Marketing Higher Ed to Parents

[feat-text]Summary: In the world of higher education marketing, parents are an under-addressed group whom we should not ignore. Parents are involved in the decision process when a student chooses your school, and sometimes they hold the purse strings. In addition to your student-targeted marketing, what is your college doing to reach out to parents?[/feat-text]

Who is the biggest influence in a child’s life? Obviously, it’s mom and dad, even though other influences are present as well. In marketing higher education, we focus so much of our efforts on reaching out to prospective students with our messaging. But what about talking to their parents? Let’s examine this angle of higher ed marketing.

We’ll dig into what the parents of your next student care about the most. Then we can see how to tailor our marketing message and value proposition to align with those parents’ expectations and the best communication practices.


What Do Parents of College-Ready Students Care About?

One of the first concerns of parents is, no surprise, safety. Anybody who has had children can identify: their safety and well-being are your first thought every day. So what safety concerns are there to address on the campus square today?


We are just beginning to glimpse the COVID-19 pandemic in the global rear-view mirror, and nobody is sorry to see it go. However, we’re still not out of the proverbial woods yet: We still don’t have everybody vaccinated, parts of the world are still suffering their pandemic peak, and there are variants of the Coronavirus which threaten to mutate into becoming the next pandemic.

These might not be significant concerns in some places. Still, the point is that every parent fears for their children’s safety, especially since most of us have been impacted in some way by COVID-19, be it the loss of family members and loved ones or even co-workers and distant acquaintances.

Bottom line: The same safety measures that your school advertised at the dawn of the pandemic should still be at least partially in place. Communicate that to parents, highlighting your campus sanitation precautions, practices in limiting large crowds and gatherings, remote learning options, and other safety measures. Schools may not be able to require “vaccine passports,” as the idea was bandied about, but can still encourage vaccination through their messaging. Put it upfront where the parents can see it too.

Beyond COVID-19, share information on your campus healthcare facilities, emergency medical response teams, and nearby hospitals. Re-assure parents that if anything were to happen, your students would be well cared for.

Mental and Emotional Health

COVID-19 had a secondary impact on young people, which worsened their collective mental health. However, even without a pandemic, the student mental health landscape has more of a spotlight than in previous generations. Students today are far more aware of—and open about—mental health issues, which have dropped the stigma that plagued the issue in previous generations. There is also the diversity factor in mental and emotional well-being. We just got through June, LGBTQ+ Pride month, and amid that, we passed Juneteenth as a federal holiday to commemorate the emancipation of enslaved African-Americans.

So what are we talking about here? Your student body today is likely to be extremely vocal about its diversity and individuality. On every front, from diverse cultural backgrounds to matters of gender identity and orientation, you will be faced with the proverbial cast of unique snowflakes, all of whom will demand inclusion and respect. Students who experience discrimination or a toxic culture will feel the impact on their mental health there as well.

Parents of this generation are aware of the social issue we have now. Before, if you had a non-heterosexual child, many parents encouraged them to hide it and try to blend in. Now the shoe is on the other foot: Parents today watch for any sign of bigotry against their offspring and will quickly leap to their defense. The onus is on the campus to accommodate everyone and safeguard an inclusive and accepting atmosphere in their daily business.

Bottom line: Be the “caring” school! Highlight your diversity and your civil rights activism like never before. Alongside this, tout your school resources in mental health services, student counseling, and promoting a thriving, inclusive atmosphere of mental and emotional well-being. Your marketing materials should re-assure parents that their children have somewhere to turn for help and support.

And now for other, more standard, concerns which parents of college-age students express:

Academic Value

Not much has changed in this regard. Parents have always wanted their children to have an education that prepares them for a stable and fruitful career. In previous generations, going to college was seen more as an automatic gateway to upper-class life, without much focus on the value of a particular degree. Today, the view has shifted to the brass tacks of what a degree means, what careers are opened by said degree, and how valuable it will be in coming decades.

Bottom line: To parents, you should emphasize the academic value that your school provides. Feature alumni endorsements, achievements of past students, graduation rate, individual support for studies, and your expansive libraries and study halls. Feature your school-to-career pipeline. Do you have partnerships with corporations that hire right out of your campus? Career fairs? Career counseling and support? Parents don’t mind so much paying for college as long as it offers value with a capital “V.”

