Tag Archives: mary beth kurilko

admissions page makeover: less talk, more action.

A few weeks ago, our admission folks asked me to design a new landing page for a marketing push they were working on. Apparently the direction went so well, they asked if I could adapt it into the new admissions home page. Or they were trying to soften me up to get to the bigger project. In any event, the new page went live on Monday and shows the continuing evolution in how we handle web content.

As a writer, it’s hard for me to let go of graceful, compelling sentences full of descriptive adjectives, active verbs and strong nouns. Yet in high-level pages, it seems users have been more likely to click buttons, play videos, follow left-navigation links than click on inline links. And as Mary Beth Kurilko, one of the brighter minds in web writing, likes to say: If the opposite is ridiculous, why write it? Do any of our competitor schools NOT have outstanding professors, a range of academic programs and a desire to help students succeed? So perhaps this writing has always been cliche.

Here was our previous admissions page; I never thought of it as that bad, but always had room for improvement:

Even though it was less than a year old, you can see the incrementalism in it, as we kept adding one thing, then another, then another. The buttons were a nice addition at the time, but they ended up looking kind of strewn around the page. The virtual tour promotion came later. See all those contextual links? Our analytics found they weren’t terribly effective. Say, is that a July event still in our upcoming events list in September? Oh dear.

The new page is much simpler and more streamlined:

The incremental redesign’s new central emphasis is a two-minute admissions video. Below sit links for related videos, including an extended (~12 minute) version and introductions to our four colleges and schools. The buttons on the side emphasize actions that enrollment management would want to drive — take a virtual tour, schedule a campus visit, apply — and I also recommended a link to majors/minors since statistics show this is a popular link on any page it appears and since one of a student’s first questions is whether we have their program.

We generate the buttons via this site, which eases some crunch of not having a dedicated designer for our office. I’m on the fence as to whether six buttons is a lot; streamlining options is generally a good thing but if Admissions wants to start with six buttons and they all serve valid functions, I can’t argue. What we can do is look at the analytics after the initial push and see where people click and don’t click — and adjust accordingly.

I’m still trying to adjust to less writing, but short directive phrases (Update Status, Add Photo, Write Post) seem to work for Facebook, right? In any event, we’ll see how a new direction of less talk, more action works for us.



Filed under Web

less is more: suny cuad web roundup.

Doing more with less.

When we were planning the SUNY CUAD conference months ago, in the shadow of down economy and budget constraints across our state public education system, that was our unofficial theme. And all four speakers in the Web track hit on that thread in one way or another. From digging back through my notes on the #suny Twitter stream, here is my best synopsis of the many noteworthy bits of each speaker.

Karlyn Morissette, @KarlynM, DoJo Web Strategy (and Dartmouth), Goal-Driven Web Strategy: Implementing Technology with an Eye on ROI
– Anecdotal evidence is nice, but eventually you’ll need numbers to convince your college social media has value.
– Think tactics, not just tools (or the latest shiny object).
– Four steps: 1) Set strategy. What do you want to achieve? How will it benefit the college?
– 2) Plan tactics. What tools/media are best way to reach strategy? Who are your audiences? What is your time frame?
– 3) Execute communication. Are you using in-house/contacted email service? Are you looking at social media for its strengths, not just its buzz factor?
– 4) Assess your results. What was achieved as a direct result of the campaign? (Tools like Google Analytics very helpful.) Always review campaigns to see what you can do better next time.
– When determining return on investment of online campaigns, you can consult an ROI calculator once you’ve figured factors including number of pieces, total cost, response rate, conversion rate and ‘profit’ per sale (what a ‘yes’ means to the bottom line).
It’s not uncommon to see high ROI for email marketing … it’s a cheap medium and tends to draw high return rates.
Share your successes! Make it tangible. Give it context. Offer other areas of campus recommendations how to use it.
– Facebook especially good campaign option, since that’s where your target market already is.
– Facebook/email/social media cheaper than glossy mail campaigns (more with less).

