Higher education marketers should incorporate search marketing strategies to increase student enrolment, boost brand visibility and make meaningful connections with potential applicants.
Schools compete for new grads and returning students every year and work hard to pull in necessary enrolment numbers. Growing these numbers can be a challenge, but schools can effectively attract new students and meet their recruitment goals with a solid digital marketing strategy.
Search marketing is a critical element in increasing student enrolment numbers and building your brand visibility with potential students. Pursuing higher education is a big decision, one typically made after doing thorough research. Students tend to research online long before they ever make contact with schools.
What does this mean for higher ed marketers? It means planning and implementing digital strategies so targeted ads show up when your potential applicants are searching online. It also means keeping your website full of inspiring and informative content so that when you attract these wider audiences, they find relevant answers that reinforce their interest in your school.
How to leverage search marketing for educational institutions
Search marketing uses both paid and unpaid strategies to boost visibility and gain website traffic from search engines. It often refers to search engine marketing (SEM) but also includes search engine optimization (SEO). They are different but closely linked.
Why are SEM and SEO important? Paid advertising without content to support it will eventually falter. If you attract audiences who are eager to find relevant information and you can’t deliver, you’ll lose them to the next search result on their screen. However, quality content on your site won’t reach its full potential without the increased visibility that paid search can offer.
Combine these two strategies, and you’ll be fuelling your outreach with quality messaging while reaching audiences at scale.
Paid search strategies to increase enrolment
Purchasing ads on search engines (most commonly Google) to increase website traffic requires a financial investment upfront but allows you to scale your efforts more quickly. One significant benefit is the ability to use ad targeting to personalize each searcher’s experience.
Why is this important? Consider the enormous amount of information your school has available for potential applicants. You likely have other content for current students, as well. What about educators, staff and potential hires? They have different needs than students.
It will be overwhelming for the new applicants you’re targeting unless you personalize their experience. Ensure potential applicants can quickly find admissions information, welcoming information about the campus and resources for applying, like financial aid details and online forms.
When you get this right, you can get the right message in front of people precisely when they need it.
Make paid search work with your enrolment strategy
Define your audience
Who are you trying to reach? What needs and concerns do they have? Get clear on your target audience (or multiple audiences if you know you want to target, for example, new grads and older learners). The more specific you can be when defining your targets, the more likely you are to attract valuable leads who are likely to enrol at your school. You can also exclude a radius around your school so established students aren’t clicking on your paid ads for recruits.
Keywords and long-tail keywords are going to be vital in creating targeted campaigns. Build a keyword strategy that will drive traffic and conversions. You’ll likely use a blend of general keywords broader in scope and more specific, high-intent keywords that target quality leads in smaller numbers.
Remember to explore keyword options that include common terms your audience uses to search for courses and programs. Remember that potential students may not know your specific course or program names but will be searching for their hopeful career path or area of study.
Balance known enrolment periods and year-round momentum
Plan your advertising campaigns in advance. It takes time for paid ads to work, and you may need to be mindful of certain rhythms in application timelines. You may decide to run specific ad campaigns well in advance of your hopeful enrolment spikes, but don’t forget that research and planning can happen year round. It’s wise to develop an ad strategy that runs throughout the year to ensure you don’t lose momentum.
Leverage remarketing campaigns
Remarketing campaigns show ads to people who have visited your site before, which can remind them to visit again or nudge them to keep your school in mind. Remarketing can help reinforce your brand and keep your name top of mind.
Monitor and measure results
Setting up campaigns is only part of the paid search marketing strategy. You’ll spend your advertising budget more wisely if you monitor your campaigns and measure your results. It takes time, and a good understanding of pay-per-click campaigns to do so correctly, but it’s essential to your success. Analyzing the metrics will help you test different versions of ads and repeat what works.
Unpaid search (SEO) strategies to increase student enrolment
SEO means improving the quality of both your website content and the user experience you offer your visitors. When you improve your site, you help increase organic, or unpaid, traffic that search engines will send your way. You’ll attract new applicants who are likely to be reassured by what they read on your website.
While SEO efforts are often called unpaid search marketing, they require an investment in producing content and keeping your website design and performance at a high level. It’s likely to be an investment you make over time, reaping the benefits over the long term.
Best practices for unpaid search marketing
Create quality content
High-quality content attracts organic traffic to your website, helps communicate your message, and reassures potential applicants that you are a valid option for their journey into higher education. It can help you stand out from competing schools and help potential students gather the information they’ll need to make decisions.
Keyword research is essential for organic traffic as well. Any content you create for your site should be informative and enlightening, but also strategic. Plan your content to incorporate organic keywords that will help attract relevant website visitors to your site. Use long-tail keywords to be sure you’re narrowing down your target audience.
On- and off-page SEO
Making the most of the content you create means optimizing both what happens on your website (on-page SEO) and tactics you implement outside your website (off-page SEO).
On-page SEO includes carefully choosing title tags and headings, as well as adding internal links, alt text for images and meta descriptions. It also includes user experience details like ensuring your pages load quickly and that your content is mobile friendly.
Off-page SEO includes tactics you implement beyond your website, such as link building, social media and proactively marketing the content you create.
How personalization can help you increase student enrolment
Higher education is a significant investment of time, money and effort. It’s not a decision most people make lightly, and it will directly or indirectly impact the rest of their lives.
What does this tell you about your audiences? Your audiences consist of people who are doing research and wanting to make the right decision. They need to explore options, and compare schools, programs and outcomes. Some of their decision-making processes will become very personal as they compare location, time investments and expenses.
Targeting potential applicants with ads that seem personalized to their situation can effectively build connections and increase student enrolment. Master reaching these audiences at scale, then meet that visibility with relevant content and you’ll win over potential students.
A fresh crop of applicants is already online searching for the next step in their higher education journey. Will you be there to meet them with ads carefully targeted to their needs?
With carefully planned search marketing strategies, you can show up in relevant ways to these audiences, offering up the correct answers at the right time to help them make their decisions.