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Mentz Article - Journal of College Admissions - 2004

Online College Recruiting and Marketing – Web Promotion, Strategy, and Ethics
Effective Internet Marketing and Search Engine Placement for College Admissions

Dr. Richard Whiteside - Vice President of Enrollment and Dean of Admissions, Tulane University
George S. Mentz, Esq.- CEO of Mentz Consulting Worldwide

After several years of using online recruiting techniques, researching the area of Internet marketing, and consulting with companies regarding search engine ranking, we have made many observations about the evolution of the Internet as a tool for marketing to students and targeting enrollment for new admissions.

Search Engines - Your College site should be easily found by the potential candidates and alumni on targeted search engines or directories while considering these factors:

• The Top Engines: If you go to you will find the Net Ratings which will explain the market share of the following search engines and directories along with exposure and overlap of surfers. See Jupiter Media Metrix Ratings . Yahoo, MSN, AOL, Google, InfoSpace, WiseNut, Overture, and a few others have the widest appeal to the potential recruiting market. If you have followed the search engine industry, the growth or decline of search engine and directory market share has been very dynamic.
• Variables: such as domain name , keyword rich text, and meta code in the html source code affect your college exposure dramatically : Search engines use different methods (Algorithms ) of listing your web sites and ranking them when a term or word search is done for “colleges, ranking, admissions”. Positive variables include: the name of your domain and if it is germane to the search terms, the title of the page, the meta tags which include you site description and keywords, the text and content of the page, image file names, alt tag text, and link popularity. As a note, the search engines and directories change the algorithms and ranking criteria from time to time. Some major engines use a partner to provide their search results, and the partner can change from time to time. Thus, the variables and algorithms are not static and IT, webmasters, and college departments need to actively watch and innovate search engine ranking strategy.
• Pay for Inclusion or Pay Per Performance Engines and Programs: Yahoo and Overture have become increasingly important to website performance and targeted visitors. Many search engines such as Looksmart (which provides results for MSN) and Overture which sponsors results for AOL and Yahoo have suddenly become a strategy to outrank the webmasters because you have paid per click for your visitor and sponsored a listing on the first page of results.
• Your College Domain Name and Web Address: A fair percentage of your web visitors will locate your home page by simply typing the name of the college into the browser coupled with dot edu. The domain name and marketing of your home page is addressed in later in this article.

Exposure to the High School Students and Potential Applicant Pool

The youth of today is much more inclined to use the Internet to research colleges. It is the nature of the Internet Culture for the new generations. Children are trained to use the Internet in grade school and high school. They will research and visit colleges from the comforts of their home or the library. In light of this, you may have a more informed candidate for admission.

Using resent focus groups in my courses online and onsite, recent high school students enjoy the degree of privacy in searching online and using online forms. There is less interaction with people using this method. They simply need to fill out the information online.

Marketing The University Online, Benefits, Search Keywords

It is the job of the institution to integrate the information below with all web pages related to the university website or admissions. However, there is a potential linguistics issue because students may be searching for football or free tuition when the university site uses traditional terms in their text and web code such as Athletics and Financial Aid. In sum, the universities must target the search engine search “terms of art” that youth may use in seeking out a college to attend.

• Accreditation
• IT Computers and Wireless Capability
• Disability Services
• International Appeal or Accreditation
• Cultural Aspects of Your Locale and University
• Programs of Interest to Students
• Athletics and Sports
• Degree Programs and Degrees Offered along with Majors of Interest
• Financial Aid/Scholarships
• Requirements for Applications, Acceptance, and Curriculum
• Abroad Programs
• Grade Curves or Average GPA
• SAT or ACT scores
• Affirmative Action and Diversity
• Terms most frequently searched on your university website:
• Dormitories/Dorms/Housing
• Admission standards/admission criteria/standards
• Admission deadlines/application deadlines/deadlines
• Average or acceptable SAT or ACT score ranges
• Advising, Mentoring and Tutoring
• Safety and security of Campus, Dorms, City etc.
• Total Cost Forecasts and Price along with Tuition & Fees
• Junior Year Abroad “JYA”
• AP Exams or Advanced Placement Examinations
• IB - International Baccalaureate
• Transfer Credit and Transfer Courses
• Admission Application/Application
• High School Courses/Course Requirements
• Essay Issues
• Student Recommendations
• Location, Region, City and Amenities
• Campus Tours and Campus Visits
• Directions and Maps (to campus)
• Mailing address/address along with Telephone numbers
• Athletics (then sport name)
• US News Ranking/Ranking/Rank
• Number of Students/Enrollment
• Registration Information

Hard Copy that Promotes Recruiting and Branding to the Online Prospects.

