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A comparison of internet marketing methods utilized by higher education institutions

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2011
Dissertation
Author: Joseph C McCoy
Abstract:
Use of Internet marketing techniques in higher education to attract prospective students is relatively new. While the research is recent, there are several studies that identify what is most valuable to students seeking information on college web sites. Higher education is now facing increasing competition from for-profit schools and reduced funding from typical sources. This study examines how two different Carnegie classifications use Internet marketing techniques and identifies if there is a difference in how much they use these techniques. Content techniques and search engine optimization (SEO) techniques were examined for 56 higher education institutions in this study. Of the 14 internet marketing techniques that were studied, seven were focused on the content that prospective students identify as valuable to them and the other seven were focused on the techniques that are recognized as important SEO techniques to improve web page visibility on search engines. The seven content focused internet marketing techniques were developed based on multiple studies that identified what prospective students value most on a higher education web site. The content techniques that were examined include online applications, a cost calculator, online course information, admissions contact information, online visit requests, mail information requests, and student focused navigation. The seven SEO focused internet marketing techniques were developed from journals, guidelines provided by search engines, and SEO experts. The SEO techniques that were examined included use of the H1 header tag, page titles, description meta tags, relevant keywords, user friendly page addresses, Sitemap.XML files, and Robots.TXT files.

TABLE OF CONTENTS CHAPTER ONE INTRODUCTION .............................................................................................. 1

Introduction ................................................................................................................................. 1

Context of the Study ................................................................................................................... 3

Statement of the Problem ............................................................................................................ 4

Purpose of the Study ................................................................................................................... 5

Statement of Research Questions................................................................................................ 6

Definition of Terms..................................................................................................................... 6

Limitations .................................................................................................................................. 8

Assumptions ................................................................................................................................ 9

Significance of the Study .......................................................................................................... 10

Chapter Summary ..................................................................................................................... 12

CHAPTER TWO REVIEW OF RELATED LITERATURE ....................................................... 13

Introduction ............................................................................................................................... 13

How Marketing Services Works ............................................................................................... 14

Contemporary Internet Marketing ............................................................................................ 15

The importance of search engines and how they work. ........................................................ 15

Fragmentation of traditional media and rise of online media. .............................................. 18

Growth in Internet usage in the U.S...................................................................................... 18

Internet marketing trends. ..................................................................................................... 21

Critical elements of effective web sites. ............................................................................... 21

Marketing Higher Education..................................................................................................... 22

Increased usage of the Internet for college searches. ............................................................ 22

Critical elements of effective search engine optimization techniques. ................................ . 23

Students’ expectations from college web sites. .................................................................... 24

Increased marketing costs facing higher education. ............................................................. 27

Resistance to corporate business practices in higher education. ........................................... 28

Higher education’s move to Internet marketing channels. ................................................... 30

Chapter Summary ..................................................................................................................... 32

CHAPTER THREE METHODOLOGY ...................................................................................... 34

Introduction ............................................................................................................................... 34

Methodology ............................................................................................................................. 34

Data Gathering Instrument ........................................................................................................ 35

Content component. .............................................................................................................. 35

SEO component. ................................................................................................................... 36

Sample and Population ............................................................................................................. 38

Data Collection ......................................................................................................................... 39

Data Analysis ............................................................................................................................ 39

Bias of the Researcher .............................................................................................................. 44

Chapter Summary ..................................................................................................................... 46

CHAPTER FOUR RESULTS ...................................................................................................... 47

Introduction ............................................................................................................................... 47

Data Collection ......................................................................................................................... 47

Data Analysis ............................................................................................................................ 48

Table 1: Descriptive Statistics of Internet Marketing Techniques for All Instit utions ............. 49

Table 2: Descriptive Statistics of Internet Marketing Techniques for Content ........................ 50

Table 3: Descriptive Statistics of Internet Marketing Techniques for SEO ............................. 51

Table 4: Group Statistics Comparing Two Carnegie Classes Performance ............................ 52

Table 5: Levene’s Test for Equality of Variances for Two Carnegie Classes .......................... 53

