It’s NOT what you think.

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Concepts, Higher Education, Marketing, Recruitment, Social Media, Thoughts, Usability, Web | Posted on 12-11-2008-05-2008



Directly above my main work computer is a bright yellow sheet of paper.  A printed out slide from one of my presentations.  It has been there for nearly 4 months now.  It’s a paraphrased quote from page 110 of Seth Godin’s book, Meatball Sundae.  And it reads:

It’s not about what you think the students want or want the students to want.  It’s about creating and assembling a collection of tools that captures the attention of people who truly care.

Let me break this down for you as you think of how to apply it to e-based recruiting.

1) It’s not about what you think the students want… I think I know what students want.  A lot. This tool. That site. This email subject line.  The only way to truly know what students want is through research and usability testing. Every school is different. Every funnel contains a different demographic. There is no longer a one size fits all solution.

2)… or want the students to want.  I want students to use our tools and social media. But, they don’t always want it in return.

3) It’s about creating and assembling a collection of tools… Again, there is no longer one way to reach all students.  Think and, not or.  Facebook AND Myspace, etc. For a visual learner, images on Flickr might be the best way to show your campus to that student. For an english major, blogs might be very effective.  Maybe an unpolished YouTube video is what a student really needs to see. Create a set of tools, your swiss army knife of recruiting.

4) that captures the attention of people who truly care. Key words: truly care.  Not every student is going to want to be your friend on Facebook. Or message you through Zinch. Or read about your newest RSS stories. But for those who TRULY CARE, the students who are really pouring time and energy into their relationship with your university….wow.  Get their attention. Focus on them. Make sure they know you appreciate them having the conversation with you.

In order to keep things fresh, I’m replacing that quote this week. Because at this point, I could tell you what I just told you in my sleep. I’ve looked at it every day. I’ve engrained the thought in my mind and apply it.

And I’m asking you for help.  What should my next quote be? What should hang above my work computer for inspiration? Leave a comment.

[Download the quote poster here!]

UPDATE: Here are thoughts on this quote from Kyle Lacy and MrRSmith.

Are you listening?

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Free, Higher Education, Marketing, Recruitment, Social Media, Technology, Twitter, Usability, Web | Posted on 21-10-2008-05-2008


Are you listening to everything out there that’s being said about your school yet?

If you don’t have your ear on the train tracks, you’re never going to see it coming. And it’s going to hit you. Hard.

Some students would rather voice their opinions and concerns on the web than take the time to send you an email or *gasp* pick up the phone and call you.

Case in point:  Our online application was intermittently down for nearly 24 hours. Did anyone call us? No.  Did anyone email us? Nope.

Did Danielle voice her frustration on Twitter? Yes.

It just took a quick message for me to figure out the problem and realize that our online application was doing this:

Thanks, Danielle. Without your message, who knows how long it would have been or how many frustrated students would have turned around and not worried about trying to apply to Butler.

Split Test Your Emails: A or B?

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Analytics, Concepts, Email, Thoughts, Usability | Posted on 11-08-2008-05-2008


At eduWeb I chimed in about A/B testing on emails during the Q&A Session of Kyle James’ presentation (that’s me around 27:40).  I just wanted to share an example of a recent test that I did.

The email was to announce that our online app was available.  I knew from last year’s send that the subject line was fairly effective (“Butler’s Online App Now Available!”), so I wanted to take a look at the content and see where I could actually push more students to click through and take action.

For the 2007 send, it went to 14,650 students, and the results are below.

For 2008, we have 17,566 students to email.  Rather than do it the same as last year, I first ran an A/B Test. I left the first email the same as last year, and for the 2nd one I used a button graphic to see if it would help clickthrough rates increase.

Test A: Same email as last year.

Test B: Added a visual clickthrough.

Results: Each test was sent to 3,500 random students on 8/7/08.  The winning test after 36 hours would then be sent to the remaining 10,566 students.

Test A: 3,282 successful. 339 opens (10.3%), 72 click throughs (21.2%) as of 8/11
Test B: 3,292 successful. 719 opens (21.8%), 273 click throughs (38.0%) as of 8/11
2008 Send: 9,454 successful. 1,378 opens (14.6%), 449 click throughs (32.6%) as of 8/11

And for comparison,
2007 (1): 14,650 successful. 5,137 opens (35%), 853 click throughs (16%) after 1 month
2007 (2): 9,513 successful. 1,232 opens (13%), 270 click throughs (22%) after 1 month

So in first 4 days, we have had 47% of the opens as last year (2,436), and 93% of the click throughs (794).  These numbers will continue to rise as the days and weeks go on.  Based on early #’s, I can say that Test B has been a success, 34.4% click through rate to date compared to 17.6% click through rate over the course of last year’s entire campaign. Those are results.