Most universities have facilitated a campaign to include the website or web address with contact information on every piece of hard copy or email that is sent from the University. The issue overlooked is “what is the ease of recall” of the web name. In essence, the producers of marketing copy may want to include a mirror domain that uses a supplemental name or a dot com extension. Overall put your web address or URL on everything from brochures to trucks.

Links and Link Popularity

Many search engines rank sites according to factors that include the amount of links that other sites have back to you. Some sites pick up all links; however, many search engines only observe hyperlinks to your college that are attached to text.

Ranking and Recruitment

This is an interesting subset of admissions. Students are inclined to observe ranking in their decision to attend a college or university. US News, Business Week, Kiplinger, Petersons, and The Financial Times seem to have a temporary monopoly on this.

It is important for colleges and universities to seek out all college ranking opportunities. There are more unofficial rankings out there than you can imagine. Further, some obscure college ranking information sites may out rank the US News and Business Week sites on several engines. Ranking is said to be unfair in many cases, but it is a great way to market your university. Additionally, if you are ranked, you usually have your link listed.

High school students tend to use ranking systems to locate a particular institution within a broad category of similar institutions with regard to quality or value for the cost. Many fewer students report using ranking systems in a true rank order sense, that is, concluding that institution number 1 on the list is really better than is institution five on the list. Rather, students make a determination of an institution’s quality by examining the group of institutions above and below the particular institution looking for the names of institutions whose reputation they understand. In the student’s mind, an institution’s relative position on the continuum is determined by the company it keeps!

Ease of Use

Admissions sites have always had challenges in incorporating the necessary information to promote themselves and the university. On the main page of the admission and recruiting site, you will want to illuminate benefits, accreditation, ranking or accolades, facilities, housing, tuition pricing, location, phone numbers, and contact names. You will certainly want to implement the use of online forms that your IT department can handle. However, the admissions website will want to limit clutter also. Keep in mind, you want to sell your university, but enrollment websites will also want to allow for the application to be harvested with ease and without too much distraction.

Most university websites are organized in “egocentric” fashion, that is, the organization of materials mirrors the institution’s formal organization chart. Thus, a student may have to follow several different pathways from the main portal to find the information they want. For example, the admission function may be in one vice president’s portfolio, housing another’s and financial aid in a third portfolio. The “egocentric” nature of institutional websites assumes that the prospective student understands the institution’s organizational structure – a shaky assumption at best. While arranging information and information layers may make perfectly good sense to those already affiliated with the institution (e.g. current students, faculty, staff and administrators) and those who have already graduated, such an arrangement makes little sense to a prospective student who may be examining a large number of institutions in a short period of time.

Arraying the information from the perspective of where the student is in the admission process makes a good deal more sense. For example, the following array of institutional information is “intuitive” to most high school students in the admission process:

General Information for Prospective Students
Applicant for Admission Information
Accepted Student Information
Enrolling Student Information
Enrolled Student Information

While each of these major divisions may include certain redundancies, the added value of presenting the information in “process sequence” more than outweighs the overhead necessitated by the inclusion of certain redundancies.

Before and After, Testimonials, and Success of Alumni – Focusing On Benefits, Value and Success

Most college marketing focuses on the product – the programs, majors and services provided by the college. This approach often leads to a “so what” reaction on the part of the student. A more effective approach is to focus on the “benefits” and “value” of the experience. Understanding the connection between the educational process and services provided by the institution and the outcomes for individuals involved in those activities refocuses thinking in the desired direction.

One of the most important features of recruiting is to show how your past students and alumni have succeeded. This is done several ways.

• Secure testimonials from powerful and successful alumni
• Show their pictures or put a statement by the alumni on the site.
• On the site, show statistics of how alumni have faired in the salary and employment areas.
• Tie in your academics, graduate programs, and other supplemental profit centers to the site.
• Show the enthusiasm for the university and show the success of the endowment.