Table 6: Descriptive Statistics of Least Used Internet Marketing Techniques ......................... 54

Validity of Data Analysis.......................................................................................................... 55

Chapter Summary ..................................................................................................................... 55

CHAPTER FIVE CONCLUSIONS ............................................................................................. 56

Introduction ............................................................................................................................... 56

Conclusions ............................................................................................................................... 56

Recommendations for Further Study ........................................................................................ 57

Recommendations for Practice ................................................................................................. 58

Discussion ................................................................................................................................. 59

Chapter Summary ..................................................................................................................... 60

REFERENCES ............................................................................................................................. 62

APPENDICES .............................................................................................................................. 66

APPENDIX A: Data Gathering Instrument .............................................................................. 67

APPENDIX B: List of Colleges for Research Universities with High R esearch ..................... 68

APPENDIX C: List Of Colleges for Public 4-Year Primarily Associ ates ............................... 70

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CHAPTER ONE INTRODUCTION Introduction There are a large number of students who are considering attending college , and colleges need to market themselves effectively to attract the students they most wa nt (Noel-Levitz, E- Expectations, 2010). In the past, public higher education institutions had limited competi tion and the Internet was not a factor in how students researched and selected colle ges that they might attend (Wilson, 2010). Because of the instant access to important information through Internet searc h engines and a pre-college population that frequently uses the Internet, colleges are view ed by students online and increasingly less verbal or face-to-face interaction takes pla ce. These anonymous potential students may proceed through most of the admissions steps from a distance and many even prefer to apply electronically and avoid direct interaction with admiss ions staff (Bell, 2009). Potential students have a very specific expectation of information they can fi nd online from colleges. Students are seeking a list of degrees offered, academic pr ogram details, and cost of attendance. If this information is hard to find, unclear, or is part of a poorly design ed web site, candidates will likely remove the college from their list of potential institutions that they might attend (Noel-Levitz, E-Expectations, 2010) With the radical growth in for-profit universities like the University of Phoeni x, all colleges are being pushed to use marketing and other business methods to sell higher educ ation. Traditional higher education institutions such as public four-year colleges have enjoyed relatively little traditional competition because for-profits have lac ked accreditation and were not

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broadly available. The rapid growth of online course technology and increased s tudent enrollment of online only degree programs have provided the for-profits a way to com pete effectively against traditional higher education (Wilson, 2010). The for-profit higher education institutions have spent significant time and money on Internet marketing techniques such as highly visible web sites and the use o f online advertising to drive students to engage with their schools. The last barrier that prevented str ong competition was the accreditation that was held by traditional colleges. Once for-pr ofit institutions sued for accreditation consideration and gained the accreditation, they had the credibility and the businesses practices that have made them strong competitors (Lipman Hear ne Insights, 2010). For-profit colleges have become entrenched as strong competition to tradi tional higher education institutions, and there in now a declining resistance to using business ta ctics and corporate approaches in higher education. There are worries that a degre e is turning into a commodity that is only discernible by its price alone (Marketing and Advert ising Higher Education, 2008). The opposition to marketing shows a preference for how things were and ar e not acknowledging that for-profit institutions are more visible and even defined to be credible by higher education’s accreditation bodies. The focus of defining the best education approa ch ignores the fact that potential students must be aware of what education approa ches are available. Informing students and beginning an interaction between a college and potent ial students will require the use of online marketing techniques and even some use of business techniques (Marketing and Advertising Higher Education, 2008). One of the primary arguments against using marketing and other business technique s in higher education is that business approaches are not well suited to drive something a s important as getting an education. Both for-profits and traditional higher education agree that an education

