Digital Market Insights

A Higher Education Perspective on Everything Digital

Higher Education Website Design Trends 2015

by Grant Sabatier on October 28, 2014 , No comments

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the annual High Ed Web Association Conference in Portland, Oregon. The sold out conference was attended by a mixture of website developers, IT staff, marketers, and vendors all working with higher education institutions. Through some great sessions, discussions with dozens of the web developers, and our experience working with top colleges and universities, the Eduvantis Digital team has identified three of the top higher education website trends for 2015. All of these trends have one primary theme in common – they are focused on creating the best user experience possible for visitors. 2015 will be the year of “user experience”.

Higher Education Website Design Trends 2015

1. Responsive design instead of mobile. Visitors are no longer looking at websites on their standard smartphones – they have tablets, “phablets,” and every device in between. I recently watched my cousin searching for college information from his Xbox. According to Mary Meeker’s 2014 Internet Trends report, over 25% of all website traffic globally now happens on a mobile/non-desktop device and this is projected to reach over 50% in the upcoming two years. I recently spent time navigating through higher education websites on Google Glass and it was a disaster. Google Glass will not likely be the device of choice for your website users, but my experience highlights an important point – that a university website needs to adapt to the user, no matter what device they are using. Using purposeful responsive design can ensure that users are having the best experience with your website and your brand.

Best in class example: The Oberlin College website doesn’t compromise design and is easy to navigate on any device.

Oberlin College

Oberlin College Homepage

2. Visitors don’t want to read your website, they want to “experience” it. Digital user experience continues to have a strong impact on brand perception. Consumers are also in control of the experience they want to have on your website – they can click on whatever they want and decide to leave on a whim. This means it is critical for institutions to design dedicated visitor funnels – so you can funnel visitors where you want them to go and make the easy choice be the action you want them to take. In addition to funnels, make dynamic content the focal point of your website. Turn your website into a sensory experience. All of the data points to the same trend – people want to watch your videos, view your photos, and will scan read some of your website – but mostly only the headlines. So many websites are text heavy and while text content is an important element of any search engine optimization strategy, it should be integrated to support dynamic engaging content. Instead of “telling” a higher education website should focus on “showing.”

Best in class example: The Duke University undergraduate admission’s homepage does an exceptional job showcasing the Duke experience using large photos, videos, and engaging graphics.

Duke University

Duke University

3. Beautiful websites don’t generate leads – easy to use websites do. A common theme we observed at the conference were websites that looked great, but were difficult to use – it was hard to search for information, find what we were looking for, and even fill out an inquiry form. Higher education websites have evolved significantly from a visual perspective, but many of them are still dense and difficult to use. As consumers have less and less time to visit your website, it is critical to make it as easy as possible to share key program information. How do you know if your website is easy to use? Test to see what works and then keep testing. There is always a way to make your website easier to use and create a better experience for your users. There are now an unprecedented number of tools available beyond Google Analytics to better understand how users are navigating your website. Focus on what visitors click on and more importantly why they leave. Then fix your website and make it easier to use.

Best in class examples: Arizona State University and its business school the Carey School of Business are easy to use websites focused on lead generation.

Arizona State University

Arizona State University

There are many other exciting trends in higher education website design, including program comparison tools, advanced forms to optimize conversions, A/B testing of home pages and landing pages to increase engagement and user actions, as well as advanced social integration. At Eduvantis Digital we advise many top higher education institutions on their website strategy and re-design projects in order to support an increase in brand awareness, engagement, and enrollments.

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Grant SabatierHigher Education Website Design Trends 2015

Pay Per Click Higher Education Best Practices

by Bob Booth on October 27, 2014 , No comments

In January 2010 the average cost per click for a Google Adwords pay per click ad (PPC) for “MBA” and “MBA program” searches was $4.00 across most markets in the United States.  In October 2014, the average cost per click for the same keyword has skyrocketed to $42 – that’s an increase of 900% during the past 3 years.  That’s merely for a click, not an actual inquiry. This makes PPC campaign management both expensive and difficult to achieve a sustainable ROI.

