Content Strategy for Higher Ed Marketing Teams

content strategy by brain traffic
content strategy by brain traffic

Content Strategy, courtesy of Brain Traffic

Since 2008, when I starting blogging for Mount Allison University in Canada, I’ve been interested in the best ways to source, structure, and present quality content. At the time, it was pretty simple in terms of the content strategy components laid out developed by the folks at Brain Traffic.

2008 – Individual Content Publisher

Substance: My life and how it was improved by going to the school.

Workflow: After an initial introduction and being presented with guidelines, I would write, edit, approve and publish everything myself.

Governance: Limited

Structure: However I wanted to structure it.

It worked at the time for being a part-time content publisher tasked with sharing my story of being a student at the University. Since then, of course, I’ve taken on more complicated roles with large and varied audiences with different structure and governance regulations/guidance. For brevity’s sake, I’ll skip over the intervening nine years with the general note that with growing audiences come with a greater emphasis on ensuring efficiency, effectiveness, and consistency.

2017 – Managing a Team at American University

For context, I have a directly manage a small team of a full-time content-producing Communications Coordinator, a part-time permanent Web Coordinator, vendors, and student workers. Beyond my department, I coordinate marketing communications for a dozen undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs in conjunction with other ~20 program and operational staff. Our current priorities are building off the work Converge Consulting did with pilot programs and completing the site-wide upgrades already underway. My office is also creating prospective student user personas, program-specific communication workflows, improving our inbound marketing efforts, and other efforts I hope to share with you soon.

For my part, I’ve and will continue worked to document, a few key areas of content strategy for the school and its various web distribution platforms including social media and email across our programs. Here’s where I am at the moment.


In terms of substance, our programs appeal to an array of distinct audiences. As we hire and train more content contributors, we’re working to help clearly explain the value proposition and other key points for each of our programs that we want to highlight when we discuss the programs across different channels. This has taken the form of personas, guidelines, and other internal documents to ensure consistency and understanding across a number of forms (soon to include more video).


As the expectations of our various audiences evolve (Generation Z, defined for our purposes as those born after 1995/1996, for the majority of our on-campus offerings), there’s a continued need for up-to-the-minute news and an expectation of information and resources on demand. As we adjust to the preferences our of audiences, it’s crucial to have an adaptable plan for how content is produced and disseminated. From creating internal swimlane diagrams for content production to efficiently manage content from ideation to distribution and the now common response flow charts for responding to social media, it’s important to have a plan to make the most use of limited staff time and resources. This includes using the right tools to enable teams to automate things that are better left for computers to decide (like the best timing for posts) and aren’t cost-effective for humans to do.

I’ve done process mapping to create the most efficient workflow to ensure quality and relevant content (as determined by program and marketing staff) can get to key audience as efficiently as possible (but without skipping key review by Subject Matter Experts). My goal is to make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler. In my case, I’ve switched our team to ToDoist Business to enable transparent efficiency in the processes up to approval. We’ve compensated for the unintuitive nature of some distribution platforms with documentation for all required steps. We’re also constantly improving our ability to connect content production to business KPIs to demonstrate real value.


As the “Content Owner” and “Data Custodian” for subdirectory and administrator of other web and social media services, I’m responsible for the ~15 staff members I’ve delegated permission to publish to the website abide by a number of rules, including but not limited to: the Responsible Use of University Web site and Content Management SystemElectronic Mass Communication PolicySocial Media GuidelinesTrademark Usage Policy, and the Web Copyright and Privacy Policy, among others.

In addition to the university-wide regulations, there are multiple internal stakeholders with individual priorities and needs when it comes to our website which leads to un-codified and internal but no less important guidelines for out outreach and marketing efforts.


In addition to having workflows for content production, we’re working on templates to standardize as much of the required and technical elements of stories so that our writer’s work can be spent on effectively telling the story and not worrying about “how” to optimize things as there will be a guide available. This is not to take the joy out of writing but to focus writers on writing and to make the technical aspects of web-writing as cut and dry as possible. This follows research showing that making an excessive number of decisions tires the brain and makes it less effective.


