Programmatic Advertising sounds like a magic bullet for institutions of higher education. In using Programmatic Advertising, advertisers can spend less time buying ad space while still achieving finely targeted campaigns. The process relies heavily on artificial intelligence and automation; bringing both the best and worst of the technology along with it. Although the temptation is to “set it and forget it”, to get the best results, marketers need to preserve the human element to their ad buying.
What is Programmatic Advertising?
In short, programmatic advertising helps you deliver the right message to the right student at the right time by automating media buying. You might hear it called programmatic marketing or programmatic media buying. Whatever the name, the method uses artificial intelligence to optimize ad runs as they happen. Instead of waiting for the end of the campaign to see results and make adjustments, the AI constantly monitors results from each placement and uses them to inform the next one.
Programmatic advertising can be done in two ways:
Real Time Bidding allows institutions to serve ads only to people that meet their buyer personas. So if you’re looking for 24 to 26 year olds to enroll in your post-graduate degree program, RTB will show the ad to a 23 year old bachelor’s degree holder but not to a 64 year old high school dropout, even if they’re both on the same website at the same time.
Basically what happens is this: a user visits a website that has ad space. The website communicates with an ad exchange to say “I have ad space.” Then advertisers bid to fill the space. The highest bidder wins and gets to display their ad. Of course, the entire process is automated so it takes a fraction of a second. The site visitor is served an ad more or less instantly. This process can be completely automated. Marketers do the work they’re best at – creating exceptional ads that evoke human connection, and computers do what their best at – quickly assessing huge volumes of data to meet user need. The result is targeted advertising campaign that requires little marketer intervention.
Programmatic direct enables marketers to reserve a certain number of impressions on high demand properties in advance. This guarantees their placement with valuable publishers. Generally offered only by premium publishers, it is more expensive. It’s also more time-consuming because you have to broker the deal ahead of time.
Programmatic advertising was heralded as the hot new thing for a few years. From 2014 to 2016 programmatic ad spending nearly tripped. That upward trajectory was forecasted to continue. Then in 2018, the technology got ahead of the people using it. The honeymoon period was over, and marketers found some drawbacks. Still, when used thoughtfully, programmatic advertising can confer major benefits to institutions of higher education.
Why it’s useful for higher education
Almost every institution of higher education is trying to achieve the same basic goals:
Drive qualified applicants to the institution’s website
Promote program awareness
Achieving these has become more difficult as the space gets noisier. There are more institutions vying for fewer students. Meanwhile students are engaging across more platforms than ever before. They’re on their phone, tablet, desktop and laptop – often all in one day. They’re researching on more than one channel, using search engines, websites, social media, and brochures. There’s no single place where you can advertise and know that you’ve reached all or even most of your ideal students.
There are also too many publishers for anyone to keep up with manually. Instead of negotiating individual ad spends with a dozen publishers, you can work with millions using the AI of programmatic advertising. Your ads can appear across desktop, video, mobile and other platforms.
Aside from saving marketers tons of time, programmatic advertising also allows for micro-targeting. Ads are served based on demographics and context, so you can be certain that the right message is reaching the right student.
Learn more about the latest trends in digital marketing. Download the report today.Potential Pitfalls
While programmatic advertising can be a valuable tool, it isn’t foolproof. Relying on artificial intelligence can lead to some undesirable results, such as:
Ads next to questionable content. It’s possible that your ad might show up at the beginning of a YouTube video showing a drunken frat party, for example. Such placements have caused issues for brands in the past. In fact, in the last year or so, there’s been a big enough outcry that many display networks improving the brand safety of programmatic advertising. You can help protect yourself by identifying categories of sites where you don’t want your ad to appear and by specifying a list of negative keywords or blacklisted websites.
Potential for fraud. Some ads end up on websites that pretend to be well-known and reputable publishers but are really dummy sites looking to rake in the ad revenue. Ad fraud isn’t only a problem of programmatic advertising, but it is a concern because there is no human in the mix to recognize when something isn’t right. Protect your ad spend by looking for display networks that have worked with fraud protection agencies and have a good reputation.
These are the perils of automated advertising. While AI is rapidly improving, it isn’t always as smart as it should be. It doesn’t really understand context or nuance, it’s simply looking for the right data points. You can help it perform well by creating boundaries and exercising human discretion.
The human element
Programmatic advertising can make marketing campaigns easier to execute, but your marketing team still has work to do. The AI uses your criteria to target your ads, so you need to truly know your audience. How old are they? What are they interested in? Where do they live? A sharp understanding of who your ideal audience is will make your ad placements more useful.
Understanding your audience is also essential for creating great ad content. There’s no point in getting your message in front of your ideal student if it doesn’t catch their attention. Fortunately, creativity is where human marketers excel. With all the free time created by leaving media buying to the AI’s, human marketers can create truly exceptional advertising content that makes students excited to learn more about your institution.
Education Dynamics is a leader in higher education digital marketing. We deliver the right prospects for the right programs. Download our Digital Marketing Playbook today to learn more today’s trends in higher education marketing and humanizing your programmatic advertising efforts.
Why the focus on business students? Business degrees make up a huge percentage of the total degrees awarded to students each year. According to the National Center for Education Statistics more students are earning undergraduate degrees in business than in any other subject area. In the 2014-2015 school year, 364,000 business degrees were awarded. Compared to health programs the second highest total of degrees confirmed, which awarded 216,000 degrees, and you understand why so many schools compete to attract and retain business students. No other field is close.
