Why Your University Website Is More Influential Than Ever

When we first start working with a college or university they often come to us needing help but not knowing what kind. Their strategies and tactics for marketing the university and recruiting students are usually decades old. Marketing decisions are not often made based on data or analytical findings, but rather “because that’s how we’ve always done it”.

While tradition is important for higher education, so is innovation. If your institution has been taking a traditional approach to marketing and you’ve seen it’s effectiveness start to decline over the past 5-10 years keep reading to find out why that’s happening and what you can do about it.

A new breed of prospective students: Millennials and the Internet Generation (Gen Z)

I was born in 1986 which puts me on the older side of the Millennial range and I remember a time before computers. We had AOL instant messaging and a dial-up modem in my house when I was in high school but Facebook and Smartphones were still at least a decade away. I was taught how to use a phonebook, and do research the old-fashioned way, at the library, as well as use the internet.

Students starting college next year were born in the late 1990’s or early 2000’s and they grew up surrounded by the internet and constantly evolving technology. They’re taught to do research by Googling everything. This is their go-to tactic for getting any kind of information they need.

If you’re pouring your finite recruiting resources into brochures for high school counselor offices or traveling to college recruitment fairs, you aren’t really spending your money where your prospective students are. A better approach is creating ad campaigns on Search and Social networks. As much as 60% of students and 38% of parents will click on a paid ad for higher education institutions. If you’ve never tried PPC marketing for enrollment and recruiting, it’s time to start.

Your website could be your first and last impression

It isn’t enough to just have an online presence that exists. These kids don’t just want the website to be there, they want it to be easy to use and exciting to engage with. Your website could be cutting down your applicant pool by a quarter, with 24% of college seniors removing a college off their prospective list entirely if they have a poor experience on the website according to a recent study by Noel-Levitz. You won’t even know who you’ve lost or had a chance to sway their opinion with a campus tour because they’ll never get that far, to begin with. You need to make a strong first impression with your website that gets students excited, rather than turns them away.

You need to show students what you’re capable of teaching them. Say you’ve got a killer graphic design or some cutting-edge coding programs? Well, your website is an opportunity to highlight and demonstrate those skills. If your site design looks old or is malfunctioning students are going to make assumptions about your school based on what they’re seeing on your website — and they may not be accurate.

Different (and great) user experiences for different audiences

There are so many different audiences looking at your website. Prospective students and their parents, who are probably each looking for different things in a college, and different information on your site. You can achieve greater conversion by funneling these very different personas through different gateways and landing pages. You want to use a different tone, different imagery and highlight different aspects of the college education or experience depending on who you’re talking to.

Regardless of who it is browsing your site, you want to get them to the information they’re looking for as quickly as possible. That means ideally, that they find the page they want directly from a Google Search result. Not by visiting your main website, then trying to navigate their way through the complicated information architecture that’s been sporadically compiled over years.

In web design, there’s a standard “3 click rule”. All users should be able to get to the information they want in no more than 3 clicks. For higher education institutions that have massive websites with tons of information, this can be incredibly challenging to make possible (and sometimes it simply isn’t). That’s why SEO is essential, to ensure your deep pages rank well for the appropriate keywords. Enabling people to find the page they want directly from a Google query and search result.

What parents and students do agree on, however, is the importance of financial aid calculators. Both groups said that was the 2nd most important thing, (second to the university website itself) on making the decision about possibly attending a certain college or university.

Oh and is your site mobile friendly? It needs to be. We don’t have time to get into it today but take our word for it, it needs to be.

Make the most of your online resources

Your website is a significant investment to create and maintain. It should be doing a lot of heavy lifting for you in terms of conveying important information about your universities identity, it’s capabilities and ongoing initiatives.

Existing and potential students and staff should be able to use the website as a resource for a multitude of things such as campus events, class schedules, enrolling requirements and more. If you have staff that is endlessly answering questions for information that is on your website but is difficult to find, you have an opportunity to save time and money by reinventing your website.

Don’t fight the change, embrace it

Sure, you could be reading this going, we have so much work to do, and feeling a bit overwhelmed about overhauling your recruiting and marketing strategy. The good news is, you don’t have to try and figure out what strategies are working now. We already know thanks to data collection and analytics analysis.

You can successfully recruit new students by appealing to them and their parents directly where they already spend most of their time: online. Create content specifically geared toward your different audiences and meet their needs for whatever part of the college prospecting journey they’re on.

Want to learn more about these specific online tactics or get help creating and executing a thoughtful digital marketing strategy? Let’s talk!