It’s time to focus on content marketing. Higher ed institutions attempting to reach students using traditional marketing tactics like list buys and paid marketing are seeing diminishing returns, and that is causing understandable consternation. The appeal of paid marketing as a tool for recruitment has always been obvious: Schools get guaranteed reach to a defined audience with specific targeting.  

However, nothing is truly guaranteed in the ever-shifting online space. Fierce competition with other institutions for the attention of the same population is driving up paid media costs, with the marketing budgets at some of the largest institutions and OPMs exploding. This makes it nearly impossible for institutions with smaller budgets to afford to get their ads shown. 

For institutions eager to counter shrinking enrollment, relying heavily only on paid media is becoming unsustainable. To stay competitive, they’ll need to broaden their marketing mix to include an approach that relies on the long game to drive results: content marketing. 

Content marketing includes creating and promoting media that educates and sparks interest in a topic. Content can include articles, infographics, social media posts, and other media.  

Complement Paid with Organic

On August 25, Google rolled out the latest in its algorithm updates. Called the “helpful content” update, this change is designed to suppress content that is primarily created to rank well in searches in favor of content that informs (or otherwise “helps”) users. Google says this update aims to help searchers find “high-quality content.” 

The good news is that schools that focus on creating helpful, relevant content that fully answers their audience’s questions stand to gain increases in domain authority, organic visibility and traffic. The bad news is that schools that have an excess amount of outdated, irrelevant and “thin” content will likely experience adverse effects in these same areas. 

The change creates a golden opportunity for colleges and universities to offset falling returns on investment from paid marketing with content marketing (from the blog posts and infographics that your team creates to user-generated content across the internet) that boosts organic search results and conversions.

Across our partners, we find that inquiries generated through organic channels convert students into enrollees two to three times more often than paid media channels – and at a lower cost.  

Content marketing can also help bolster your paid-media strategy:  

  • Thoughtfully created content can increase visibility for both branded and non-branded search terms.  
  • Students who first visit your blog may be more receptive to branded advertisements later on in their journey. 
  • Popular content can be used for paid-social, paid-content, paid-search, marketing automation and remarketing efforts.

Content to Support the Decision Journey

What makes content marketing such a versatile tool is its ability to attract, engage and encourage action from prospective students, regardless of where they are in their decision-making process 

Students do plenty of research to inform their choice of whether to attend school – and which school to attend. As they gather this information, students move through different stages of the marketing funnel. Your content should be tuned to be relevant and interesting at each stage.  

Awareness Stage – Readers at this stage may not be familiar with your brand – and may not even be thinking about going to college. Content for this stage should speak to a broad audience and focus on general interest topics that loosely align with the programs or features your school offers. Topic examples: 

  • Things to consider when choosing a college 
  • How to afford college  
  • Aggregated lists, like top blogs or podcasts 

Consideration Stage – Readers at this stage of their journey are more focused on careers and programs than a specific school. Content for these readers should be highly informational, helping readers solidify and validate their decisions. Topic examples:  

  • [Career A] vs. [Career B]: Which is right for you? 
  • What does a [Job Title] do? 
  • 7 Signs you should be a [Job Title] 

Closing Stage – These readers are committed to a career path and want to know the specifics of a school or even a particular program. Content should make a final case for what your school offers – and how you can help the reader achieve their goals. Topic examples: 

  • Things you didn’t know about the [Degree Name] program 
  • Fascinating [Program Name] courses you can look forward to taking 
  • 3 Professionals who prove earning a [Degree Name] is worth it 
  • Facts you didn’t know about FAFSA 
  • Navigating the admissions process 

Once your content is out there, you never know where it may plant a seed. You can establish your expertise in an area a freshman in high school or prospective adult student is interested in, reinforcing the quality education they would receive from your institution. Even if they are not yet ready to make a decision, you’re putting your school on their radar for future consideration. 

Before You Write…

As with any marketing strategy, the pre-work will determine the success of content marketing for your school. Upfront research should focus on:  

  • Clearly defined audience personas that represent the most common members of your target audience so you can cater your content to the specific motivations, concerns or obstacles of the persona. 
  • Keyword research using keyword planning tools (with ideas guided either by conversations with admissions team members and students or by research into other industry-specific blogs and publications) to ensure your topics and their associated keywords are relevant and timely. 
  • Multiple content types that allow your content to reach more people and make more impact. Beyond blog articles, publishing or repurposing your content as infographics, videos, e-books, interactive pieces or checklists will maximize visibility.  

What to Expect from Content Marketing in Higher Education

While content marketing can help contribute to increases in conversions, that’s not its sole intent. The impact can be much more widespread. Quality content can: 

  • Increase traffic to your website 
  • Boost your overall website authority 
  • Create and strengthen brand awareness and thought leadership 
  • Capture the attention of interested audiences for remarketing 
  • Help your admissions team engage with prospective students 

A Quick Start to a Long-Term Strategy

Thoughtfully executed content has the power to engage, inform and inspire action among your target student audience. However, content is not a quick win – it takes an investment in team resources, time and continual creation to be effective, and around six months to garner traffic. This is not always feasible to do in house, but Collegis can help.  

Collegis Education has extensive experience in helping our partners meet audiences where they are and providing the precise information they need to move closer to enrollment. We help schools in various ways to either get started with or amplify their content marketing efforts. From defining strategy to building content calendars, creating content campaigns, and producing and publishing content. 

If your paid marketing results are dropping, it’s time to start thinking about implementing a content marketing strategy that can help drive more sustainable results. Collegis is prepared to help you build a custom strategy to help meet your unique goals.  

A year from now, you’ll be glad you started today. 

Author: Jessica Conte

Jessica Conte is a content specialist with experience working in higher education. She holds a B.A. in English and an MBA from the University of St. Francis in Joliet, Illinois.