Although the overall number of business enrollments at four-year institutions has dropped slightly over the past few years, business schools are still enrolling 500,000 more students than the next most popular program (health). To tap into this enrollment potential, universities need to think about how they can attract business students.
What potential business students look for
Start by understanding what potential business students are looking for in a college or university. The three factors that most concern potential business students are:
Cost. In the 2019 Online College Students Report, published by Aslanian Market Research, a Division of EducationDynamics, and LearningHouse, Affordability was listed as a top 3 consideration for 60% of undergraduates and 42% of graduate prospective students. This doesn’t mean only the least expensive schools will attract students, it just means that your institution needs to be transparent about pricing so students can make an informed decision.
Ranking. The CarringtonCrisp survey of undergraduate and post graduate business students found that 78% of students were concerned with rankings. Being transparent about where you land on state and national rankings can help you attract business students. Of course, if your ranking is low, focusing on another factor may be more beneficial.
Flexible course schedules. A percentage of your of business students are returning to college to improve their career prospects. They may already have a bachelor’s degree and be looking for an MBA or they may have an Associate’s degree and be pursuing a Bachelor’s. These students already have careers and personal responsibilities. They need course schedules that fit into their lifestyle rather than requiring them to take years away from work. Offering flexible online and blended curricula can make your school seem friendlier to working learners.
At least one of these factors should appear front and center on your website and be included in most of your marketing messages if you want to attract business students.
Other qualities that can attract business students
In addition to these primary factors, students may look for secondary qualities that confirm they’re choosing the right school. If your school has any of these qualities, be sure to showcase them after first contact with the student. These can include:
Experienced professors or instructors. Business students may see your curriculum as more valuable if it’s taught by professors and instructors who have experience in the field. All the better if these teachers are currently working as CEO’s, CFO’s, VP’s of Marketing, Board Members or in other leadership roles in business.
Tools to do good. You might be surprised to hear that when today’s students think about getting a great job, they’re thinking about more than salary and benefits. Many students are looking for the opportunity to do good in the world while growing their career. Connecting students with programs, organizations, and even investment funds that have a social benefit, can help make your school more attractive to degree seekers.
Opportunity for real world experience. Students know that experience gives them a leg up in the job market.Whether in the form of internships, externships, client-based research projects or employment, opportunities for real world experience add value to student degrees. By highlighting these opportunities you help students see the true value of your program.
Networking opportunities. From job fairs to professional organizations, networking opportunities help students improve their career prospects. While big-name schools bring big-name prestige, even smaller schools can offer valuable networking opportunities by creating partnerships with local businesses or with local branches of national and international businesses.
How to get the word out
Messaging is only valuable if students actually see it. Get your marketing messages out to potential business students by meeting them where they spend the most time. In most cases, this means posting online. Build your online presence in the right places. Students look for information about prospective business schools in three online areas: school websites, search engines, and social media.
Your school website is prime real estate. It’s the number one source for student information-gathering about institutions according to the Higher Education Digital Marketing Trends Report. Make sure that your website showcases at least one or two of the elements potential business students are looking for. For many schools, focusing on cost or rank can have the most impact.
Don’t make students dig for information about your school. Answer their questions clearly and concisely before they even have to ask. Once you’ve gotten their attention, you can add amplifying information about networking opportunities, professor experience or other qualities.
Keep in mind that optimizing your website for search ranking can make a big difference in the number of inquiries you get. According to the Digital Marketing Trends Report, only 56.4% of schools generating 100 or fewer inquiries per month use organic search. Compare that to schools generating 101-1000 inquiries per month, 83.1% of whom use organic search. Some basic keyword research and the intentional creation of quality content can help your institution attract business students.
You might think that a strong advertising strategy makes organic search irrelevant, but students disagree. According to a survey by Rapt Media, 61% of searchers say they would rather find content on their own than discover it through advertising.
Social media is a great place to educate students about your program. This is where those secondary qualities can have a big impact. According to GenerationWeb, Facebook is the most popular social media platform with 92% of students using it, followed by LinkedIn with 71%. According to our research, 74% of colleges generate web-based inquiries with Facebook ads while only 16% use LinkedIn ads. LinkedIn may be the next frontier for schools looking to attract business students. Look for ways to make your institution irresistible on social media whether that’s through advertising or through organic posting.
Help to get started
Universities can attract business students with the right marketing messages and placement. If you need help creating targeted marketing for the right platforms, contact us. We’ve been helping institutions of higher education find high-quality prospects, at scale for over a decade.
This year, more students than ever will use mobile devices to conduct searches on prospective programs. Colleges that develop a comprehensive mobile strategy will be in position to benefit from this trend. We’ve developed an outline to help you get started on your mobile strategy.
In the 2018 Online College Student Report, we found the overwhelming majority of prospective students conduct at least part of their research on their mobile phone. The recently released 2019 Online College Student Report shows the growing reliance on mobile, with over 60% of prospects age 45 and younger expressing a preference to complete coursework via a mobile device.
Need another reason to focus on mobile? Since March 2018, Google has been indexing mobile version of websites for its search results. And it’s clear why Google made this decision. Today, nearly 80 percent of all searches take place on a mobile device.
