Remember when you started applying to schools? You’d come home to a mailbox stuffed full of college brochures.

Well those days are ending. *cue the sappy music*

If your school is still relying on those kinds of standalone direct mail campaigns as a primary marketing tactic, it’s no wonder this article caught your attention.

You need to develop a higher education digital recruitment strategy that integrates with your traditional advertising methods. And yes, you have some catching up to do. But don’t worry.

I’ll walk you through one aspect of digital recruitment that will have an immediate impact on your higher education institution – search engine optimization (SEO). This crash course will show you how to start increasing your school’s visibility in search engines today.

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Why SEO Matters for Higher Education

The decision-making process for prospective students has changed. You’ve seen this shift. You understand that we live in a world where nearly two thirds of prospective students use Google, Bing or other search engines in their selection of undergraduate and graduate programs (and technical programs, too!).

Digital recruitment has changed everything. Marketing channels have multiplied tenfold and new accountability metrics have added increased pressure on recruiters.

For some schools, admissions officers can commonly be blinded by the belief that schools attract enough prospects by the stand-alone value of their university’s brand power. But that is simply not the case anymore, and you know it.

Traditional marketing tactics are too reactive to remain a primary recruitment strategy. Students today begin their higher-education research with search engines and social media long before it’s time to make a decision. Will your website’s content attract any of those early inquiries? Or are you content with waiting to compete with dozens, if not hundreds, of advertisements for competitor schools during decision-time?

Attracting College-Bound Students

When it comes to attracting new students, appearing at the top of Google’s SERP (search engine results page) is paramount. With large institutions, optimizing course descriptions and program overviews for search visibility can take weeks, even months. But you can make an SEO impact without altering those descriptions!

School website with some good SEO.

Start chipping away at your enrollment roadblocks with three actions:

Update Page Titles & Meta Descriptions:
If you update website page titles with the best keywords for your programs and pages, your school will already be one step ahead of the game. But don’t overlook your meta description either — the description beneath your blue link on Google. Adding a compelling call to action can dramatically increase clicks.
Enhance Content w/ Proper Formatting:
Chances are your school already uses headlines on the website, right? To send the right signals to search engines, they should also be formatted with h1 and h2 tags. Another tip for enhancing content is to use inbound links, sending readers to and from other related content.
Optimize Your Local Listings:
Google uses information from other websites, called data aggregators, to confirm that data about your school is correct. Too many inconsistencies will send a red flag. Use tools like Moz Local to make sure your facts are straight on local sites like Google+, Yelp, Bing, Yahoo, etc.

Optimized content, metadata, and local listings are SEO 101. If your university wants to recruit out-of-state or international students then your site may need a technical cleanup too. If you want to see just how much of an impact these activities can have on increasing your website’s traffic, then check out this case study.

Converting Prospects to Applicants

Once you’ve successfully gained a website visitor, how do you convince that prospect to become a student?

A majority of prospective students that continue down the admissions funnel will be interested in 1 of 3 activities: receiving more information, scheduling a campus tour, or applying to the institution.

Is your website optimized to accommodate all three of these activities? Here are a few quick tips for getting your site up to snuff:

Internal Linking Strategy
allows you to leave a trail of breadcrumbs for prospects to get the information they crave.
Calls to Action
that makes it obvious and easy to convert, whether that’s scheduling a tour or requesting more information.
Optimized Forms & Applications
to include just the information you need and make it easy for prospects to hit that submit button.

Consider split testing small changes like turning your online application into a multi-step process; students are less overwhelmed by the length and feel more obligated to finish once they’ve begun. Check out this case study where we split tested an application form for a trade school.

The Website Visitor That Got Away…

You learned how to capture leads early in the decision-making process using SEO; you also discovered tactics for optimizing conversions towards the end of the process. Now let’s make sure those would-be leads stay in your admissions funnel (and out of your competitor’s).

Just because a prospective student leaves your website without enrolling doesn’t mean they’ve moved on.

Remarketing Advertising

Whether or not your school currently uses pay-per-click advertising, remarketing — displaying ads to users who previously visited your site — is a great way to remind would-be leads why your school is right for them.

Enticing previous visitors can be done with a content offer or exclusive information. These individuals have visited your website and didn’t convert; your job is to determine what can reel them back in and trigger that conversion.

Marketing Automation

With tools like HubSpot, you can easily configure automated, personalized outreach campaigns. These campaigns can easily target each level of the enrollment funnel, aligning the right content for students during the various stages of the decision-making process (e.g. requested program information vs. already completed a campus tour).

Marketing automation empowers you to easily connect prospects to important information like:

  • Upcoming Event Invitations
  • Whitepapers & eBooks
  • Deadline Reminders
  • Blog Posts

With marketing automation, you’re delivering personal and custom messages with a prospect based on their individual movement in the admission funnel, rather than when the majority finally shifts further down the funnel.

In Summary

Remember that you aren’t the only school vying for each student’s attention. Attracting, rather than interrupting, is the key to earning a spot in the prospect’s thoughts during the decision-making process. You have the opportunity to become a valuable resource for these prospects while also building a relationship. Two birds, one stone, right? Now let’s go fill those classrooms!

Conversion / SEO

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