Web First

How many meetings have we all been in when someone talks about promoting an initiative, an event, a program, etc., and the first thing people usually talk about is print materials?  Website marketing is usually mentioned much farther down the list.

In University Relations, we have flipped the paradigm.  Web is first.  Web is foremost.  Think about your own life…when you want to know something, do you run around searching for a brochure?  If you do, you may be looking a long time. Chances are, you hop online and “Google” the information. Frankly, that’s what most people are doing, except maybe your Grandma Harriet who is still mad that telegrams aren’t as routine as they use to be.

The reason the web needs to be the primary communication/marketing/recruitment tool is that the facts tell us it should be.  Research overwhelmingly supports the importance of the web and how we should really think about the organization of content from the user’s perspective.   A great resource we recently discovered was the Noel-Levitz’s research on how college-bound students use university websites. Some of the key points in the Noel-Levitz’s report were reminders of we all must consider with any website design and content organization.

1) Web navigation and content is key. A university’s homepage is the first impression and a window to additional information. Your web audience should be able to find valuable web content immediately. For university websites, it’s academic and cost-related content.

2) Look at how your audience behaves on your site and use keywords and content that relate to them. Google Analytics and online behavior trends can help with this. This includes reviewing keywords used in organic searches and looking at the navigation paths of online users.

3) We should make web navigation and content decisions based on research, trends, and online audience behaviors, not personal likes and dislikes mixed with internal jargon. Speak your audience’s language.

4) Social networks like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are becoming an important piece in the college decision-making of college-bound students. Students want to get the latest information in an authentic way. Social networks are also a great way to hear from current students.

Parting thought based on Google Analytics for the UM-Flint homepage:

A university’s homepage is many potential students’ first impression of an institution. Most search engines will lead students to the homepage, but if their needs are not met within the first few seconds of review, they will leave. The university has now lost solid inquiries due to bad content placement and navigation.

From January 1, 2010 to July 31, 2010 the UM-Flint homepage received 3,045,165 visits with 21% or 653,068 being unique visitors.

That unique visitor number translates to a captive audience for all UM-Flint communicators, recruiters, and marketers.  We cannot track and review the behaviors of motorists going past a billboard or readers of print materials that display a UM-Flint ad. However, we can use the information we receive from our major marketing and recruitment tool–the UM-Flint website–and improve on the content for potential students with enrollment as our goal. This is our opportunity to promote UM-Flint’s successes and highlights and to explain Why UM-Flint.

So, think web first.  Make it your mantra.  Say it with us:  “Web First.”  Update your website, think about how to reach out on the web.  You might as well get use to it, because there’s just no going back now.