Competition in higher ed is stronger than ever before. College enrollment has been on a downward trend for the past decade as students have many more options for accessing education, and many are questioning the value of higher ed in general.
With more schools vying for fewer students, it’s critical to have a strong higher education digital marketing strategy that is informed by analytical data in order to stand out in the eyes of your target audience. Read on to learn key considerations for successfully using data to inform your strategy.
What is a higher education digital marketing strategy?
Digital marketing is simply the general practice of leveraging technology channels to reach your prospective students in new ways. This includes the use of web-based channels such as social media, email, search engines, livestreaming, email, web content and more to connect with prospective students (as well as current students and alumni).
Different types of digital marketing activities include:
- Paid search (pay-per-click, email automation, etc.)
- Paid and organic social media
- Website strategy (includes personalization, search engine optimization, or SEO, and conversion rate optimization, or CRO)
- Referral strategy
- Content marketing
Digital marketing allows you to mine valuable analytical data
In addition to the fact that today’s students overwhelmingly use the internet to research their higher ed options, digital marketing offers one huge benefit: The majority of activities involve online channels that provide analytics dashboards and reports. These dashboards can be reviewed in real time, allowing college marketers to see how well their campaigns are performing and make adjustments almost immediately.
For example, using data to be responsive to your prospects’ needs can mean checking your website’s analytics and optimizing its pages to give your audience what they are looking for – not just what you think they need. When trying to attract digital natives, the faster you can serve them the information they’re looking for, the more qualified they’re likely to be when they finally make contact.
Integrating your marketing data
The first step to using data analytics to improve your marketing efforts is integrating your different technology systems and tools.
Most often, data is spread across customer relationship management (CRM) systems, advertising platforms, web analytics and more. Separately, these reveal only a portion of a student’s journey toward enrollment. However, when these disparate systems are integrated and can communicate with each other, marketing teams can leverage their data to better understand their target audience – allowing them to not only reach those students more efficiently but also connect with more of them.
Using enrollment funnel data to optimize your marketing strategy
Once your systems and tools are integrated, you can begin optimizing your higher education digital marketing strategy for long-term enrollment goals. To do this, we suggest analyzing data in the following ways across three key stages of the enrollment funnel:
Initial marketing efforts often drive prospects to request more information through a form. Once completed, these prospective students enter the institution’s pipeline as inquiries.
When analyzing marketing performance at the inquiry level, the importance of technology integration begins to unfold. Think about your Google Analytics account – helpful for identifying successful marketing campaigns – and your CRM – helpful in storing student data. Each serves its unique purpose, but when integrated, they are able to provide valuable downstream marketing attribution.
Downstream marketing attribution allows for insights into overall marketing channel performance. From an inquiry perspective, you will be able to see which efforts best converted on your landing page or main .edu traffic, improving budget allocation and simplifying day-to-day optimizations.
After they become inquiries, the goal is to drive students who have inquired to complete an application.
With communication among your Google Analytics, CRM and advertising platforms at the application level, you will begin to identify large-scale patterns, allowing you to further analyze marketing portfolio performance. For example, you may notice that last month’s paid Facebook advertisements produced the highest inquiry volume, but the majority of the submitted applications came from a targeted email campaign. Here, you begin to uncover which strategies are most effective at driving results through each stage of the student journey.
The final stage of the funnel brings us to the most critical question for maximizing a marketing budget: What is driving enrollments?
Going back to our previous example, social advertisements drove the greatest inquiry volume, and email campaigns drove the greatest number of applications. But what if the highest number of enrollments came from organic search? If this is the case, then to truly optimize your marketing strategy (based off enrollments), your institution would benefit from investing in SEO efforts – a solution that requires the integration of technology.
Prioritizing data management at your institution
The key to optimizing your higher education digital marketing strategy is to make decisions based on enrollment data. To do this, your institution must first be able to effectively collect, store, protect and process its data.
If your institution is struggling to integrate and manage its marketing and enrollment data across various systems and tools, Collegis Education can help. We’ve worked for many years with a wide variety of institutions to help remove silos, establish best practices and inform data-driven strategies through analytics.