I hope that’s helpful. If you’re just starting out, I would strongly recommend reading Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach. Also, anything by Steve Krug but especially “Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability“.

(Nearly) One Year at American University


For those of you who have kept up with these blog posts, you may have noticed there has…not been a lot to keep up with lately. That’s because, over the last year, I’ve been incredibly busy with the changing nature of my work and a number of time-intensive projects that aren’t quite ready for prime time.

However, since it has been a LONG time since I shared anything, I figure I should offer a brief update.


Soon after I started at American University, my supervisor left for another job. As I took responsibilities above my job duties, I earned a promotion that took effect just six months after I started.

Added Responsibilities

It would be boring to list (or read) everything I’ve done in DC, but it generally has been combination of the baseline requirements of the (nearly identical) Assistant Director, Marketing & Communications position at the business school, the technical oversight required by the Online Content Manager at the School of Communication, and many of my previous supervisor’s Director of Communication & Marketing responsibilities including when I’ve been introduced as Acting Director (including leading an RFP process to secure and now managing a new marketing vendor, sourcing a new email provider and training staff, and managing the performance of a full-time Coordinator, part-time web staff, and student workers).

Keeping Current

On top of the day-to-day, I’ve made sure to stay current regarding industry best practices. While this kind of work has been previously relegated to “professional development”, many digital marketing roles (including mine) require it as a core job requirement. Recently I completed a couple of courses (Web Writing for Higher Ed and Advanced Web Analytics for Higher Ed) to provide resources to staff members in those areas I now train and manage to ensure we stay current. We’re working on a redesign effort and ensuring my team is on the same page will be crucial.

I also went to an advanced AdWords training and kept up on the latest in higher ed by going to EduWeb16 and the Stamats 2017 Adult Student Marketing Conference (and was good at tweeting, apparently).

New Resume

Because I work across the hall from our internships director who assists students in improving their professionalism and employability (and because I may soon be asked to help review resumes at our summer Professional Development Day, I figure I should practice what I may soon preach and update my own resume.

The layout hasn’t really changed since I created in a graphic design course at Newhouse almost five years ago. I’ve simplified it a bit so that it’s more easily editable (and replacing the expensive Fairfield font with a free alternative). Anyways, below is a very condensed version of what I’ve been up to. What do you think?

Geoff Campbell Resume

Promoted at American University

Hi again,

I realize I haven’t posted in the last seven months since I’ve started working at American University. It has been a very busy time. Just weeks after starting my new job, my supervisor left the university. There was a lot of new work that still needed to get done and ultimately fell to me. I adjusted quickly and embraced the new challenge.

As time wore on, my colleagues and supervisor adjusted to me being the face of the marketing department. By the time the HR-mandated probationary period had ended, it was clear I was serving and would continue to serve the school in a much greater capacity than when I started. On January 1st (just over six months after I started), I was officially promoted to Assistant Director, Communications & Marketing. While it officially came with a greater set of responsibilities than my original position, I was ready for it because I had been taking care of many of those responsibilities in the interim period.

In addition to managing day-to-day outreach efforts across the school (spanning undergraduate, graduate, and professional studies programs), I recruited, hired, and now supervise two part-time staff members who ensure our school website’s compliance with accessibility requirements and write news and feature stories to help attract new students. Among other projects, I researched and migrated the school to a new CRM for contacting partners. I also completed an effort to create a print material with a consistent graphic design across our varied programs (soon to be translated to the website).


There have been a number of other projects in the works that I’ll be able to discuss when they’re complete. Suffice it to say, it has been and will continue to be busy in my neck of the woods.

Until next time,

Geoffrey Campbell
Assistant Director, Communications & Marketing

Starting work at American University

Today, I started work at American University as the Web Content & Marketing Coordinator at the School of Professional & Extended Studies. I will be responsible for managing web content and the school’s social media strategy, producing news stories, creating video content, and helping to promote university events (among other projects).