Similarly, care needs to be given when presenting vital institutional characteristics. For example, college websites will often address the issue of average class sizes with language like, “the average class size for lower division courses is 25.” Presenting the data this way leaves to the reader the job of determining what the benefits of an average class size of 25 are. Left to their own devices, some prospective students will make the correct connection. Unfortunately, others will not. However, if this important fact is presented with an explanation of its associated benefit, many more students will understand why the fact is of some significance. For example if the college says, “our average class size of 25 makes it possible for faculty to work closely with individual students, conduct substantive in-class discussions and coach students in their area of interest” the average class size data point takes on a much greater significance.

In constructing a website, it is critical for those responsible for design and content to assume the mindset of the student – benefits need to be articulated and the connections that are intuitive to those inside the academy must be clearly linked for those unfamiliar with the academy.

Search Engine Friendly College Web Sites

• Title – The title of each web page should target specific web surfers.
• Meta Tags – These individualized tags should be in place on all university recruiting and other web pages. It doesn’t matter how inconsequential the information on the page is. In essence, a student could discover you via any major department of the university while surfing.
• Content – The text of each page should be keyword rich with a target audience in mind.
• Headings – The headings and keyword rich text should be closest to the top left of the page and be carefully used throughout the rest of the page.
• URL Names and Extensions – The URL name is very important but the rest of the URL can have significance too. For example, Thus, this URL may be more likely to be picked up by a student searching for Tulane’s Rank or College Ranking in general.
• However, colleges need to maintain legal ethics in marketing while aggressively extolling the virtues of their campuses. For instance, your Webmaster could easily target a competitor’s candidates by targeting code, keywords, and meta tags that would allow your site to rank when a student is searching for another college.

Ease of Contact, Contact Us Pages, Response Times, and 800 numbers

We cannot stress the importance of a student coming to a site looking for an application to fill out or looking for an 800 number because they do not have the money to call admissions and ask for a packet. The ability to find the application form, fill it out, send it online, and receive a response, confirmation, or feedback is fundamental to improving upon your success.

While a well designed website can group information by logical phases (e.g. applicant phase) the typical student, no website can accurately sequence information for the demands of an individual student. That said, it is possible to predict a number of the most important items that any student might want at any stage of the process. Access to things like the application for admission, the list of majors, financial aid programs and the institutional catalog are high demand requests. These items should be included on the top layer of the admission website as “process stage independent” selections. For example, while the top layer of the admission website may serve as a portal to those in the applicant or accepted student phase, both of which might provide entry to the university catalog, the direct access to the catalog could also appear as a separate selection on the top page unconnected to any individual process.

As for responses, many colleges and universities have compliance approved (by your legal department) standard responses developed and ready to be emailed or mailed to candidates. Some universities may use auto responders that send specific information to students who submit an email that has certain questions checked (in check boxes or radio buttons) in the submission.

Load Time, Documents, Forms and Other Files

We love beautiful graphics, pictures, fancy design and Flash . However, many students who live in rural areas or who use an inexpensive computer system will use traditional dial up Internet services. The candidate’s dial up, ISP Internet Service Provider, may take 30-45 seconds to download your entire admissions website or home page. Due to time constraints, their patience may run out. Further, if the home page takes 30 seconds to load, and the next click for an application is in a format that cant be translated by the candidate’s computer because they do not have the necessary installed applications, then you have definitely lost a prospect. For example, if the high school surfer has IE5 but all of your forms or other information are in Adobe, a higher version of Word or other, then the student may not have an hour to download the software to read your files. By in large, admissions should offer forms in several formats.

Universities and Search Engine Listings

Because you are a non-profit or education and research institution, search directories like Google may list all of your web pages in the Google search engine out of respect. Thus, you may as well have all of your forms in html versions online. This may increase your visibility and link popularity. However, I am sure that Universities and Colleges can be banned for spam (over-submitting web sites to search engines). As a note, you may want your site to have links, forms, and other documents in text format because your links on your home page may be cataloged (spidered) by search engines that you submit to. Thus, you have all of your documents on various search engines. This is the sheer importance of proper title, text, content, and meta tag information for each link and page that is listed on your home page.

