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How to Market Higher Education Programs Online

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Like any business, higher education marketing requires an integrated marketing plan. Because this industry has a longer sales cycle, it requires multiple channels to create brand recall and ultimately influence a purchase decision. What’s different, however, is the additional level of tact that’s required when marketing for this unique sector. 

Higher education marketing has walked a fine line for years when it comes to how it should be positioning itself. On one hand, there’s a clear need to drive student enrollment. On the other, the institution must be careful about the language it uses, the promises it makes, and the expectations it sets for each and every new person to walk through its doors. Potential students are looking for a credible, esteemed institution that they can highlight on their resume – so overly pushy marketing can hurt a brand.

At Right Left Agency, we’re no strangers to higher education marketing and the nuances that come with successfully crafting the messaging for a college or university. Below, we’ve listed four important components for  schools to effectively market themselves without overwhelming or turning off potential applicants.

1. Comprehensive Marketing Funnel

What is a marketing funnel, you ask? It’s a string of marketing communications with multiple touchpoints for individuals in different stages of their product research. If you were to market a university, would you expect anyone to fill out an application after being exposed to the brand just once? The answer is probably going to be no. Marketing funnels acknowledge that users need to see and interact with brands many times before those organizations can even become a part of their consideration set, let alone their final purchase decision. 

That’s why we create customized journeys for each user group. Start broad, targeting people who may not even know they need higher education yet. We’ll call this the top of the funnel – the place where we start to build awareness. As those individuals are exposed to your advertising efforts, whether they be in the form of a Google ad, a blog, or any other channel, a portion of them will naturally begin to click and interact with what they see and move toward enrollment. 

An example of a higher-education marketing funnel is:

  1. Awareness: User sees a Facebook Ad promoting higher education for increased career opportunities
  2. Consideration: User searches “best MBA programs” on Google and sees an ad for the same university
  3. Education: User clicks on the ad and experiences a landing page with an informational video
  4. Education:User watches the video and completes a form
  5. Education: User receives a drip email campaign educating them on the program
  6. Education:User sees remarketing ads online showing them different student testimonials and explaining the university’s accreditation
  7. Education: User gets a call from the university for a free consultation
  8. Conversion: User becomes a student at the university
  9. Loyalty: User receives an email about a nursing program and refers a friend interested in becoming a nurse

As you can see from the example above, each stage is designed to push the user to the next stage of their purchasing journey. If you’re interested in learning how to set up your own funnel, click here for our in-depth guide!

2. Search Engine Marketing

What is one of the first actions a person takes when they’re considering a large purchase such as choosing a higher education institution? That’s right, they turn to a search engine to look up questions like “Affordable college near me” or “Online learning university.” Outside of awareness campaigns, this is often one of the earliest stages a university can begin to interact with a potential new enrollee. It is the second stage in our example above.

But of course, it’s also quite competitive when trying to get ranked as the top answer for every search organically. Search advertising allows you to shortcut the SEO process and show at the top of search results by paying for clicks.  

Use a tool like Google Keyword Planner to help you come up with various keywords you may like to target, and understand what the competition looks like. If you can find an intersection between some of the unique value propositions your school has to offer and pockets of lower competition, that’s a sweet spot that should be utilized. Case in point – one of our higher-education clients doesn’t have a GPA or exam requirement for new students to enroll, so a great Google campaign for them would be to bid on keywords and questions like “no entry requirements university courses” since most schools don’t offer this huge benefit.

3. Email Drip Campaigns

After receiving the contact information of a prospective student, a university should send them a planned series of emails intended to provide important information and answer any questions they might have along the way. What’s really great about this marketing channel is how customizable it is. 

For example, a university may like to send an email within two days of receiving a new email subscriber. From there, that individual can expect to receive five different emails over the course of two months. Each email educates the user on a new aspect of their programs. Emails may include…

  1. A step-by-step on how to apply to the university, highlighting how easy the process is
  2.  Student success story
  3. Information about their accreditation
  4. Statistics on the employment rates of graduates
  5. A letter from the Dean

If you’d like to get even more nuanced, drip campaigns enable organizations to create a “build your own adventure” marketing campaign. These involve the establishment of decision matrices that serve unique emails to recipients based on what their past actions were. So if someone clicked a specific link on the last email about the Psychology program, the next one they receive may have a student success story from that same department. The possibilities are endless here, but they all lead to the same conclusion. The more customized your campaign, the better engagement and retention overall. 

4. Blogging

It’s important to note that one of the best ways for any website to get indexed on search engines is to consistently contribute to a blog. Every new article helps you rank for keywords that your target audience is looking for. 

But with a product like education, it’s not just about strumming up excitement. This is certainly not an impulse purchase, and potential applicants often spend months narrowing down their choices and considering a variety of schools based on what’s most important to them. That’s where blogging really shines. In addition to the fantastic SEO benefits that come with regularly putting out great content, there is also a thought leadership component. 

A blog gives potential students an opportunity to more intimately understand your education programs. When writing your blogs, think about some of the questions potential applicants may be asking. Find ways to comprehensively address those questions or concerns and provide them with a way to continue reading. Whether that’s through a call to action on each article, or other suggested links interspersed throughout your content that piques their interests. Blog topics might include…

  1. Jobs you can get with a [insert degree]
  2. Best choices for a new career in [insert year]
  3. How to choose a university for [insert degree]
  4. Should you go back to school?

Potential students may find your blogs by searching online or visiting the blog page on your website. You may also want to send out highly relevant posts as part of your email drip campaign!

>>> Related article: How To Write An SEO Blog – For Small Businesses

There you have it – four proven components to increase enrollment for your college or university. Creating a great higher education marketing campaign doesn’t have to be an uphill battle. If you feel like your organization needs help better managing (or creating) digital marketing campaigns, let us know and we would be happy to talk about your digital marketing strategy.