Clearly that’s just a broad overview of the new role. I’ll continue to update here as things progress.

Finishing up at Friends’ Central

Hello all,

After two years at Friends’ Central I’m making the move back to higher ed by accepting a job at a university. My last day at Friends’ Central was today (June 11th), the school’s graduation day,

I’ve learned a lot and grown as a professional over my time at FCS (as documented on this blog). From helping to launch the new website in November 2015 and managing social media, to ultimately improving user experience and working on an integrated project (including advertising) to help achieve enrollment marketing goals.

I’m grateful for the opportunity I had there, the great people I worked with, and how my time there has prepared me for the next chapter in my career, which I’ll write about in the future.

Content calendar for digital/social media publishing

Planning is important when it comes to making the most of what can be a very hectic year. There are dozens of tools available that make people and teams more organized (in addition to the default Google Docs and Calendar).

People want to use the best of the best but there are so many options to choose from people don’t always know the best route to go.

I’ve made a Google Sheet similar to the featured image that is content-based and includes recurring events and their title, audience, delivery mechanism, content/description, connected link to the content, content type (photo, video, text). It’s helpful to be able to have the year of things I know need to get done together so that when…well…communications…life happens and something unexpectedly unexpected happens, I’m not left confused when I get back to my ‘normal’ to-do list.

It isn’t as cool-looking as CoSchedule’s marketing calendar (or even its WordPress editorial calendar) or other digital scheduling/planning options, but it works for me. What works for you/your team?

Best social media monitoring tools for higher ed

A bit of a shorter post. I just wanted to note that the gigantic field of dozens of social media monitoring platforms has slimmed to under ten “top” tools for most purposes higher ed marketers would need. These don’t include the pricey “enterprise” solutions that are necessary for larger businesses. I don’t want to malign any that aren’t included so I’ll just note a couple that are among the smaller number of tools that I’ve whittled my usage down to: Sprout Social and HubSpot.

These two have different markets and in their entirety are two different animals but I’ve found them both very useful in keeping apprised on what’s happening on social (especially outside of the normal 9am-5pm, which is crucial because people don’t use social just when you’re at your desk.)


Web design and images sizes for social media

In a previous job, I helped design print materials from annual fund solicitations to commencement materials and even have a behance (portfolio) account. At this point though, two years after my last graphic design course (in addition to work at Newhouse), specifically on using the latest features InDesign CS6, I haven’t done a lot of page layout or vector file editing.

While memories of designing for print fade, that doesn’t mean I haven’t kept up with important web design trends. From a quick look at something crucial to the work of social media managers- having up-to-date and correctly sized images – there is a lot to keep in mind. Thankfully, Sprout Social has an aptly named guide, the “Always Up-to-Date Guide to Social Media Image Sizes“. As long as I’ve been using it, it has been updated soon after changes by the major platforms.

In addition to knowing (or, more accurately, being able to quickly reference and put into action information about) sizes, there are a number of quick and easy-to-use image creation tools (if you don’t know how, don’t have access to, or simply don’t want to use InDesign).

One of the most important changes when it comes to what “non-designers” like me need to know about design and image sizes for the web has to do with code. Last year I noted how important it is for publishers to include metadata (especially posts your share) that makes posts more engaging by default on social media. Since then, Facebook has made it easier to customize even more about the appearance of shared links. I would say that makes it even more important to have engaging photos embedded in the open graph, twitter card, and other structured data on your posts.

Unfortunately, some Content Management Systems that haven’t adapted do not allow for this important change. This can lead to organic social shares to look dull by default. If you aren’t in this line of work, it may be hard to tell the difference between, say, this post on


and this one

fcs importance of twitter cardsHowever, if you use Twitter professionally, you’ll know that last year, Twitter cards started auto-expanding by default. Which means our card had a photo and description, while Gould’s is plain text. If you were scrolling through your feed, which would stand out to you?