Price Tag

We’ve certainly all heard about the high cost of higher education, haven’t we? Parents, who will likely be footing the bill for their kids’ education, are always going to experience some sticker shock. But recent events have made the cost of higher ed become a sharper concern than before. We do have the economic fallout from COVID-19 to consider; many parents may have been laid-off, had a career setback, or even saw a major business venture go bust due to the bad timing.

Bottom line: You want to emphasize your school’s financial support. Highlight the opportunities in scholarships, student loan structures, or available grants. This is basically the same way you would market to any student with financial concerns, but in addition, you can do something extra for the parents. That is, clearly document, even itemize, the costs and where they come from. Maybe there’s an opportunity to supplement the textbook bill with an open books program? Perhaps students can cut the costs of on-campus housing? Whatever your financial situation, making the expenses clear and differentiating between the necessary expenses and the frills will go a long way.

Now that we have some messages to share with parents, let’s find out more about this demographic…


Who Are the Parents of College-Age Students?

This is a deep and interesting question because you have a challenging split demographic! Today’s students are overwhelmingly Generation Z. Their parents are a split between mostly Generation X (born 1965-1979, currently age 40-54) and early Millennials (born 1980-1994, currently age 25-39). These two generations currently comprise the majority of the workforce.

We could fill a book about these two generations, which each have fascinating positions in history which shaped their world views. In fact, Generation X and Millennials may prove to be the sharpest generational divide ever, hence the challenge to marketing to both as a group. We should focus more on Gen-Xers because their children are without question higher-ed range, where the younger half of Millennial parents are still years away from thinking about college.

Rather than focus on the differences, let’s see what values unite both generations as a group:

  • They are economically wary: Gen-X saw the Reaganomics ’80s and Dot-Com crash; Millennials endured the 2007 Subprime Mortgage Recession and the ongoing COVID economic impact. Both generations understand that there is no such thing as a permanent position, and they value transferable skills and career flexibility.
  • They are tech-savvy: Generation X is more likely to own a laptop, and Millennials are more likely to use a phone, but otherwise, both generations were weaned on a screen of some kind. Generation X is more crafty with tech and more comfortable with text; Millennials expect far more out of technology and would rather watch a video. Both of them head for your website first, while Generation Z is scanning your social media feeds.
  • Both are skeptics: Generation X tends to question everything because they were born in the wake of civil unrest and were raised self-sufficient. Millennials mistrust authority because they were born into “cancel culture” and media saturation, so they expect every god to have feet of clay. You have something to prove to both of them. Be grateful if you only have to prove it once.
  • Both prize diversity and individuality: Generation X is mostly defined by being so individual that they never united as a generation because that was for squares. Millennials came along to embrace diversity labels with a passion, down to redefining gender pronouns. All of them demand that you accommodate every race, gender, orientation, religion, creed, belief system, and diet.

Taking the above proclivities into account, along with the things parents care about in the previous section, we can see a better structure to shape our marketing message:

  • Highlight academic value and flexibility: Tout your easy credit transfers, your wide-open course catalog, and your programs that offer a buffet approach to curriculum. You want parents to know that students at your campus will be “ready for anything.”
  • Use technology to the fullest extent: With mobile-friendly websites and apps, interactive ads, conversational chatbots, and as many tech-assisted services as possible. Goodness knows, technology has played an important role for three generations now, it’s not likely to stop being relevant.
  • “Show me, don’t tell me.” Back up every claim with data, offer campus tours, have open house events with faculty on hand for Q&A. You are under the magnifying glass.
  • Showcase your inclusive atmosphere: It’s all about those diverse people rubbing elbows as cozy, respected equals. Schools have been at the forefront of progressive cultural movements throughout history. Continue to show how you respect and value your student body and welcome all peoples.

As we said, there’s much more to say about the generations, but we marketing people never shut up about demographics. Let’s just cap it and move on, with the caveat that, of course, there are exceptions to every rule, including generational ones.


Marketing to College Students’ Parents

The digital marketing you use to reach parents of students looks similar to the same channels you use to reach students, but with subtle differences.

