6 Tips to Start and Master Your College’s Blog in 2018

At Circa Interactive we’re fortunate to work with a few outstanding partners. Below, our friends over at Finalsite put together six useful tips for your college’s blog to become successful. Enjoy!

While you already know that your school needs a blog, the usual roadblocks–time and staffing–are probably standing in your way. Whatever you do, don’t allow these to become constraints. Blogging has the potential to grow your school’s brand, engage your community, and recruit right-fit students to your schools, so it’s definitely worth the effort. If you’re ready to dive in to starting your college’s blog in the new year, here are a few steps to guide your success.

1. Determine a Focus for Your College’s Blog

Many colleges and universities don’t blog at all, and those that do often limit themselves to ones written by the college president, department heads and admissions directors–a pretty narrow focus.  Since your blog will be a traffic-driver and will help to fill your recruitment funnel among other things, put the focus on where you shine: your culture. Showcasing what makes you unique, like the programs you specialize in, your awesome students, and incredible careers of graduates allows you to broaden your focus and bring in students, faculty, coaches, current parents, alumni and others to contribute content.

2. Gather a Group of Dedicated Writers

In order to make an impact with your blog, you need to be consistent about posting. And while it seems simple to assign the task to one person to keep the blog’s tone and voice the same, gathering more content contributors makes it easier to produce content on a consistent basis.

To choose this group, start by polling your community. Ask faculty, students, staff, alumni and parents to share their ideas on posts they’d like to write, or topics they think would be beneficial to prospective and current students and their families, or alumni. Current student bloggers are a great source of content (especially English majors!) as it’s a great resume booster for them to see their work published online, so they’ll love to blog frequently. And, prospective students love to hear firsthand from current students.

Vanguard University does a great job of sharing content from students in a variety of stages and programs to give real-life insight into the student experience (and it looks pretty cool, too!).

An example of how to use student contributors for your college's blog.

A Student’s Guest Post on Vanguard University’s Blog

And while you may want to have different blogs for special programs, like study abroad or athletics, these should be maintained in addition to your college’s main blog. Use a tool that lets you categorize your posts so that they can be dynamically published to all related categories, letting you maximize the impact of your content with less effort.

Remember-it only takes two blog posts per week to improve your website traffic!

3. Create a Content Calendar

Once your group of writers is formed, work with them to create a content calendar that works.

Determine which days you want blog posts to be published, which topics are timely, and which topics are evergreen (can be posted any time.) If you’re only going to blog twice a week, take into consideration that Monday mornings rank highest for visits and Thursdays rank highest for social shares, so focus on those days to get the most traction.

4. Determine an Editing Process

At Finalsite, we use the “press call” concept. Each day at the same time, the marketing team receives an email with all the content that’s scheduled for the next day, including blog posts, and shares their edits with our content marketing manager, who inputs them, and prepares content for publishing.  This system works for us, and now our team expects and prepares for press call each day. Your editing team might be made up of content contributors, marketing or admissions staffers, or others with a critical eye.  

5. Write Simply and with Intent

If your intent is to inform, blogs are meant to be easy-to-read, conversational pieces, but your content contributors might be self-conscious about writing. If your blog is simple and written with intent, it will always be well-received.

Here are few tips for making this happen:

  • Write in lists. It makes content easy to digest and gives readers key takeaways.
  • Write your blog post title first (you can always go back and fine-tune it later!) A title gives your post focus.
  • Write in chunks or sections. Blogs shouldn’t be written like an essay, but should be segmented by different thoughts or ideas.
  • Use a textual hierarchy to break up your post and make it easy to read.
  • Numbered posts are really effective: “The Top Five Reasons to Major in Business,” “Three Reasons Greek Life isn’t What Think it is?”
  • Always incorporate photos in your posts. We recommend one image near the top, and several images throughout the post.
  • End all blogs with a call-to-action.
  • Encourage content contributors to be themselves and use an authentic voice.

6. Share Your Post via Social Media and Subscriptions

“Is anyone out there?” It’s a common fear that you and your content contributors could spend hours on posts that no one sees. But when you follow a few simple steps, your blogs will be seen, appreciated, and shared.

First: Create a way for readers to subscribe to your posts via email. This way, they’ll get the blog posts delivered right to their inbox.

Second: Each time you post a blog on your website, share it on your social feeds. This is a pivotal piece for your inbound marketing strategy! You can also share older blog posts that are still relevant on social media, too! Be sure to always include a photo in your tweets and Facebook posts, as posts with images are more likely to get clicked.

Third: Add links to your blog in the online newsletters that you’re already sending. If you have a monthly newsletter that goes out, include this month’s best posts as a way to drive readership and subscriptions.

Fourth: Use blog posts as inbound marketing content. When sending communications to students in the admission funnel, consider which blog posts you have, and use them as your inbound content. For example, if a student wrote a post on their experience as a student athlete, it would be great to share that with all applicants interested in your athletic programs.

 

Pulling it All Together

Your blog won’t appear overnight, and neither will differences in website traffic — so don’t get discouraged. A blog takes weeks to really get up and running and months to really make a difference. However, with the right people and plans in place, it will quickly become a central piece of your inbound strategy and school culture.

For more tips and strategies for a high-converting website, download Finalsite’s eBook “The Ultimate Website Guide for Colleges and Universities.”

 Hadley RosenAfter more than a decade working in schools in roles in the classroom, communications and advancement, Hadley joined Finalsite in 2013 as Marketing and Communications Manager. She loves meeting Finalsite’s amazing family members around the world and learning about trends impacting schools. She’s a big fan of travel to places near and far with her growing family, cooking cuisines of all kinds, and working on her French fluency.

SEO Top Trends of 2018

With 2017 coming to a close, we look to the Holiday Season and New Year for resolutions, ambitious goals and change, but what changes more than the world of SEO? Now is the time to look to 2018 for trends and techniques that may take us in new directions or simply reinforce best practices. That said, let’s take a peek into what the New Year and Google hold for SEO.