Link to Your Home Page

You should consult with your IT department and Administration about all other college departmental websites linking back to admissions. This will increase your exposure and search engines will believe that your university is very popular because so many sites have a link reference to your admissions department!

This is critical element in getting the prospective student to a web location that presents information in a logical flow with regard to the admission and financial aid processes. Many prospective students will arrive at a departmental website by having executed a search by discipline field. The search engine they use may return web addresses for particular departments within the institution – useful for providing program specific information but useless for linking the student to the admission process.

Integration of Price, Scholarship, Grant, and Financial Aid Information

Each admissions site should contain clear information on how to apply, the process and turn around time on applications, and acceptance or rejection notices. Moreover, to appeal to all socio-economic classes, each admissions site must clearly explain the possibility of assistance in the area of paying for tuition or finding a job on campus.

Since many students may self select out of further consideration solely on the basis of “published price”, websites should present information on typical financial aid and “net cost” (price less average financial aid) scenarios on the same data displays as published price. This approach may encourage some students to initiate a dialogue that would have otherwise never taken place


Having access to an online password protected statistical information for your websites will help you track your progress from season to season. This information will explain what part of the world your visitors are coming from, what sites are sending you traffic, what they download, the average amount of time they spend on your site, and other information such as in errors or outages on your site.

Closing the Sale to your best Prospects online and in person: Use of Superlatives

Only two things should be said about internet recruiting and the close of the sale. The use of superlatives in internet marketing is frowned upon by search engines. Thus, we should be careful using statements like, “The top school in the Region…” However, aggressive marketing copy on websites that utilizes credentials, benefits, accolades, testimonials, and all other positive bullet points about your university should be used with skill and care. In summary, University websites are doing their job if they are producing leads and applications. In the end, it is the enrolment department’s job to “close the sale” and enroll all extraordinary students who are undecided, looking for financial aid, seeking out competition, and looking for a personal touch. Many students simply want to be convinced of the opportunity and prestige that comes from attending your university.

E-Commerce Payments for Applications and Other College Payments:

Last year (2001), only 1/10 of colleges accept payments online. Many colleges will probably begin accepting major credit cards However, there are issues in ecommerce that affect international payments as compared to domestic payments. For example, many countries do not have states or zip codes. Further, when a student pays online from overseas, some credit card companies or merchants will flag the payment or identify it as a security risk. In conclusion, because there is a need and demand, most colleges will research and engage this practice over the next year.

Integration of online applications, online forms, and other submissions - Email and Other Customer Service: The use of email and the savings involved.

Having your student applications online is a way to reduce hard copy expenses and use of paper. Similarly, these forms can be a way for IT to harvest email addresses of other data for sending future mailings and updates. Email for colleges has increased savings in the area of postage, labor, paper, printing expenses, and administrative time. Some colleges rejoice in the savings of some of their seasonal mass mailings. The question to be asked is how far the paperless office strategy can go, and will it become successful in all areas of enrollment management.

Just a few years ago, institutions did not consider email a viable option for communicating with the student. Email addresses were difficult to harvest, volatile and only a small fraction of the prospective students had such addresses. Today, email addresses are routinely collected by mailing list providers, the addresses themselves are more stable and a much higher percentage of the college bound population has such an address than just a few years ago. Email provides a low cost, high speed, communication mechanism for colleges and universities.

Several of the more popular applications of email in college recruitment are listed following

1) Distribution of text documents such as PDF files for information pertaining to majors, financial aid etc. 2) Notification of incomplete applications identifying the documents needed to complete the packet 3) Invitations for college-sponsored events with built in RSVP mechanisms 4) Market research surveys 5) Newsletters containing information related to campus events 6) Rich Text Format Email

The extent to which email is used is limited only by the creativity of the admission department. Since the cost is extremely low, it is possible for the admission office to be in constant, interactive contact with members of the target population.

Trademarks, Copyright Notices and Disclaimers:

For the purposes of marketing and ethics online, the university IT department needs to protect themselves in the area of intellectual property, trade names and trademarks, along with copyrights. It is always advisable to have your legal department to provide the proper text, disclaimers, and marks to notify all visitors of potential violations and protections.

