So much of advertising depends on reach. It doesn’t matter what medium or channel you are considering. Before you can drive engagement and deliver conversions you have to start by reaching your audience.
Sometimes reach at a university ebbs and flows outside of our control. During the summer months reach is diminished. Students leave, faculty go on vacation and our physical touch points start to dry up. The same goes for our digital space, during these months some of our audiences have fewer reasons to go to our home page. The natural (unpaid) forces that provide motivation for people to enter our funnel temporarily dry up.
There are also a few times each year where our natural reach is maximized. During commencement our touch points increase. Parents, siblings, alumni, current students, etc. all coming to campus, some for the first time in years. Web traffic analysis shows that this is also a peak time for the university home page and core sites.
As bargain hunting marketers we make an effort to pounce on the opportunity. Every year our department composes features about our graduates often including stories and videos detailing their exploits and possible career options. This allows us to celebrate the university through the stories about some really interesting people. These are particularly useful in targeting our prospective parent demographic. Parents want to imagine their students getting a degree and moving on with the job of their dreams and we happily share examples with them. Callie our storytelling guru and Darryl, the lord commander of video production, usually pair up to make excellent content.
Here is one student from this year’s graduating class.
Normally these profiles would be inserted into our carousel towards the top of the Oregon State home page. Without going on a rant I’ll just say I’m not much of a carousel fan. Typically this feature of our site has a 1.3% click through rate. You can spin that number however you want, but to me it isn’t good enough. This year we decided to try something new.
Going outside of the box
It is unrealistic to consider completely redesigning our home page for this one use and the current design was never constructed to be very flexible in terms of layout. We decided that there might be a way to augment it with some small CSS tricks in order to take advantage of this temporarily increased reach. Oliver (one of our graphic designers — which is oversimplifying his amazing talents, but I digress) came up with the concept of adding functionality that allowed the home page to essentially slide away revealing bonus content. The thought would be to make it feel like you were finding a secret or something hidden. Making an emotional connection rather than the expected experience with the carousel. The simple act of changing the background to an image, instead of a color, might register with the users that something has changed.
After talking it through we came up with a fairly simple solution. We inserted a new graphic that when clicked slid the main content area of the home page to the right revealing our special commencement feature. This was done with one line of jQuery and absolutely positioning the commencement feature underneath the main container with CSS. We played around with all sorts of ideas, but this seemed like the best compromise. We didn’t want to impede the user experience by forcing people to go through this feature, but we also wanted it to be interruptive enough that it would be noticeable.
The results are in
By attaching event tracking to the button, that activated the animation, we were able to track how many times users interacted with our marketing Frankenstein feature. During the 14 days that this feature was on the home page it was “opened” 3,956 times by 2,652 unique users. Those numbers in isolation tell me that at least some people figured out how to interact with this new feature and absorbed some of our storytelling goodness. A few of which probably clicked on it a few times for the fun of it.
A more complete pictures comes into play when you know that there were 101,906 unique users that visited the home page over that same 14 day window. Giving us a usage rate of 2.6% (amount of unique people who interacted out of the total unique people who possibly could have). That is almost double our standard CTR of the carousel, so in some sense you could consider this a smashing success. I also heard anecdotally that people enjoyed the hidden content and generally thought it was a pretty cool feature.
However, I can’t help but feel a little pessimistic. Capturing less than 3% of our users just doesn’t feel good enough. There are all sorts of reasons why I could explain it away. Maybe the button was not very noticeable. Maybe people saw it, but there were no visual queues for them to know that it was clickable. Most likely people saw it and didn’t care. Those users show up wanting to fulfill whatever task they came for and have little interest in being caught our web.
I suppose the takeaway here is understanding that these natural cycles exist and that they can be a valuable tool for maximizing reach. It is also important to explore new techniques and creative ways to capture your extended reach. We proved that it can have a positive impact, but we also found we have plenty to learn when it comes to understanding our audience and the best way to connect with them.