Many higher ed marketers have helped their colleges make the jump to responsive web design and implementing mobile-friendly inquiry forms. But the underlying mobile device technology will continue to evolve improve. As the mobile landscape changes, your mobile-friendly site will require ongoing improvement and optimization to take advantage of faster networks, better mobile technology and an ever-increasingly mobile dependent population. Here are some next steps to help you serve the needs of your prospective students.
Update Your Strategy for Driving Organic Mobile Traffic
Organic channels can still send plenty of traffic your way, provided you’re covering the bases of SEO best practices. Your website should be current and frequently updated, and the most popular social channels should all be claimed and active. Students expect websites to load within 2 seconds these days, and don’t want to be bothered with pop- ups, or hard to use navigation. Ensure your pages are optimized for mobile and consider building AMP pages, as we discussed in our recent New, Now, and Next Webinar.
Make Your Content Mobile Friendly
Don’t underestimate the power of content marketing for generating traffic. Your mobile strategy should include creating plenty of blog posts, research reports, videos, and other content that will appeal to potential students.
To meet the needs of those mobile users, optimize your content around the way we use smartphones.
For example, mobile users on a cell signal behave differently than tablet users on their home WIFI connection. Are you creating content that meets the needs of these prospects? Smartphone users are likely on the go and their screens display less content than tablets and PCs. All this means that for whatever type of content you’re producing your headlines are doing double duty to grab mobile user’s attention.
Personalized Content Grows Engagement
The proliferation of available data, and ease with which it can be collected, means we now know a lot more about prospective students. These individuals are also bombarded with significantly more messages on any number of different products, services, messages and updates that compete for their valuable time and attention. The result? A target audience that is very good at filtering out generic or impersonal “sales” messages.
Personalized content cuts through the noise and delivers only relevant messages to the right students. When done well, your prospective students will feel as though the email, blog post, or text message they receive is made just for them – because it is. In a mobile-first world, this means delivering the content that resonates with the individual on very valuable limited real estate.
Text Message Marketing Can Help Your Students Move Down Admissions Funnel
The statistics on text messages can be hard to believe. Ninety-eight percent of text messages are read and recipients are 8 times more likely to reply to texts than email. Text message marketing is a fertile area for higher ed marketers working on their mobile recruiting strategy, but beware. Your messages need to deliver value or you’ll quickly see your text message subscribers fleeing.
Move Campus Experiences to VR and AR
Virtual reality has huge potential for colleges that need to recruit outside their home region. Students tell us that seeing a campus is vital to their decision making campus—after all they want to know that they’ll fit in and feel comfortable during their studies.
Advertising and retail use of virtual reality, along with its counterpart, augmented reality, is expected to generate a $120 billion market. Giant retailers like Amazon and Ikea are betting heavily that high-tech experiences will draw in more sales by giving users an immersive experience.
Colleges are keenly watching this market develop, and many are bringing campus tours, recruiting events, and one-on-one interactions to the AR and VR space.
If you’ve done a search on your mobile phone recently, you’ve probably seen AMP in action. Type in a general search term like “education” and you’ll get traditional links, but you’ll also see image cards that can you can flip through by swiping. These image cards are AMP articles designed to load quickly on mobile devices.
AMP articles offer a two-pronged benefit for institutions of higher education. First, you can offer up AMP results when students search your college on their mobile phones, optimizing their experience. Second you can advertise within AMP results to reach students where they spend the most time, on their mobile devices.
Despite the high value of AMP, there is still a lot of confusion about it and uncertainly about implementing an AMP strategy. Here are the basics to get you started.
What is AMP?
AMP stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages, which are exactly what they sound like — pages optimized to load quickly on a mobile device. They were first introduced in 2016, when Google announced that such pages would be officially integrated into mobile results. Since then, other search engines have enabled AMP functionality. Bing introduced AMP viewer and Bing AMP cache as recently as 2018.
AMP pages look just like regular mobile optimized pages from a user’s perspective. In fact Google has decreed that content on your AMP page needs to be “substantially similar” to that on your mobile responsive pages.
AMP Cache ensures that pages are cached and stored by Google or another search engine to cut load times even further. Every page is validated by the cache to make sure that pages meet AMP best practices. Images don’t load until they are scrolled into view and ads are subject to special requirements that make them lighter and faster.
The point of all of this is to improve load time, visibility, and dwell time for pages. Google found that users spent 2x longer on AMP pages when compared to regular mobile web pages. The first users of AMP pages were news sites, but since then, anyone who creates content has gotten in on the fun. Doing so makes sense, because mobile is on the rise.
Mobile is Growing
According to Networking firm Cisco, wireless and mobile devices will perform 63% of total searches by 2021. At the moment about 62% of all web browsing happens on mobile devices. Interestingly, about 32% of the time, the top-ranked page is different on mobile than it is on desktops.
Why does this happen? Because users are more impatient on mobile. They’ll leave a page that loads slowly and go to one that loads more quickly. Search engines see this activity and reward the faster-loading page with a better search ranking.
Even a 1 second delay can make a huge difference. In that single second your bounce rate goes up an average 8.3% while your conversion rate drops 3.5% and page views drop an astounding 9.4%.
Those numbers are especially important to Institutions of higher ed. Our research found that 82% of students do at least some college research on their mobile devices. Imagine if you could reach that huge audience just a little bit faster.
How to use AMP for your content
The first way to use AMP to reach potential students is by building AMP pages for your content. Many popular content management systems have compatible plugins that can at least start this process for you. However, hand coding can make a big difference in your results because it allows for better customization.