In addition to making sure you have featured images that are the right sizes for different platforms (and have the settings correct or make the code changes manually on platforms that don’t have have cards Open Graph data on by default, you can increase reach with Twitter Website Cards (which yes, are different than Twitter Cards. My former coworker at UVA did a helpful experiment to show the kind of result the University of Virginia had when investing the extra time to make them.

All of the above is mostly to say that in addition to having engaging photos, the role of a social media/web manager is expanding more to edit code to make posts more appealing especially when shared by others. I hope that helps.



What goes into a web/analytics report for higher ed?

Last week, I posted about Key Performance Indicators for independent school and higher ed admission advertising. Those figures can be used together to measure the performance of online advertising efforts and their impact on conversions and overall business goals.

Today, I’d like to discuss how things like those metrics and other insights can be combined into a seasonal, quarterly or annual web report that tracks progress and provides useful insights. Unsurprisingly, it’s difficult to find recent examples of insightful web reports in higher ed. As you know, colleges are increasingly competitive and (aside from conferences, and the like) can be unwilling to share their playbook so how others can copy their success.

When it comes to showing off performance- when hard work pays off – there are often case studies released by partner organizations. For instance, when helping my school plan our use of HubSpot, I referenced the Proctor Academy’s example and got in touch with Scott Allenby, their Director of Communications and Marketing and their Inbound Marketing Specialist (yes, a title at an independent school) Lesley Fisher about their success. They were very helpful and gave insights into their progress.

In other cases, when it’s the routine reporting that can ultimately to these changes, there is less information available. At FCS we’re doing well in terms of improving our performance in key areas, I’m still not sharing inside information that could be helpful to our competitors.


What I can share, and what there are many examples of, including a great guide on, is an example of things to include in a web metrics report.

Those guidelines can be very helpful and I think a lot of schools could incorporate a lot of those examples. One issue in transferring the report to indy school/higher ed world, which may not have been an issue for government agencies, is that the report is long. Yes…in 2016, eight standard (letter) length pages is too long. The report I made for Fall 2014 was 12 slimmed down slides and that was too long. When making anything it can be easy to write more than necessary because it interests you but chances are the report is written for people that have only a small fraction of the interest or the responsibility that you do. While it’s nice to have more details available, it seems most useful to have highlights up front as other may not have time to examine smaller details (or watch a 40-minute video on making that report). That being said, individual circumstances vary and the applicability of this advice subject to a school’s individual needs and should adjusted in length depending on the level of breadth and depth required (program-specific web/admission information, etc).

Keeping in mind that these everything online is subject to change and individual circumstances (what YOUR school finds important). Also, these are only excerpts and the examples are dated and don’t include advances this academic year (sorry, competitors).

Comparative numbers can be “period compared to last” unless otherwise noted. The numbers for your likely primary audience (defined as a segment in GA) can be included alongside total numbers.

Examples of points to include in a web report

Main website: (# of sessions by filtered audience, users, pages/session, avg. session duration, % increase in sessions/session duration compared to last quarter, and new sessions). Include why traffic may have changed. This page can include a daily visits to your website with annotations explaining spikes in traffic.

Search: What people search for on your site. Thankfully I added Google Custom Search to our site. This could lead to navigation changes or notes that your audience may prefer searching for their terms rather than navigating.

Path/User Flow Analysis: This could be an entirely separate report so keep it simple. Start with the standard landing page as the start.

Engagement: Mention bounce rate on key pages this period compared to last.

Referrals (where traffic came by referral source including details on social sources)

Behavior (most popular pages, and notable changes in device used)

Geography (notable mentions regarding where your audience is physically)

Notable sections (Changes to pages that affect target audience, including UX (simplifying Admission sections, altering the workflow for users, etc), and future work in those areas.

