With the incoming fall class nearly set, it is the perfect time to reexamine your marketing plan and consider new ways to be even more successful in the coming year.  With a new generation of Digital Natives in the college search process, prospective students are conducting more and more research online than ever before. And as a result, it has never been more important to ensure your institution has a strong digital marketing strategy.

Here are some tips for maximizing your digital marketing performance to ensure you are effectively connecting with prospective students during the search process.

Make your website mobile-friendly.

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Technology has changed how prospective students engage with colleges and universities; the advent of mobile devices means institutions must adapt their websites to accommodate this technology. According to Google, college searches on mobile devices have increased 158% since 2012. We typically see more than 50% of website visits for our partners occurring in a mobile environment and only expect this number to continue to rise within the next year.

College searches on mobile devices have increased 158% since 2012.

Google offers a testing tool that scores your website and provides recommendations to become more mobile-friendly. Remember to consider the user experience from a mobile perspective and always test website changes in a mobile environment.

“Socialize” your digital advertising with social media.

Social media platforms have come a long way since Facebook launched in 2004. But, there is still a misconception that having a Facebook page is akin to having a social media strategy. The social media landscape is vast and evolving rapidly. Platforms such as Snapchat, Pinterest and Instagram are becoming a larger part of where prospective students spend their time online.

In addition, these social up-and-comers have invested in developing sophisticated advertising platforms that enable highly targeted communications and rich, multimedia messaging experiences. Many of our partners are now finding social advertising to be a strong complement to other digital advertising channels and a growing source of prospective student inquiries.

Capitalize on programmatic value.

Prospective student Google searches are changing. Recent data from Google shows that search volume for branded search terms, i.e. a specific college name, is down -5% YoY in Q1 2016. At the same time, search interest in non-branded terms, such as program or degree, is up 8% YoY. This switch in search behavior offers institutions the opportunity to maximize a program-focused digital strategy to drive inquiry growth.

Expanding your Google AdWords PPC campaigns is a great place to start your non-branded strategy. Test your paid search terms for programmatic or degree-related terms, and enhance your AdWords account to provide support for these areas. If you are on the fence about which programs to test with – start with those that your institution is known for or receive high engagement and traffic on your website.

Search interest in non-branded terms, such as program or degree, is up 8% YoY.

Additionally, as you build your programmatic digital strategy, it is critical that your program pages are front and center on your website. Make sure visitors to the homepage are within one or two clicks away from a program page. Or even better, consider building program-specific landing pages to capture and convert your traffic into new inquiries.

Optimize your website and test, test and test again.

Google Analytics is one of the most under-utilized tools in higher education. It can help you understand basic website metrics, such as clicks and time on site, but also provide insights to prospective student behavior.

Now is the time to take your analytics from passive monitoring to an active strategy of Plan-Test-Measure-Expand. Here are some quick tips to implement:

  • Plan – Develop a plan that targets areas of the website that are most in need of improvement. During this idea-generation phase, look for a combination of high impact/low effort changes to make a splash.
  • Test – Leverage one of many website testing platforms, such as Optimizely or Visual Website Optimizer, to set up simple A/B split traffic tests and/or more complex multivariate tests.
  • Measure – Ensure you are measuring results against the key conversion metrics on your website.
  • Expand – Close the loop on your testing strategy by building learns from previous tests into ideas for future tests.

The higher education landscape is increasingly competitive, and having a strong digital marketing strategy can drive long-term enrollment growth for your institution.