Make sure there are two versions of any article page: the original mobile optimized page and a AMP version. The original versions of your articles should include a tag letting Google know that an AMP version exists. It looks like this:
You may need to have your web developer rewrite site templates to accommodate the special requirements for an AMP page. These include things like explicit width and height parameters for all images, and custom tags for embedding locally hosted videos. While all of that might sound complicated, anyone with at least intermediate knowledge of HTML should be able to work in AMP HTML with just a little extra effort.
The effort is worth it because an AMP page is the only way to show up in the Top Stories carousel at the top of Google results. AMP stories also show up in News, Google Images and Discover. If visibility is your goal, AMP may help you get there.
How to use AMP for advertising
In November of 2018, Google announced that publishers using Google Ad Manager could serve ads in AMP stories. The same characteristics that make AMP attractive for sharing content also make it useful advertising space. Visitors spend more time on AMP pages, they don’t bounce as often, and those pages are served up at the top of search results.
As an added bonus, the increased load speeds mean that users don’t need ad blockers to accelerate their browsing. The speed is already optimized, so ads can show as normal without slowing load speeds.
If you’re interested in AMP advertising, your favorite ad network is probably way ahead of you. Google AdSense, Media.net, Amazon A9 and dozens of others are already compatible with AMP.
You can buy all different kinds of ads including banner, sticky, story, flying carpet, promoted content and video ads. They include call to action buttons and other interactive features that make your ads as effective as ever – except more so, because more potential students will see them.
Is AMP right for you?
AMP brings many benefits and a few new complexities to your enrollment marketing strategy. For help deciding whether AMP is right for your institution of higher ed, contact Education Dynamics. We’ve been delivering the best student prospects for over a decade, and we’re always up to date on the latest technology for finding high-quality prospects at scale.
Look around at the changes in higher education, and you’d be justified in wondering if liberal arts and general studies programs are dying. After all, modern students are increasingly older, working, and balancing life while pursuing a degree. Today’s student expect her education to do more than expand her mind. She expects a degree that leads to better career prospects and provides a positive return on her significant investment.
Job postings rarely list qualifications as: “must have a wide-ranging education in foundational ideas”.
While it may seem that the cards are stacked against liberal arts and general studies programs, there is still a place for these programs to survive and thrive. Liberal Arts and general studies programs have been under scrutiny for quite some time, and yet they remain. They show few signs of disappearing anytime soon. Savvy institutions are finding ways to make these programs more relevant while growing enrollments in these programs.
Over the same time period, more students enrolled in general studies programs at two-year institutions. In fact, liberal arts and general studies programs enrolled more than twice as many students as the next most popular program at two-year institutions. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that in the 2015-2016 school year 38% of all associate’s degrees awarded were in liberal arts or general studies, making it the most awarded for the time period.
Many students are earning associate’s degrees in liberal arts and general studies to get their general education requirements out of the way before enrolling in a four-year college. While Liberal arts and general studies programs don’t make the top ten list for bachelor’s degrees, there are still a significant number of students earning bachelor degrees in the field. Over 43,000 bachelor’s degrees were awarded in liberal arts or general studies in the 2015-2016 school year. That number is down only slightly from the high of 47,000 just a decade ago.
All of this sounds encouraging, but it doesn’t mean that liberal arts and general studies programs are completely safe. With overall enrollment declining year after year, no program escapes scrutiny. While liberal arts and general studies programs probably aren’t going away anytime soon, institutions do need to make smart choices to keep these programs vibrant.
Hiram College in Ohio has introduced what it calls “new liberal arts” — programs that integrate technology and hands-on experience into the traditional liberal arts curriculum. For example, students are now required to complete an internship, study-abroad trip or guided research project. That’s how one Liberal Arts college is staying relevant. However, this approach is less likely to work for larger universities that house all different kinds of majors across many colleges.
How can these institutions build and maintain thriving liberal arts and general studies programs?
A major first step is to change the public, and student, perceptions of a liberal arts and general studies degree. The popular cultural perception is that liberal arts and general studies majors will end up as baristas or in other low-income-potential jobs. Pop culture does liberal arts no favors. The Broadway show Avenue Q even includes a song called “What Do You Do With a BA in English?” in which the character sings about his useless degree and how he can’t pay the bills yet.
Thoughtful Marketing Strategies
This is a task that can be achieved through thoughtful marketing that communicates liberal arts degrees as a useful asset, not an expensive luxury. Here’s how to do it:
Showcase success stories – Changing the public perception starts with sharing success stories of students and alumni. Where are they working? What have they accomplished? How has the liberal education benefited them? Show potential students that a liberal arts degree can get them where they want to go.
Explore career services – Most students enroll in college because they believe it will help them get a job. In fact, a Gallup-Purdue survey found that 86% of incoming freshman name getting a better job as a critical factor in their decision to enroll. More students are using career services than ever before, but only 17% said the career services office was very helpful.
Clearly communicate liberal arts and general studies students that they are eligible for the same career services support as students in any other major. Some students won’t be interested, but many will. Show them that they won’t be alone when trying to find a good job.
Highlight relevant skills – Employers are looking for soft skills like creativity, persuasion and collaboration, skills that liberal arts programs excel at instilling in their students. Craft your messaging to highlight how liberal arts and general studies programs support these soft skills.
Improving enrollment rates for your liberal arts and general studies programs can seem like an overwhelming challenge in the face of changing student expectations. Download our Post-Traditional College Students Report to learn more about the preferences and characteristics of today’s college students.