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cannot be marketed the same way a physical product is marketed (Marketing a nd Advertising Higher Education, 2008). Education is valuable, important, and beneficial; however, an education is intangible, it is not a physical entity that can be easily define d for quick advertisements or short brochures. Higher education is more difficult to marke t effectively when compared to physical products (Marketing and Advertising Higher Education, 2008). Context of the Study From 1999 to 2009, consumption of traditional print media consumption for 8-18 year olds has declined while all other forms of media have grown. Total print media dropped f rom 43 minute a day to 38 minutes in that time period. While print book use increased during this time from 21 to 25 minutes, newspaper use dropped by more than 50% from 7 to 3 minutes and magazine use dropped from 15 to 9 minutes (Rideout, 2010, p. 30). Newspapers have closed, magazines have reduced readership, and use of traditional phone books have declined. Because of this decline in viewership, traditional marketing has increasingly become fragmented and less cost effective than it once was (Pew Research Center, 2009). During the same ti me, Internet technology adoption rates have grown dramatically with 74% of adults having acc ess to broadband Internet access (Rainie, 2005). The demographics of Internet use have shown tha t those who are nearest to entering college are also the largest consumer s of online content (Rideout, 2010). While media consumption patterns have moved from print to online, higher education has experienced increased competition from for-profit institutions and non-traditiona l learning opportunities. These competitive pressures have occurred at about the same time t hat state funding has declined and costs have risen (Marketing and Advertising Highe r Education, 2008).

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Because of the change in how people consume media and get their information, marketing is more complex than only 10 years ago (Lipman Hearne, 2010). With the chang e in marketing and increase in outside competition, the admissions function of higher educa tion institutions has become more complex and more expensive in a time when there is less funding available and costs need to be managed (Marketing and Advertising Higher Educa tion, 2008). The convergence of marketing complexity, cost control needs, increased competiti on, and a shift in how potential students shop for a college education has led to a strong need for a method for improved communication and promotion using online technology (Raisman, 2003). The method of communication is Internet marketing which is being used heavily in ma ny businesses, but has not fully reached the mainstream of higher education institutions (Primary Research Group, 2007). This study will examine the current use and trends of Internet marketing in U.S. higher education institutions. Statement of the Problem Higher education institutions are facing increased competition for students, a nd a critical point of the process is at the admissions portion of a school’s web site (Wilson, 2010). I f an institution does not understand the needs and expectations of potential students, or if they si mply fail to use the proper techniques on their web site, potential students will remove t he institution from consideration (Noel-Levitz, E-Expectations, 2010). There are widely diverse opinions about what a higher education web site should look like, what content should be provided, and what the web site should accomplish. The critically

important admissions pages of higher education web sites are informal an d often not well designed (University Business, 2005). By having a good understanding of the needs of potent ial students and an approach that increases visibility on search engines, higher e ducation institutions

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can be seen by the potential students that they are seeking. Once potential students are aware of the higher education institution, the right web site content and marketing approach w ill attract the right type of student so that the success of the student and the college is mo re likely (Bell, 2009). Purpose of the Study The purpose of this study was to identify what Internet marketing techniques are most commonly used by two different classifications of higher education instit utions. The instrument used to evaluate use of Internet marketing techniques was designed to address the most frequently used Internet marketing techniques as described by top Internet m arketing organizations and search engines. In most cases, Internet marketers will use the term search engine optimization (SEO) to describe Internet marketing techniques tha t apply to how people find web site pages using search engines. The study identified 56 different higher education institutions divided among two different Carnegie classifications to get an overview of the current sta te of Internet marketing use in higher education. Each of the 56 institution’s web sites was assessed using t he instrument. Each institution was assessed based on the use or non-use of specific Internet marketing techniques. For higher education institutions, the most likely beneficiaries of the study are those who plan or direct Internet marketing and other marketing approaches for their a dmissions program. By determining potential opportunities in their Internet marketing methods, ins titutions can modify future plans in order to improve admissions performance measures.

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Statement of Research Questions The study answered the following research questions related to Internet m arketing methods in higher education institutions: 1. What Internet marketing methods are higher education institutions using to rec ruit undergraduate college students? A. Do colleges place the content that students define as beneficial on their coll ege web sites? B. Do colleges use SEO techniques to make their content more visible in search engines? 2. Are there differences in the Internet marketing methods higher education i nstitutions use to recruit undergraduate students based on institutional type? 3. What opportunities exist in higher education for improving Internet marketing techniques in admissions efforts? Definition of Terms The following terms are defined to allow readers to understand the different c omponents discussed in the study. Inbound Link: An inbound link is a hyperlink to a particular web page from an outside site, bringing traffic to that web page. Inbound links are an important element tha t most search engine algorithms use to measure the popularity of a web page (SEM G lossary, 2010). Internet Marketing: Leveraging the Internet as a means of communicating a company's messaging, attracting prospects and customers, and conducting market res earch (Internet Marketing Glossary, 2010).