Campaigns: # and % increase of important measurements, # of conversions due to ads vs. other efforts, % increase in important campaign-related metrics/micro-conversions (time on site, page visited), results (ex. event registration increase, event attendance increase, increase in admission inquiries, etc). Consider adding a goal flow analysis screenshot starting with source/medium for the campaign page for a conversion you’d like to highlight.

NB: This section often includes the sources of conversions (discussed in a previous post) doesn’t necessarily need to include all of a campaign’s constituent parts (email campaign details like email open/click rates) or details of digital advertising KPIs).

Mobile (top-line figures to be cognizant of changing ways your audience experiences your website)

Other web

YouTube: Top videos by views, avg. % viewed

Facebook (new fans, impression breakdown, use by day (to inform future posting)

Twitter and Facebook (most engaging posts (different examples (top shared, clicked, post views, etc depending on type)

Summary including and issues and next steps to work on.

Things to note

It’s important to have your audience in mind. Do all the recipients of the report care about each section equally? Of course not. Should you report cover the basics for the areas of your responsibility and top-line figures that people you report to would be interested in? Of course. I’ve found that since I began assembling reports like this (starting with Cision in 2012), that good internal reports lead to interesting questions that can be answered later in depth (how do those who create an admission account differ from website visitors who do not?) or discussed in a formal presentation (like the follow-up to my report).

These reports can be made in addition to providing customized dashboards (like this one I created that could answer the above admission question) or reports shared regularly.

A note to regular readers: yes, a year ago I did say the sort of ‘vanity metrics’ recommended above aren’t enough. That’s still true but I meant that in terms of having a full grasp of improving the user experience and taking steps to improve your performance, these numbers are necessary but not sufficient for a complete understanding on your part.

In terms of a report, they’re necessary preface to a larger conversation. The changes you made that led to X larger change can be discussed in response to larger questions. Remember: think of your audience first: they often want a bird’s eye view, not necessary your view from the thickets.

KPIs for Higher Ed Admission Advertising

The title of this post could have been “17 must-have metrics you need to be measuring that matter”. That’s the kind of result you find when looking for KPIs. This post will hopefully clear up why picking KPIs first is imperfect (but provides a few, to provide a basic understanding).

If your job has to do with website or content management, you’ve probably (hopefully) been asked to provide some measure of your or your organization’s performance. Some platforms provide some built-in basics (’s post-views and other generic dashboards), but you’re likely (hopefully) looking beyond the basics. This not a com

I first started actually using Google Analytics when I was blogging for my alma mater in 2008, what was then called “Advanced Segmentation” and Custom Reports were introduced. Then when I shared information it really wasn’t much.

Hopefully you’ll forgive me. In seven years the web analytics industry has undergone a tremendous transformation. Google Analytics was released in 2005 and has become the most popular analytics software among top websites on the internet and over 27,000,000 sites are using it.

Still, despite the massive increase in usage, not everybody “using” analytics has a real understanding the importance of measuring what matters.

As you can see in this screenshot, there are a great many claims on what metrics you need to/should be using. Let’s take a step back though. Back in 2008, experts like Avinash Kaushik cautioned people that “Analyzing data in aggregate is a crime.” It is still being done by companies to this day.

Digital Marketing and Measurement

Whenever there is knowledge that’s not self-evident and there’s money to be made in ‘expertise’, you tend to see a lot of quick answers. True, for many, there are some key ideas and commonly used KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), and I’ll cover them below.

The problem with starting with the data or the tool is that you’re not putting meaningful thought into what objectively measures success or failure. Here I need to include some high-level process that’s crucial to having an effective model in place. The following is from Avinash’s aptly-named Occam’s Razor website:

“Step one is to force us to identify the business objectives upfront and set the broadest parameters for the work we are doing….

Step two is to identify crisp goals for each business objective….

Step three is to write down the key performance indicators….

Step four is to set the parameters for success upfront by identifying targets for each KPI….

Step five, finally, is to identify the segments of people / behavior / outcomes that we’ll analyze to understand why we succeed or failed.”