Slow web pages can hobble even the best marketing campaigns. And nowhere is page speed more important than on your landing page. When students hit your landing page, they likely haven’t yet decided whether or not to contact you. Your ad intrigued them, but the landing page needs to persuade them to commit. That can’t happen if they click away before the page loads.
You may think page speed isn’t all that important for higher education websites. After all, choosing a college is a major decision with potentially life-altering consequences.
Would a website visitor really allow a few seconds delay to influence their thinking? More often than not, the answer is Yes – Prospective students are influenced by even small delays.
With more than 4000 degree-granting institutions in the United States, students have plenty of options. If your institution doesn’t capture their attention quickly, they can move on to one that does. Even a 1 second delay can make a huge difference. Your conversion rate drops an average of 3.5% for every additional second of load time.
If your potential students are viewing your website on mobile, as about 82% will, you have to be even faster. Akamai found that 53% of mobile site visitors will leave a page if it takes three seconds to load. It’s no great leap to realize that improving landing page speed increases conversions.
Strategies to improve landing page speed
There are dozens of tactics you can use to shave milliseconds from your load speed, and in the fast-paced world of online research, every millisecond counts. Here are a few changes you can make, even if you’re not a web developer.
Know your status. Start by understanding how your landing page is performing. If your page loads in less than three seconds, that’s good. Less than two is great. More than three is a problem that needs immediate attention. You can use Google’s free tools for checking both mobile and desktop page speed. Each one also offers customized recommendations based on your results.
Minimize graphics. A beautiful page is worthless if no one looks at it. Of course you want your landing page to be visually appealing, but not at the expense of load speed. The more graphics and videos you add, the slower you page will load. Optimize file size on those images and videos that are embedded on your site.
If you think you just can’t convert students without a page full of flashy graphics, consider this. Google found that more images on a page actually translates to less conversions. In part, this is because too many graphics can be confusing for users.But also, every time your landing page wants to display an image, it has to make a HTTP request. It’s a bit like needing to ask your assistant to bring in a file when you’re in the middle of a project. Even if your assistant is very quick, you’re still losing time with every request. Limit video for the same reason.
Graphics can also sap page speed in another way. Resizing takes resources which increases load time. Don’t upload a huge image that’s only displayed as a thumbnail. JPEG and PNG files load quickly. Upload the right size image and instantly improve landing page speed.
Get off the carousel. Pick any three school websites and you’re almost guaranteed to spot a banner with changing images at the top of at least one of their sites. While carousels can help you spotlight information, they’re also a huge drain on page speed.
And that carousel probably isn’t as effective as you think. The web developer for marketing communications at the University of Notre Dame did an informal study of the university’s website which found that only 1 percent of visitors actually clicked on the carousel. The vast majority of those clicked on the first image.
Remember that users abandon your site if it doesn’t load in three seconds. How likely are they to sit through a multi-image carousel? Pick one impactful image and commit to it.
Minimize plug-ins – If your website is built on WordPress (as 33% of websites are), Joomla, Drupal or other popular content management systems, you likely use plug-ins to avoid manual coding. They are convenient and easy to use, but too many plug-ins or poorly designed plug-ins can affect page speed. Make sure that if your landing page relies on plug-ins, it uses as few as possible.
In addition, AMP Cache stores these pages for quick service. To get the best results from AMP you’ll likely need to do at least some hand-coding. Talk to your developer about supplementing traditional landing pages with AMP.
Once you’ve applied the strategies above, you’ve only begun to improve landing page speed. Continue to monitor and optimize your pages as part of an ongoing process. If your page is still slow, talk to your web developer about more technical solutions or request your free Landing Page Audit from our team of experts.
There’s no such thing as the perfect enrollment marketing plan. Creating a plan that works takes good data, some experience and a certain amount of trial and error. By measuring your metrics, you can get closer to perfection and minimize waste in the process.
Tracking your overall marketing metrics shows you whether your enrollment marketing plan as a whole is having a positive effect. More than that, it shows you exactly which parts of your plan are most effective and which still need some adjustment. The longer you track, the more data you amass and the better able you will be to maximize success at every stage of the enrollment marketing lifecycle.
Before you even think about metrics for your marketing efforts, set clear numerical enrollment goals. Write your goals down and make sure that everyone on your team knows what they are. Then, start tracking your progress.
Once you have defined your program goals, you’ll have a better idea of how effective your marketing efforts need to be in order to meet your enrollment goals. Work backward from your enrollment goals, using historic conversion rates from years past, if you have them.
Effective goals are reasonable, achievable, specific and measurable. Here are three such goals that will help you track your performance.
Prospect to Inquiry Rate
The Prospect to Inquiry Rate metric helps you optimize your online presence to get more verified leads. Prospects are the students who visit your website in response to your marketing efforts. They are signaling interest and you have the potential to sell to them. Inquiries are the students who actually fill out forms, email, or call your institution. A student who inquires becomes a verified lead.
If you’re getting a lot of prospects but few inquiries that implies a breakdown in one of two areas.
You are not attracting high quality leads to your site
Your prospects are not finding the information they need once they get there
Begin with an analysis of your lead quality. Are the individuals that are converting likely to proceed through your enrollment management funnel? If so, evaluate the characteristics that make them high quality leads and refine your targeting to attract more individuals with similar characteristics. If you are having trouble furthering conversations with the leads you are attracting, consider a more thorough analysis and narrowing of your targeting.