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Keyword: A word or phrase entered into a search engine in an effort to get the search engine to return matching and relevant results. Many web sites offer a dvertising targeted by keywords, so an ad will only show when a specific keyword is entered. Link Building: The process of getting quality web sites to link to your web site, in order to improve search engine rankings (SEM Glossary, 2010). Meta Tags: Information placed in the HTML header of a web page, providing information that is not visible to [human] browsers, but can be used in varying degrees by search engines to index a page. Common meta tags used in search engine marketing are title, description, and keyword tags (SEM Glossary, 2010). Robots.TXT: A text file present in the root directory of a web site which is used to direct the activity of search engine crawlers. This file is typically used to tel l a crawler which portions of the site should be crawled and which should not be crawled (Search Engine Optimization, 2010). Search Engine Marketing: The process of building and marketing a site with the goal of improving its position in search engine results. SEM includes both search engine optimization (SEO) and search advertising, or paid search (SEM Glossary, 2010) . Search Engine Optimization: The process of making a site and its content highly relevant for both search engines and searchers. SEO includes technical tasks to make i t easier for search engines to find and index a site for the appropriate keywords, as well as marketing-focused tasks to make a site more appealing to users. Successful se arch marketing helps a site gain top positioning for relevant words and phrases (SEM Glossary, 2010).

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Search Engine: A search engine is an information retrieval system designed to help find information stored on a computer system. The search results are usually presente d in a list and are commonly called hits. The most public, visible form of a search engine is a web search engine which searches for information on the World Wide Web (Sea rch Engine, 2010). Sitemap.XML: The Sitemaps protocol enables you to let search engines know what content you would like indexed (Sitemaps XML Format, 2010). Title Tag: An HTML meta tag with text describing a specific web page. The title t ag should contain strategic keywords for the page, since many search engines pa y special attention to the title text when indexing pages. The title tag should also make sens e to humans, since it is usually the text link to the page displayed in search engine re sults (SEM Glossary, 2010). Limitations The study accepted the following limitations: 1.

A cross section of higher education institutions was selected to maintain a wor kable sample size. This means that the average performance may not fully represent what is occurring in a higher education classification. 2.

Not all higher education classifications were selected. With the exclusion of some higher education classifications, a broad scale detailed analysis is not available.

3.

The use of pay-per-click marketing was not considered as part of the study even thou gh it is an important component of Internet marketing. This study focused on search en gine optimization and the content present on a college’s web site. Pay-per-click m arketing

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uses a different method of bringing potential students to a college web site compar ed to SEO and content information expected by potential students. 4.

Data collection was performed over a three week period in June 2011 to improve point- in-time comparability. However, this means that several of the institutions considered in the study could make changes between time of data collection and final analysis. 5.

There are significant disagreements on what techniques are most effect ive for improving an organization’s online performance. The study identified techniques most comm only described by search engine companies and leading Internet marketing profes sionals as the basis of the study. The criteria were setup to establish a baseline for com parison, but may not be the optimum model for Internet marketing effectiveness. 6.

The primary method of data collection was an analysis of readily available information on higher education web sites. Any content that was hidden or protected was not accessed. Methods used outside of the web site are not identified or considered. T he data limitations prevented the study from looking at the entire marketing str ategy of the higher education institutions considered in the study. Assumptions The study accepted the following assumptions: 1.

The Internet marketing performance measures selected for the study are valid and represent an appropriate level of information for an Internet marketing tech niques comparison study. 2.

The performance measures selected can be obtained through use of an Internet br owser, source code viewing, and readily available online tools.

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3.

Effective Internet marketing techniques are valuable for improving the vis ibility of higher education institutions for potential entering freshmen. 4.