You want to advertise to parents through the channels they use. Most of this will be on your own website or the parts of your website they will discover through Google. Email marketing is a perennial staple to reach Gen-X especially. Social media channels will likely be limited to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. The rest of the social media sphere is more Generation Z territory.

However, don’t be afraid to spring more advanced tech on the parents. Let them encounter an automated assistant or host an interactive video conference. They will appreciate that your school is cutting-edge and embracing the future.

In marketing to parents, be consistent and repeat your message, letting brand awareness sink in. Those with kids that aren’t quite college-age will spend time researching and reading news articles and blogs as they prepare to send their kids to school, so keep them up to date. A positive news story about your school will score high marks with them. Your school’s blogs or social media channels should carry events like your policy changes or improved safety measures. It’s not so much about the details, as the general feeling that you’re on the ball, hands-on, somebody is in charge.

Parents, more than the students, will be swayed by events. Open houses, campus tours, Q&A sessions, meet and greet events, any event at all. They will appreciate your openness and will take the opportunity to analyze and compare one school to another. However, you win points just for being engaging and approachable and available to answer their questions.

Bottom line: Marketing to parents is an entirely different ball game compared to marketing to students. You use some of the same message and methods but augmented for the older audience with a more mature outlook. If you reach out to both parents and their children, chances are one will persuade the other that your campus is the place to be!

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10 Inspiring Higher Ed Facebook Ad Campaigns

[feat-text]Summary: You hear how powerful Facebook advertising campaigns can be, but maybe you’re not sure what that actually looks like in practice? We picked ten winning Facebook campaigns to show how higher ed marketing is done![/feat-text]

Nobody has to tell you that the higher ed marketing scene is competitive right now. Enrollment numbers are down, and schools are vying for prospective student’s attention. It’s most competitive on Facebook, where it seems every campus and its janitor closet is advertising there. Facebook is the number one market for building brand awareness through repeated exposure because so many of us burn so much time there. For the higher education market, it’s a place to nurture prospective students into potential leads and engage those who show interest.

So you’re a higher education marketer with a budget and an assignment to rent a spot in the Facebook ad stream. How do you make your school stand out? Sometimes learning by example is the best way to learn, so here are ten examples of great Facebook higher ed campaigns and why we think they hit the target.


#1: Rasmussen University

We’re going to explore matching tone to message a lot with these. This warm and happy ad appeals to the bright and hopeful future, fostering young minds to prepare them for academic success. This whole photo says “fulfillment,” in a niche where photos of people draw the most response. “Be that positive force” and “steer happy childhoods” are winning word choices, focusing on the goal and motivation.

Now for the graphics:

  • The background arrow pattern is a subliminal message, suggesting progress.
  • We use green because green is the color of growth.
  • Adorable pose gets a smile out of viewers.

The call to action (CTA) emphasizes value for cost and affordable pricing. The ad points out cost considerations without drawing a blaring amount of attention to it.


#2: Bismark State College

Moving on from the previous ad, this is a complete flip in tone with a different message aimed at a different demographic. Why would you want to work in an oil field? Money, dear fellow! There really isn’t too much more that needs to be said after that, so the ad wisely shuts up after delivering the punchy CTA: “Fuel your future career.” Ah, because fossil fuels, see?

The visuals:

  • Bold, commanding industrial photography.
  • Sepia-drenched sunset tones suggest oil and gas itself.
  • There are no people in this photo because this industry attracts rugged individuals who like to work on the open range.
  • So butch, it’s almost spitting tobacco juice at us.

In this era of increasing environmental concerns among youth, this ad does not waste time trying to justify or apologize for its industry. We’re still burning fossil fuels, and somebody has to drill for it. Remember that there are prospective students who want to pursue this career path; ad creative like this speaks to them.


#3: John Hopkins

The very first word of this ad is “discover,” and there’s a lot to explore here. For a university more famous for being one of the world cornerstones of medical research and health sciences, it may not be the first campus you thought of for liberal arts. So this ad snags your attention with imperatives, then introduces a “have it your way” approach. Students do express a desire for more flexible academic programs, so that becomes the unique value proposition.