Voice Search and Digital Assistants

Welcome Siri, Alexa and Cortana. The market for AI-driven personal assistants and bots will almost double in 2018, reaching more than $12 billion by 2020. The rise of voice search calls for a whole new keyword research routine: the difference being that voice search keywords take the form of natural, conversational sentences instead of the odd-sounding query lingo that often comes with a learning curve.

Visual Search

Visual search is another growing area of SEO that combines technological innovation and UX. As the internet becoming more visually focused, so does the development of powerful correlating search engines. This new trend is driving companies like Google, Bing, and Pinterest to invest in new ways to better understand the way we visually consume content which means your 2018 SEO strategy should act likewise and optimize your visual content.

Why is Video Content Important?

I find video content to be the most exciting trend because not only is it where our future is heading, but it also provides a whole other approach to creating content. In fact, 82 percent of all consumer IP traffic will be video by the year 2021. Video is no longer limited to social platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram and commonly shows up in page one search results. In addition to making your content stand out from your competitors, why not take advantage of having multiple players in the search world fight over you.  

Mobile and User Experience

Google has set to make 2018 a focus on user experience. Now more than ever, it will be important for a site to deliver a seamless experience for its visitors and shouldn’t simply be confined to one’s experience on the home page. Instead, it should adapt the UX process to consider multiple website entry points. Doing so helps make a site better suited to organic search success. As we know, a good UX generally increases the chances of an individual interacting with the site and visiting various different pages. This, in turn, helps search engines discover which pages are favored and most useful.

If you weren’t on the mobile-friendly train a year ago, it’s time you start playing catch up. With over 6.1 billion smartphone users globally by 2020, it would be an understatement to say mobile-friendly sites are important. This will play a huge role in UX as phones and tablets are largely starting to replace computers and are projected to drive even more traffic to sites than they already do.

Be on the lookout for the new mobile-first index. This will play a new and vital role in ranking websites. While Google has not announced the date it rolls out, we know it is lurking on the horizon. Mobile user experience will play a key role in the way sites are ranked, so not having a mobile-friendly version could greatly hinder your SEO efforts.

How Fast is Your Site?

Three Seconds…That is the time frame in which Google is expecting pages to load. A high loading speed is fantastic all around, and not just for mobile-friendly sites. For example, if your site is fast, users are less likely to “bounce” and more eager to stick around and lurk deeper instead. In fact, a study by the Aberdeen Group found that “A 1-second delay in page load time equals 11% fewer page views, a 16% decrease in customer satisfaction, and 7% loss in conversions.”

Rise of SERP Features

SERP features are increasingly stealing searchers attention and, with that, clicks from organic listings. We all know that the struggle to gain a #1 organic ranking is real, so much so that it’s often smart to consider additional initiatives. This in mind, there’s no better time than 2018 to analyze opportunities that SERP features pose. If you’re looking to take advantage and boost traffic, consider utilizing these popular SERP features:

  • Knowledge Panels
  • Featured Snippets
  • Related Questions
  • Local Packs

Making necessary adjustments with these features may even increase your click-through rate by 30 percent. As search results continue to get more diverse, it’s important to take advantage of SERP features as an opportunity to stand out. In fact, you’d better get at it right now, before a competitor does.

Guest Blogging and Link Building

Inbound links have been and will continue to be the most powerful ranking factors as we move into 2018. However, greater caution should be taken in the way they are obtained. Earlier in the year, Google warned publishers who solely rely on guest posting as a method of building links. This is Google’s attempt to decrease the amount of spammy and questionable links and it would be wise to anticipate they will keep a watchful eye on guest contributions that provide little to no value moving forward.

No need to panic. This doesn’t mean guest blogging is coming to an end. As is best practice, you’ll just have to keep it within the limits of what’s allowed taking caution to not hurt your brand’s reputation. There is no need to obtain links if they don’t align or prove to be relevant within your target niche. Google appreciates the varied strategy of link building as opposed to picking a single method of gaining links and milking it.

2018 seems to hold a lot in store for the world of digital marketing. With change consistently on the SEO horizon, it’s important to consider these best practices and what we can do to not only evolve but stay at the forefront of the industry. While traditional SEO techniques aren’t going away anytime soon, it will be important to diversify your strategy for an optimized search.

 

Keilah headshot Keilah is a graduate of the University of Idaho. Working as a Jr. Digital Marketing Specialist with Circa Interactive, she has gained experience in SEO and higher education content marketing while cultivating her creative skills. Keilah strives to become a future influencer in the digital marketing world.

5 Tips for Effective Client Communication

In the marketing industry, understanding how to deliver desired results for your clients is crucial to a successful business relationship, but a study shows that 46 percent of employees regularly leave meetings not understanding the next steps. Below are a few helpful communication tips that will ensure that both parties always leave a conversation knowing how to proceed, making discussions with clients more productive and effective.

Ask the right questions

In any communication setting, the person asking the questions is the one that steers the direction of the conversation and ultimately has control. The trick here is making sure that you are asking the questions that give you a better understanding of what your clients are feeling and what they want. Questions that prompt yes or no answers will not further a conversation, but rather put the client in a corner where they cannot fully explain what they are feeling. Deploy ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions that require a more elaborate response than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. For example, “how can we improve the illustration?” will get you much further than “do you like the illustration?”, because it requires a more detailed explanation of why the client satisfied or unsatisfied. Knowing how to frame your questions will also help resolve any problems or conflicts between you and your client. You can gain a better understanding of how your client feels about the work and how you can improve and grow in the future. Here are some other great ways to stage questions that will help you get to the root of a problem: https://wavelength.asana.com/develop-effective-communication/

Set the tone from the start

Make sure your style of communication is professional, yet personable. You want to show your client that accomplishing their goals is paramount, while simultaneously establishing an air of trust among both parties. Additionally, don’t be afraid to use informal conversation as a way to build the relationship. Make it known that the relationship is conducive to constructive criticism and feedback and that both parties are free to openly share their thoughts, ideas and opinions. Setting this tone will make collaboration easy and will keep the clients happy.