No large scale changes were made to an institution’s web site dur ing the data collection and analysis part of the study. Significance of the Study Most businesses still spend less time and money on online marketing compared to marketing efforts like direct mail and TV advertising. In 2007, Inter net marketing advertising spending was $21B while newspaper advertising spending was $42B and TV advertisin g was $44B. However, from 2000 to 2007, TV and newspaper advertising dropped while Internet advertising grew from $8B to $21B (Coen, 2008), which indicates that marketing is movi ng from traditional methods to online methods. Similarly, higher education institutions spend 38% of their marketing budgets on pri nt and direct mail, while only spending 15% on online marketing techniques like web, inter active, and social media. While the marketing approaches used by higher education are focused on traditional methods, 55% of institutions increased their interactive and web spending from 2008 to 2009 (Lipmann Hearne, 2010). Because of a shift from traditional research to online research for evaluat ing higher education institutions, higher education institutions may be missing significant opportunities to engage with the demographic of potential entering students (Noel-Levitz, E-Expec tations 2010, 2010). Although the United States has moved away from traditional products and servic es research methods to online approaches, the 15 through 18 year old demographic is even more engaged with gathering information online (Rideout, 2010).

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By marketing more effectively where potential students are looking, higher education institutions may be able to increase enrollment, improve average performance l evel of entering students, become more selective, and improve the probability of retention to degree com pletion. Higher education institutions can use Internet marketing to identify what they o ffer students, address student needs, and fulfill promises made to students (Recommendations for S elling Higher Education, 2008). Lindbeck (2010) found that web sites are perceived by student s as the most valuable tool for admissions application, knowing deadlines, and learning gener al college information. Students value accurate and complete information on a college web site ( Raisman, 2003). They are also more likely to enroll in college when they have better informa tion or guidance and college web sites can be a more reliable source of information than hi gh school sources. College entrance decision makers identify course major, costs, aca demic programs, and a financial aid application as very important information that should be included on the col lege web site to aid decision making (Bell, 2009). Higher education institutions can use effective Internet marketing technique s to gather a larger pool of applicants to consider for admission. By providing the most important inf ormation in an easily accessible web site that is easy to find with a search engi ne, students are much less likely to drop the college from consideration (Mentz, 2003). In addition to providing the right information, effective Internet marketing use allows an institution to rapidl y communicate with potential students and build interest (Lipman Hearne, 2010). Public institutions curre ntly respond slower to student applications than for-profit institutions response times ; this difference in response time is part of the reason for the rapid growth of for-profits while public institution growth has slowed. By not competing with non-profit institutions, public higher educat ion is reducing its pool of applicants and potentially the quality of students (Wilson, 2010).

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Chapter Summary This chapter identified the problems of heavy competition in higher education with t he growth of for-profit institutions and the decline in funding from traditional sources . Along with financial challenges, higher education institutions are facing changes in ho w their students consume information and the marketing techniques that students respond to. Although the study was limited by the type of information it can gather and the conclusions that can be made, the research questions about how Internet marketing te chniques are being used or not used were answered. In addition, research question 2 examine d the potential for differences between the ways two Carnegie classificati on institutions approached Internet marketing.

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CHAPTER TWO REVIEW OF RELATED LITERATURE Introduction This chapter provides research information about Internet marketing of high er education services along with information about how marketing services work. The chapte r starts with a section on how marketing services works with an emphasis on the differences betw een marketing services and marketing products. Research sources were gathe red from a leading college marketing textbook and an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The section on contemporary marketing addresses the importance of search engi nes and the rise of online media while traditional media usage declines. Research i nformation on Internet marketing trends, effective web sites, and effective search e ngine optimization techniques are provided. Research sources were located using Ebsco Academi c Search Complete and with web sites. Sources include multiple academic journals, t he Pew Internet & American Life Project, a Google SEO guide, and individual reports. For the higher education marketing section of this chapter, sources were located t hat described the current state of Internet usage for pre-college students a nd their expectations, marketing costs and corporate business practices in higher education, and higher education’s move to Internet marketing channels. Research sources were gathered using Ebs co Academic Search Complete. All sources except one were available online as full tex t. The exception was a survey of college marketing programs that was checked out from the University o f Arkansas library through interlibrary loan. The sources include academic journals, a busi ness article, a survey of college marketing programs, and Noel-Levitz E-Recruiting Pract ices reports.