Johns Hopkins never disappoints us with their visuals:

  • Blue. The color of intellect and a serene, tranquil space for study.
  • We found a model for the photo who is ambiguously ethnic for a diversity note.
  • She’s hard at work, head down. No slacker at a “party school” here!
  • Just look at that library facility she has all to herself.

The austere aesthetics appeal to the serious scholar, that potential bright young mind that wants to prove themselves. Finally, the CTA closes with one more reminder: Online or on campus, so even a COVID pandemic can’t slow us down.


#4: University of Michigan

Michigan has been through a lot in history and has come out as an economically struggling state. This ad hard-sells a diversity message; it’s the first word in the ad copy and reaffirmed at the bottom with “increasing diversity.” For those who might come from an economically disadvantaged background and hence might be unsure of their preparation, the ad states “providing mentorship.” Financial considerations? We have a scholars program too! It packs a lot of value proposition into few words.

The visuals are practically a course in ad composition on their own:

  • The carousel ad format leads with two frames, one of the potential students standing on the left, the campus on the right. “Before and after.”
  • Daring choice of a graffiti mural background, embracing the urban culture of Michigan.
  • The model is dressed in street gear and looks just rough enough around the edges to count as an “underdog.” Even his expression tells the camera, “Don’t underestimate me; I might surprise you.”
  • The campus shot is seemingly neutral, but it does include the clock to remind you: Time is passing you by. Are you going to carpe diem?

This ad plainly sells itself to the low-income, disadvantaged youth who hopes to improve their standing in life. It is saturated with spirit, telling a familiar rags-to-riches story with a strong work ethic. The unorthodox composition jolts us to stop scrolling Facebook and dwell here.


#5: University of Phoenix

The University of Phoenix uses this ad to introduce a new resource, named their “Career Services for Life” program. This doubles down on the main reason people invest in continuing education in the first place, with a promise of career placement and guidance. And it’s “for life”! That is pretty heavy to think about. But, once you’re a Phoenix student, you’re as good as family here.

The visuals are a bit experimental since we’re selling a new value proposition that never existed before. But you can see what they’re aiming for:

  • Plain, uncluttered photo.
  • Reaffirmed motto right over the shoulder.
  • Minority alumni to sell diversity.
  • Orange tinge in the frame echoes the school logo but also suggests action.
  • He’s on a stage with a microphone in front of him but dressed in a casual sweatshirt. This strange juxtaposition suggests that he’s back before the school to seek further assistance but confident that he has the school’s life-long support. He’s comfortable, and he has the microphone and hence our attention.

If you click through on this one, the landing page explains more:

So we see what “Career Services for Life” offers. This message is very competitive, offering added value to a degree at no extra cost. We have all met a few people whose degrees didn’t match up with where they landed in life, so this program affirms that you will get the maximum value out of your diploma. This is an excellent example of introducing a new offer to the market.


#6: Colorado Christian University

We’re back with another unique value offer from another university. We repeat the phrase “fixed tuition” three times here, along with “endless opportunity” twice. The word “online” also appears three times in the text. “Apply now” has an exclamation point. This is an example of a harder-selling ad.

The bare graphics:

  • Just a student headshot. The focus is on you.
  • Winning smile cheers, “Yeah, I can do this!”
  • Big, bold font to establish the selling point.
  • Flaming yellow letters on a blue background, because you have to see this.
  • The school logo, a shield, gets emphasis here to suggest fortitude and endurance.

The selling point is to give students the freedom to explore their academic interests, with no consequences for false starts. “Endless opportunity” means they can pick and choose their courses unfettered by financial concerns. Here’s the landing page:

“All things possible” is a subtle choice of phrasing, echoing a familiar axiom of Christian faith but not pounding it in. The copy here is an example of “removing hesitation” since it addresses concerns about transferring credits and the convenience of flexible online courses. Those are common barriers that prevent students from choosing a school.

#7: University of California

If your school takes an active role in academic politics or even just the local community, you can use the “toot your own horn” approach. Here, the University of California doesn’t even bother making a sales pitch, instead opting to share a news story which is great publicity for them. DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) is a US law that protects very young immigrants from deportation and provides for their rights to education and employment.

