Higher education institutions are facing a time of great change in education. While you can’t quite say that higher education enrollment is declining, the data shows that enrollments are leveling off. The increase in MOOCs and online delivery for courses is changing the higher education landscape. College towns are facing “depopulation,” as potential students leave for more promising scholarly centers, or the workforce.
That said, it is more important than ever for colleges and universities who want to remain relevant, serve students and keep classes full to employ various marketing tactics specifically tailored for higher education to keep seats full and enrollments coming in.
We break down some of the more obvious and maybe not-so-obvious higher education marketing strategy ideas, and hopefully there is something here for your school to implement to keep your programs full, staff and educators employed, and generate revenue for your college or university.
Today’s higher education marketing is down to the program level in many cases. While your university as a whole may have an overall strategy for social media or emailing people who have inquired, our strategies will help you dig in on the program level to grow specific programs.
Admissions departments do still send catalogs to interested students, and a lot of traditional marketing is still done at in-person events, but one of the best ways to get someone’s attention is through their inbox.
For those of you with harder-to-fill programs or programs with declining enrollment, or programs that you have recently brought online that you are trying to keep enrollments high, you know that every student inquiry is precious. Unless you are in the position where you have more students than you can possibly enroll for every single program on campus, then email is a necessary part of your marketing, admissions and retention process.
From the first inquiry to a student who is about to graduate, email is an integral part of any marketing strategy. And with lots of integrated marketing systems, you don’t have to do all of the legwork with email. In fact, you can set up a lot of your marketing campaigns at once and then have them roll out based on actions that your prospects take as they move along the funnel.
Pro tip: Use email that is a little different than the rest. Send video, a virtual reality campus tour, a day-in-the-life of a class session, an interview with a professor – whatever you can do to make your higher education institution have a slightly different strategy than the next school.
Social for Fun
Social for Fun is what we like to call the ‘aesthetic’ part of social media. You want to use your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts to attract people to your school, let people know about events on campus and to give people insight into the feeling of attending your school. Social for fun can be hard to break down on a program level, and it is hard to determine ROI from these channels, although there is software that will try to do just that, Social for Fun is an important part of exhibiting your campus life, and that adds to the overall value of earning a degree from your institution.
Did you know? That your students will do a lot of the marketing for you? If they use your school as their geo-location, people can use that on Instagram to get a real-time look at what is happening on-campus. Of course, on game days, expect that feed to be filled with tailgating photo ops!
More and more schools are using paid social to attract interested prospects to their programs, specifically Facebook and LinkedIn. With Facebook, you should always have a remarketing campaign set up. In remarketing, anyone who visits your site has a cookie placed on their browser, and when they go to their Facebook page, an ad for your school and/or program will ‘follow’ them.
Graduate programs and other programs targeted for people who are already working are having a lot of success on LinkedIn. LinkedIn even specifically targets higher education institutions to get you to run campaigns with them. We hear lots of stories of people who can’t make the numbers work, but we also see cases of $100-$300 CPAs that should fit into any program and fall in line with AdWords acquisition costs.
Most schools have done PPC so that is not a new topic in and of itself, but there are definitely new trends in 2019 that you should pay attention to.
Audiences are more important than keywords. Getting the right targeting is the most crucial part of any paid spend. Companies are buying data, using audience information and optimizing the spend more and more.
Automation is going to be another key part of PPC going forward, using Artificial Intelligence to optimize landing pages and site content in a whole new way – creating dynamic content that follows a user’s path from ad copy to what they see when they land on your website. Look for opportunities to optimize your conversion paths more and more – your competitors are doing it or will be soon.
The biggest win for PPC is remarketing, which boasts much higher conversion rates and a much, much cheaper cost-per-click than traditional ads. Google Display and Facebook are still the hot spots for remarketing, but it is amazing to me how many schools are still not using remarketing as a tool to engage and convert more prospective students.