Because Google’s keyword system works on a bidding structure, prices are escalating as more institutions are advertising and willing to spend big bucks attracting these prospective student searchers. One engine of this “bidding war” is online MBA programs invading new markets. Previously only a limited number of institutions would be marketing through paid search in any given regional market, now every online MBA program in the country is vying for market share across all major markets. In addition to online programs entering other markets, more institutions also appear to have their targeting way off as well – we see ads in Chicago for part-time programs (mostly commuter) in Arizona, Texas, and Florida. These institutions shouldn’t be advertising in Chicago. Google is also continuing to dedicate more and more of the search engine real-estate to paid ads, making it more difficult to get visibility using simply search engine optimization.

Look at the search window for “mba” in Chicago – all of the organic results are below the fold, making it increasingly difficult to be seen unless an institution is running paid search ads.

MBA Google search results

MBA Google search results

Presuming your institution isn’t made of money, we recommend maximizing your impact by following some best practices we’ve defined at Eduvantis Digital, based on our extensive experience building and managing successful digital strategies for our clients.

Higher Education PPC Best Practices

Better targeting. Before you start your paid search campaign, you need to determine who your audience is. Make sure you are targeting exactly the people who are likely to convert into an inquiry. Focus on your strengths – restrict targeting to the exact geographic regions where you get your applications. If you want to expand your targeted region – create a separate campaign to do a limited test. Ensure you have properly tested and set your match types (exact, broad, and phrase). Also make sure that you are only bidding on the most relevant and targeted keywords – for example, if you have a campaign for your Executive MBA program – don’t bid on general “MBA” keyword searches that are more expensive and less targeted. Spend less money bidding on competitor keywords – they rarely convert, especially if you are bidding against stronger brand names.

Compelling Ad Copy.  Once you have properly structured your campaigns, it is important that you build out your ad groups and write copy that will encourage your prospects to visit your page. Using Google’s ad preview tool, you can conduct a search for the keywords you’re bidding on and see what types of ads your competitors are serving. Next, you will want to think of what makes your institution stand out against these competitors. Perhaps a particular program was recently ranked highly, or your campus offers something unique that your competition does not. Whatever you believe makes your school distinctive is what you should keep in mind when writing your ad copy.

Make it easier for prospects to convert into an inquiry. It is important to remember that these searchers are real people. They have decided to click on your ad and once they reach your landing page this is probably the only opportunity you will have to convert them into an inquiry. Make it easy to inquire – give prospects enough information about your programs, but encourage them to contact you for more. Always use targeted landing pages that showcase your institution, as well as the program’s value proposition. Include a call to action and make it simple. Featuring the call to action in a prominent location with well thought out messaging can strongly increase your ability to capture leads.  Also offer something of value to inquirers – such as a program brochure comparing programs or customized information.

Use performance data to drive campaign strategy and optimization. Even the best campaign set-up can’t fix poor ongoing management.  At Eduvantis Digital we see many paid search accounts that have been set-up and then automated – significantly increasing costs, decreasing impact, limiting performance.  In order to be successful at paid search marketing you must manage your campaigns daily, making real-time choices about how and where to spend your budget. It is crucial to continually review which keywords are triggering your ads in your campaigns. Doing this allows you to determine which keywords you do not want your ads displaying for. Optimizing for negative keywords is a crucial component of daily AdWords management, and if ignored can be devastating to your account’s performance. This will give you an edge – because most institutions aren’t managing their campaigns this actively and end up spending a lot of money on non-convertible clicks. Identify keywords that drive the most conversions and website engagement.

At Eduvantis Digital we have collected hundreds of thousands of keywords prospects use when looking for higher education programs and have benchmark performance statistics for each keyword. To learn more about how to more effectively capture prospective student searchers and convert those searchers into inquiries and enrollments through PPC strategy, we would welcome the opportunity to help you get an edge on the competition.

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Bob BoothPay Per Click Higher Education Best Practices

The Top 5 Business Schools on Twitter

by Grant Sabatier on October 22, 2014 , No comments

This past week Twitter has exploded with business schools sharing photos, stories, and testimonials at an intensity and frequency that has never occurred in the business school sector. The inspiration? Another business school ranking competition. To promote Businessweek’s Best Business School rankings set to be released on November 11, Bloomberg created the #WhyMBA social media competition encouraging business schools to share information about their institutions and compete to get the most @ brand mentions.

