It’s no longer news that the data reports enrollment across all colleges and universities is down. In fact, in fall 2020, enrollment across all colleges was down 2.5% and by fall 2021, it had fallen to 2.7%.
Many colleges and universities are going back to the drawing board to identify ways they might be able to get numbers back up. As many students reconsider the traditional move post-high school to pursue higher education of some kind, colleges and universities are taking steps to grow their marketing reach and track their analytics more closely.
It's time to consider where old tactics and strategies may not be working for you this year to reel in the next generation of four-year students.
As a digital marketing and web design agency, we have worked with colleges and universities to improve their marketing strategy and we have seen firsthand the areas institutions might be falling short in their campaigns and efforts. In this blog, we’ll use our work with Lyon College, a four-year private liberal arts college in Arkansas, to highlight the areas your website and marketing strategy may not be working to convert prospective students who visit your website into your next graduating class.
Tracking the User Journey
We began working with Lyon College in 2020 to help their web presence more accurately reflect their brand and their promise to students. We polished the overall look of their website to have a sleek, modern design that is easier to navigate, and made sure it was optimized for mobile so anyone who visits the Lyon College website can be sure they’re getting the same great user experience as they explore the site.
The refreshed Lyon site is designed to aid the user journey at every turn, with elegant and updated features students love, and a focus on the target audience of all colleges and universities: prospective students and families.
With compelling photos and videos that give prospective students the ability to see real life at Lyon and fact tiles displayed on the homepage for emotional impact, the site is engaging and prompts exploration far past the homepage. Calls to action throughout the site encourage the ability to easily schedule a visit, take a virtual or in-person campus tour, or explore upcoming events through an easy-to-manage events calendar.
All of these features add up to a website that is beautifully designed, but more importantly, that is designed to convert website visitors into in-person visitors, and prospective students into committed incoming students.
Is Your Website Designed to Convert?
When considering a college or university website, it can be easy to think about it only in terms of aesthetics and solid branding. While these factors do contribute to a website that compels visitors and potential students, it’s also vital to consider the purpose and goals of your website, and whether it was designed specifically to meet those goals.
One of the most crucial goals of a website for any organization is to drive more conversions from visitors and prospects, and, as colleges and universities grapple with declining enrollment rates across the country, this need is particularly felt.
Beyond beautiful design, your website’s structure, content, and navigation can massively impact your conversion analytics. When Speak designs higher ed sites, we do so with conversion and growth optimization in mind, so the user journey naturally moves visitors through your site to the exact pages and content you want them to land on and thus prompts them to join mailing lists, complete contact forms, make inquiries, schedule tours… even complete an application.
A Focus on Optimizing Growth
Higher education sees slower conversion results than many industries, with 44% of prospective students converting between 60 and 120 days after first visiting a higher education institution’s website. It’s vital, then, that for colleges and universities, websites need to be distinctly memorable, compelling, and full of keywords that prospective families are searching for, so your website stays not only top of mind, but also top of search rankings. As students conduct their college search and research, being sure your school is reappearing as they search is a key step in conversion.
With a robust content strategy that inspires and compels website visitors, and a user experience design that makes your college or university’s community, sense of place, and all of your amazing offerings and promises known, you can be sure your site will resonate with your audience and prompt increased engagement and application rates.
We did just that for Lyon College. With a newly polished website designed with the target audience’s user journey in mind, the next step in our partnership with Lyon was to develop a unique growth strategy designed specifically with the needs of higher education institutions in mind. A beautiful website is only effective if traffic is being driven to it, so we set the goal of increasing site traffic and visibility and growing Lyon College’s reach.
In order to maximize conversion, we honed in on boosting Lyon’s search engine rankings across local and educational-related searches to not only drive more traffic to the website, but also to drive the right people to the right pages. We focused on improving Lyon’s SEO, and as a direct result of this effort, Lyon College has seen:
A positive change across all searches where Lyon ranked, with an average position jump of 17 rankings.
Performance at the top of searches related to Arkansas colleges and universities and educational programs such as English, Business Administration and Biology degrees
A more than 20% increase in clicks from searching keywords related to “Lyon College”
Website traffic nearly doubled from organic and paid search (as compared to other methods such as direct and referral).
Your target audience in higher education is unique, so you need a unique strategy to grow that audience. Speak approaches audience growth through a lens of user intent. This ensures that clients increase traffic to their website, but more importantly, that they’re getting more of the traffic they want to see. For higher education institutions, this means targeting keywords and key locations that prospective students are searching for.
Appealing to What Users Want to See
By tracking where site users are spending their time, you’ll be able to zone in on user intent and maximize your growth results. Be sure that you’re tracking traffic and analytics so you know exactly what visitors are looking for and clicking on.
For Lyon College, for example, Google Analytics showed healthy traffic growth in 2021 during months in which students returned to campus. Lyon saw growth overall in page views and time spent on pages. Top pages for Lyon College include:
Once we’ve done the work of driving users to the Lyon College website, on-site features such as video, interactive statistics, and an innovative virtual campus tour engages users. This is the cycle of conversion that higher education institutions must have in order to keep your school top of mind throughout the entire journey prospective students take to consider committing to a school.
For Lyon College, the proof is in the pudding. Users are spending 10% longer on website pages and unique page views have increased by 25%.
Higher education is a challenging market, especially now. However, by focusing in on where your website may be losing you opportunities for applications and other vital conversion tools and by considering your marketing strategy as it works in tandem to drive traffic to your website, there may be major room for growth.
Be sure your website is working for you.
Not sure where to begin in figuring out how effective your college or university's website is in increasing enrollment and meeting your goals? We've crafted a handy-dandy checklist for you to make sure your website is designed to convert every step of the way.
Need a marketing strategy that works? Look no further.
With the combination of these website and audience growth strategies, we are seeing great success in modernizing Lyon’s growth efforts, bringing organic traffic to the website, and pushing to the top of search results. If you’re a marketer for a college or university and you’re grappling with how to grow your reach and gain back vital enrollment numbers, reach out. Speak is uniquely positioned to help higher education institutions make strides toward converting searchers into visitors, visitors into prospective students and parents, and prospective students into enrolled students.
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