As for disclaimers, all admissions and enrollment departments should clarify the use of email, address, name, and other information submitted along with general warranty clarification in using the university website. Admissions may want to illuminate the contractual nature of any agreement with the admissions department of the particular university or college. Moreover, the disclaimers should protect the university in all financial dealings with students.

Search Engine Submission Prices: Generally speaking, these are the major search engines and prices to obtain listing: Yahoo: $300; MSN 15 cents for sponsored result from Looksmart or $30 dollars for basic listing in Inktomi; Google: free possible listings or use Google AddWords to sponsor a result; Overture: Bid for sponsored result which may appear on results of Yahoo and AOL; DMOZ Open Directory is a free listing but must be carefully listed. These are just general examples. For dynamic pricing information see:,,,,,, and

About Richard Whiteside

Richard Whiteside is the Vice President for Enrollment Management & Institutional Research at Tulane University. He has been at Tulane since July of 1993. Before joining Tulane, Mr. Whiteside was on the staff of the University of Hartford in West Hartford Connecticut for 14 years (Associate VP for Academic Administration), The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland (6 years), the City University of New York in New York City, and Pace College (University) in New York City.

Mr. Whiteside is a graduate of Manhattan College in New York City and holds two graduate degrees from the Johns Hopkins University. He has done additional graduate work in counseling at the City University of New York and completed his doctoral level course work in educational leadership at the University of Connecticut.

Mr. Whiteside is active in a number of professional associations including the College Board, the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admission Officers, and the National Association of College Admission Counselors. He speaks frequently on issues related to Financial Aid, Enrollment Management, Tuition Discounting, the educational environment, and the dynamics of change. He has served as a consultant on a variety of topics ranging from enrollment management to administrative information systems. His work in various enrollment management areas has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and on the Today Show.

About George Mentz, JD, MBA, CEC:

Mr. Mentz is a licensed attorney, holds an earned doctorate in international law, and an MBA in International Business. Mr. Mentz is presently a Full Time Visiting Assistant Professor of Legal Studies and Loyola University College of Business Administration in New Orleans. Mr. Mentz is acting president of the Institute of Certified E-Commerce Consultants and is also on adjunct faculty for 4 other colleges and universities teaching online and distance learning courses. Mr. Mentz has taught college level Computer Information Systems Courses in the areas of e-commerce marketing and Internet technologies. Further, Mr. Mentz owns a search engine placement consulting company with clients nationwide.

Mr. Mentz has published and presented in several venues including journals, television, brochures, magazines, national conventions, and on the Internet.

Glossary and Supplement:

Keyword and Content Rich Text: This means that you should have your website text or copy include targeted words or terms of art that people are searching for. We encourage you to include at least four to six paragraphs of informative text on every page (we should use no more than 250 words, absolute minimum: 100). Include the selected keyword phrase multiple times throughout the text because some repetition is of benefit. Again, do not be too aggressive with this. The content must seem natural and search engines will punish an obvious blanket of keywords. Also remember that students and parents are going to read this, and excellent marketing copy sells.

Meta Code or Meta Tags Despite less focus on meta tags by search engines, it takes quality research and effort to provide a strategic title, description, keywords, heading, and alternate tags in the head section (of your web code) of all your pages that may be indexed. All of your university meta tags should be unique and apply to a specific page while targeting specific traffic..

• Title Tag: Use 5-12 words to insert a keyword rich title that's relevant to the web page. Begin with keywords, using sentence format. It is important because many search engines utilize the content and copy as the link to your page in search results.
• Description Tag: This is important because your descriptive code is often used by search engines as your site description in the search results. Use 14-22 words, starting with several strategic keywords (about 175 characters). Make it compelling and relevant to receive qualified traffic.
• Meta Keywords Tag: List your strategic keyword phrases up to a maximum of 740 characters. Use keywords that are germane to the page usually separated by commas.
• Heading Tags: Insert these tags at the top of your pages, using strategic keywords relevant to the page. Check the font and size of your text after applying headers.
Alt Tags: Also called image tags because alt tags contain the text that appears when you mouse over an image with your arrow or pointer. Use keywords to describe the image appropriately. Use strategic keywords in the alt tags if possible.

