After COVID-19 changed the way people connect virtually and in-person, higher education institutions are left answering the question: how do you recruit students when in-person channels are limited? The selling points of your stately campus grounds, plush dormitories and enticing meal plans, in-person events, and physical classrooms may hold different value now. People still need degrees, but the traditional reasons students picked your college may have changed, as have how they'll find and choose a future school.
It’s Time for Higher Ed to Shift Their Marketing Strategies
College recruiters have typically depended on in-person events to recruit students. This may have included recruiting events at high schools, campus tours, and in-person interviews as part of the application process. With these activities now being limited— it’s time to reorient marketing budgets in new directions.
From now until an indefinite point in the future, collect recruitment will be largely digital, which means that college marketing budgets must reflect this reality. How do you pivot?
Increase digital marketing budgets.Pre-pandemic, marketing colleges were an entirely different experience because no other organization has mastered the in-person channel in the way that higher ed has been able to do. If you take your existing marketing budget for in-person experiences and translate it to digital, you might not get the same results. Now, ads for your college run the risk of being lost between breaking news updates and promotions for discount furniture. If you want to make an impact, you need to increase your digital marketing spend.
Go where the students are.Marketers need to go beyond emails and banner ads—which may target students’ parents—and target students themselves. You’ll find a large proportion of your potential student body on platforms like Instagram or Twitter, but Facebook might be a dead end—only 51% of teens used Facebook in 2018. Meanwhile, TikTok has seen an explosion of users aged 16 to 24, which means that college marketers urgently need to capitalize on its growth.
Create Engaging Virtual Experiences.Your marketing efforts will inevitably draw prospective students toward your digital presence—which means that your website and events need to be polished. If you’re hosting a digital recruiting event, the software needs to be accessible and the presentation needs to be polished. If you’re directing students to your website, then it needs to be up to a modern standard.
Arguably, the college website should be the centerpiece of digital strategy—but complaints about the poor quality of college websites have been persistent for years. Institutions need to ensure that their websites are both engaging and accessible to attract prospective students.
Revamping the University Website
When campus visits are limited, the university website takes the place of the campus proper. Prospective students will primarily use your website when interacting with your institution. As such, fast-tracked digital improvements should be a universities' primary focus for recruitment and engagement.
For example, over 40% of all web traffic now comes from mobile devices. If your college website isn't mobile-optimized, it should be. Not only will this present a more user-friendly experience for your prospective students, it will also positively affect your Google search rankings. Even if a student’s college search starts with a phrase as simple as “colleges near me,” you want your institution to show up on the front page of the results.
Digital natives expect intuitive digital experiences which require an optimized website. For example, your prospects might want to look at your campus map, the list of majors you offer, and how to apply. If your website doesn’t make it easy for visitors to look at those topics directly from your homepage, they might become frustrated and bounce. Generally it should take three clicks to go from your homepage to the most relevant features or topics your prospects are looking for.
Simple Ways to Boost Traffic and Conversions
Revamping your website and designing marketing campaigns for new social media channels are both long-term projects—but you need to start converting prospective students now. What are the best ways to start building momentum?
Your most beneficial first stem might be to develop a search engine optimization (SEO) plan. Even small colleges and universities can garner organic search traffic in significant volumes, and capitalizing on an SEO strategy is a great way to generate more awareness.
The first step for colleges is to understand which of your pages rank highest and which keywords you’re already ranking for. The next step is understanding why your students flock to these pages and keywords. Do they refer to courses they’re interested in? Scholarships and student aid programs? Acceptance rates?
If you’re not currently ranking for keywords, then you may need to take a step back to do some reconnaisance. Understand the customer journey within your institution. What's your school is known for compared to other colleges and their ranking? This exercise may require a little soul-searching.
Lastly, you need to own a strategic and effective content marketing plan and optimize existing landing pages and white papers to include the keywords you need to incorporate. By doing this, you’ll be able to score some quick wins and build your pipeline of potential applicants.
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As a digital experience agency with expertise spanning industries, including higher education, we help institutions and organizations increase conversions and exceed their customers digital expectations. Optimize your web presence for usability and findability. Attact more prospective students, boost enrollment, and satisfy them across the journey. For more information on how we can help you, send us a note.