The purpose of the campaign is to answer the pressing questions on many prospective student minds including: Why should I get an MBA? Would an MBA help you get your dream job? Which MBA program is best? How has your MBA helped your career? Is an MBA worth the investment? Despite the importance of this topic and these conversations, currently Businessweek are ranking of the top business schools on Twitter based on only the total number of people who mention the business school’s Twitter handle(ex. @DukeFuqua).

But at Eduvantis Digital we understand that social media is about more than a popularity contest – its about real engagement and having the opportunity to share what makes an institution’s programs, campuses, students, faculty, alumni, and community truly distinctive. Based on an analysis of over 50 business school Twitter accounts, the Eduvantis Digital team ranked the top 5 business schools on Twitter based on how successful they are at conveying the unique attributes of their brand. The business schools we have chosen really stand out and there is a lot other business schools can learn from them. At the end of the rankings below we have compiled a list of the top 5 social media best practices that any business school can implement today to have a more effective Twitter and social media strategy.

The Top 5 Business Schools on Twitter

1. Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business

The @DukeFuqua Twitter account is a standout example of a business school who understands who they are. Fuqua have built a social media strategy to showcase their unique brand – a truly global business school. Duke Fuqua can lay claim to launching the first global MBA program with their Cross Continent MBA, which has since become a model for other global business school programs to follow. Over a 16 month period Fuqua students in the Cross Continent MBA program study in North Carolina, India, China, Russia, and Chile.

To align their social media strategy to support its global mission and programs, the @DukeFuqua team focuses on sharing globally focused content – from faculty research, to student photos, program gatherings, and Fuqua alumni stories across the world. Not only has Fuqua set the bar for business schools on Twitter, they were also the first business schools in the United States to expand their social reach into Asia, creating a Duke Fuqua account on Weibo (the Twitter of China) to engage with stakeholders and prospective students in China.

2. University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The @DardenMBA Twitter account takes the opposite approach to @DukeFuqua, focusing instead on an intensely local strategy – showcasing what it’s like to a student at one of the most beautiful and prestigious business schools in the world. The University of Virginia, which was founded in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson has a stunning campus – especially now with the bright colors of a Virginia fall season. The famous Jefferson lawn and rotunda is a world heritage site and creates a historical backdrop for a business school with an intensely close and ethically driven community.

The Darden brand is built on a rigorous social community where your professors can be your friends and joining the UVA family gives you both a large, but also practical network to support you as your build your career and life. From day one, students at Darden are taught to respect and value their tight-knit learning community through the signing of the famous UVA honor code. The Economist recently ranked Darden as having the number one teaching experience in an MBA program. Professors are known to give their cell phone numbers to all students on the first day of class and even text with students when they have a question.

3. University of Michigan Ross School of Business

An early Twitter adopter, @MichiganRoss are an exceptional example of a top-ranked business school that stands out, not only because they are a world class institution, but because they make going to business school seem like a lot of fun. The “social” Michigan Ross brand is naturally suited for social media and one of the most engaging higher education institutions on Twitter.

Out of the 50 business school Twitter accounts the Eduvantis Digital team analyzed, @MichiganRoss has the most accessible brand – they are the industry leader in creating and sharing dynamic brand content (consistently releasing new engaging photos and videos) and they truly engage with their community on Twitter and their enthusiasm shows. The @MichiganRoss team are always listening to their community across social media and consistently share user generated content that tell the stories of their many stakeholders (students, faculty, alumni, and Michigan business community).

4. University of California – Berkeley, Haas School of Business

The @BerkeleyHaas Twitter account is the only one Eduvantis Digital ranked that is not participating in the #WhyMBA campaign, which naturally aligns with its “question the status quo” and “confidence without attitude” brand. Led by the prolific Tweeter Dean @RichLyons, @BerkeleyHass is fiercely independent and always engaging. Haas has unique built into the core of its brand. Most of @BerkeleyHaas updates are about the success of their students and the cool stuff that seems to only be able to happen at Berkeley.