Download our Digital Marketing Playbook
Once you get the right people to your site, you still need to convince them to make contact. If your web copy is not compelling or if it focuses on the wrong subject areas, prospects won’t be interested enough to inquire. Check that your web copy clearly outlines your value proposition and encourages students to learn more. Additionally – check your web content and your ad content to make sure it aligns. Are visitors to your site finding what they thought they’d find when they clicked into your site?
In addition to the quality of the content, pay attention to the quality of the user experience. Does your page load quickly? Is the text formatted so it’s easy to read? Can prospects clearly see where to click to fill out the form. Is the form well-designed and easy to use? Have you asked only the most essential questions? Forms that are too long or too complex can lead prospects to abandon them part way through the process.
Conversion rate of leads
Understand which lead sources are the most effective and which ones might not be worth spending your time on.
Most institutions have an array of potential lead sources including search engine optimized content, paid search advertising, paid social advertising, purchased leads from strategic partnerships… the list goes on. Each source can add value and provide quality leads – when properly managed and executed.
To figure out which campaigns and platforms are working well for you, look tie your enrollments back to the original lead source or sources. If 60% of students who click on a paid social ad eventually enroll, but only 10% of SEO content readers did the same, you might want to spend more of your marketing budget on paid social while you spend time working to improve your SEO efforts.
Cost per enrollment
Cost per enrollment shows you how much money you’re spending on each enrollment. While it is helpful to understand your overall cost per enrollment for a program, the real value here is breaking down your enrollment by marketing platform.
Platforms will generate prospects at varying rates and cost per conversion. A lead generated via paid search may carry a higher cost per conversion but is more likely to convert than a lead generated via social media forms with a lower cost per conversion. Remember, your ultimate goal is a specific number of enrollments. Understanding your cost per enrollment by marketing platform and campaign will help you recognize your currently strong channels and your opportunities for improvement.
At EducationDynamics, we optimize our marketing campaigns and engagements to enrollments. Specifically, we optimize to cost per enrollment. Whether you are managing your campaigns in-house or outsourcing some or all of your lead generation efforts, it is important to make sure you understand your cost per enrollment by platform AND optimize your efforts to enrollments.
Start Optimizing Your Marketing
Knowing your metrics will help you make smart choices about where you should spend your limited resources – both financial and optimization efforts. If you would like to learn more about taking advantage of the latest digital marketing trends, download our Digital Marketing Playbook today or request your free marketing campaign assessment.
Enrollment by traditional students is falling, and colleges are looking for other ways to fill the enrollment gap. At the same time, employers are dealing with a troubling gap of their own. The skills gap. With unemployment near record lows and job demands altered by technology, there simply aren’t enough skilled workers to do essential jobs.
Enter the post-traditional student. These students are already in the workforce. They’re older, more money conscious, and have less time to devote to school. They are also eager to gain the opportunities that higher education can provide.
By working together with employers, colleges and universities can remove the barriers between post-traditional students and the education they desire. The result is a win-win-win. The student/employee receives better career prospects. Employers gain with more qualified employees. Schools with more post-traditional students to fill the enrollment gap left by shrinking traditional student populations.
Barriers to post-traditional student enrollment
To earn college degrees and advance their careers, most working post-traditional students must overcome two major barriers: money and time. Many students who would like to attend college can’t because these barriers stand in their way. However, collaboration between colleges and employers can break down these barriers, and help more students enroll.
When surveyed by Aslanian Market Research, about one third of post-traditional students said they didn’t attend post-secondary education after high school because of money concerns. For many students this concern follows them into their working lives. In the same survey, 49 percent of post-traditional students said cost of tuition and fees were among their top two most important factors in choosing a college.
Employer engagement partnerships can help post-traditional students break through this barrier. If the employer supports working students with tuition assistance or tuition reimbursement, employees doesn’t have to worry as much about tuition and fees. They can focus instead on earning their credential.
Many post-traditional students are already in the workforce. If they’re enrolling as part of an employer partnership program they’re either already established employees or they are new hires who need a degree to meet the demands of the job. Either way, they’re busy people. They don’t have the leisure to make study a full time job.
Institutions can help break down this barrier in two ways. First, by providing flexible course schedules, online courses and longer timelines for degree degree completion. Second, by encouraging employer partners to support employees. Workday study time or shortened work hours can help employees make time for school while still getting their jobs done.
How to build employer engagement partnerships
When you start looking, you’ll likely find many employers eager to partner with a reputable school. Especially if they’re operating in a fast-paced industry like allied health, marketing, information services, or technology. These, and many other, industries are changing quickly. Employees need to keep upskilling to remain effective. Employers know this, but don’t necessarily have the expertise or resources to help workers need. Your institution might just be the solution they’re looking for.
Partnering with employers isn’t always easy. Although many employers see the theoretical benefit of working with institutions of higher education, most don’t understand how colleges and universities work. Higher education tends to move at a slower pace than the business world, and sometimes it seems that academia and business speak different languages.
The first step toward building a successful employer engagement partnership is getting everyone on the same page. You can do this by:
Convening a round table – Invite local business owners, or local representatives of national and international businesses. Ask them what their biggest challenges are when it comes to upskilling employees or finding qualified talent. How do they believe your institution could help?
