Earlier this month more than 300 internet marketing enthusiasts came together in Boston for the 2012 eduWeb Conference to talk higher ed. VisionPoint Marketing had the pleasure to not only attend but present at the conference. And while we’re already looking forward to next year’s conference, we thought it would be a good idea to look back on eduWeb 2012 and share some of what we heard on the ground.

The topics of discussion on the exhibit floor and between sessions were as diverse and passionate as the sessions topics themselves, but there were three topics in particular that we heard quite a bit about this year.

I. Responsive Design

Are you reading this on your iPhone? Maybe you are, maybe not, but chances are your students consume a lot of media on their phones, tablets and who knows what else is coming next. More than half of college-bound high school students surveyed in a 2012 study said they’ve viewed an institution’s website on a mobile device. 

Mobile web marketing is definitely here and it’s also shaping our future, but there’s still a discourse around exactly how to address that growing portion of your users in a way that also maximizes your return on investment. Responsive designed websites are built with one set of code that adapts the user’s experience automatically by detecting the type of device users have. This sophisticated web development tool is certainly useful, but adds a layer of complexity to a web design and development undertaking.

We were pleased to hear the excited buzz around responsive design. Brett Pollak and Emily Deere’s session about UC San Diego’s beautiful and functional responsive designed website was a great model for other universities considering their mobile strategy.

Our general philosophy on the subject is that, to account for growing diversity in the platforms used to access your website, responsive design is the way to go.

If you’re considering responsive design for your institution, check out these universities that are leading the way serving their students using mobile web:

  • Lancaster Univeristy - lancs.ac.uk
  • Hendrix University - hendrix.edu
  • University of Nore Dame - nd.edu
  • Washburn University - washburn.edu

II. Content

Ask most marketers and they’ll tell you that good content is a necessity for brands - now more than ever. But we find that too often, content development can be the elephant in the room that organizations are still trying to sweep under the rug. That’s why we are glad that eduWebbers talked content in Boston.

We get it! It’s naturally challenging for a lot of organizations to consistently produce mountains of useful, effective and elegant content for a growing number of platforms and audiences. The budget is simply not always there to support it.

But content strategy and development are critical to the future of your marketing efforts. The solution here is to return to your goals. Instead of blindly churning out item after item of content; you can set a plan for who, what, why and how content is created. This will ensure that your team works at maximum efficiency.

Establishing a sound content strategy works because you’re busy! So when you do have time to write content, you spend it writing something valuable for you and your audience - not agonizing over what to say.

Start with your organizational goals and determine how each channel can help you appeal to your targeted audience (let’s say prospective students) and utilize those channels to reinforce your differentiators.

If you’re looking for more on content strategy for the web, you might want to give these books a read:

  • The Elements of Content Strategy, by Erin Kissane
  • Content Strategy for the Web, by Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach

These books offer great insight into not only the incredible value of strong and strategic content, but also how to manage this investment of your time.

III. Website Governance

The ways through which you market your institution are changing. Your students are finding and learning more about your brand in different ways and on different platforms. In this increasingly complicated marketing environment, the need for consistency only increases. That’s why we think the winner for the most important topic covered by this year’s eduWeb Conference, hands down, was website governance.

You’ve seen them. Websites with disparate messages and inconsistent design elements. And then there’s the stuff users don’t see. This includes Inefficient, complicated or even non-existent processes for developing and publishing new content to web pages. Another problem is confusion inside of organizations regarding who owns a section of the website or who’s responsible for keep it up-to-date. All of these issues plague institutions without a strong web governance plan. These conditions make a website a burden rather than the powerful marketing and communication tool it’s supposed to be. 

If you’re thinking about a redesign, a new CMS, changing content authors, adding new functionalities, tightening your brand standards or anything else aimed toward optimizing your online marketing positioning, you’ve got to have the teeth to make your plan stick. Following a path toward better governance that includes getting executive-level support and making other key decisions upfront will not only protect, but strengthen your institution's brand online.