Even if we don’t do a 2nd send this year, I think we’ll get close to the amount of opens we had last year cumulatively.  I might do a 2nd send with a different title to see how that affects open rates, using the content from Test B to continue to push click throughs higher.

I started thinking about the button after reading Designing The Obvious on a flight last week. It was a really good book and made me think more about how I can incorporate more design-friendly aspects into emails.

I’d encourage you to consider an A/B test in the future and see how you can make the most of your email campaigns.  This isn’t a new technique, but it’s usually overlooked.

Give them more than the expected.

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Blogging, Conferences, Ethics, Facebook, Flip Ultra, Google, Logo, Marketing, Research, Social Media, Speaking, Technology, Tuition, Usability, YouTube | Posted on 04-06-2008-05-2008


Let’s talk a little bit about expectations of an admission website, and the evolving nature of it. I’m going to speak in terms of the Whole Product Concept, which some of you might be familiar with. It looks like this:

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Got $10 and 10 minutes?

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Higher Education, Marketing, Recruitment, Technology, Usability, Web | Posted on 07-05-2008-05-2008


No, i’m not trying to sell you a product. I’m trying to sell you on usability testing. That’s right, with only $10 and 10 minutes YOU can IMPROVE your SITE! (insert big logo and web 2.0 graphic here)

Last November I did a usability test with Marcie, a senior at a local high school. There was one question I wanted to ask her because I was pretty sure I knew the answer already, I just needed it recorded for proof to others. :)

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Butler Redesign has Launched!

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Higher Education, Technology, Usability, Web | Posted on 15-02-2008-05-2008


Sorry for 2 posts so soon, but I noticed that the new site just launched. The OLD (seriously, like 6 years old) site has been transformed to the NEW. We still have a ways to go (some 2nd level, 3rd level, etc. pages not updated), but it looks great so far. What a welcome change and a fresh look.

Huge thanks to everyone who had a hand in the project! It looks much better.

Also, I’m glad my Bloggers made front page :)   Finally, some more traffic!

Old and Busted (Click to Enlarge)

New and Hotness (Click to Enlarge) (or… just check it out.)

Know your role.

Posted by Jesse | Posted in Higher Education, Management, Technology, Usability, Web | Posted on 30-01-2008-05-2008


funny-pictures-bird-cat-cage.jpgEver been in a meeting with a manager that is completely unqualified to make a critical decision about some piece of technology or strategy? Let’s say you have a website, and you are rolling out a new feature. Now you have been the model web developer; you’ve done case studies, use-ability testing, research, etc. You know what a user wants, and what they most definitely do not want.

Your manager has now identified something that they HAVE to have on the website. Ironically, your target audience also identified that this very thing they are talking about is a bad idea and they do not like it. Now what? First of all, breath deep and find your happy place. In many cases this is where web developers (and certainly education industry professionals) flip their lid. No, the manager in question isn’t qualified to speak about web design, and no they have absolutely no experience in usability – but they call the shots. Don’t fret, you still have options.

Ask why they want feature X. This might be a mis-communication. If “the manager” is a board member, have someone who feels comfortable enough call them up and have a candid conversation on why this feature has to make it into the final roll out. It may be a simple communication issue – the manager said “I’d like for it to be on the site” and someone heard “IT MUST BE ON THE SITE OR SURELY WE WILL BE IN RUIN.

…but they still want it.

Ok, this is where we dig in. First of all, did you summarize your use-ability tests, your research, your interviews, etc. into a readable and clear document? If not, get to work. If you did – go over it again. Do you have charts and graphs? Can you easily see what the users want, what people have experienced in the past as successful implementations? Make certain you can. Don’t frame your data, don’t skew it to make it look good- just make sure the results are clear.

Here’s the part that might make you squirm: They might be right. After looking at your data, and seeing what people want and have been successful with- you might have made his or her case. This is where you get to bring them the report and shower them with praise.

WAKE UP. No daydreaming.

You have your data and it’s clearly pointing to the fact that feature X is a bad idea. Present this to your manager and request a follow up meeting to talk about it. Bring your raw data and be prepared for all sorts of questions. Make your case and request we do not include feature X.