If you’re not sure who to invite, advisory board members and alumni groups can help you draft a guest list. They may be business leaders themselves, or be able to connect you with friends and colleagues who are. Don’t forget other organizations that may hold a stake in workforce building. The local chamber of commerce, labor unions and human services agencies are likely all eager to upskill more adult learners.
Assigning a liaison – Businesses are adept in their own internal politics, but that doesn’t mean they’re comfortable dealing with academic bureaucracy. Whenever possible, assign a contact person within your institution who can help employers navigate within the school system. This person might help connect business leaders to decision makers within the college, or explain legislative and regulatory barriers that may arise.
Communicating openly and often – Both your institution and the employer want the student to succeed and earn a credential. However, you may have different visions for how to make this happen. It’s important to understand the employers goals and expectations and to clearly articulate those of the school so everyone can get the most out of the partnership – including the students.
To make partnership attractive to employers, your school may need to adjust it’s curriculum. While a curriculum change can be a slow, labor intensive process, reasonable adjustments may be well worth the effort. Not only can they help you secure an employer partner, they also ensure that your students are getting the training they need to succeed in the workforce.
Market your partnership
For employers seeking a learning partner, the options seem endless. Employers could bring in trainers, provide tuition assistance, give access to online classes, on the job training or apprenticeships. Ultimately, each of these solutions is relevant to different roles and levels of responsibility. Your marketing should help employers understand why it’s worth investing in college degree programs or professional certification for their employees.
Here’s how to do it:
The roundtable mentioned above should give employers a good idea of how partnering with your institution can help them reach their goals. Follow up with all attendees to answer any lingering questions.
You should create a website landing page and print collateral aimed at employers interested in becoming a partner. Explain what partnership can do for them. What goals will it help them achieve? What kind of support is included?
Make the benefits clear. You might give a discount to employers who send employees to your college or university. Or you might provide recruitment priority, giving them access to your student body for presentations, career fairs and interviews.
Create customized marketing collateral aimed at the student workers themselves. Let them see that you understand the barriers they face and are ready to help students overcome them.
Partnering with employers to recruit post-traditional students can be a mutually beneficial arrangement for all involved. For colleges and universities open to new possibilities in student recruitment, the traditional student enrollment gap may just represent a whole new realm of opportunity.
Students, especially adult learners, are more discerning than ever before. They won’t just take your word for it that your school is the right one for them. They’re chatting with friends, performing online searches, and looking at review sites. Much of this research is happening before students ever make contact with your school. If you have a poor or even just mediocre reputation online, you might be losing enrollments.
While you can’t control everything that’s said about you, you should know what’s out there. The only thing worse than having a poor reputation is not knowing it. A school reputation audit can help you see what people are saying about you online. Perform a reputation audit so you know where you stand and what you need to work on. Plus, you might unearth some good things about your school that can serve as new selling points for your marketing.
Where to get your data
To gain true insight into your school’s online reputation, you can’t rely on a single source for information. Instead your school reputation audit should look at a mix of website, social media, and search engine sources to paint a comprehensive picture of how your school measures up. Here are some places to start looking:
IPEDS – Start your school reputation audit on the official channels by looking at IPEDS data. You’re probably already well aware of IPEDS data for your school, but look at it with the eye of a student. How does your school compare to others that are similarly priced? How does it compare to others in the same region? With the same majors?
Ranking Sites – Dozens of college ranking sites aim to help students choose the right college by sharing information and reviews. Some of these are written by website staff, others by the students themselves. Consider usnews.com, niche.com, or unigo.com. You could spend days looking at reviews, but that’s not necessary. Instead, skim through the first few pages of reviews at each site and look for trends. How do students praise your school? What do they complain about?
Social Media – Students spend a lot of time on social media, which makes it a great place to learn about your online reputation. Reviews and comments on your school’s profile only tell part of the story. Search by hashtag and school name to see what students are saying about you off your profile. Don’t forget to search for any nicknames or abbreviations that students might use to talk about your school.
Google Search – A quick search can reveal a surprising amount of information about how the public thinks about your school. See what pops up when you search the name of your school. Then try coupling the name of your school with words like, review, worth it, or even “is _ a good school?”
Keyword Search – you might find some unexpected information by using a keyword search engine like Answer the Public. Type the name of your school in the search box and the grumpy man in the background will deliver results based on what students are searching for when they search for your school. Many of these queries will be neutral, but some may not be.
Remember, a single negative review is nothing to panic about, just as a single positive review is not cause for celebration. You’re looking for patterns here. What complaints come up again and again? What programs or services do students routinely praise? What words are they using to talk about your school?
What to do if you unearth something negative
If you find something negative or off-brand, you’ll want to take steps to minimize the damage. First, understand the reason for the negative. Is it inside your control? If it’s not in your control is there something you can do to mitigate it? For example, some reviews of a college in Maine talked about the cold weather and long winters. Obviously, you can’t control the weather, but you can publicize events and activities that make winter less uncomfortable for students.
You may also uncover some elements that are beyond the scope of marketing. For example, consistent complaints about the quality of dining hall food. These can be passed on to relevant departments. While they’re working on it, you may want to remove mentions of your college cuisine from marketing materials.
Ways to deal with negative feedback:
Move your focus away from this topic. Like the food example above, if it’s not the best feature of your school and you can’t change it right now, you might simply choose not to talk about it.
Present a solution. Like the weather example above, you can provide resources, tools, information or advice to solve the problem students are having.