We have lots of text and not much imagery, but it is still worth noting:

  • Rainbow icon in the top left; have we mentioned how diverse we are today?
  • Prominent branding with “University of California” as the biggest text helps associate the news with the school.
  • Soft pastel colors evoke clear skies, rosy dawn, new horizons.

U of C toots their own horn for a Civil Rights victory, making a point of mentioning that they were opposing the “Trump Administration,” sure to score points with Democrat-leaning California and its traditionally liberal students. While there is not much direct marketing going on here, a “good deed” story about your school can be the best brand recognition marketing in the world.


#8: Blue Ridge Community College

When you can’t decide what value proposition to put forward, why not just include them all? This down-to-Earth ad hits most of the key points that interested students would want to know.

  • Registration open now
  • Campus is re-opened
  • Affordable classes
  • Scholarships
  • Financial aid available
  • Transfers open
  • Online options available too

It’s a text-heavy ad but designed to pack in as much information as possible. Our graphic is a photo of a candidate signing up in the student adviser’s office. It’s so folksy and charming; it could be a Normal Rockwell cover. It works for Virginia.


#9: Molloy College

Molloy College takes a competitive bend, offering to attract transferring students from other campuses. The ad touts the school’s “top value,” safe re-introduction of campus learning post-COVID (but online is available too), in-demand degrees, and affordable tuition. They also emphasize “generous transfer credits,” an essential selling point for students.

But it’s the visuals that can make you stop scrolling:

  • Bold red field, the color of action.
  • The huge text makes sure to mention the college name twice.
  • Use of the school’s distinguished lion crest (Molloy is in New York)
  • The student model look so hip and fresh, she could have stepped out of a Nickelodeon teen sitcom.

Clicking through the CTA grants you a landing page that flows perfectly from the ad:

The landing page details the transfer policy, which is exactly what the ad was selling. It continues the branding and includes a small campus photo. The text also touts the service of experienced admissions counselors and the offering of blended learning (a hybrid of online and in-person courses). They even make a pitch for student clubs and societies to assure that full-bore college experience.


#10: Harper College

We close with an example of marketing to the STEM student. This ad makes a pitch for engineering students, but rather than make claims or propose selling points, it invites students to participate in a student panel and bring their questions. Engineering students are likely to be the practical sort who thinks pragmatically, so this is the best way to approach them.

Instead of a static graphic, the ad includes a video with a brief talk from a Harper engineering alumni. There’s not much more going on graphically. The Harper logo even suggests technology, with a stylized “H” rendered in pixels.

If we barge through the CTA we get this landing page:

Yep, what you see is what you get. It’s a sign-up form for the student panel. The nice touch here is that it’s the perfect hook for the top of the sales funnel. No further commitment is required, but we’re inviting you to come to our campus and give us the once-over while meeting real students to act as your tour guides.



We’ve covered a very well-rounded tour of higher ed marketing. We’ve seen all kinds of approaches, each unique based on the school, the offering, and the target market. These examples show the many layers of composing an ad campaign, from anticipating the market’s needs to making a pitch and offering a CTA to presenting the message attractively.

A Facebook ad has a lot to do in that small rectangle of phone screen space. The more thought you put into it, with some good marketing instinct, the more that ad space will perform for you!

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10 Higher Education Marketing Strategies That Boost Enrollment

The pandemic’s impact continues to be felt in 2021, with postsecondary enrollment numbers at the lowest this spring.  The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found that community college enrollment fell by 11.3% and that overall postsecondary enrollment declined by 4.2%.

These declines at universities, colleges, and other tertiary institutions are putting more pressure on higher education marketers to increase enrollment numbers.

To jump-start interest in their courses and degree programs, many academic institutions are focusing on restructuring and improving their digital marketing strategies. If you’re a higher education marketer seeking to increase enrollment this year, let’s explore ten higher education marketing strategies that you can implement right now.


1. Refine Your Value Proposition for Students

First and foremost, you need to work on your value proposition and messaging. As students have grappled with the recession and an uncertain economic future, they’ve put their educational plans on hold. At a time when the college degree is constantly being questioned, higher education institutions need to demonstrate the value of their degree and help students understand it in real-world applications. Career viability has always been important, now it’s vital.