Algorithms: A set of criteria or methodology used by a search engine or directory to rank pages according to what they perceive as the most relevant to a given query. There may be as many as 120 different criteria used including content, sheer placement within the title i.e the third word in the title, keyword density, text placement, use of Meta tags, image file names, use of themes, etc. Each search engine or directory uses their own ranking standards or algorithm, which they change often in an effort to improve how pages are ranked.

URL or Domain Name A domain is another name for an internet address. Domains follow a hierarchy where higher or top-level domains (which usually end with .com, .edu, .gov, .org, .ca, etc.) have web sites or lower-level domains below them that are sub-divided into different usable areas. In general, websites which have their own domain name like, will often achieve better ranking position than a sub-directory website such as http:/

Image File Names: All images on a website will have a name. Some search engines observe the names of images as a variable in search results.

Alt Tag Text: A picture or graphics on your web site will allow text to be inserted into it which allows viewers to see the text description as the viewer moves their mouse across the picture in question.

Link Popularity Most search engine algorithms now include link popularity, which started with Google's PageRank. This technology works by first identifying the link structure of the entire Web, then ranking individual pages based on the number and importance of pages linked to them. Identifying your inbound links and increasing the number of important, relevant inbound links is an essential part of your SEO strategy.

Search Engine Partner: A search engine such as MSN may use a partner to deliver results for a search. For example, MSN uses Looksmart and Inktomi as a search engine partner. Further, AOL and Yahoo use Google as a search engine partner.

Dot edu. The dot-edu domain category has been restricted to four-year colleges and universities almost since its inception. But about a quarter of community colleges got dot-edu addresses before the restriction took effect. Educause plans to allow the rest of the community colleges to obtain dot-edu addresses.

Mirror Domain: is a domain that will point to an already existing website. The website seen by the visitor is exactly the same no matter which domain name they type into their browser.

Keyword Rich Dot Com extension: This simply means that you should have a keyword rich domain name along with keyword rich sub file names

Hyperlinks or link: hy•per•link (hi-per-link)ˆn. v.1. Underlined text within an electronic document. When clicked with the mouse, the viewer will be taken to another place. 2. A graphic or part of a graphic that contains a link to another location. 3. The process of creating a link that will take the viewer to another location.
Main Portal or Portal Site
Search engines, directories and service provider homepages are examples of this generic term. Basically, any site which provides an entry point to the internet for a significant number of users can be called a portal site.

Check Boxes or Radio Buttons: Specifically used on forms within websites so users can check a box or click the round circle “radio button” to make selections or indicate a choice.

IE5 Any Version of Internet Explorer’s Browser that is used to surf the Internet.

Adobe and PDF Adobe, Inc.’s Software that is used as a format to save, distribute and create files or brochures.

Word: Microsoft’s Word Processing Program

Load Time: The approximate time it takes to fully view your website after requesting that address.

Statistics: A system whereas a user can view the amount of visitors, hits, and other demographic information about their website including keywords and departments visited.

IT: Your university Information Technology Department

Rich Text Format Email: Basically, this is when you send email as a web page.

Harvest: Slang for obtaining information, email addresses, mailing addresses, or other vital information needed to innovate and improve your efficiencies and success.

Search Engine
A search engine is a searchable index that houses millions of URLs. The term Search Engine is commonly used to describe both directories and search engines. As a server or a collection of servers, search engines are dedicated to indexing and storing internet web pages and providing internet searchers with an ordered list of pages that match a particular query. These indexes are normally generated using indexing spiders. Yahoo is commonly mistaken as a search engine but is actually a directory.

Search Engine Optimization
See Optimization more info on search engine optimization.
Search Engine Promotion
Search Engine Promotion consists of optimizing website pages and creating content rich pages to target specific keyword phrases. It also includes consistent appropriate submitting of pages to the search engines and directories. See also internet advertising.

Spider, Spyder
A spider is a robot program that surfs the web to index keywords and page text and then rank and order web pages according to what it deems most relevant. Web pages are then stored for access by internet queries. See also Robot.

Google: This directory and search engine is become ever more powerful and expanding its market share. Google is unique in that it gives preference to text and content deep into the web page while also recognizing your title and link popularity. Now that Google is the backup search engine for Yahoo and a search engine partner with AOL, Google’s market share is very broad. As a note, Google is probably the fastest loading search engine to use.


George Mentz Attorney Lawyer  Business School Faculty Professor