University of Phoenix: Online Brand Protection & Search Engine Marketing Evaluation
The University of Phoenix (UOP) is the largest institution of higher learning in the U.S., with nearly 311,000 students and 23,000 professional faculty, all of whom hold masters or doctoral degrees.
How did the U
niversity of Phoenix infiltrate and dominate both the Education and the Online Education Marketing space?
Started in 1976, the University of Phoenix launched an innovative teaching and learning model to provide higher education to non-traditional students–primarily
working students who required alternate classroom schedules.
With the proliferation of broadband internet, the delivery of education online exploded, and the Apollo Group (parent of the University of Phoenix) had become an attractive investment.
The University of Phoenix features more than 250 campuses and learning centers across the country, and in September of 2006, purchased the naming rights to the stadium most notably known as the home for the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals and college football’s Fiesta Bowl.
What is the secret sauce of the UOP marketing media mix?
In September of 2000, the company raised $75 million for the online division and launched an aggressive marketing campaign that included a mix of television advertising, direct mail and banner advertising. That’s when enrollments really began to take off.
In this decade the University of Phoenix has consistently been one of the biggest online advertisers in the U.S., and the Apollo Group recently announced plans to acquire online advertising network, Aptimus, Inc., for approximately $48 million in an all-cash deal due to close in ‘08.
What is next for Aptimus and its customers as an acquired Ad Network?
Aptimus will continue to provide its services to Internet publishers and advertising customers in other industries. In addition, Apollo will continue to work with AOL, its subsidiary Advertising.com, as well as with other digital media affiliates and publishers.
While the exclusive management contract with Advertising.com expires over the next several months, Apollo believes that the significant investments it has made in personnel and technology, as well as the acquisition of Aptimus, will enable the company to efficiently and effectively manage Internet advertising internally, without any disruption.
Should Advertising.com be concerned?
Personally, I believe the writing is on the wall for Advertising.com as the agency of record for University of Phoenix. Common sense seems to signal that the Aptimus team will be integrated as the “internal” solution replacing Advertising.com.
Related to my expertise, there are several areas of opportunity to protect the University of Phoenix brand online and upgrade their search marketing efficacy long-term.
This University of Phoenix evaluation is based upon our Brand Command methodology. We invite you to download the Brand Command white paper now. Below is my assessment, emphasizing some of the tenets of Brand Command: Mastering Brand Marketing in the Search Engines, and Brand Protection Online. The information provided is by no means comprehensive in scope or depth.
Brand Protection Online
A. Brand Abuse ~ This includes illegal actions such as trademark infringement in all forms (words, symbols, scents, devices, etc), copyright violations, competitors advertising on trademarks, as well as defamatory or malicious claims made against your brand.
The screenshot below displays an example of a cybersquatter (trademark infringement) attempting to leverage the University of Phoenix trademark for profit. The website is www.theuniversityofphoenixonline.com, registered in November of 2004 by an individual in Provo, Utah.
Brand Abuse – Theuniversityofphoenixonline.com
In this instance, the cybersquatter inserts Google ad serving code above the fold, attempting to convert a quick click-through and generate ad revenue.
The opportunity here is for the Apollo Group to actively monitor domain registrations utilizing their trademarks and acquire them through Cease & Desist or UDRP.
If the unauthorized party has built up a lot of backlinks to their site, the University of Phoenix has the opportunity to forward the link popularity to one of their existing web assets via a permanent redirect, as highlighted in my recent iMedia Connection article. This tactic may increase search engine visibility for whichever page UOP chooses.
In the next example of brand abuse we take a look at a couple ads on Yahoo created by the folks at Homestead.com. Below is a screenshot of search results on Yahoo for the query “University of Phoenix.”
Brand Abuse – Yahoo Search
The first domain highlighted, www.universityphxonline.com, is a pretty clear-cut case of trademark infringement–an unauthorized party using the trademark for commercial gain.
Both of the examples above use the same landing page. Below is a screenshot. Take note that I have highlighted the text to reveal the hidden “[UNIVERSITY OF PHOENIX]” text on the bottom of the page. The phrase is repeated over 500 times.
The tag in the footer is the following: “Web site designed & hosted by University of Phoenix Info Group © 2006 at Homestead™” I was unable to find more information about the University of Phoenix Info Group.
Brand Abuse – Universityphxonline.com
B. Brand Erosion ~ This includes consumer complaints, customer service issues, disgruntled clients, and additional brand reputation issues.
In the screenshot below, we take a look at the results for the search “University of Phoenix” on Google. I have highlighted a particularly threatening instance of brand erosion.
The eighth result on the first page of brand real estate for University of Phoenix is a site entitled “University of Phoenix Sucks.com! – Get the facts BEFORE you enroll!” The website’s domain name is www.uopsucks.com and is a damaging gripe site which even features a forum for UOP employees.
Because the Uopsucks.com website does not engage in commercial activity, there is no trademark infringement here under the Fair Use provision and first amendment rights.
Several companies, such as Guinness Beer, have won arbitration hearings to acquire domains that feature a company’s trademark plus the word “sucks.” See Diageo PLC (Guinness Beer) v. John Zuccarini.