Be empathetic

 Show your client that you understand their concerns and recognize that they are human. If a client is upset about something, or seems like they are having a bad day and are taking it out on your work, refer to tip number one and start asking questions tailored to their concerns. Make it known that you are here to listen to their concerns and that you want to help them solve problems. You can also use “it seems” phrases to show the client what you’re understanding from their communication. By doing this, you are relaying your understanding of their problem, while also allowing the client to hear the tone that they are emitting. For example, if a client gets upset and says, “I cannot quite work out this illustration” and provides no other feedback, you can say “it seems like you want changes to be made to the illustration. How can we change the design to better suit your goals?”.

Do your homework

Preliminary research is not only useful for current clients, but also potential clients that you may be trying to court. Go into a weekly client meeting with new, potentially useful resources and a knowledge base of what your client has wanted in the past. Following the same idea, step into a potential client presentation with solid knowledge of their business and a strong idea of what their past work looks like. Be as prepared as possible. This shows the client that you truly care about their goals and are ready to help accomplish these. As a higher education marketing company, our public relations team leverages professors within our client’s degree programs in order to land media opportunities. We interview the professors before doing outreach on their behalf in order to get a better understanding of their passions and expertise, but before the interviews, we research the professor and tailor our interview questions to their individual work and interests. This establishes a rapport with them from the start, and they appreciate that we do not waste their time by going into the interview blind. Doing your homework upfront is a time-saver for everyone involved and shows the client that they are important to you.

Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone

In the digital age, much of the communication that occurs in a business setting happens via email or through some other digital medium. While this is convenient and generally effective, studies show that face-to-face communication is much more productive in terms of accomplishing one’s goals. While face-to-face communication with clients is not always possible in a digital company like ours, a phone call is the next best thing. Having a spoken conversation can solve problems and demonstrate a sense of urgency on your part to resolve an issue. Additionally, It is much faster and a more direct way to get to the root of a problem or miscommunication, leaving less room for things to get misinterpreted in the midst of a client crisis. Good old-fashioned speaking often gets the job done better than an instant message ever could.

 

Shannon black and white 2 Shannon has been contributing to the growth of the Circa team for nearly two years and recently graduated from the University of San Diego with a degree in Communication Studies. Shannon’s creativity and passion for public relations and content marketing has contributed to Circa Interactive’s digital marketing value. 

What is Project Management? Your Ultimate Guide to Getting Started

Managing a project is no simple task. Generally, most business projects don’t attain goals they were initially set out to achieve. That’s because most companies are still guilty of outlining project plans and objectives that are not backed up with correct practices. Project management is something you can’t learn straight out of college–it’s a competency that can be acquired only through years of experience and practical knowledge. Typical project management courses are offered to students who already have experience managing projects and require prior hands-on experience. In the current global economy, it’s necessary to understand and continually explore project software that can lend itself to bringing resources together. Organizing remote resources efficiently not only makes management easier, it helps to decrease project timelines lower overall project costs.

What is Project Management?

Project management refers to the ritual of planning, organizing, safeguarding, leading, managing and handling resources to achieve particular objectives.

Projects are temporary endeavors that have a marked beginning and end. They are basically undertaken to add value or effect beneficial change. Managing a project can be quite challenging in the real world. Achieving all project goals while honoring pre-determined constraints – such as time, scope, budget and quality – can be difficult. This is why a lot of effort and planning should be put in before actually beginning real project work.

Get a Project Going and Keep it on Track

1. Defining the Project

Some project teams dive right into the work without clearly defining project goals and requirements. The time properly spent on project planning would lead to decreased duration and cost and enhanced quality over the course of the project. A project definition encompasses the planning work and elucidates all attributes of a project.

2. Planning the Work

Once a project has been defined, you must create a work plan, which entails the instructions to produce project deliverables. If you need some inspiration, ideal to use resources available to you and seek out any prior work plans from similar projects that may be available. The work plan should throw sufficient light on assigning resources and work estimation, taking as many uncertainties into consideration. For each uncertainty or risk, you must determine the likely effect on the project. Certain activities cannot be clearly defined right at the onset. You should therefore revisit your work plan time and again to alter certain aspects as you make progress.

3. Start Executing

Once you have planned the project sufficiently, you may start executing it. Remember, almost no project would proceed completely as per estimation and plans. To ensure things are kept on track through project management fundamentals:

  • Review your work plan regularly
  • Check on your progress in terms of budget and schedule frequently
  • Update your work plan with completed activities
  • Share agile project management updates and provide a fair estimation of whether the project would be completed within the original cost, duration and effort.

4. Resolve Issues

When managing a business project, problems are likely to surface. Make sure you confront the issues and do not let them hibernate and metamorphose into a larger one. Even the smallest of problems should be solved diligently if they warrant your attention.

Basic Project Management Software and Tools

Email and communication tools are great ways to interact with team members, but additional tools help to organize people and team tasks. Dedicated project management software can assist in the fundamentals of project management. These tools help to track ideas, plot deadlines, share documents, and overall deliver more. Some of the more popular tools are free and can greatly increase a team’s overall efficientcy

Wrike

Wrike ScreenshotWrike is one the easiest to use project management tools for large groups repeating the same task or project frequently. It is a web-based program that can automate and organize your tasks and projects, enhance your firm’s productivity and increase efficiency. It lets you share data with your team quickly and collaborate on both tasks and project levels. Wrike’s email collaboration feature helps centralize management. The tool can be used for free or pay to upgrade based on your requirements. If your team has no more than five members, Wrike’s free plan should effectively meet your requirements.