Ok. They still say no. DO NOT head to just yet.

Compromise. They obviously want this feature and don’t care that it’s bad for your website. Is there a way you can implement feature X to limit it’s exposure? Could you possibly negotiate to get feature Y (the one you were going to ask for next week) into the site? Find a way to soften the blow to meet the needs of your target audience.

The ideal setting would have people who call the shots deferring to “experts” in the respective fields who know more about subject X than they do. This always isn’t the case, so more than likely you’re going to deal with this situation in one way or another. Remember that you are setting a precedent in how you react to your manager. If it turns into a painful experience for both of you, you might not get the chance to be heard the next time. Keep your head up, do your homework and live to fight another day. :)

Finally! Google Maps implemented

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Google, Higher Education, Technology, Usability, Web | Posted on 15-01-2008-05-2008


We have a ‘unique campus’ at Butler, i.e. we are in the middle of a neighborhood and there is a lack of accomodations in the immediate area.  Visitors have a hard time conceptualizing where they need to go for hotels, restaurants, etc. I’ve been pushing for Google Maps API implementation for awhile, but to no avail.

With Scholar’s Forum coming quickly (where admitted students interview for scholarships, etc), we have been getting the page up for our admitted students who will be visiting.  Rather than continue to try to get the API implemented (we use a home-grown CMS that doesn’t exactly allow me to get into the code…), I went ahead and designed the Google Maps and just used their iframe embedding function.  After some tweaks to the code (Art figured out that a mere < 15 pixels was pushing the maps to the bottom of the page in IE6/7, but not Firefox), we are up and running.

This makes it easy for visitors to see where we are, where hotels and resturants are, and allows them to punch in their address for directions as well.  On the Hotel side of things, I added links to read reviews on each hotel, which I thought might be helpful.  I also included phone #’s to be on the safe side.  Since the information was already compiled, it was pretty easy to copy/paste most of the information over after I geotagged on the map.

Here’s the page:  Go.Butler.Edu < Scholars Forum < Accomodations.

You can use Google Maps for other things as well in your office.  For example, yesterday I had an admission counselor email me with a request to highlight Lake Road on this PDF map (just try finding it) so visiting counselors would know where to park for an upcoming conference.  Instead, I created another Google Map highlighting where they should park, where the building they are going to is, and a pinpoint that opens immediately giving them the option to plug in their address for directions.  Then I gave him a tinyurl for the email, and the request was done.

Tell me what you think! What are you using Google Maps for on your campus?

The way users do things…

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Higher Education, Research, Usability, Web | Posted on 14-12-2007-05-2008


I’ve been tracking a recent stat in Analytics that keeps popping it’s ugly head up, so I had to do some research. Here’s the deal. Our admission site is, not Regardless, a lot of end users still feel the need to put a www at the beginning of absolutely everything.

Not a problem, right? Wrong. Looking at the top 2 browsers, people use, 1 of 2 things would happen to them:

1) Internet Explorer — The bad url would direct to a Microsoft search engine that showed as the top result. The user would then click that link, which would report in Analytics that they came to the site via search engine with the string ‘’. Turns out, it was our second most popular search link last month with 101 people doing this.

2) Firefox -Nothing. ‘Server not found’ error would display. User ends up thinking site is down, or worse… “Well, there must not be a site here.”

So let’s look at the numbers.

So if 101 users using IE did this, we can extrapolate the number of browser users to say that approximately 21 Firefox users did this as well (on the other hand, we could also say Firefox users are more tech saavy and would do this less, but let’s just keep it simple.)  Using the math that 101/130 = 77.69%, if there were 130 people to search, 101 of them would be the IE users, and .1646*130 = 21.4 users, with the remaining 8 users using Safari/other browsers.

SO. Here we are with 21 users a month (252 a year) who for sure aren’t getting to the site, and another 1,212 that are having to go the extra step to get to the site, assuming they even want to do that. That brings us to 1,464 potential website viewers who are just not getting straight to the message.

Luckily, this ended up being an easy fix.  We told IT  our problem/suggested solution, and they emailed me back within a week saying that would now redirect to   And we will now have 1,500 more visitors who get straight to the site every year.  Hooray!

Butler starts the website redesign

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Higher Education, Uncategorized, Usability, Web | Posted on 06-12-2007-05-2008


We’re done with usability testing, and now it’s time to get some input. You can see some results/summary of our usability testing and feedback here and here. Feel free to check out some potential designs, which are extremely rough draft here.