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How Marketing Services Works Higher education is considered a service and is defined to be intangible, unlike a phy sical product that can be touched. The primary purpose of marketing services is to enc ourage consumers to purchase those services. For colleges, there are three primar y goals: communicate college identity and what it has to offer to students, address student needs, and fulfill promises made to the students (Recommendations for Selling Higher Education, 2008). Because hi gher education must communicate effectively to potential students, it is important to know that Raisman (2003) identified college web sites as the primary tool for marketing to potential students. Marketing in further education colleges is identified as advertising and publ icity, with a goal of recruiting students instead of satisfying them. This approach is a conventional marketing approach instead of an interactive or service marketing focus. Service mar keting is the more effective approach in higher education. Most interactive marketing is performed b y people who are not professional marketers and who have not received marketing training. P art-time marketers should be supported in their conventional marketing to improve student satis faction (Brennan, 2003). Traditional product marketing is not fully applicable to higher education becaus e higher education is a service. Marketing textbooks focus on traditional marketing which des cribe the “4 P’s” of product marketing, but service marketing is more complex because servic es are intangible. Kerin (2009) identified the “8 P’s” of service marketing to adapt to t he increase complexity of selling services compared to products. Product (service), price, pla ce, and promotion are the first four P’s and also match the 4 P’s of product marketing. The nex t 4 P’s for service marketing address some of the complexities that need to be consi dered. People,

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physical environment, process, and productivity are the next 4 P’s that are unique to s ervice marketing like higher education. Some of the 8 P’s have been identified as integral to an evaluation of Internet marke ting in higher education. Product (service), price, promotion, people, physical environment, a nd process are all very important components to consider for Internet marketing eff ectiveness. For services, place is focused on multiple service locations and were not examined i n this study. Productivity, the eighth P, focuses on capacity management and is less important for Internet marketing (Kerin, 2009). Product (service) is what is being sold to a potential customer and in the case of col leges, an educational experience is the service. Price is the amount a person pays for a s ervice and is important to most students considering a college. Promotion is the method that an org anization uses to promote the benefits of their service, improve publicity, and to advertise. For the study, promotion focused on methods colleges use to promote their services online. People are the service providers and the service consumers; people who consume the services offe red are the ones who require that their needs are met to encourage purchasing the services, s uch as the first semester of college. Physical environment is important in higher education and s hould be available online through pictures and electronic viewbooks. Process is the methods use d to provide services and is of interest to potential students wanting to understand degrees of fered and the experience they can expect when attending the college (Kerin, 2009). Contemporary Internet Marketing The importance of search engines and how they work. People use search engines to find web pages that match their interests. Th ese searches are performed by several private individuals across multiple networks by using s earch engines.

Full document contains 82 pages
Abstract: Use of Internet marketing techniques in higher education to attract prospective students is relatively new. While the research is recent, there are several studies that identify what is most valuable to students seeking information on college web sites. Higher education is now facing increasing competition from for-profit schools and reduced funding from typical sources. This study examines how two different Carnegie classifications use Internet marketing techniques and identifies if there is a difference in how much they use these techniques. Content techniques and search engine optimization (SEO) techniques were examined for 56 higher education institutions in this study. Of the 14 internet marketing techniques that were studied, seven were focused on the content that prospective students identify as valuable to them and the other seven were focused on the techniques that are recognized as important SEO techniques to improve web page visibility on search engines. The seven content focused internet marketing techniques were developed based on multiple studies that identified what prospective students value most on a higher education web site. The content techniques that were examined include online applications, a cost calculator, online course information, admissions contact information, online visit requests, mail information requests, and student focused navigation. The seven SEO focused internet marketing techniques were developed from journals, guidelines provided by search engines, and SEO experts. The SEO techniques that were examined included use of the H1 header tag, page titles, description meta tags, relevant keywords, user friendly page addresses, Sitemap.XML files, and Robots.TXT files.