Wrike.com

Asana

Asana ScreenshotAsana is another management tool where teams are provided workspaces made of individual projects. These projects are broken down into tasks that could be presented with comments, tags and notes. Basically, Asana breaks down the work into granular components in an easy to use Kanban board. The program works easily on both web browsers and mobile devices. The tool’s flexibility, short learning curve and simplicity makes it ideal for small businesses and freelancers.

Asana.com

Zoho Projects

Zoho ProjectsZoho Projects is a great choice if you’re already into Google apps for business (such as Gmail, Google Drive and Google Calendar) and require bug-tracking and timesheets built-in. It’s powerful and efficient and easily covers task lists, file sharing, project schedules, reporting and communication, etc. On-platform communication is quite potent with the option to chat with all team members at a time, individually or create subgroups.

Zoho.com/projects

Synergist

SynergistSynergist gets the job done by providing you tremendous visibility and control of tasks, resourcing, financials and schedules, in addition to all project communications and files. It’s a full-fledged project costing and management tool for big teams. Initially developed to serve digital and creative agencies, Synergist is now also used by several project-based companies.

Synergist.co.uk

Slack

Slack ScreenshotSlack is a group communication tool that is perfect for siloed businesses. With some organization, it can be used by larger teams to assist in meeting deliverables and moving tasks quickly. Slack integrates seamlessly with third-party applications that makes it easy to transport information from different platforms to Slack. The third-party apps include Twitter, MailChimp, Dropbox, Google Drive, etc. With Trello or Asana integration, you can create to-do lists that can be shared among team members.

Slack.com


Successfully Managing Your Remote Teams

How can I use any of this to my benefit? As a manager handling and coordinating remote projects, it’s essential to consider work hour differences, time zone differences, and likely language barriers make using tools frequently with open lines of communication a highly important component. Regular check-ins, status updates, conference calls, etc. make up the drill. It’s important that remote workers are kept busy so that they don’t lose momentum and don’t look for work elsewhere.

Ensure Accessibility to Necessary Technology and Tools

There are several tools that help manage projects remotely such as Asana, JIRA Agile, OpenProject, Basecamp, etc. Basecamp is essentially a chat room space. The chat room daily connects people living in different time zones so that they could catch up on interactions that took place when they weren’t around. OpenProject features project-tracking, wikis, cost reporting and code management, and provides a robust, open-source option for project management.

Having the essential software tools and technology to all project team members makes sure the project stays on budget and schedule. It is easy for a project to derail if the team members are unable to access the information they require on time. Organizations and projects could also be impacted negatively by security violations that could put the company’s or a client’s sensitive data at risk.

Maintain Contact with Your Virtual Employees

Managing remote employees is not just about inundating them with work whenever possible. It’s also equally important to keep them in the loop about company affairs, recent performance, fresh hires, etc. You may accomplish this by sending remote workers recurring emails like a newsletter. Sending photos of a redone conference room, office setups, project teams, etc. can make things a bit more engaging. Video-calling can help reinstate remote employees’ faith in your company or project.

Have all necessary contact information about your remote workers handy. The contact details should comprise more than a phone number and work email address. You should have their emergency and backup phone numbers, personal or backup email addresses. It’s also important to stay updated on things happening in the remote employee’s region. For instance, if there’s a rough weather alert and power lines are expected go down in the area, you then know why the particular employee is being unresponsive.

Seek Remote Employees with an Entrepreneurial Outlook

Try to create virtual project teams whose members are not just technically proficient but also have an entrepreneurial approach and outlook to their work. Such people are naturally inclined to be passionate about things they do, are resourceful, results-oriented, independent, dedicated, highly adaptable and innovative.

The tools and resources are only meant to assist you in your project endeavors. Remember, they are not supposed to replace effort and time that you have to invest to start and lead a successful project. If you are clear about your role as a project manager, you are almost certain to derive tremendous value from these software programs.

 

Man-Thumbs-Up-River-Male-Speed-Boat-Cartoon-Boy-1298924Bill Timpe, PMP is a digital project management and resource management specialist. With over 10 years of project management experience, a background in development, and history, Bill brings a unique understanding of project lifecycles. Working for both large corporations and small companies, he has developed top of the class resource process strategies.

Blogger Outreach Emails: Persuasive Writing Techniques

As we all know, how something is phrased is often more important than what is actually being said. If you leverage blogger outreach emails as part of link building tactics, chances are you’ve repeatedly tested phrasing to uncover the best subject lines and attention getting pitches. Words jump out at us for various reasons and play on our most primitive instincts and hard-wired responses revolving around emotion. With a better understanding of the power specific words have on human psychology, marketers can use persuasive writing techniques to create new opportunities while having fun testing out key words and phrases in our outreaches.

In this article I will present a few techniques for making your email marketing copy more persuasive and interesting to read.

Using 4 Effective Words

With only a short amount of time and text to capture the attention of a busy reader skimming through emails, it is important to carefully select the words used in a pitch and subject line. Even the most simple words can have a profound effect on our interest in a topic. Below are 4 basic words impacting psychology that you should include in your outreach.

You

Humans are rather narcissistic by nature, so it is easy to understand the importance of this word. We love to read topics that are centered around ourselves or addressed to us specifically. As opposed to making a message seem vague or generic by writing in third person, the use of “you” helps draw the reader in and make it more about them.

Because

Studies have shown that using the word “because” in email correspondence is over 31% more effective when seeking compliance, compared to leaving the word out. “Because” provides a sense of reason and ethos. You are not only telling a person about what it is you are trying to convey, but also why it is important while providing a reason to believe you. In the case of link building, it provides a more persuasive request and adds to the credibility of the pitch.

New & Free

These two words are addressed together because they both speak to the concept of loss aversion. In email outreach we may not necessarily be selling something, so leveraging this word targets the drive in people to acquire something new and for little to no cost. Using words like “new and free” are important because, for lack of better words, it creates a sense of fear of missing out (FOMO) and pushes people to take advantage of what you are requesting, i.e. sharing you link.

