Rating academic programs for potential students… the Concordia University, Nebraska story… Part 2

Students, alumni rate individual academic programs on the Concordia website… innovation to impact student recruitment

Concordia University, NebraskaToday we conclude our interview with Seth Meranda, director of marketing and communication at Concordia University, Nebraska about the unusual step Concordia has taken to include real critiques in 11 areas with the website content for each academic program.

From a marketing perspective, what’s most important here is the fact that the critiques, while generally positive, are not perfect. That, of course, adds to credibility. And that credibility adds far more marketing strength than quotes from various students that “All of my instructors were extremely welcoming, outgoing, and helpful.” Equating higher education with Disney World doesn’t work in today’s marketing-skeptical world.

If you missed the first 3 questions included in Part 1 past week, you’ll find those here.

You’ve said this is a “continually evolving project.” Where do you see it going in the next year or two?

When we implemented this, we hadn’t anticipated the extra content opportunities. So, the ads and emails, for example, were not part of our original implementation strategy. These continue to prove valuable and we’ll expand on increased efforts to reuse this content, such as our print communications. In addition, we have plans to evolve the design and frequency of reviews. With graduate programs, we’re doing the reviews every 16 weeks. Something I’d like to try is gathering the reviewers name (perhaps just first name and last initial), current title and place of employment for graduate programs. This could be very beneficial to reinforcing our “everyman” persona of our graduate programs.

How have SEO results for individual academic programs improved?

Concordia University SEOOverall, we’ve seen an increase of 84% visits to our academic program pages from search. Many of our pages have increased in search ranking for targeted keywords, and in some cases, we have multiple pages showing in the top 20 on Google for the same keyword. In terms of our local competition on Google, we’re only behind the large state-school down the road and ahead of all the other Nebraska and similar small schools. Our recruitment conversion rate (inquiry, visit, apply) has increased by 555% for visit from search to an academic program page. The combination of increased visibility in search and the star rankings showing up in results has been a huge blessing.

You worked with an external agency on this project. How important was that resource to getting this up and running?

This was critical for us. While technically this could have been implemented without outsourcing, I’m very appreciative the amount of development this takes. In addition to pulling in our review data, the testing to get the correct mix of Schema.org semantic structure all the way to finding new ways for gathering reviews is a full-time project. When we partnered with Expirically, they hadn’t worked much in the higher education industry (their primary vertical was healthcare). However, they had the knowledge and experience we needed. Through their partnership, we found ways to automate review gathering directly to the website, eliminating unaligned processes. In effect, they’ve brought scalability that will allow us to sustain the reviews as we move forward.

Any advice to other colleges/universities planning to do this?

Get a handle on your data and find out what you have. In many cases, you’ll need to collaborate with others across campus. Talk to your Career Services/Outcomes department, they may have much of this and even a process you can work together on to get what you still need. Also, know that the search engines (and users) value fresh content. This can’t be a one-time and you’re done project. Think about opportunities to gather new reviews (maybe include your senior class, instead of recent grads).

Ask Seth a question…

If you have a question about adding student and alumni program evaluations to your website, ask Seth. His email is Seth.Meranda@cune.edu

That’s All for Now

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