Why Digital Marketing Matters for Higher Education

You have at least two totally different audiences to target when it comes to marketing your college or university to prospective students – teens and their parents. There are, of course other target audiences. By coming up with approaches and strategies that speak to the needs of these distinctly different groups and focusing your efforts in the right location, you can be sure you are really connecting with the audience you are trying to reach. When you focus on digital marketing and SEM techniques, you can easily connect and engage with both students and parents and coordinate your efforts with ease.

Connecting with Prospective Students with Digital Marketing

These teens have grown up with the Internet and pretty much live online; mobile device use in teens is higher than in any other demography. According to PEW research, 92% of teens spend time online each day and almost 25% state they are online “constantly.” These prospective students are experienced social media users and are adept at using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and more to gather information and communicate with others.

A campaign targeted at teens needs to have a visible social media presence for best results; higher education facilities hoping to connect and engage can do so directly on a variety of channels. If you are not investing in digital marketing that directly targets youthful users on the most popular social media channels, your messaging may not be noticed at all by this important group.

Your teen prospects use social media to connect with one another and with brands they like, to share and show off their own photos and likes, and to get reviews and information about everything from television programs to gym shoes. If you’re not maintaining a vibrant and visible presence, you’ll miss out on forging relationships with your prospective students.

Since minors can have a Facebook account at the age of 13 – and many other platforms are used by minors of all ages, you can connect with your prospective students long before they make that important decision about their education. The successful Duke TIP program identifies gifted prospects in 5th-7th grade and maintains robust engagement and marketing programs on Facebook and Twitter. This early and ongoing engagement helps identify prospective students and positions Duke as a familiar source for education long before it is time to prepare for college.

Connecting with Parents with Digital Marketing
Kids may get all the headlines when it comes to online activity and social media use, but adults are adopting smartphone and mobile devices at record-breaking rates. Most adults use a smartphone or device daily, and more than half make buying and other important decisions by accessing the Internet using a mobile device.

The active presence of parents online means that higher education organizations have the opportunity to connect in a variety of ways. The same social media efforts that work for teens also pay off for parents, provided the messaging is just right. Parents are concerned about the quality of your offerings, the cost of your programs, and even the safety of your campus. When you engage with your community and share information that covers these important concerns, you build trust; when it’s time to guide their child and make a decision, you’ll already have a relationship in place.

When parents are covering the tuition bills, you also have unique opportunities to connect in other places; your targeted ads can be presented on pages featuring tips on saving for college, investing and even on juggling retirement savings with tuition payments. Correctly targeting your digital marketing efforts to parents can help you make a valuable connection now and become a trusted source of useful information and ensure parents know where to turn when it’s time.

Why Digital Marketing Matters for Universities
Both parents and students are spending more time online and hanging out in specific locations – so how can you make sure your programs are in front of them in the right place and at the right time? You need to go where the prospects are – and make sure you’re serving up the right type of content and campaigns to this active and growing market.

If You Don’t Make a Connection, Your Competitors Will
If you’re not positioning yourself in a visible way and making sure you’re forging connections and boosting your brand awareness, someone else will. Whether it’s a university across the state or across the nation, someone will reach out and capture the attention of your best prospects unless you have a plan in place. It’s not just brick-and-mortar schools, either; the University of Phoenix spends over $200,000 daily on Google ads designed to attract students.

Around-the-Clock Access Is More Important than Ever Before
Your target students aren’t just online during business hours – they live across the nation and around the world and use smartphones to access the Internet throughout the day and night. If you’re invested in digital marketing you’re better positioned to make an impact on both U.S. based and the huge international student base as well.

More than a million international students head to the United States each year for higher education; these students' primary connections to their chosen university is via the internet. An impressive 96% of students use the Internet as part of the higher education decision-making process. You may not be able to engage with these busy prospects every hour of every day, but your content, campaigns and social media posts can.

Search Engine Marketing for Higher Education

You know where they are, how they’re using the web to find college information and that they’re on a timeline – the days until high school graduation are slowly ticking away as they search. Which methods will put you in front of these motivated searchers? Your content, search engine optimization and your social media presence will help position your organization where it can easily be found by prospective students and their parents.

Content and SEO
Roughly 90% of users start searching for information in the same way – via Google or another search engine. Your optimized content ensures that when a user searches for “art schools in New Jersey” that your school is the very first relevant result they see. SEO ensures users are getting authentic results and that they are naturally and organically able to find your brand.

Optimize your site for SEO and make sure prospects can find you by:

  • Researching and targeting the right keywords, including your school name, geographic locations, main degrees or area of study, athletic teams, college prep terms and more.
  • Eliminating or changing up stale, duplicate content, which will weaken your search engine position.
  • Switching to a mobile-first environment to serve the needs of an increasingly mobile dependent prospect base.
  • Trimming down page load times; a speed test can reveal how well your site is performing – if your pages take more than three seconds to load, 40% of your visitors will leave.
  • Regularly reviewing metrics and reassessing your keywords and strategy to ensure you are meeting the needs of your target prospects.