The problem with this strategy is that it brings more attention (via media and blog reports) to the gripe site than there otherwise would have been.
So what is a com
pany to do?
Brand Erosion – Uopsucks.com
There are multiple techniques and strategies you can implement to dominate your company’s brand real estate on the search engines and expel negative or unwanted visibility. To learn more, download our Brand Command white paper.
C. Brand Dilution ~ This is the weakening of a brand though its overuse. In the search engines, multiple unauthorized advertisements, which are inconsistent in message and/or look and feel, flood searches for many prominent brands.
In the screenshot below, we take a look at the results for the search “University of Phoenix” on Yahoo. I have highlighted three instances of brand dilution. The websites leveraging the UOP brand appear to be authorized affiliates, but upon further review…
Brand Dilution – Yahoo Search
The second site highlighted, www.onlinelearning101.com, does some lead generation for online universities, but not in this specific case. Instead, they are leveraging the University of Phoenix trademark, as displayed in the screenshot above, to engage in search arbitrage and glean profits by serving more Yahoo ads on their landing page.
Below is a screenshot of the landing page for Onlinelearning101.com when you click on their Yahoo ad for the search, “University of Phoenix.”
This is a problem for a number of reasons–first it confuses the consumer. Second, it increases the CPC (Cost Per Click) for UOP and their agency. Third, Onlinelearning101.com and Yahoo Search Marketing are generating revenue by illegally leveraging the University of Phoenix trademark. And fourth, these unauthorized ads dilute the University of Phoenix trademark.
Brand Dilution – Onlinelearning101.com
Note: In 2005, a court decision against Google in it’s trademark infringement case versus Geico held that the use of Geico’s trademarks in the heading or text of advertisements that appear when a user searches “Geico” does violate the Lanham Act, part of the Trademark Code.
The opportunity for frequently searched brands, is to implement the optional Google Adwords Trademark policy, to eliminate trademark infringement and trademark dilution.
Because Yahoo does not offer the search engine trademark protection that Google does, they are clearly our country’s foremost violator of trademark infringement and dilution online.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
SEO, or search engine optimization, is the process of optimizing your web pages to rank at the top of natural results in the search engines for targeted keywords. For the purpose of our evaluation, there are two categories of SEO, Branded SEO, and Non-branded SEO.
A. Branded SEO ~ This is the process of optimizing your web pages to rank at the top of natural results in the search engines for frequently searched branded keywords, and variations thereof.
A major premise of our Brand Command methodology is to dominate the natural results of your Brand Real Estate on the search engines. Is University of Phoenix dominating their Brand Real Estate?
In the screenshot below, we take a look at the Google results for the search “University of Phoenix.” I have highlighted the results where UOP web assets have first page visibility.
Branded SEO – “University of Phoenix”
University of Phoenix ranks well above average with a total of eight web assets visible out of a possible ten available positions on the first page of Google results! Can they do better? Yes! Our proven strategies would allow University of Phoenix to completely own their Brand Real Estate and push down the threatening instance of Brand Erosion.
The University of Phoenix uses several websites to dominate their brand real estate in both the paid and natural results of search engines–here is a breakdown of sites ranking in the natural results, with Site Explorer stats:
2,043 pages, 17,118 backlinks (external/all pages)
88 pages, 690 backlinks (external/all pages)
15,748 pages, 1,657 backlinks (external/all pages)
823 pages, 4,968 backlinks (external/all pages)
743 pages, 2,842 backlinks (external/all pages)
334 pages, 157 backlinks (external/all pages)
2,685 pages, 472 backlinks (external/all pages)
Utilizing all these web assets has proven to be effective in dominating UOP brand real estate, but they need to updated and restructured for long-term success.
For example, www.universityofphoenix-online.com and www.universityofphoenix.com feature duplicate content, as do www.uopxonline.com and www.uopxonlinetraining.com. Search engines not only dislike, but can penalize duplicate content or mirror sites.
Another problem with all these web assets is they present conflicting and outdated information. One site states there are 170 campus locations, another states 191, and yet another, 250 plus.
From an SEO perspective, the University of Phoenix web assets have very powerful incoming links (backlinks) and could utilize this juice to rank for pretty much anything they wanted to within their industry. They simply need to restructure the web assets and content, and optimize for additional frequently searched keyword sets–branded and non-branded.
Branded SEO – Continued
It is important for companies to first focus on ranking for all their frequently searched, branded keyword sets, then pursue all of the non-branded keyword sets.
In the screenshot below, we take a look at the results for the search “University of Phoenix reviews” on Google. Note that none of the UOP web assets rank for this frequently searched, b
randed keyword set. To make matters worse, the Uopsucks.com website has prominent billing as the second result.
Branded SEO – “University of Phoenix reviews”
The obvious opportunity is to create multiple pages of content to rank for “University of Phoenix reviews,” such as student testimonials, faculty praise, etc.
B. Non-branded SEO ~ This is the process of optimizing your web pages to rank at the top of natural results in the search engines for frequently searched generic keywords, related to your type of company, products and services, geographic location, etc.
