As you might know, we work with quite a few colleges and universities, and one of the more frequent comments we hear at the beginning of our conversations is, “We’ve got to increase our enrollment.”
There’s a lot that goes into that one statement! Do students and parents love your academics? Are they concerned with your school’s location? Are they intimidated by the costs? Do they even know you exist? There are lots of ways for us to dig in and really unpack that general desire of increasing enrollment into specific, actionable steps that make a huge impact.
Out of our conversations, we’ve crafted strategies that produce incredible results for our higher education clients. We thought we’d share four ways that you, too, can begin increasing enrollment at your university…today!
1. Building Awareness
For argument’s sake, you are not running the admissions department of my alma mater , The University of Alabama, where you get the benefit of national exposure nearly every Saturday in the Fall. Let’s say, instead, that you are running the admissions department of one of the over 500 small liberal arts colleges here in the United States. One of the first things you need to do is let more people know you exist! You may have a top-notch recruiting team, but, ultimately, to increase enrollment without adding more staff, you’ve got to make an impact online.
This is where the front-line of digital marketing can make a huge difference for you.
Set up your Google My Business Listing
Surely this is already taken care of… Right? It’s worth a quick look to ensure your listing is claimed, correct and completed. You’ve probably already knocked this out, but take a quick look just to be sure. You’d be surprised by how many clients we have that have not taken this most basic step. It may not seem very important, but if this step is not completed, you could be undermining your other, more sophisticated efforts.
Ensure your website is optimized
Can your school’s website be found on search engines for relevant keyword searches? After claiming your Google My Business Listing, this is where you should focus next. Use Analytics to see what keywords are being used to find your school already and combine those with Google’s Keyword Planner tool to begin to get an idea of other keywords you can be working into your website’s content.
Unleash the power of (paid) social
We love all things social, but if you want to see a quick boost in your visibility, leverage the power of social media by paying to boost posts and display ads at highly targeted audiences. Advertising through a channel like Facebook gives you the power to target parents and/or students by geography, interests, income level, etc. The efficacy of these campaigns will be determined by how fine-tuned you are willing to get with both your audiences and your messaging.
You could bring awareness to your incredible literature department by running campaigns around parents that have liked particular authors contained in your courses. You could introduce students to your theater department by running campaigns around those who have liked local production or opera companies. The beauty of social ads is that they display both a graphic and a message - whether someone clicks the ad or not, you’ve built awareness.
2. Satisfying Parents
So a lot more people know you exist. Now what? Naturally, there are plenty of directions you can go in. The next one we’ve chosen to focus on is satisfying the chief influencer (and sometimes decision maker): the parents. How can we use digital marketing to get parents on board?
This is where the power of navigation and content come into play.
Review your navigation
Have you ever thought about how you actually behave on a website? When you’re looking to make a complicated buying decision, what are the pieces of information you would be looking for? Take a look at your website’s navigation with this in mind. Ask yourself, “If I were a parent, could I find most of what I’d be looking for pretty quickly?” Better yet, ask a parent!
When you think about your navigation structure, don’t get too locked into your “across the top” navigation. Your entire site (your home page especially) is meant to tell stories to your different audiences. Scroll through the home page - are there natural jumping-off points for parents? Could someone schedule a tour quickly and easily? Could someone quickly find out about your academic programs? What about financial aid (you know they want to get there!)? As you are investigating, you should be able to use your CMS to very easily make changes to your navigation.
Give parents something to think about
Parents expect to see the nuts and bolts of what it’s going to take to enroll at your school, but once they’ve found the “specs” of your school, what more could you offer them? We’ve found that blogs are an incredible way to build a more complete picture for many of your audiences, including parents. You can use your blog to tell stories that don’t otherwise fit in the “information-gathering” mode that parents are in.
Going a step further, you should be using strategic areas throughout your website to highlight some of your best blogs. For example, a parent on the Financial Aid page might be in the perfect frame of mind to see a post from a fellow parent with a title like “8 Creative Ways To Pay For School”. Once you have blog content written, you can begin seeding it in appropriate places throughout your website!
Connect parents to humans
It’s no guarantee, but at some point, parents might actually like to talk to you or your staff. At this point, I want you to take a quick break from reading this post (but promise you’ll come right back!). Open a new tab and pull up your website. How long would it take for someone to find a way to talk to you if they wanted to?
