Anyone looking for online higher education courses has heard of the University of Phoenix, and now we know the company's Web optimization secrets thanks to a presentation given by Justin Richmond, Apollo Group SVP and chief digital officer at the eMetrics conference today.

Drive Outcomes with Testing

Apollo Group is the parent company for several online higher education outlets, and it uses plenty of data based Web optimization to ensnare the thousands of new students it nets every year, Richmond said at the eMetrics conference this week.

Using Web optimized home pages and landing pages, Apollo Group can more effectively convince people who spend many hours looking for the right online higher education group to choose one of its properties, Richmond said. Nine out of 10 people who conduct online searches for higher education don't have a particular school in mind at the time of the search, he said.

Most of the company's students are in their late 20s, have one or two jobs, and they are most active on Apollo Group Web properties between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. The company uses cookie matching to make sure people who first visit the site get the proper content served up. Subsequent visits to the site will move them along toward their goal of advancing their career, Richmond said, not just getting a degree.

For too long, higher education has been focused on getting the degree as an end in itself, he said, and Apollo Group defines its outcomes as retaining students, and getting them the kind of job they are looking for.

Because people take a long time to decide whether or not to enroll in online higher education, the high touch nature of its sites allows Apollo Group to do extensive testing. Image courtesy of Flickr user Beantin webbkommunikation.

Digital Marketing Segmentation

For Richmond, it's all about moving students along in their courses so they stay enrolled, and reach their goal. To that end, Apollo Group uses things like alerts for notifying when students start turning in late assignments, for example. Every student enrolled gets a dedicated four person team to get them to achieve their outcomes, Richmond said, and landing pages are optimized by keyword and channel type.

Any data collected from those pages is then used to reinforce the fact that those students need to stay enrolled and land their desired job. Even before people sign up for a degree track, Apollo Group looks for a particular profile and sets people up with extra courses to get them up to speed.

Everyone loses if no one graduates," Richmond said.

It's easy to over process Web optimization because it isn't always definitive or black and white answers, Richmond said. For marketers and analysts, it's important to remember you aren't the customer, he said.

Don't fall in love with the data," he said.

Web pages need to be relevant for mobile devices, Richmond said, and optimizing for those experiences can also help with the desktop experience. It can help simplify those landing pages and home pages and remove clutter. Because enrolling for online higher education is such a high touch undertaking, those mobile and desktop experiences are often encountered by prospective students.

They might see multiple display and search ads before they even go to the site, for example, so the data collected from those sources helps inform what works and what doesn't. Apollo Group is a fortune 1000 company with 20,000 students around the world, so it can test different markets and models and iterate on them for the best experiences, Richmond said.