Of today’s current college students,53 per cent used search engines most often when conducting research on prospective colleges and programs.
An additional 24 per cent use YouTube or other social media sites in the selection process. But what does that mean for education marketers? They need to be present across the digital landscape.
In today’s always-on, always-connected society, digital creeps into almost every aspect of daily life,
and it has greatly influenced the way students research potential schools. Prospective students can
easily find all the information they need about a school at the touch of a button.
The key enigma for educational institutions, however, is how to connect with the right students online, become a
legitimate candidate for their educational needs and ultimately lead them to enrol at their university.
The search for education covers all online channels from search and search advertising to email
communication and social media. Today’s students are digitally savvy and use their prowess to find all
of the necessary information online before contacting a school for further information.
The primary component for schools to understand is how to meet these prospective students during the search
the process, and how to help them along the enrollment journey
How has the education marketing funnel changed with the rise of digital marketing?
The biggest impact is the user’s access to an abundance of information very quickly – it’s all about how fast they can get information about the schools they’re interested in. The downside of digital as a marketing component for schools is that it pits them directly against their competition. Now, it’s not only about who offers the program; it’s about who has the most affordable program. Who has the quickest and most easily accessible program?
The benefit of digital marketing is that we can see results very quickly. With traditional marketing pieces, it’s difficult to measure the true ROI on those materials, like mailers, handouts, etc. Schools can really track their efforts when using digital marketing, which allows them to be more strategic with their budgeting and generate leads that ultimately turn into enrollments.
What are the most important online marketing channels for education marketers today?
For schools, my favourite is PPC or Pay-Per-Click, where you bid for specific search terms to have ads related to your business appear in the search results. This channel is where you’ll see the highest lead generation because you’re reaching active seekers — people who are actively looking for specific schools and programs. There is a high level of interest, and students usually know what they want, so these searchers typically have a high conversion rate and high lead-to-enrollment rate.
The second I would recommend is social media. Both through organic, page-management efforts, as well as Facebook Ads. This is very powerful because of persona targeting, which allows you to reach specific demographics based on age, gender, interests, people similar to people who already like your page and so much more.
The third channel I prefer is retargeting, where you can have your ads “follow” people around the Internet if they’ve already been to your site. Picking a school can be a long buying cycle, from 30 days or up to a year, and retargeting is a great way to stay top of mind by being a consistent presence for them across the web.
How do schools’ social media accounts factor into the education marketing landscape?
We find people are more likely to go to a school’s Facebook page and just read. Facebook’s timeline is important because it gives the school a voice and persona, which, in turn, allows students to get an idea of the school’s culture. Photos are big aspect, as well; searchers want to know if the school looks fun, inviting and generally a place they want to spend time. Timelines can also showcase upcoming events, which is great for prospects looking for open-house and enrollment events, career fairs, etc.
Mostly, it’s encouraging when you see a school that has a lot of followers and a lot of engagement on their posts because it means they’re creating a voice and persona that resonates with prospective students.
Is personalization in ads and emails an important component for connecting with students?
Absolutely. You have to have completely different messaging based on who you’re trying to reach. For high schoolers, you might have messaging about “enrolling today” to keep the process simple and easy. But for adult learners, it’s more about “How can we fit into your existing schedule?” and “Are we affordable?” Instead of getting an education to start a career, it’s getting an education to advance your career.
It’s really important for education marketers to hit on those aspects and ensure you’re highlighting your school’s specific differentiators. There are a lot of challenges in the digital marketing space because everyone is stepping on everyone else’s toes. There are national schools taking over local markets, and those small, local schools need to spend more to stay at the top of search results. People now aren’t just going to their local college down the road; they now have 30 options, so publicizing that specific differentiator is a great help for prospective students.
What KPIs should education marketers focus on to optimize campaign performance?
Schools are interested in how many seats are filled in each class. However, this metric is measured by the school and it occurs much later than the initial enrollment, which is the focus of digital marketing. Oftentimes, the factors that cause a student not to complete the enrollment process are out of anyone’s control; the financial aid could have fallen through and the student can’t start when they initially intended. But digital marketing is responsible for showing interest and guiding the prospective student through the enrollment process. However, it’s on the educational institution to make sure it doesn’t fall apart after the enrollment period.