Rachel Reuben, @rachelreuben, SUNY New Paltz, Doing More with Less: Creating an Online Community for Accepted Students
– Cafe New Paltz = first-time online community inviting students who had been accepted but had not yet enrolled. Goal: high yield for most talented students.
Social media helps inexpensively with personal attention, helpful conversations, viral marketing, boosting student comfort in your college environment, social proofing (showing your college is one of the ‘cool kids’).
Social media is not a tool to blow your horn, jump up and down and say ‘look at me!’ It’s a place to have conversations.
– Cafe New Paltz uses Ning, generally free but paid $24.95/month to get rid of Google ads (or just $149.70 for six months).
– ‘Baristas’ were a graduate assistant and an intern, which also made project cost-effective. They were moderators and facilitators, though professionals could jump in if needed. Baristas also created videos almost weekly, usually to answer submitted questions.
In search for roommates, Cafe New Paltzers posted photos/videos of how they decorate their rooms, looking for those with similar styles.
– Despite ease of uploading photos/videos and in making comments, nothing inappropriate showed up in Cafe New Paltz. Closed, moderated system, and students wanted to stay up with community expectations.
– The conversion rate of highest selectivity group proved excellent (i.e. the most outstanding potential students chose New Paltz from among options).
Don’t worry about loss of control; do consider time commitment. Don’t dilute your message into every social media area just because it’s there; do what you can to avoid information overload.
– Project’s points for success: Answer questions promptly. Join conversation. Encourage interaction (introduce those who could hit it off). Promote through links in email correspondence and admissions programs.
– So popular that students didn’t want to leave community, wanted to keep it going. Current plans are for student life to take over site and run through fall.
Think of ROI as Return on Influence. The project has a long tail, in that students connected with each other and important parts of college life.

Colin Nekritz, @imagewrangler, ImageWranglers (sometimes SUNY Oswego), Print, Web and the Content-Driven World: Timely Matters and Middle Ground
People come to your Web site, pick up brochures for your content. Design serves content. (Web sites, like Niagara Falls, are destinations because of the content.)
We are all content designers. Whatever you do in communications or design is content management. Content is king.
Looking at college Web sites, you can feel the pull of a committee. Too many sites designed to please committees when they should instead focus on what users want.
The concept of Occam’s Razor — the simplest answer is usually the correct answer — is key Web consideration.
When it comes to marketing materials, you should do more with less. Simple is better.
Good design and good content isn’t additive. It’s subtractive. Too many words, logos or gimmicks get in the way.
– Consider eliminating clutter everywhere, including in your personal life to do everything better.
If you let people do their job, they’ll do better than when it’s all about ego and control.
Communication Arts, a popular site for designers, gets it: Form follows function.
Like early bands on MTV pretending to play the instruments (cheesily), you can’t pretend that Web is print. Duran Duran understood video was a new media and used it to fullest potential.
The best graphic designers are not programmers. The best programmers are not graphic designers. The two areas aren’t the same.
Graphic design for marketing is not about pretty pictures. If you just want to make art, become a painter.
Avoid Flash whenever possible. Not accessible/ADA compliant. Google doesn’t play nice with it. Needs arcane scripts to run. Sloooow.
– Sites like University of Virginia use dynamic animation with browser-friendly programs like jQuery.
American Airlines had over 200 people involved with Web site’s look. It was horrible, cluttered, unusable. Lesson: Committees inhibit productivity.
Top 100 Web sites (Google, New York Times, Facebook) tend to have lack of graphics. Visited not for images, but for CONTENT. Not coincidentally, top sites have streamlined decision-making process.

Mary Beth Kurilko, @girlmeetsweb, (recently Temple,) You Can’t Please Everyone (But Let’s Give it a Try): Usability on the Cheap
– You don’t need a huge budget for usability testing. Sometimes can be done for the cost of pizza and soda.
– Avoid organization-chart navigation for your Web site. People from outside don’t care how you’re organized, they care about finding information.
– Don’t say Welcome to My Web Page! People don’t want to be welcomed, they want to be informed and/or have problems solved.
More than anything, usability testing is about LISTENING.
– Why are we so scared of listening? Is it fear? Do we not want to hear bad things about our site? Or are we despondent over our helplessness from decisions forced upon us from on high?
– Can organize site by closed-card sort tests. Give users/potential users cards of specific information and categories, asking subjects to match them. Consider the way majority of respondents would seek information.
Don’t call it ‘quantitative reasoning’ … call it ‘math.’ If trendy insiders call it ‘study away,’ but the world calls it ‘study abroad,’ go with what users know. That’s how people will look for you, including those on Google.
What do parents want to see more than anything else on our site? Tuition. So we do we bury it? Make it easy to find!
Don’t just test your site. Have users test other colleges’ sites, especially ones that involve interesting or unusual content you may consider for your Web site.
Less is more. We don’t read Web sites. We scan them. So why should we expect users to read reams of copy?
If the opposite is ridiculous, don’t write it. We have accessible faculty … as opposed to impossible-to-reach faculty? Tell stories instead of writing in cliches.
There is a slight preference to left-hand navigation. People prefer a clean layout. Don’t differentiate on fancy navigation … differentiate with great content.
Good navigation outweighs flashy design. Don’t make users think too much; make it easy for them to do what they want.
If you have money for a redesign, put it into writing and content creation. With the evolution of the semantic Web, content will be more important than ever.

<< Overall, an outstanding set of speakers. Feel free to follow and/or contact any of the presenters for more information. They are all knowledgeable and helpful and, as the conference showed, have no problem with sharing what they know.


Filed under Web