The above steps will help you optimize your higher education site and boost your visibility and brand awareness online. According to SEO experts at SearchEngineland online searches play a huge role throught the recruitment journey #HackingAdmissions.

Using Your Blog and Content to Attract and Engage Prospective Students
Incorporating SEO into your site is a start, but prioritizing quality, engaging and compelling content that is also SEO friendly will help drive results. When users can find your site and then engage with entertaining, long-form and useful content not only about your school academics, but about campus life in general, they’ll stick around. Your regularly updated blog will not only help optimize your site for search engines, it will attract and engage real users and ensure they come back again and again as they work toward ultimately choosing a university. The trust you’ll build will help cement a relationship between your organization and your prospects and keep you at the top of their list when it comes time to apply.

Your content should certainly cover your own organization, but including tips on everything from dorm room décor to paying for college will make you an important resource for both students and parents. You’ll also have a steady stream of things to share and show off on your social media channels, too.

You have a broad variety of topics to choose from and cover in your blog and on your site. Incorporating your identified keywords into your content can help optimize your site and ensure prospects find their way to you. Consider covering:

  • Academic tracks and classes
  • Campus life – where students live, where the study, where they eat
  • Your surrounding towns or cities that are top student destinations
  • Topics about your school history, background and famous grads
  • Sports teams, including everything from news, to how to join, to promoting team websites can boost SEO and engagement
  • Images and details about your fine arts, music and related programs
  • Snapshots of campus life
  • Student and teacher profiles
  • Student awards and news
  • Information about paying for college
  • Information about decorating your first apartment or dorm room
  • Transportation information
  • Miscellaneous articles of interest about your school

Including well-rounded information ensures you end up with a rich site packed with diverse content that appeals to a wide variety of students and their parents. You become a go-to resource for everything from tips for applying to insight on the best places to live and go when attending school. When you position your brand as a trusted authority in your space, parents and students begin to rely on you for information they’ll use to make one of the most important decisions they’ll face – where to go to college.

Social Media Marketing Forges a Trusted Connection with Prospects

You’ve taken the time to create an amazing lineup of written blogs, images, videos and even interactive elements, now put it out there for your prospects to find. Social media marketing has been a bit of a disruptor in the higher education field, and it’s not hard to see why. With both parents and students actively engaging on social media channels, universities can no longer afford to ignore sites like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat.

While social media is an ideal way to generate leads and entice prospects to apply, it is also a valuable tool for building brand awareness and sharing some authentic looks into life on campus. Colleges are using social media in a variety of ways to attract prospects and engage with both students and parents alike, including:

Boosting Brand Awareness: From sharing images of student life on Instagram to promoting events with geofencing on Snapchat, universities can create comprehensive and compelling brand stories across all media. Incorporating your branded materials, from your logo to your recognizable structures, colors and even mascots in your imagery on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and more allows you to create a comprehensive and compelling message that spans all your sites and boosts overall awareness of your brand. Offering students the chance to hashtag and share their own images from campus can also boost both brand awareness and build social credibility, too.

Recruitment: Social media’s focus on nearly instant information and connections makes it an ideal addition to your recruitment efforts. Prospects in a hurry often turn to social media for help – giving you a chance to forge a personal connection and engage one on one. It won’t replace your other tools, but social media can greatly enhance your ability to connect and engage during the recruitment process.

Building a community: Students want to know what life will be like and what to expect – and parents want reassurance that their kids will be well educated in a safe environment. Your social media community can help with both efforts. You can swiftly share candid shots of student life, announce your latest rankings and awards and know that this information will spread rapidly throughout your social media community. As parents and students engage, they also begin to help one another, further cementing their involvement with your site and school.

Hashtags matter: Use hashtags on Instagram, Twitter and other sites to raise awareness and help prospects find you. Simply identifying and using consistently branded hashtags will help users tag their own images and ensure that these authentic examples are seen. You can get inspiration for hashtag success from an unlikely success – a big box retailer.

In 2016, Target set up a pose and post station inside most of its retail stores – visitors could pose with the Target dog and then post their picture to social media. This was an extremely successful promotion for the retailer and users are still posting #Targetdog snaps online today. Just designate a hashtag, set up a tempting spot and watch happy customers promote your brand. Simply asking users to pose with your mascot and share boosts involvement and buzz about your brand and is an easy way to expand your reach.

Making the effort to engage on multiple platforms and maintaining a cohesive voice and brand presence can go a long way toward making valuable connections that will help your recruitment efforts.

By making the choice to focus on and engage with students online both via your marketing efforts and your social media channels, you can be sure you receive a steady stream of qualified applicants to choose from. These engaged prospects and applicants will already be well connected with and trust your unique brand and approach to education, making it more likely that you’ll see the actual enrollment figures you want from your efforts.

Main photo credit: by Kate SERBIN on Unsplash