In this industry there are millions of keyword searches. The long tail for the root phrase “online degree” alone is in excess of 800,000 searches per month (averaged over a year).
In the screenshot below, we take a look at the results for the search “online degree” on Google. As you can see, UOP has no visibility in the natural results. While this is a very competitive term, it certainly isn’t out of reach for one of University of Phoenix’s web assets.
Non-branded SEO – “online degree”
The biggest problem they face is lack of optimized content. For example, the screenshot of the Phoenix.edu page below illustrates the fact that the most optimized page on the site for the keyword set “online degree” is sorely lacking keyword density and a few other on-site factors.
The opportunity is to optimize pages for the most frequently searched keyword sets while at the same time providing a satisfying user experience.
Non-branded SEO – Page Optimization
Related frequently searched, non-branded keywords include the following:
– online degree
– online degree programs
– online college degree
– online bachelor degree
– accredited online degree
– phd degree online
– online masters degree
– engineering degree online
– online computer science degree
– online nursing degree
– nursing degree online
– online business degree
– online accounting degree
– online education college degree
– college degree online
– online college degree programs
– college degree distance education online
– online degree program
– online health care degree
– communication masters degrees online
– online course college degree
– online college bachelor degree
– online course and college degree
– university online degrees
…and all of which are precious to the UOP brand!
Paid Search (Search Engine Advertising)
Paid Search, also known as Pay-per-click (PPC) or Search Engine Advertising, is the practice of placing ads on the major search engines for relevant keyword searches.
When it comes to Paid Search management for branded searches, there are some high-impact best practices to protect your brand.
First off, it appears that UOP has successfully implemented Google’s optional policy to halt third parties from using UOP trademarks in the heading and text of search ads–this is the #1 step every brand needs to take a look at to protect their IP assets.
Secondly, UOP is one of the few brands that have figured out how to dominate their brand real estate in the paid search results of Google. Google has a bogus policy attempting to prohibit this but it is easy to get around per the search engine’s own rules.
A. Landing Pages ~ Now, let’s take a look at some of the landing pages being used by University of Phoenix and their agencies:
Affiliate – QuinStreet
Affiliate – Vantage Media
Affiliate – QuinStreet
University of Phoenix
University of Phoenix
The screenshot below illustrates the first landing page, www.uopdegreesonline.com. The creative itself is mediocre and from a marketing perspective, all of the UOP landing pages lack pull marketing assets.
Paid Search – Landing Pages
The whole idea is to convert a lead, right? Well how better to do that then to offer something for free in exchange for the prospect’s information? For example, the two most frequent types of questions prospects ask when contacted by the university sales reps are the following:
1. How much is it? What is the cost per credit? What will it cost to get my degree?
2. Time. How long will it take? How much time will I need to allocate for homework? What is the schedule like?
I am certain UOP’s landing pages would convert more leads if they offered pull marketing assets such as a FREE Report, instead of just “information.”
An example of a FREE Report could be this: Receive Your FREE Report Entitled “Everything You Need To Know In 2007 About Student Loans And State & Federal Financial Aid!” (sponsored by Tom Crandall Lending) Anyway, you get the picture–quid pro quo.
B. Affiliate Policy ~ I don’t understand why a major brand would allow affiliates to advertise on branded keywords–this is a no-no for several reasons. To make matters worse, one of the affiliates, Vantage Media, uses a UOP-branded domain to generate leads for direct competitors.
The screenshot below displays the content on the home page of www.Degree-UofPhoenix.com. This utilizes the UOP trademark in the domain but the content shows a different strategy.
[Note: It has been pointed out to me that the home page of www.Degree-UofPhoenix.com has never been used in search marketing to convert leads for University of Phoenix, but rather tracking URL’s from the root domain Degree-UofPhoenix.com, which are landing pages with University of Phoenix content and lead forms.]
Paid Search – Affiliate Policy
C. Ad Optimization ~ Another key aspect of converting paid search ads is to optimize the ad text to reflect the search.
The screenshot below displays the results for the search “online masters degree” on Google. As you can see, the ad copy for all the University of Phoenix landing pages is not optimized to convert a lead for this specific search. The title, or at least the underlying text of the ads, should reflect the search, “online masters degree.”
In our business, there is a special term we use to describe this technique–it is called lazy. From a branding perspective it makes sense to use the title “University of Phoenix” in one of the ads, but certainly not all three.
This is a common problem for the University of Phoenix landing pages across the board for most non-branded searches.
D. Ad Coverage ~ Building out your keyword list and how you approach broad match is fundamental to your success.
In the screenshot below we take a look at the search “online degree programs” on Google. This is a frequently searched, as well highly relevant keyword set for UOP. As you can see, there is no visibility in the natural nor paid results for University of Phoenix.
All in all, University of Phoenix is ahead of the game when it comes to search marketing. I hope my insights clearly present the areas of opportunity UOP has to protect their brand online and enhance their search marketing efforts.
Technorati Tags: University of Phoenix, online brand protection, search engine marketing