This is the sixth and final posting, for the Fall 2011, in a series of blogs to allow you to get to know more about the faculty members and topics of upcoming KnowledgeBuilders. Today’s Q&A blog is with Ineke Caycedo and Angela Brennan, both of Educational Marketing Group. Ineke is Senior Brand Strategist and Angela is Marketing Management Analyst.
They will be leading a KnowledgeBuilder on “The Fundamentals of Great Web Writing” on December 8, 2011 at 11 AM Eastern Daylight Time. Hopefully after reading what Ineke and Angela have to say, you’ll be excited to learn all the details in the actual KB session.
How long have you worked in higher ed marketing? What do you like about higher ed marketing? What are your speaking credentials?
Ineke: I’ve been in the field of marketing communications for over 20 years in a variety of industries including higher ed, corporate, and foundation. Of those, higher ed is perhaps my favorite. As an industry it’s multidimensional. Campuses are rich with material through which you can creatively present the brand, the audiences to which you market are varied, and I love the challenge of helping college and universities find ways to differentiate themselves.
I speak on that topic often at CASE conferences, UCDA, and AMA among others. I also blog and and am part of EMG’s KnowledgeBuilder faculty. My particular area of focus is on brand creative (design, photography, and copy) -how to build and express brand in variety of mediums including print, advertising, new media and social media.
Angela: I have been working in higher ed marketing for almost five years now. It has been quit a transition from the corporate world but has been valuable. The thing that I like most about higher ed marketing is the people that I have the opportunity to work with. Everyone is so passionate about his or her institution and they work very hard to show others; I have learned a great deal from everyone that I have had the pleasure of meeting.
From your particular point of view, what is the most important aspect of writing for the web?
Ineke: Brand storytelling on the web is particularly fascinating to me. There are a number of factors to take into account. First is the way people use the web. It’s non-linear. So you can’t think about writing copy in the same way as you would in a brochure, which typically has a clear beginning, middle and end. On the web, you never know where a person might enter your site. Most often, it’s not through your homepage.
Additionally, college websites tend to be huge repositories of information. It’s easy to just put all the information you have about a major, for example, on one long page which becomes incredibly dense and detailed. It can easily overwhelm the person who’s just trying to get an overview of what you offer and is not ready to get into the nitty gritty details.
Another thing I often see are pages with information for a variety of different audiences from student prospects, to faculty, to current students. These kinds of pages tend to be confusing for site visitors unfamiliar to the school and frustrating for internal audiences who don’t want to wade through promotional copy to get to the more transactional or actionable information they need.
Finally, one of the most important challenges in writing for the web is developing copy that is representative of you campus’ brand voice and that is also search engine friendly.
Angela: The most important aspect of writing for the web is to plan. Without planning, you have the potential for broken links, unnecessary copy, dead-ends, and losing a potential student, among other things. If you take the time to plan the structure of your site and know the content that must go on a particular webpage then it is much easier to write for both the user and search engine.
In a typical campus setting and your perspective, which staff members and other stakeholders should be involved in effectively writing for the web?
Ineke: From a marketing perspective, college websites are particularly difficult to manage because there tend to be numerous stakeholders. In an ideal world, the marketing staff at the college would create and be responsible for all pages directed at external audiences. In corporate settings information for various audiences typically have their own discrete sites. For example, Disney has discrete sites for internal stakeholders, customers, and for investors. The information needs of these audiences are different as is their involvement and understanding of the brand so giving them each their own site makes a lot of sense.
Given that this kind of site structure isn’t what typically exists in higher ed, it becomes particularly important to engage and train those individuals on campus who are responsible for web content both in how to create effective web content and how to write to the institution’s brand messaging.
Angela: I would love if everyone could be involved in writing for their website, if just to understand what goes into the process. However, this isn’t usually possible or efficient. So, I would hope that anyone that has the ability to change website content (i.e. has access to a CMS) and the central marketing team, at the very least, be involved in writing for their website. By training people that generate or change content on best practices, the marketing team can cut down on staff’s workload by being proactive.
What kind of results can a college or university expect to see if they continuously create great copy for the web?
Ineke: Fresh and engaging content is one of the most important ways to make your website interesting to visitors and to search engines alike.
The big search engine players like Google and Bing include factors like how recently content on a site has been updated as part of their search algorithms. The more you create fresh and, more importantly, relevant content on your site the more likely you are to draw both new and returning
visitors and the higher you climb on the search results.
All of that equals more eyes on your site and, if you’ve crafted your content right, more applications, donations, alumni engagement, etc.
Angela: Writing for the web is a dynamic process that an institution must continually update and improve upon. If done correctly, the institution should see results from their target audience. This is because search engines will start generating more traffic to your site and your target audience should be more engaged in the content and website structure. Another result that you might see is from stakeholders in the form of increased interaction.
What will colleagues learn during your KnowledgeBuilder on December 8?
Ineke: Angela and I will be talking a lot about the elements of good content creation and touching on the areas I’ve mentioned above. The importance of thinking about writing for the web is not only as what goes on the page, but also what goes in the code of the page like title, description, and meta tags that search engines look at. We’ll also talk about how to effectively structure copy so that the visitor has access to it when they’re ready for it. How to effectively segment copy for your various audiences. We’ll have some great examples of the do’s and don’ts for creating great web copy. Our objective is to give attendees the knowledge to be able to go back and asses how effectively their institution’s site is presenting content and tips and tricks to improve.
Angela: Attendees will learn that writing for the web is more than just writing some content. It is about writing for your target audience and guiding them through a process and making sure that they are engaged and hopefully complete a desired call-to-action. It is also about how to write for search engines so that your website can be found through metadata, titles, tags, etc. Increasing user engagement and search engine optimization will allow your website to work for you.
Be sure to join Ineke and Angela for their webinar on “The Fundamentals of Great Web Writing” on December 8, 2011 at 11 AM Eastern Daylight Time.