The Use of Sensory Words

Research shows that words related to texture activated areas of the brain were more likely to be impactful, even if their use was not related to any actual physical sensation. With our inboxes full of messages to filter through, we are likely to only respond to the ones that strike us as important or appear more memorable.
Using language that taps into any of the 5 senses: taste, touch, sight, sound or smell is likely to help the description of your message seem more tangible and realistic. Sensory words used in email pitches creates a more impressionable experience for the reader.

Storytelling and Striking an Emotional Chord

Incorporating short stories in your email pitch helps make your message more interesting and emotionally accessible, but more importantly, it makes the reader feel as though they can relate to the situation. This helps foster a sense of connection between the reader and the sender while breaking down barriers we create from being bombarded by pointless emails on a regular basis. Since there isn’t a great deal of time to impress the reader, you don’t want to lose their attention, so keep it short and sweet. Incorporate this storytelling method in an area that seems credible, perhaps like a statistic.

Let’s take a look at this example from a pitch aimed to create awareness about the rising cost of high school athletics:

“High school sports participation is at an all time high, but so is the cost, with some parents paying over $650 per child to participate in interscholastic athletics. High school sports offer a variety of long term benefits for kids, from scholastic performance to successful workplace skills later in life. With many families unable to afford the rising costs of athletics, our youth are at risk for a variety of negative impacts.”

While this aims to strike an emotional chord with parents, coaches and teachers, it also works for readers as a whole. No one wants to see youth negatively affected and it make even the average reader feel a sense of emotion and urgency to help by painting a picture of what is at risk for youth.

Our tendency as educated humans is to interact with one another using our “new brains” or more sophisticated language, however, it is in our “old brains” where the majority of our decisions are made. This part of the brain can be triggered using some of the most basic, yet powerful words and phrases for a more persuasive outreach.

16Keilah is a graduate of the University of Idaho. Working as an intern with Circa Interactive, she has gained experience in SEO and higher education content marketing while cultivating her creative skills. Keilah strives to become a future influencer in the digital marketing world.

Mobile PPC for Higher Education: AdWords Call Extensions

In higher education search PPC marketing, call extensions can be a valuable asset, enabling prospective students to speak with an admissions or enrollment advisor with just a single click. Within the modern PPC marketing mix of search and social PPC campaigns, mobile traffic often accounts for the majority of paid-click user sessions; the terminus of this ongoing mass exodus of users, from their desktops to their smartphones, remains to be seen. As our friends at Unbounce put it back in 2015, “[every year] since 2009, it’s been declared that whatever year it was must certainly be the year of mobile.” Nearly a decade later it’s a sure bet, no matter what year it is, now is the time to be revamping your mobile student acquisition strategy. Today’s blog post is part 1 of my series on Mobile PPC for Higher Education: AdWords Call Extensions.

Why should you make call extensions part of your higher ed search PPC strategy?

  • AdWords call extensions would enable users to call directly via your Google Search PPC ads
  • Phone call inquiries can be an indispensable asset in student acquisition, as many would-be students are actively looking for a specific program to enroll in, and speaking to an enrollment advisor at this moment could make or break that individual’s decision
  • The AdWords API likes it when you use every extension you (appropriately) can
  • You can set Call Extensions to show only when your representatives can take calls
  • Conversion tracking is easy to set up

In lieu of these facts, I find it’s usually in the best interest of most higher ed PPC accounts to implement AdWords call Extensions.

One important thing to remember whenever you’re dealing with (any) extensions in AdWords: when there are multiple extensions at different levels (account, campaign, or ad group), AdWords will elect the most specific to be used. In other words, when you add extensions to an ad group, those extensions show instead of your campaign (or account-level) extensions. Similarly, campaign-level extensions override account-level extensions.

Let’s walk through the steps:

  1. Find a suitable number for prospective students to dial when inquiring about the respective program(s) you’re advertising — typically an Enrollment Advisor, or an Admissions Office hotline
  2. Open your AdWords account
  3. Go to Tools and then Conversions. Select +Conversion
  4. Select Phone Calls and opt for the 1st option (“Calls from ads using call extensions or call-only ads”)
  5. Create your Call Conversion Event, naming it something besides “Calls from ads” — as this is the default call reporting conversion metric AdWords has by default (and it will be difficult to discern between them if they have the same name). You do not necessarily need to assign a value to these conversions, but regardless I recommend setting the call length to 30 seconds and opening the conversion window to 60 days; the other settings can remain at their default
  6. Navigate back to your AdWords account home screen and select the campaign (or ad group) from which you’d like to start receiving phone calls from prospective students
  7. Go to the Ad Extensions tab (hint: if you can’t see it, click on the down-arrow to the right of the viewable tabs – you’ll be able to enable it here)
  8. From the View menu, select Call Extensions
  9. Select +Extension
  10. Select +New Phone Number and enter the number you obtained in step 1
  11. Leave Call Reporting as is (“on”), and leave Device preference unchecked (unless you have mobile-dedicated ad groups)
  12. Open the +Advanced options and select +Create custom schedule – populate this with the hours during which your representatives will be available to receive calls
  13. Check Count calls as phone call conversions and select the conversion event you initially set up in step 5
  14. Click Save

You should be ready to start receiving calls from prospective students! Repeat the steps above and add up to 20 call extensions to each account, campaign, or ad group.

 

Andrew croppedA graduate of the University of California, Andrew is our analytics and paid search team lead. He is both Google Analytics and AdWords certified. With an ROI-focused and problem-solving approach, he researches, plans, and manages our clients’ PPC campaigns.

 

6 Do’s and Do Not’s of Digital Public Relations

In the competitive field of digital public relations, it is a constant struggle to create pitches that stand out to your desired audience. Reporters and editors of high level publications are drowning in a sea of pitches and emails each day and don’t want to receive the same boring pitches every day. In order to succeed as a public relations specialist, it is imperative that your campaign stands out among the rest. There are several ways to ensure that you make your mark. Here are 3 do’s and 3 do not’s of higher education Public Relations.

