of paper in the “paperless office, 23 April 2001, http:// news.com.com/2009-1017256210.html
7 Paul Bruemmer, “Search Engine Guide”, Simple Steps to Search Engine Friendly Copy, 2 May 2002,
8 Dr. Mani Sivasubramanian, “SitePoint.com or E-commerce Base.com” Building a Content Rich Web site, 2002, (1 June 2003)
9 Mitchell D. Kamarck, “The Hidden Dangers in Marketing Your Web site” Detours, Misdirections and False Starts on the Information Super Highway, Periodical: E-Commerce Law Reports, June 1999, (1 June 2003)
10 44U.S.P.Q2nd (BNA) 1156, Playboy Enterprises, Inc. v. Calvin Designer Label, Label (N.D. Cal. 1997).
11 Search Engine Watch, “Homepage.” (1 June 2003)
12 Danny Sullivan, Editor “Search EngineWatch.com” The Neilson Net Ratings (1 June 2003)
13 Danny Sullivan, Editor, “SearchEngineWatch.com”, Jupiter MMXI European Search Engine Ratings, (1 June 2003)
14 Danny Sullivan, Editor SearchEngineWatch.com, Media MetrixRatings, (1 June 2003)
15 Sumantra Roy, “Search Engine Guide,” Importance of having your own domain name , (1 June 2003)
16 Jennifer Kyrnin, Guide and Links to Understanding HTML, 2002, (1 June 2003)
17 “1st on the List Promotion Inc.”, Key Terms Glossary Homepage, 2002 (1 June 2003)
18 Paul Bruemmer, “SearchEngine Guide”, SEO Best Practices for Web Site Design, 20 June 2002 (1 June 2003)
19 “Looksmart Directory Listings”, Looklistings Small Business (1 June 2003)
20 “Overture Search Performance Homepage”, (1 June 2003)
21 Gary Tuchman, “CNN.COM”, CNN Magazine’s annual college rankings rankle some critics, 20 August 1999, (1 June 2003)
22 NetLogix Article Webmaster (Anonymous), “Netlogix” Web Site Marketing 101: Netlogix, 2002, (1 June 2003)
23 Jim Wilson, “Virtual Promote.com”, Understanding Web Site Traffic Analysis; Hits are not Traffic, 2000, (1 June 2003)
24 “Iowa State University University Relations”, Copyrights and Trademarks, 1995-2002. (1 June 2003)
25 “NATIONAL CENTER FOR EDUCATION STATISTICS (governmental brochure)” Protecting the Privacy of Student Education Records, 1997, (1 June 2003)
26 “Privacy Rights Clearinghouse”, Links on Privacy Rights, 2002, (1 June 2003)
George Mentz is a full-time visiting assistant professor of legal studies at Loyola University College of Business Administration in New Orleans and is an adjunct faculty for five other colleges: Loyola (LA) CIS Programs, Lakeland (WS),DeVry (IL),Thomas Edison (NJ), and Westwood (CO). He has taught college-level computer information systems courses in the areas of e-commerce consulting and marketing and Internet technologies and is acting president of the Institute of Certified E-commerce Consultants Worldwide. He is a licensed attorney, holds a doctorate in international law and an MBA in International Business. He is a board member of the E-commerce Consulting Institute of Asia and a past board member of the World E-commerce Forum.
Richard Whiteside is the vice president for enrollment management and institutional research at Tulane University (LA). Before joining Tulane, he was on staff at the University of Hartford in West Hartford (CT), Johns Hopkins University (MD), the City University of New York (NY), and Pace College (NY). He is a graduate of Manhattan College in New York City and holds two graduate degrees from Johns Hopkins University and is active in the College Board, AACRAO and NACAC. He speaks frequently on issues related to financial aid, enrollment management, tuition discounting, and the educational environment. He has served as a consultant on a variety of topics ranging from enrollment management to administrative information systems. His work in various enrollment management areas has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, and on the Today Show.
Copyright National Association of College Admissions Counselors Fall 2003
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