Berkeley Haas’s proximity to San Francisco and Silicon Valley, where there is a natural skepticism for MBA programs within the entrepreneur community is both a challenge and an opportunity. It’s clear from the @BerkeleyHaas Twitter account that Berkeley is tight with the tech community and it’s graduates are having an incredible amount of success working in the tech industry, as well as launching their own companies. They also share a lot of stories about their students and graduates helping others – which aligns nicely with the other core tenant of their brand – to go “beyond yourself”.


5. University of Maryland Smith School of Business

The @SmithSchool Twitter account wins the award for most passionate #hashtag user – which allows them to tap into other conversations that are happening on Twitter outside of its core community. Most business schools shy away from engaging outside of their core followers, but @SmithSchool clearly understand their large community is deeply rooted in one of the most cosmopolitan and powerful cities in the world.

Of all the schools the Eduvantis Digital team analyzed, @SmithSchool does the best job engaging all of their stakeholder groups and showcasing all of the elements of their brand (their campus, proximity to Washington DC, top notch faculty, research, and programs). This is not easy to do on social media, but with a focused approach it is possible to engage with a much larger community than just your students and create more value for your followers.


Business School Twitter and Social Media Best Practices

1. Showcase Your Distinct Brand: Figure out what makes your institution unique and build your content strategy around showcasing that distinctiveness. @DukeFuqua and its global focus is a standout example.

2. Leverage User-Generated Content:  Social media is about more than one person managing an account. Your business school is a community and to truly tell the story of your institution and what makes you unique, that story needs to come from your community. Very few business schools encourage their students, faculty, and alumni to create and share content about their experience. As an institution you should be curating the best of this content on your own Twitter account. @BerkeleyHaas does an exceptional job listening to their social followers and leveraging their content to showcase the unique Haas experience.

3. Create and Share Dynamic Content: You should be creating and sharing photos and videos with as many of your Twitter posts as you can. Your social media followers want to “experience” your business school – they want to watch it, hear about it, and see it. If you don’t have top-notch videos to share you need to make a priority to create them. @MichiganRoss have created some of the most engaging videos for a business school and share them frequently through Twitter.

4. Engage With All Stakeholders: Most business schools only share content related to prospective or current students. This is a missed opportunity to engage with all of your stakeholders (including the business community) most of whom likely have very different expectations of your brand. Listen, engage, and be proactive. Find conversations where you can share your institution’s unique views and join the conversation. @SmithSchool engage with all of their stakeholders, including the DC business community.

5. Mobile User Experience – it is important to remember that most Twitter users are engaging with the platform on their mobile device. Business schools need to ensure that all content linked to from Twitter is mobile optimized to ensure the best user and brand experience.

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Grant SabatierThe Top 5 Business Schools on Twitter

Executive MBA Market: A Digital Perspective

by Grant Sabatier on October 17, 2014 , No comments

At Eduvantis Digital, we study the trends that are driving and shaping global business school markets. We are pleased to share some important observations about the Executive MBA market which we will be speaking about at the upcoming Executive MBA Council Conference in Los Angeles. Understanding your program visibility and how to reach your targets is the key to increasing enrollments in the digital economy.

Demand Stabilization: Following a 30% decline in EMBA program searches from 2007 to 2012 in the United States, the number of searches has remained consistent from 2012 through Oct 2014.

Limited Market: There are only 70,000 searches each year in the United States for Executive MBA programs, with approximately 56% of these searches being branded – people searching specifically for an institution’s EMBA program (e.g. Wharton Executive MBA). This means 44% of searchers haven’t yet narrowed their list of prospective EMBA programs.

Increasingly Expensive: Over the past 3 years the average cost per click for Executive MBA keywords in the United States has increased over 60%, with many advertisers paying up to $45 per click in competitive markets.

Interest exploding for online delivery format: There has been a 250% year over year 2014 vs. 2013 increase in interest for online executive mba programs.