Do: Have a unique voice while understanding what the publication wants 

To make an impression in the world of public relations, you have to offer something unique to your audience. If you are pitching clients to high level publications, odds are the editors and reporters have a lot of pitches coming through each day. If there are submission guidelines, look at them. These will help you determine what exactly the publication is looking for in a pitch. Once you get an understanding of how publications take pitches or articles, be sure to make yourself and your client stand out by offering a unique voice or stance on a topic. Emphasize the new angle or insight that your client has to offer in your pitch. Give the publication a new way to think about something that’s being talked about, and offer your client as an asset to this new angle.

Do: Leverage news and current events in your pitches

When crafting a pitch, use a topic that has buzz around it. Grab a story from the news, and see how your client can offer insight into the topic and provide a new angle that the publication is missing out on by not speaking to your client. This creates the opportunity for your client to be involved in a conversation of relevant, newsworthy story, while still offering their expertise. Using a relevant news peg also have a better chance of catching a publication’s attention if you have an interesting subject line that mentions a time sensitive topic.

Do: Follow up

This point cannot be stressed enough. If you miss a follow up, you’re missing a second chance to be seen by a publication that may have missed your first email, but would have otherwise been interested in your client. Most of our success in digital PR results from follow ups. Be sure to change your subject line to something along the lines of “Re: Just Following Up: [insert subject line]” to draw attention to the fact that that there has been prior correspondence. This little trick is a sure fire way to get more eyes on your follow up and original pitch.

Do Not: Put yourself in a box

It is easy to get stuck in the obvious within public relations. As a professional, it is your job to think outside of the box and find a new angles that can make your client stand out. Being able to look at news pegs through a fresh lens can help find new angles for all topics and clients you’re pitching. If you work in a PR team, don’t be afraid to ask for a brainstorming session to break you out of your box. Our digital PR team goes on walks and has regular PR brainstorming meetings to go over the news and find new angles to pitch our clients. These practices break us out of reading stories and taking them at face value. It also allows us to find different ways to pitch our clients’ expertise.

Do Not: Miss an email

Always be the last to respond in any situation. This seems pretty self explanatory, but if a pitch gets several “no thanks” responses, don’t just leave them in your inbox. I know it feels like a rejection and no one enjoys facing rejection, but your job is communicating. Respond, and thank them for their time, or even try to figure out why they said no. Who knows, you may even be creating relationships with these contacts just by responding to their “no’s”. People will have more respect for someone that takes the time to thank them, or tries to get a better understanding of what they want in the future, even after they turned down your pitch.

Do Not: Take a “maybe” as a final answer

Many responses to pitches are along the lines of “I don’t cover this exact topic”, or “I’ll keep this in mind for next time”. These aren’t explicitly “no’s”, and as a communicator, it is your job to figure out how you can use these “maybe’s” to your advantage. Here’s the perfect opportunity to be strategic in your communication skills. If they don’t cover the topic you pitched them, find out what they do cover. Find out what they are currently looking for, and see if you still have something to offer. This will help you tailor your pitches to that person in the future and create better relationships with your media contacts.

 

Using Online Calendars to Boost Recruitment

Higher education marketers often balance a number of responsibilities and objectives as they aim to continually attract more students to apply and attend their university. Despite the new technologies that can enhance their work, some marketers continue to spend precious time and resources on old school recruiting efforts, leaving them little time to experiment with new tactics. One of the easiest ways to boost your recruitment efforts is through online calendars. We don’t mean your traditional Outlook calendar that shows you a monthly view and makes you click on each day to see what events are taking place. We’re talking interactive event calendars, with a standalone page dedicated to each event, that incorporate lively event content, social sharing capabilities and deep analytics with little effort.

Your online event calendar

Event calendars are a great way to share a representative sample of the activity happening on campus. For current students wanting to know what’s happening on campus, they can simply check the online events calendar for times, dates and details. A well created event calendar will also allow them to leave comments, upload images of an event and interact on social media with fellow students, lending to the collaborative community feel that’s essential to campus life.

Prospective students will find a wealth of information at their fingertips when accessing a school’s online event calendar – they’ll be able to get a sense of on-campus activities, such as academic lectures, social and athletic life, volunteer opportunities and everything in between. Prospective students can see the events that have taken place throughout the year and pinpoint particular events that may pique their interest during their time at university. This holistic view showcases what is unique about the campus.

Why are calendars so useful for higher ed marketers?

These calendars highlight the events on campus and allow for both current and prospective students to look online and find information on upcoming events.

An efficient online calendar is filled with rich content, which can play a major role in SEO efforts. For instance, a 30-day grid view — which lists simple event information such as name, date and place — is meant to remind you when and where the event is taking place, not to sell you on the actual event itself.  An interactive calendar allows a school to showcase their brand and their investment in students by offering both overall event snapshots and individual event landing pages. This allows for more event content that visitors can click on for more information, providing the opportunity for a larger number of keywords and page views. Better visibility creates more, engaged visitors,  and thus increases the time visitors spend on your school’s website. The amount of time a visitor spends on a site plays a factor in how search engines use their ranking algorithms – so the longer students are engaging with your events and event content, the better it will be for your SEO.

When there is a considerable amount of social engagement around your events, search engines infer that your website offers valuable information because it’s popular and engaging with users online. Utilizing online calendar software that can provide immediate metric reports, specifically on the social media activity around a particular event, and having access to the real-time knowledge of this data will allow you to optimize your event marketing efforts, ultimately benefiting your SEO.

The access to data is also a benefit to marketers, since online calendar technology allows them to collect back-end analytics on their master calendar, including attendee geography, trends and social media activity. From decision-making (looking at trends to understand which types of events, times and locations work best for your school) to audience insights, collecting data on how your audience views and acts on an event listing can help you make smarter event decisions. Many calendars will integrate with your current marketing tools – like CRM and registration platforms — allowing you to get a better snapshot of your overall marketing ROI.

