ODU Distance Learning// Launch Site
6X the Traffic, 34X the Enquiries, +26% Enrollment
It takes a team with all the right players.
Old Dominion University Distance Learning program enlisted NewCity in 2011 to help increase enrollment and better serve current students. The timeframe was tight, and the stakes high. We quickly forged a project team comprised of two members of ODU's marketing staff and a representative from each of our disciplines. We shaped the strategy with expertise from user experience, design, search and internet marketing, and development.
The strategy included a website overhaul with SEO built in from the start, a mobile site, and a comprehensive marketing campaign with digital and traditional media.
The results surprised everyone.
Old Dominion University is a public institution with more than 24,000 students. In addition to its campus in Norfolk, Virginia, the university offers a robust distance learning program. The program brings convenient, flexible, and high-quality education to students with location, career, or family related constraints.
ODU’s Distance Learning website provides information to prospective students and serves as a learning portal for current students. Realizing that the website was key to the continued success and enrollment growth of the program, ODU determined decided it was time for a redesign.
Plan and Challenges
When they approached us, we quickly saw that a website redesign alone would not be enough. During the initial discovery sessions we outlined a comprehensive strategy encompassing search marketing, social media, desktop and mobile website, email and direct mail, print and outdoor advertising. The website needed more than a new attractive look—a given for any redesign process. ODU wanted to create a new experience for users, an experience that was engaging, informative, interactive, easy-to-navigate, and that would resonate with the distance learning audience, primarily middle-aged, married, and working full-time.
Our research showed that many of these audiences had trouble visualizing what the distance learning experience would be like. We knew the site had to paint a vivid picture of the experience and help people to see themselves in that picture.
The site also needed to make it easy for visitors to find what they were seeking when considering the program, such as tuition costs, specific programs, and satellite locations.
While a project this large could take a year to produce, the ODU site needed to be completed in about three months for new enrollment.
Solution and Results
Sometimes we are able to re-use a great deal of an existing site's structure. In ODU DL's case, the existing structure didn't map well to the user goals we uncovered in our research. Our UX team interviewed prospective students, current students and alumni, then combined these insights with data from "KJ" sessions and Carewords surveys to inform task priorities and site structure. Usability testing confirmed and refined our proposed structure.
From the earliest stages of the project, we planned and implemented strategies for search engine optimization and targeted, location-based online advertising.
ODU already had a great tagline for their Distance Learning program, "Right Where You Are." It spoke to the accessibility of the program from any geographic place OR place in life. We felt they weren't making enough of it, so we amplified this idea and used it to tell stories of students who've taken advantage of the program to achieve their educational goals right where they are.
The website was designed in two phases, with the first piece being a microsite for the 2+2 Program, which launched April 1, 2011, with a robust marketing campaign running throughout the spring. The rest of the site launched April 30, 2011.
The marketing campaign included these key elements:
- banner stands
- email campaign
- giveaways including bookmarks, mouse pads, and notebooks
- handout sheets
- mass transit advertisements
- movie theater ads
- online banner ads
- print ads
- recommendations for social media
Making the campaign measurable involved the use of unique URLs and QR codes to determine which pieces resulted in increased traffic to the site.
The tight timeline required careful prioritization and close collaboration. Rather than moving stepwise through the typical project stages of planning, design, production and testing, we involved every discipline from the start and began doing things like implementing the CMS while we were still finalizing the design. We worked in parallel wherever possible.
The timeline also had a positive impact on the relationship with the client, effectively making ODU part of the NewCity development team with daily interaction as we raced to the deadline.
Here are the results a year after launch:
- Monthly site visits increased 6X from 7,000 visits March 2011 to 42,000 visits March 2012
- Monthly enquiries about the program increased 34X from an average of 25 to over 800 per month. As a percentage of all visits, enquiry form completion increased from .3% to 1.9%.
- As of May 2012, enrollment for the Fall is up 26% over the same time last year.
- The site and the marketing materials are resonating with target audiences and presenting a brand image that connects with ODU’s students.
- ODU’s senior leadership is praising the work of their Distance Learning program as a model of how the rest of the university should be promoted.
NewCity went beyond just redesigning our website. They knew what we needed even better than we did! They understood our goals and we are really seeing results. A project like this was certainly an investment, but in the end, it was worth every penny.
- Andy Casiello, Associate VP for Distance Learning, ODU