Many start with the behavior/outcomes first and seem to have some web data spin-off of shiny toy syndrome. Adopting some magical web metrics isn’t going to lead to optimal decision-making. Figuring out what’s important to you and then figuring out what most accurately measures that is a better process.

That being said, that’s not a good answer if you need to provide an web/digital update by tomorrow. Here’s a simplified guide to identifying some key metrics/measures of success you can look at in order to explain the outcomes of different marketing efforts (some of this advice assumes you’re in independent school or higher ed admission marketing but can be used more broadly). Specifically, this post looks at paid advertising numbers that are often used with other web metrics (time on page, bounce rate, conversions..more on how to connect the two later).

Digital Advertising using Google AdWords

Managing digital advertising (AdWords, in particular) is a service that some outsource to different vendors, which may or may not understand your specific situation and consequently may not have AdWords campaigns optimized to meet your goals. Conversely, if your vendor understands your business objectives, how the various ad options help you reach them, and what results are expected, it may be more cost-effective for you to let a vendor do the technical work of implementing that plan.

Let’s say you have the collateral together (all the images/copy you need) for a specific campaign, and know how much money you’re willing to spend over which time period. For simplicity’s sake, let’s also say that your ultimate goal is an x% increase in event registrations compared to the same time last year. Having those basic decisions made helps the data can help sharpen the focus of whoever is planning or analyzing the success of a campaign. Below are some columns you’ll see across different ad platforms. The availability and specific definitions of these metrics may differ, but the primary concepts carry across platforms. The following list are a few (not all) of the important metrics you’ll likely to include when reporting on AdWords effectiveness.

Impressions: The number of times your ad was served. For brand-building campaigns, this is the important measure (and one can often optimize for impressions and pay per thousand impressions). This should not be confused with the number of times your ad was viewable. Viewable ads are bid on with the vCPM option. For campaigns made for event registrations (or form completions, etc), this number in isolation is not the most useful.

Clicks/CTR: I prefer to discuss these together because clicks (simply the number of legitimate (however your platform defines that) an ad got can be put into context with the clickthrough rate (CTR). CTR is the number of clicks divided by the number of impressions and can be used to gauge how well your ads are doing/whether the audience you chose finds your ad useful/relevant. In AdWords this is important because it contributes to your keyword’s expected CTR (which is a component of Quality Score).

Average CPC: The amount paid for your ad divided by the number of clicks.

Average Position (AdWords): Where your ads rank compared to other advertisers. If your/your competitor’s quality score are the same, you’ll have to bid higher to place higher than that advertiser.

Conversions: The number of times an ad led someone to an action you find valuable (ex. event registration.

Cost per conversion: The total you spent on an ad divided by the number of conversions.

Depending on the Bidding Strategy you choose (set at the campaign level), you may not need to focus on some of the above. For example, if you choose to focus on clicks, you’ll bid on clicks, whereas if you focus on conversions you’ll pay per acquisition (CPA).

Putting it all together

Many of the above metrics are the same of similar when managing or reporting on Facebook and Twitter ads. While I haven’t seen a perfect way to combine all of one’s advertising and the result in one place, some companies are offering paid add-ons (HubSpot) or standalone services (AdTaxi) that aim to do just that. While not the holy grail of digital advertising (a clear ROI), an integrated part of online advertising that everyone should consider is to use UTM parameters on all of your ads to measure what your paid visitors do once they get to your website, in detail, compared to other channels. By linking Google Analytics and AdWords, those details carry over (and allow you to see more information in AdWords as well). If you put in the work, you can track the effectiveness of individual Facebook and Twitter ads. Unless you’re using  a 3rd party service this will involve work on the Power Editor (easier than the regular ads manager) and

Web measurement is an imperfect art/science regardless of which service you use, but hopefully the above has given you an understanding of some of the more important metrics (and an understanding you should start with a discussion about your goals before picking numbers).