Top US markets shifting: Most popular markets for EMBA programs based on total search volume is changing. Top markets (and previous ranking last year):

  1. San Francisco (4)
  2. New York (1)
  3. Boston (6)
  4. Washington DC (2)
  5. Houston (9)

Top 5 Growing EMBA brands (based on percentage increase in searches):

  1. Ohio State University Fisher Executive MBA
  2. Baylor University Executive MBA
  3. Southern Methodist University Cox Executive MBA
  4. Yale University Executive MBA
  5. Rice University Executive MBA


The EMBA product category is a niche market in which a substantial percentage of searchers can be influenced in their final program decision through effective digital strategies. Understanding how the market searches and optimizing scarce marketing budgets is increasingly complex but essential given rising costs and increased competition.

About Eduvantis Digital

At Eduvantis Digital our data driven practice combines unrivaled business school expertise and leading digital strategies to increase program enrollments. We combine search engine optimization (SEO), paid media, web usability, and analytics services to help institutions increase their market visibility and grow enrollments through strategic digital marketing.

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Grant SabatierExecutive MBA Market: A Digital Perspective

The Top 5 Business School Websites

by Grant Sabatier on October 10, 2014 , No comments

Institutions are challenged to balance the needs of the various stakeholder groups (prospective students, current students, alumni, business community) and prioritize content based on institutional goals. But the main goal of most institutions is to recruit students.

So here is our pick, among many great examples, of 5 standout recruitment-focused websites. We used the following criteria to determine our picks: intuitive navigation, accessible/clear content, and prominent calls to action.

1. The University of Chicago Booth School of Business

Chicago Booth

Chicago Booth Programs Homepage

The University of Chicago Booth School of business website has a clean design with excellent navigation. The programs overview section highlights their four campuses and does a standout job of summarizing Booth’s program offerings.  This is a great example of providing meaningful content that address prospects that may be in the early stage of evaluating programs.

Once the user selects a program, Chicago Booth provides meaningful content tailored around each program format. For example, the Full-Time MBA program page includes quick program and class snapshots that highlight the location, length of program, how many classes per quarter, and other essential pieces of program information. The content is presented graphically and through dynamic media (photos and videos) making it easy to digest. The Booth website is a great example of the right balance of content (most business school websites have way too much text and are too dense). We also like the vibrant red calls to action and the invitation to “Engage” with the institution.

Chicago Booth Full Time MBA

Chicago Booth Full Time MBA

2. Boston University School of Management

Boston University MBA

The Boston University School of Management website is a great example of an institution focusing on targeting prospective students and highlighting key interest areas front and center on their homepage. Website visitors expect key program information to be clear and accessible. Boston University has gone a step further and represented key information graphically and made it accessible via icons on the homepage. At Eduvantis we have seen very few institutions highlight prospective student information as prominently as Boston University, which ultimately signals to the prospect that the institution values the prospect.

Once a visitor navigates to the graduate section of the website, the various Boston University business programs are showcased graphically encouraging prospects to learn more without a page cluttered with text. From a user experience perspective the easier an institution can make it to navigate their website the more effective it will be at both creating a positive brand impression and encouraging inquiries. At Eduvantis we recommend eliminating everything but the essential content to encourage easy browsing and information gathering.


3. Arizona State W.P. Carey School of Business

The Arizona State W.P. Carey website is a standout example of intuitive navigation and a website with the perfect balance of text and images. On all of the pages Carey have prioritized the most important content and cut everything else – leaving only the essential information. On most business school websites the content is overwhelming – text is too dense and difficult to read and visitors are unclear where to click next. This is not the case with the Carey website – the focused content makes for a positive user experience – because information is easy to digest and visitors are encouraged to contact Carey to learn more.


As you can see, Carey has 3 primary calls to action at the core of the website: request info, apply now, and visit campus. These three calls to action are perfectly placed above the fold to encourage immediate engagement. On all additional pages calls to action are also bright yellow and prominently featured – signaling to the prospect what the institutions wants them to do. Once the user clicks any of the call to action buttons, they are placed into a funnel that leads them to a simple inquiry form based on their selections – making is easy for prospects to inquire, sign up for an event, or apply. It is a simply seamless experience.


4. Rotman School of Management at The University of Toronto

The Rotman School of Management has a unique, but very effective website strategy. Visitors to the homepage are greeted with a simple call to action inviting them to engage with the website through defined points of entry – ultimately allowing Rotman to funnel visitors through defined user paths with the goal of encouraging visitors to inquire. Calls to action are prominently and strategically placed throughout the website making it easy to engage with the institution.