It blows my mind that contact information can take so long to find on a website! I should never be more than one click away from being able to reach out, and ideally, I can find that information on pretty much any page I happen to be on. Now… how quickly can you make changes to help people get in touch with you? Go do that now (then come back)!
3. Overcoming Objections
With any parent or student, they’ll eventually run into some kind of objection to enrollment at your school. Maybe you’re in a city, and an applicant will feel intimidated by moving to a different environment. Perhaps your tuition is (justifiably) quite a bit higher than that of a state school. Maybe your school is in the middle of nowhere, and a student is worried about campus life actually having… a life.
This is where you can leverage your recruiting staff and ask them for the most common questions they get from families. Make a list then use these steps to begin to overcome those objections.
Create a specialized landing page
One of my favorite things to show our higher education clients is this Around Memphis page we created for one of our clients, Christian Brothers University. The origin of this page started with a concern from non-Memphis families about what their students would be able to do once settling in to a school in the heart of Memphis. This page systematically gives students and parents an overview of all the amazing opportunities that are presented by simply being in Memphis.
Use white papers to let people take a deep dive on an issue
White papers (or ebooks) can be tremendously useful for a couple of reasons. First of all, when offering a white paper, you should gate it with a request for contact information. If you have a white paper titled “A Roadmap for Paying for College” with a promise to help parents unpack all of the financial aid options that are available to both them and their students, you’d have parents lining up to give you their name, email address and phone number in order to download that PDF.
In this case, parents would get comprehensive content that you and your staff have crafted around answering financial objections, and you get a phone number and email address for further outreach and one-on-one attention specific to the issue. That’s a win-win.
Stay top of mind with retargeting
Sometimes, someone just needs time to make a decision, but that doesn’t mean you have to stay out of view while the objections are being weighed. Use retargeting to stay top of mind during this period. We’ll keep the financial aid example working. You could create a campaign where a retargeted ad appears for individuals who exit your site on the financial aid page. The ad could focus on your brand and offer a call-to-action that directs them to the white paper we mentioned above (synergy!). You stay top of mind to the parent (or student) while addressing the concern that they were (probably) most recently considering.
4. Guiding Applicants
How much time would you say you and/or your staff spend on moving applicants through the entire admissions process? If you’re anything like most of our clients when we first meet them, it’s a lot. There are forms and interviews and forms and financial arrangements and forms… What if you could use digital marketing to make this process more efficient? Your staff could handle a greater volume of applicants without having to hire new people!
Use marketing automation to manage your communication
There are some great products out there like Hubspot, InfusionSoft and ActiveCampaign (and others!) that let you automate communication. If someone is in the application process but has not yet filled out their housing forms, one of these systems can send automated reminders on a schedule you control. Once the system sees the student has submitted their housing information, the student will automatically begin to receive communication on their next step (perhaps signing your code of conduct contract, for example).
When set up well, automated marketing systems can help keep a student moving through your application process while allowing your staff to easily step in with personalized communication anytime it’s needed.
Retargeting strikes again
Leverage retargeting to stay in front of students. If they exit your application process at the essay stage, you could setup a campaign with an ad that reminds them that they need to finish their essay. You could even get playful with particularly memorable essay topics from previous years to ease some of the anxiety a student might be feeling. Combine it with a call-to-action that directs the student back to the essay component of the application, and you can mitigate against losing applicants half way through your process.
We’ve given you some specific actions that you can begin to implement right away, but don’t be limited by the specifics in this post. For example, marketing automation can (and should) be used throughout your engagement with parents and students, not just at the application stage. Hopefully we’ve given you some tools and ideas you can grab hold of and customize to make your own. Now get out there and start crushing your enrollment goals, and if you need help crafting and implementing a custom strategy, you know where to find us!
Bonus Round: Snapchat Filters
I’m dying for someone to do this… So let’s say you happen to be running the admissions department for one of the schools unfortunate enough to be playing a Division 1 heavyweight on their home field for a seemingly easy win (a cupcake, in common college football parlance). Want to throw some shade at your opponent and get some get exposure to go along with it? Create a geo-targeted Snapchat filter around your opponent’s stadium and watch as your brand gets shared by your hardcore supporters (and probably a few of your opponents) while they are at the game. It’s a fun way to engage your alumni and create brand awareness in an unexpected way.
Wait… You don’t have a Snapchat strategy?
Let’s Talk Enrollment