The Meaningless Homepage

[Cross-posted in part at the Online Communications Blog]

Good article today forwarded to me by Jenny Darrow asking whether sites like keene.edu are becoming increasingly irrelevant as marketing tools.

The answer is obvious to anyone that’s ever looked at their Google Analytics: yes, absolutely. You can see this clearly in the statistics — students come in and do a couple things in very fast succession:

  1. Check tuition cost
  2. Check financial assistance information
  3. Maybe, though hardly ever, check to see if we offer a specific degree. (They almost never look for information about the degree — the question is simply whether we have that degree).

Then it’s to a decision point — send me the application, apply online, or, in the case of Keene State — schedule a campus tour (the option we really push, since it seems to be the most beneficial to the student and to us).

Why this surprises people I have no idea. But it continues to surprise people, who wonder why we don’t put reams of material about program X or Y in between that student hitting the home page and the link to the campus tour.

The answer is that the student applying here has already made their decision before they hit the home page — or at least made enough of a decision to schedule a campus tour. Marketing information has to be done well on a site like keene.edu — but it’s in broad strokes — they’ve come in sold on taking that tour, assuming you handle that last five yards well.

[This isn't always the case with parents, who are often perusing the materials looking for the general "tone" of the college, but that's a post for another day].

So what is that decision based on? This decision to give you a chance that’s made before they even type “Keene State College” into Google?

It’s reputation. Word of mouth, the comments on Facebook or MySpace, Livejournal articles, what they saw on YouTube, what their high-school friends that came here last year told them. And maybe even importantly for this generation, it’s what their parents may have heard on NHPR, or seen in the Concord Monitor, Newsweek, or USA Today.

And eventually, if we let it, it’s through perusing the artifacts of the truly Visible University — YouTubes of recitals, videos of football games, discussion boards of classrooms, student projects posted online.

So in a world we we cannot control what prospective students (and donors) see about us, what’s left for us to do?

I believe the key is to engage those channels in an honest and helpful way, through embracing transparency and creating a culture of engagement. In a post .edu world, that’s where our message has to go.

More on how to do that later. But give the article a gander, it’s five paragraphs, and a good starting point.

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2 Comments on “The Meaningless Homepage”

  1. Now that most universities have finally progressed to the point of maintaining organized, aesthetically pleasing and comprehensive archives of important information on their websites, they are no longer flavor of the month. I hope that schools will keep using their .edu’s as repositories of static documents and as jumping-off points for the more exciting Web 2.0 stuff.
    I know my academic (academics.keene.edu) website, which I was so proud of two years ago, doesn’t really seem worth my time to update anymore–my blog on Keeneweb is so much easier to post to, and then there’s my Twitter account, and my Ning network, and old classmates and colleagues looking for me seem to do so increasingly through Facebook…
    Still, so much social media is ephemera, and I value content that stays put as well.

  2. Mike says:

    I agree — there’s a customer service mission in these pages that is (and should be) pretty dominant. And there is always that tension between the static encyclopedic approach and the dynamic journalistic approach…


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