Acknowledge a trade-off. In some cases a negative, like inadequate parking on campus, can be offset by a positive, like beautiful, well-maintained walking trails. Make sure that the trade-offs are clear for students.
Capitalize on the good stuff
When you learn what students like most about your school, you’ll know what to highlight in your marketing. Build marketing campaigns around those things that students routinely praise. If several sites mention your amazing student support services, create blogs, social media posts, and videos that support that message. That way, when students are researching your school, they’ll see that your marketing is backed up by positive reviews from real students.
Do it again
You don’t have to do an exhaustive audit of your school’s reputation every week, but regular check-ins will help you avoid surprises. Schedule a quick audit every semester, or at very least every year. The more you know, the better able you will be do successfully market to students.
After you have completed your audit and tailored your messaging to highlight the positive aspects of your school, it is time to get the word out and engage with prospective students. The digital marketing experts at EducationDynamics specialize in social media marketing campaigns that will boost your brand awareness, enhance your school’s reputation, and increase your enrollments. Speak with a member of our team to learn more.
How Adult Learners Can Fill the Enrollment Gap for Colleges
Higher education is slowly recognizing a new normal. Traditional college students, 18-24 year olds right out of high school, are being replaced by adult learners with different expectations and concerns. Colleges that want to remain relevant into the future are already adjusting their recruitment strategies and focus to make room for these post-traditional adult learners.
Colleges that create a space for adult learners are positioned to see enrollments grow, while those that remain stuck in the past are likely to become part of history.
The forces behind the crisis
The number of enrollments across all sectors of higher education has fallen by 1 percent or more every year since enrollment peaked in 2010. For-profit institutions are seeing the greatest decline, and only four-year, public institutions managed to break even this year with a 0% change.
Several forces are combining to precipitate this crisis, but they all come back to one aggravating factor: The Great Recession.
Since 2008, when the U.S. economy took an unexpected downturn, American’s have begun to question rising college prices and look for ways to reduce or eliminate those costs. Some students have chosen a non-traditional option. They might defer school, pursue an unbundled version of their education, or earn microcredentials as they go. For these learners, college has become just one of many paths to post-secondary education.
But, the biggest factor threatening enrollment in the future is the falling birth rate. Fewer babies were born in 2017 than in any year since 1987. This is part of a general trend in declining birth rates since the Great Recession. Fewer babies being born means fewer children to grow up, finish high school and enroll in college. This is the looming enrollment gap. The decline in birth rates will hit college age around 2025 and continue to impact college enrollment for the foreseeable future.
Births in the United States have declined significantly since 2007 and have not recovered.
What to do about it
How can colleges address this crisis? They can’t influence the birth rate and they can’t give education away for free. Some colleges are already working to show the American public that a college education is worth the investment, but changing public opinion takes time.
One move that colleges can make, and make right now, is to shift their focus. Instead of pretending that college students are all 18-24-year-olds fresh out of high school, colleges can start marketing to the massive number of adult learners who left school for one reason or another, but are now ready to return.
Adult learners make up the largest portion of the demographic known as post-traditional students. These students are likely to be older, have families, already be in the workforce, study at night or online, and generally not fit the traditional student model.
While enrollment at four-year institutions both public and private has fallen among 18-24 year olds, students over 24 are enrolling at impressive rates. In 2018, four-year public institutions saw a 29.8% rise in enrollment by students over 24. During the same period, four-year private, non-profit institutions saw a 33.6% rise in that demographic.
Post-traditional students are the new normal at colleges across the country, but many colleges haven’t quite woken up to this fact. They’re still operating under the premise that a teenager, fresh out of high school, will attend their institution and earn a degree that will give them access to a lifelong career.
Yet, the modern world challenges almost every aspect of that model. The aftereffects of the great recession, and the continued trend toward automation is encouraging working adults to go back to school as the careers that once met their needs no longer offer enough income, stability, or flexibility.
As skills demands change, adults already in the workforce are suddenly seeing real value in returning to earn a higher credential. Others who never earned a degree are finding that getting one might just help them move up the ladder at work.
How to recruit adult learners
Attracting adult learners requires a shift in your marketing models. Adult learners have different needs and concerns, they spend time in different places online. You’ll need to adjust your tactics if you want to persuade them to pick your college. Here are four adjustments you can make to target adult learners with your marketing.
Be transparent about pricing. Adult learners tend to be more price conscious than traditional students. They may not be looking for the least expensive education, but they are looking for one that seems most likely to deliver a positive return on investment. Show them how your program will help build their network, improve their job prospects, or increase their income.
Help them make time. Many adult learners worry about how to fit education into their already busy lives. Highlighting flexible course schedules, online classes and other such offerings can help them find time for education.
Focus on those closest to you. About 68% of post-traditional undergraduate students say they prefer to be no more than 30 miles from their institution. This is true even if they’re studying online. So marketing to students in your geographical area may reap positive results.
Choose your platform. While pretty much everyone is on social media these days, people of different ages spend time in different places. While younger users are flocking to Snapchat and TikTok, users 25 and up are more likely to be found on Facebook, Instagram, and even Pinterest. Tailor your messaging on those platforms to reach adult learners.
Attracting adult learners may require a shift in more than your marketing messages. Post-traditional students are in a different place in life and have different needs. Keeping campus services open later in the day, providing childcare, or creating orientation processes that assume it’s been a while since students have set foot in a classroom can all help make these students feel welcomed by your institution.