What about an online event calendar makes an impact on your school?

Event content – it’s the information that accompanies an event listing. This includes everything from the date and time to the event image, metadata and RSVPs. In the case of colleges and universities marketing themselves to prospective students, event content can showcase things like faculty, campus scenery and landmarks, famous alumni and student research.

Online event calendars promote university events to a wider student audience, attract additional traffic to the site and ultimately expand the reach of your recruitment marketing to anyone with online access – and that’s a win for both students and higher education marketers.

Myke-for-HEMJ

 

 

Mykel Nahorniak is the co-founder and CEO of Localist, an event technology company. In this role, Myke defines the vision and growth of the business and Localist products. Myke serves as a mentor at 1776, a DC-based incubator, is an angel investor with K Street Capital, and is an executive coach.

6 Free Keyword Research Tools For Beginners and Experts

When it comes to digital marketing, keyword research plays a big part in implementing an effective SEO strategy. Google and other search engines are evolving and becoming smarter in evaluating the best search results for the searched terms, so it’s no longer enough just to write content for blog posts, products, services, etc. without doing proper keyword research. Otherwise, content will be lost in the 20+ search engine result pages and nobody ever will find it.

If you are beginner and can’t afford any of the paid keyword research tools, then you’re probably wondering, “What is the best free keyword research tool?” If so then you’re in the right place. Below, I’ll share my top six favorite free keyword research tools and how to incorporate them in your content marketing.

Soovle

Soovle is a great keyword research tool for beginners. It’s simple to use and will not take a long time to gather the keywords list to use for your blog post. Soovle provides autocomplete suggestions from the major search engines: Google, Wikipedia, Yahoo, Ebay, Youtube, Bing, Amazon, and more. Since its not a very advanced tool, I would suggest combining Soolve with another tool to get more information for your content. Since this tools provides data for multiple search engines, it can be a great option for someone who is looking to sell products on Ebay or Amazon.

Interface of Soovle keyword research tool

 

Google Trend and Google Suggest

 Google Trends

Consider Google Trends as your inspiration for finding the next hot topic. By simply entering the keyword in the search bar, Google Trends provides over five years of data for that keyword and helps in identifying if that particular search term is still relevant for the consumer/reader. Google Trends is also popular for being a very customizable tool. It allows you to search for multiple terms at the same time, and data can be filtered by the country, period of time, different categories, and the type of search.

Google Trends not only analyzes historical data for the particular search terms, it also shows the interest by subregion and related queries. It’s a great way to identify if the content you’re planning to produce will be relevant to the audience you are trying to reach.

Google Trends Interface

 Google Suggest

Google Suggest is another tool that is popular within the marketing industry and well known by frequent users of Google. To use Google Suggest, simply start typing keywords in the Google search box, and Google Suggest will autofills the search box with keywords that other people are looking for or they are related to your search query. It’s perfect for generating insights on popular search queries relating to your search term.

Google Suggest Interface

Keywords Everywhere

The Keywords Everywhere extension is a free keyword tool that can be easily installed on either Chrome or Firefox. Keywords Everywhere shows Google keyword search volume, cost per click, and competition data of keywords on multiple websites including the ones mentioned above Soovle and Google Suggest. With this extension you will no longer need to wonder which keywords to choose for your content as all the necessary data is presented.

Keywords everywhere extension on Soovle

Google Suggest Keywords Everywhere extension

SERPs

SERPs is a fast and simple to use tool that is great for the beginners and experts. It provides related keywords for the searched term, volume, CPC, and value. SERPs shows all of this data on one page, allowing you to filter the results with secondary keywords and add them to the “Saved Results List,” which is downloadable in .csv format. Although, SERPs is a good tool to use for daily content creation, I would recommend taking their provided data on CPC and Value with a grain of salt by confirming the volume and difficulty with another keyword research tool.

SERPs keyword research interface

Answer The Public

Answer The Public is a very unique keyword research tool that provides questions containing the searched keyword. It can be very helpful for those looking to understand what people are asking for, what they are looking for, and what questions they have about that searched term. With such valuable insights, Answer the Public offers writers the opportunity to create content that could answer all of these questions. If the writer’s content is relevant, it might even be featured in the rich snippets in Google the next time someone searches for similar answers. This kind of content could provide great value for the business in every stage of the buyer’s journey. Answer the Public also includes results with prepositions for the long tail keyword opportunities and is friendly to Keywords Everywhere extensions mentioned earlier.

Answer the Public Interface

LSI Graph

LSI stands for latent semantic indexing. LSI keywords are keywords related to the searched term that are semantically linked. If incorporated into your SEO strategy, then LSI keywords can increase organic traffic and improve rankings. By incorporating longtail keywords and semantic keywords to your blog posts, the content becomes more user friendly and sounds more natural than just trying to use all the high volume keywords.

LSI Graph keyword research interface

Knowing how to choose and use keywords can help to increase organic traffic for your website. Although paid tools tend to over more advanced options, beginners, firms without big budgets and experts looking for alternatives can benefit from free keyword research tools.
If you now feel inspired to write some blog posts about your university but are not sure where to start, keep reading to find out 3 tips for finding blog topics for universities.

 

Martyna's headshotMartyna is a graduate from Vilnius University in Vilnius, Lithuania. With 2 years experience in digital marketing industry, Martyna adds in-depth understanding of on-page and local SEO to the Circa team. Her passion and continual education in SEO initiatives help contribute to Circa’s expanding higher education digital marketing presence.

 

5 Tips for Writing Ad Copy in Facebook for Higher Education

I remember the days when you needed a “.edu” email address in order to set up a Facebook profile – heck, looking back on it, I remember the act of doing so almost as an indoctrination of myself into the university experience. Over the years, Facebook has evolved into so much more than a place for blossoming academics — it’s become a Social Media behemoth, a staple of our daily lives and a marketing utopia where, according to the New York Times in 2016, would-be students and non-students alike spend on average 50 minutes per day. The increasingly ubiquitous nature of Facebook is in part where the channel becomes so valuable to Higher Education marketers like myself.