Rotman has taken a unique approach on their program pages as well which we really like. Even though there is a lot of content it is organized incredibly well through a tab based structure with simple titles – such as “Getting In” and “The Program.” The sidebar margin is also organized incredibly well encouraging prospect so “Explore, Connect, and Apply” in a wide variety of ways.



5. University of California Berkeley: Haas School of Business


Finally the Haas website has the best in class example of a program page – the navigation is simple (it is very easy to access program pages) and each program page has a simple inquiry form located in the right column of the site making it very easy for prospects to inquire. The content on the website is also appropriately calibrated to the needs of a prospect – content can be easily consumed in 30 seconds or less and prospects are encouraged to inquire to learn more.



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Grant SabatierThe Top 5 Business School Websites

The Exceptional Digital User Experience

by admin on October 1, 2014 , No comments

The average website visitor takes 2.6 seconds to scan your content before deciding what to click – if anything.  So how do you get prospects to pay attention, let alone fill out an inquiry form?

Answer:  Create an exceptional digital experience.  Here’s the good news, that doesn’t have to mean a really complex, over the top, super-graphic, website.  It actually involves three simple principles we live by at Eduvantis when building online experiences for business schools.

1. Simplicity

2014 is the year of “less is more.” Prospects are burnt out on content.  It is important to remember people visiting your website are people – not just “clickers.”  Put yourself in their shoes – if you had 1 minute (which you don’t, generally) to tell a prospect about your program what would you say?  Write it down, record a video, and put that content up front on your website and program pages.

People don’t have the time to search through dozens of pages on your website. They expect to find the information they want quickly, so present the essentials. Then encourage prospects to contact you for more information.  If you give them too much information – too much content, too many links to click – they will make up their mind and have no reason to contact you for more information.  Sale lost.

Here’s an example of a business school that understands “less is more”:  ASU’s Carey School of Business –

2. Distinctive is the Goal

If your website is clunky, poorly designed, or difficult to navigate, that reflects poorly on your brand.  If you want to be viewed as a world-class institution you must present yourself as such.  Institutions don’t compete on price alone – they compete at the brand, product, and experience levels. Dig deep and bring out the most unique elements of your culture – showcase and celebrate it. Prospects will remember their experience with your brand when deciding whether to inquire or submit an application. They may not prefer your product, but make sure they at least remember it as different.

Here’s a great example of a business school embracing and showcasing their distinctive culture in a creative way and showcasing it across their website and digital ecosystem. UCLA’s Anderson School of Management runs a student contest every year where students compete by creating UCLA Anderson commercials. The commercial challenge showcases the distinctive culture of UCLA Anderson from the eyes of the people who know it best – the current students. It’s also a lot of fun and built around social sharing which further engages both the Anderson community and prospective student prospects.


3. Value Creation

The most effective websites focus on more than selling – they focus on creating natural engagement.  To do this you must add value. Business schools have been slow to learn this lesson.  Looking outside of higher education there are great examples of companies who have built creative strategies to engage prospects and create natural engagement through value creation.  A good example is Geek Squad, who even though they provide technology support, they also offer free technology “how to” videos on their website and YouTube page.  Geek Squad’s goal of course is to create a positive experience so when a potential client needs more complicated support they contact Geek Squad.

Business schools should think the same way. Most prospects who visit your website are early in their search and you have an opportunity to support them in their search beyond simply selling your program. This is an opportunity to create natural engagement, which should ultimately make it easier to recruit prospects since you have already given them something of value.

Think program comparison tool (ex. differences between MBA and Executive MBA), MBA ROI calculator, a “Value of an MBA” video, or a webinar on “How to Apply to MBA Programs.”  All of these will create value for prospects and support them in their search.  One of our clients at Eduvantis recently created a “How to Apply to MBA Programs” webinar and received over 300 sign-ups from prospects who otherwise wouldn’t have considered their program. In the webinar they shared best practice tips that prospects could use to apply to any program.

Here is a simple example from UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School: an “MBA Questionnaire” that requires prospects to submit their information before downloading, but provides a good foundation for decision making:

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adminThe Exceptional Digital User Experience