How Colleges and Universities Can Recruit Students in a Digital-First World
Mar 08, 2021
Institutions of higher education are facing an interesting puzzle under COVID-19. 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 that students picked your college may have changed, as have the ways in which they will find and choose their 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 was an entirely different experience because no other organization has really 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 towards 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. It’s going to be the primary method that prospective students interact with your organization. As such, universities need to fast-track certain improvements if they don’t exist already.
For example, over 40% of all web traffic now comes from mobile devices. Is your college website 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.
In addition, your college website needs to be optimized according to the needs of the prospective student. 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, then your prospects might become frustrated and bounce. In general, it should take just three clicks to get from your homepage to the most important topics that 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, which means that 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 are ranking highest and which keywords you’re already ranking for. The next step is to understand why your students are flocking 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 anything, your job is a little harder. You need to understand what your institution is known for—and more importantly, what your institution is known for that other colleges don’t rank for already. This may require a little soul-searching.
Lastly, you need to great a content marketing plan going forwards in which you optimize your 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.
Start Learning Digital Content Strategy with Verndale
Here at Verndale, we’re a customer experience agency that works with organizations across industries to help them increase conversions and delight their users. If you're a Higher Ed recruiter with this goal in mind, we can help you optimize your web presence for usability and findability, ensuring that you’ll attract more prospective students and keep them in the funnel. For more information on how we can help you, send us a note.
Creating Your Digital Transformation Game Plan
Feb 18, 2021
6 Steps to Map Higher Ed Student Journeys by Mirroring Customer Experience
Jul 31, 2020 | Ross Lucivero, Managing Director, LA