Higher education and digital marketing - joining the party

Education is highly competitive and with the Government having announced a funding cut of �950m for British Universities over the next 3 years, it will only get tougher. 15-24 year olds make up 16% of the total PC-based Internet population in the UK but that figure leaps to 25% for mobile access.

As teenagers spend more time online and using smart mobile devices, education faces the challenges of finding new ways to grab attention and build engagement. In recognition of this, British Council now offers an e-marketing workshop to help education marketers understand how students select education products online (next course in London in November 2010).

How can higher education brands increase engagement with their customers? How can colleges win the persuasion battle and convince students that there is the right blend of skills and support to help them excel? How can they tap into the lucrative overseas student market?

Search and they will find

iProspect research shows that 62% of searchers click on links within the first page of results. It's logical that to be front of mind, you have to be highly visible on SERPs; rely on your marketing efforts, not on the propensity of searchers to sift through pages of results because we all have attention deficit issues online.

A few ideas:

  • Set-up Webmaster Tools and submit your XML sitemap to ensure the right pages are being indexed.
  • Run keyword analysis to see what people are searching for and pinpoint relevant terms - use the free Google Keyword Planner.
  • Create content pages on your website that target keywords that aren�t catered for by existing pages.
  • Be local - make sure you have pages that cover local search terms e.g. "Language degree Bristol"and provide maps (Google Maps is useful).
  • Target international students for courses that are popular with and suited to overseas students - get market data for the countries you are interested in to understand which countries are best suited to search.
  • Create video content and include this in your XML sitemap - search engines display multiple content formats, so try to move beyond basic html pages to help dominate search results.
  • Find education advice websites and directories, contact the owners and ask to have your content added and links to your website with keyword rich anchor text - quality links will benefit your SEO.

Concentrate on your brand, location, departments and individual courses. In the last 12 months, in the UK alone there were approximately 390,000 searches for "psychology university" and 320,000 searches for "psychology courses".

It's a social thing

Traffic from social networks to brand websites is increasing. 99% of Generation Y users (aged 18-24) have a profile on a social networking site, though Twitter adoption in the under 24s is a slower burn. Higher education will benefit from the fact that social media is international - the key networks like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Foursquare enable local content to be dispersed to a global audience.

Here are some ideas worth exploring:

  • Create a Facebook fanpage based around an education theme and owned by your brand e.g. a page dedicated to helping students understand the challenges of undertaking a degree, with the wall and discussion groups used to ask & answer questions and share concerns/advice.
  • Use Twitter as a customer service tool - answer questions about your establishment, provide advice and respond to comments.
  • Use a social media monitoring tool to monitor conversations related to your brand and products - join in the conversations, not to push your story but to help people.
  • Crate a Flickr photo album of your team, buildings and classes in action - give people a flavour for life on campus.
  • Make videos publicly via channels like YouTube- video of the environment people will find themselves in, meet-and-greet with some of your lecturers/teachers etc - allow people to peek inside.
  • Adapt your prospectus for PowerPoint and load to Slideshare - this may attract few views but it's free and increases visibility.
  • Add visible links to all your social media profiles to your main website.

Be front of mind - get behavioural

Retargeting enables you to serve targeted online adverts to people who have visited your website when they browse elsewhere, using advertising networks and their media partners.

For example, Acme College has a new visit from a potential student who searched for "engineering degree" in Google. The student visits the engineering department landing page, then leaves and continues the web session on another website. Acme then serves adverts promoting its engineering courses via 3rd party websites to the same student to keep their message front of mind.

Evidence from the retail market suggests that 42.9% consumers who see retargeted adverts then return to the original website.

Further reading

There are some interesting articles available online for further reading. Check out the following:

Take away thoughts

  • Teenagers are embracing online, so digital marketing is important for higher education
  • Digital marketing should not replace other marketing channels; it should complement and support them
  • Social media presents an opportunity to engage with potential customers in advance of their decision-making: be front of mind
  • Online marketing techniques can help you repeat your message multiple times to the same person in a targeted context - the tools exist to do this.

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