Data-Driven Design and Marketing Strategy

Presenter: Zach Richard, Marketing Analyst, Notre Dame @zrichard4
Session Details: #uad4

Zach Richard, who nearly didn’t wear pants to his presentation, didn’t just tell us how he increased conversions: he showed us how he did it. And what they’ve done at Notre Dame is pretty impressive.

Attract, Interact, Convert

Most sophisticated marketing shops focus on two broad streams of data when looking to refine design: lead generation and content marketing.

Lead generation includes:

  • Applications to graduate programs, especially niche certifications and continuing education
  • Faculty and staff recruiting through online applications–Notre Dame is able to track how people are getting to the application process, and optimizing efforts to not just ease the process, but increase retention rates
  • Giving, primarily at the annual giving level

And then we have content marketing:

  • Brand awareness, such as when faculty members who publish interesting research or when they are consulted as experts
  • News and events, both media hits and in-house articles
  • SEO data–particularly when people who aren’t looking for Notre Dame properties but specific topics end up on the university’s properties

Through the clicks, applications, referrals, and admissions quality scores, Notre Dame is able to attract people, interact with them, and convert their casual browsing into a prospective student, donor, or community member experience.

A Case Study in ESTEEM Building

Sometimes academics will create an acronym that sounds catchy to them…but is not ideal from a marketer’s standpoint. The Engineering, Science and Technology Entrepreneurship Excellence Master’s program (ESTEEM) may fall into that list. Zach’s team was tasked with optimizing their website and increasing conversions.

The goal of the ESTEEM program was to increase applicants, especially from target demographics, and focus on STEM students.

So how did they do it?

A big takeaway I got from this presentation was that homepage optimization doesn’t have to be an earth-shattering process. Small, incremental changes–a scalpel, not a scythe–can result in big improvements.

Zach’s team used four tactics:

  1. Refine the homepage layout.
  2. Perform an SEO audit.
  3. Analyze the pay-per-click market and competitor programs.
  4. Create and test landing pages for ad campaigns.

As a result, they made small, but effective changes: They found through A/B testing that the “apply” button should be green, not blue. A heat map showed that people were trying to interact with the slider, but there was no call-to-action–the carousel disappeared and became a short video explaining the program. And after they saw traffic flow leaned toward the “About” page, signaling that they weren’t doing a good job showing what the program did, they reformatted the layout to have the program description right in the center of the page (and as a nice bonus, increase SEO with front-and-center keywords).

And as a result, they:

  • Increased application button clicks by 15%.
  • Decreased flow to the “About” page by 10%.
  • Increased flow to the admissions page by 12%.
  • Increased keyword positions by an average of 5.2.

So What Else Can You Test?

“Increasing room on the page for content is a design decision,” said Zach.

On the Notre Dame news site, Zach’s team optimized headlines. They used content marketing data–user acquisition and flow, and text analysis–to determine what users were most likely to click on.

For an article that went viral on Facebook, they were able to quickly shift to a responsive three-column design with related articles to increase engagement. They also eliminated excerpt text, focused more on images and titles, and created custom designs for viral content.

“We established a machine-learning data model for how users flow through the site, in terms of what content they’re interested in, using graph databases,” said Zach. “The machine-learning model does predictive analysis and serves users data that is relevant to them.”

His team is currently developing a process for viral content and leveraging bursts of traffic, as well as custom content served to audiences. Clearly Notre Dame’s web design operation is one we should continue to follow.