The vision and specter of your ads across newsfeeds can be a make-or-break moment in the target user’s experience – it can facilitate a potable, attractive touchpoint for prospective students to consider and/or engage with your brand or degree program. Being a numbers kind of guy, ad copy creative tends to fall low on my totem pole of priorities – that’s why I keep this short list of imperatives taped to my desk.

  1. Know your target audience
  2. Use a strong call to action
  3. Use high-quality images, with as little/much text as required
  4. Use verbiage that transitions effectively between all placements
  5. Introduce Ad Variations, and prioritize relevancy score

 

1. Know your Target Audience

According to an article published by the Pew Research Center in 2016, “On a total population basis (accounting for Americans who do not use the internet at all)… 68% of all U.S. adults are Facebook users” – so it can be said that the chances are high, if you’re seeking prospective students, they are more likely than not to be found somewhere at some time on Facebook. After sculpting this user base into highly-targeted (and segmented) ad sets, always keep at the forefront of your mind who you are speaking to, and be sure to tailor your ads’ verbiage to your audience segments. Creating ads which resonate with specifically targeted individuals will foster a more genuine, personable user experience. It may even bolster your conversion rate and ultimately lead to a lower Cost per Lead metric, enabling greater lead volume within a static budget. High quality, personally relevant content (whether sponsored or organic) lays the foundation for the ultimate goal of student acquisition.

2. Use a Strong Call to Action

A strong call to action is so much more than merely a button you append to the bottom-right corner of your newsfeed ads. One could say that the entirety of the ad you’re creating is itself a “call to action”. After all, your objective is to inspire users to act toward your goal. In addition to tailoring your ads to your target users’ characteristics, this could also mean including a timeframe in order to instill a sense of urgency — such as adding enrollment/application deadlines to your ad copy. Do you have a lead form incentive on your ads’ landing page, such as a program brochure? If so, consider include verbiage that creates a thirst in the user to view that content — for example, “download a FREE brochure to learn more about this award-winning program”.

3. Use high-quality images, with as little/much text as required

Selecting the right image to serve up with your ads can have an enormous impact on click through rates on your ads. While it’s not essential to choose an image that’s visually representative of your product or service, in Higher Ed marketing I’ve noticed that images which feature a campus logo tend to produce more academically-geared results.

Text can also be a great eye-catcher, however you must be careful not to exceed Facebook’s text-to-image restrictions, or your ad may suffer the penalty of throttled impressions — or otherwise might be rejected by the Ads’ interface entirely. Facebook’s Text Overlay Tool is always a great last-stop for your ads’ images before they make their way onto the ads themselves.

Lastly, Facebook recommends an image size of 1,200 x 628 pixels as a best practice for most of its campaign goals – you can approximate this, but beware that your image will need to be cropped in order to fit the display of your ads. It’s also recommended to stay away from images that feature the particular shades of blue and white that comprise Facebook’s color scheme, as these ads can often be overlooked by users fatigued with scrolling through their newsfeed.

4. Use verbiage that transitions effectively between all placements

We live in a multi-device world, so fluency between devices is a must if you’re going to capitalize on user experience.”Keep it short and sweet” is the motto to keep in mind when creating ad copy that will transition seamlessly between placements. This maxim applies equally so within Facebook ads due to the inherent nature of “oCPM” bidding — an automatic ad placement feature where the Facebook API optimizes ad impressions across all of its placements to the maximum benefit of your Cost per Result. This feature relies on the Facebook pixel as well as a standard event (e.g. ‘Lead’) implementation, so you should make sure the pixel is firing correctly before you try it out.

I strongly recommend adhering to character limitations in order to create ads that will look good; no matter where they appear in the gamut of Facebook’s network. If you exceed these limitations you risk truncation, or worse, ads which appear incomplete or misleading. Keep it within these limits if you can:

  • Keep your ad’s headline (the bold title, just below your ad’s image) at 25 characters or less.
  • Your text (the introductory snippet above the ad image) should be limited to 90 characters wherever possible — anything more will be truncated, however the user may opt to “see more” if they so chose.
  • Use a link description that speaks to the landing page — but do not feature critical information in this portion of the ad, as it is strictly truncated on mobile (where the majority of your impression are likely to occur). Instead, opt to have this critical information in your text or headline.

5. Introduce Ad Variations, and prioritize relevancy score

A/B testing is a hallmark of high quality, results-driven marketers, and it should be an integral part of your PPC marketing strategy in Facebook as much as it is in any PPC channel. This means introducing new ad variations on a regular basis for each of your ongoing campaigns and respective ad sets.

Similar to Google’s “Quality Score” metric, which the AdWords system uses to factor ad rank in PPC search results, Facebook holds a similar metric of its own: Relevancy Score. According to Facebook’s documentation, “The more relevant an ad is to its audience, the better it’s likely to perform. Ad relevance score makes it easier for you to understand how your ad resonates with your audience.” Do not be deterred if your ads start out with a low relevancy score — it is not unusual for ads that begin with a 1 or 2 relevancy score to blossom over time into higher relevancy scores are user engagement becomes stronger. Nonetheless, over time, unless performance metrics indicate otherwise (e.g. high lead volume, at a favorable cost per lead), you should consider eliminating ads within any ad set that lag significantly behind their peers.

Leveraging these 5 tips is a surefire way to boost performance in your Facebook Ads. Don’t see one of your go-to tricks listed above? Feel free to list it in the comments below!

 

Andrew croppedA graduate of the University of California, Andrew is our analytics and paid search team lead. He is both Google Analytics and AdWords certified. With an ROI-focused and problem-solving approach, he researches, plans, and manages our clients’ PPC campaigns.