Some schools rely on other marketing agencies to generate inquiries for their programs using a variety of marketing techniques, and they purchase these inquiries on either a pay-per-click or pay-per-inquiry model. Some of these vendors have access to data and relationships that take years to set up, so schools go to these vendors to help fill programs, rather than or in addition to setting up an entire marketing team and marketing funnel in-house.
It’s important to know what you are buying, and to be able to test and track the leads to ensure they matriculate. Not every inquiry will enroll – not even close – so you need to be able to track and manage your cost-per-acquisition, cost-per-application and cost-per-start as an institution to help you work with vendors who have not only your best interests in mind but also have quality inquiries that actually attend school.
Video can be used in so many ways in 2019 as a way to level up your marketing. From virtual tours to user-generated content to interviews to actual classroom footage, video gives an ‘eye’ into your campus and programs.
According to a Forbes article from last year, over 500 million hours of video are watched on YouTube every day, viewers retain 95% of a message over video as opposed to 10% through text and the average user spends more than 88% more time on a site with video than without.
So, whether you have a large marketing budget or not, video is a huge part of the future and you can’t afford to miss out. The great news is that on the college level, you can integrate students and have them either generate user content for your website or social networks (think: Ambassadors) or even have them create and edit videos for marketing purposes as internships or part of class projects.
This is our specialty, so there is more I could say on this subject than anyone would probably care to read, but they key main points to look at are: what is your reach for online programs with a national enrollment scope, and, does your program rank well in the search engine for programs in your state – for example, if you have a nursing program and you are in Missouri, how are you showing up for ‘Nursing Programs in Missouri?’ Chances are, not well. And if you are like most colleges, you are probably baffled at how aggregator websites are showing up ahead of you (you know, the people you buy the leads from) when you actually offer the program and you are in the state.
We know why, having worked at and with many aggregators, and much of that lies in the fact that organic traffic growth relies on a certain formula that you are probably not following. That formula is something like: Technical SEO + Content + Promotion. Most schools we work with aren’t really following the formula in any of the three main components.
Digital PR is simply promotion of your website, faculty and programs to publications on the web. Using a team experienced in pitching and promotional strategies, you can leverage your faculty as thought leaders and experts in their field. This will make your institution stand out and is the backbone of a successful higher education marketing strategy.
When done correctly, Digital PR has many functions. It can grow your programs and institution through increased brand awareness, increase organic traffic from the search engines, increase program visibility in the search engines and grow student enrollments. The opportunities for Digital PR exist on various publications and websites, and a skilled team will help get you those promotional opportunities. Here are some of the places GradLabs has featured their clients:
Chatbots are a great way to automate your marketing using AI (artificial intelligence). It’s estimated that chatbots are the future of lead generation, and you can use them as an extension of your enrollment team to help advise prospective students on your programs. Right now, we are testing some out-of-box solutions as well as a custom bot build, and we are loving the opportunities there.
With a chatbot, you can tie up all of the loose ends of your marketing and set up your bot to communicate with site visitors by creating several conversation paths. This bot uses AI to determine which questions to ask, what answers to surface, and even can greet prospective students by name as they visit your website. Imagine their surprise as they are ‘greeted’ by the chatbot as they get to your website via social, a paid ad, organic or some other channel. You can then use the bot to pass off the most interested prospects to a live enrollment counselor.
One of the many great things about bots is they work 24/7. So, if you have a prospective enrollment interested in applying on a Saturday, the chatbot can help send them the link, walk them through the process and even answer questions. When the advisors come in Monday morning, they can walk in to a completed app. Pretty cool!
Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality
Virtual reality is just another component of technology that higher education can use to attract students. Virtual tours of campuses are being touted as the next best thing to an actual campus visit, and they can be a cost-effective way to “show” people your campus – even international students!
Hopefully, you learned something new, or got something that piqued your interest from our 2019 marketing ideas. It’s the rare institution that is doing every single thing, and that’s ok. After all, you have students to educate, research to conduct and communities to be a part of. if you’d like a conversation and an analysis of your current website and where we think the opportunities are from an organic search perspective, just book a meeting.