Now is the time to hone your value proposition and create content that shows students that their chosen path will lead to a promising future. Beyond simply telling students that they’ll be successful, you need to show them. That means creating testimonials, case studies, and backing up statements with data. Here are a few ideas on how to get the message out:

  • Create videos of your past alumni discussing their career successes
  • Share alumni and student success stories on social media
  • Publish blog articles that feature student wins
  • Back up all messaging in program and degree content with hard data

If you don’t have insight into how your students are succeeding after graduation, then that needs to be a top priority. Leverage your alumni network and hear what they have to say. Communicating the value students received from your school needs to be the central focus of your marketing campaigns.

Learn more about what students care about most, and how to refine your value proposition and messaging.


2. Leverage High-Profile Endorsements

You can make use of high-profile endorsements to promote your school. This is very similar to influencer marketing. Since most institutions have famous alumni, marketers can mention these famous graduates in ads and content. These famous alumni can also be contacted to endorse the institution on television or in online ads.

Several studies have shown that prospective students put trust in an academic institution’s alumni employment track record. Featuring your alumni successes and current achievements, either on your website or social media platforms, can be a great way to attract both new and current students.

Higher education marketers can also use high-profile students as “social media ambassadors” and influencers. This will help to increase the reach of your school on social channels. Flagler College has a YouTube channel, which showcases its student ambassadors and what they’re doing. It’s a great example of organic content that creates itself.

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3. Showcase Campus Life Through Social Media Marketing

To connect with prospective students, colleges and universities need to leverage social media platforms. According to Emarsys, there are currently more than 3.1 billion users on social media platforms. This figure equals about 42% of the world’s population. Recent research from eMarketer revealed that US teens prefer using Instagram and Facebook, followed by Snapchat. A small, but growing, percentage are also starting to use the new platform TikTok.

Take a look at Stanford University’s and Texas A&M University’s Instagram pages. They both give prospective students a peek into life on campus. They showcase sporting events, student achievements, campus grounds, and student life and community. This helps prospective students envision what life will be like at that school, making them more likely to enroll.

Now, let’s highlight some of the effective social media marketing strategies you can leverage to improve enrollment.

Use Dedicated Hashtags

In a study by Gartner, it was revealed that more than 80% of millennials are influenced by user-generated content. By using dedicated hashtags on social media, your institution can leverage social proof to build its social media brand. Current students can use hashtags to showcase their life on campus and alumni can even use hashtags to show their appreciation to the institution that helped them succeed. You can also create and promote hashtags for departments and events as well.

The University of Michigan started the Hashtag #MYUMICH on Instagram and even used it to host a contest that yielded massive results and new enrollees.

Build a Social Media Directory

On your website, create a directory with quick links to social media accounts used by your school’s different departments, schools, and administration. It’s an instant way for students to keep up-to-date. NYU has had a lot of success with this strategy.

Feature Your School’s Social Life

Featuring student activities on your social media channels is a great way to help prospective students visualize a social life on your campus and feel a sense of community.

Feature Achievements on Your Social Media Platform

Showcase your student and faculty strengths and achievements on your social platform. This helps them visualize the successes that they can achieve at your school. If they know that students have a strong support network and are achieving success after graduation, they’ll be more motivated to enroll.

Showcase Your Beautiful Campus

If you have a beautiful campus, then show it off on your social media. Take photographs of public spaces like lawns, outdoor study areas, and beautiful buildings. The campus environment plays a key role in shaping students’ lives, and it’s especially important in their decision-making process.


4. Improve Conversions with Responsive Chatbots

More than 60% of prospective students expect to get a response from an academic institution within the same day of filling out a form. According to Drift, colleges and universities are 10 times more likely to decrease their chances of a follow-up contact if they fail to respond to prospects’ inquiries within just five minutes.

To ensure that prospective students receive a quick response, you could use chatbots. By using chatbots, admissions representatives would be able to reply to frequently asked questions promptly. Then, if necessary, the conversation can be transferred to a human representative who can provide a more personalized response.

Georgia State University developed the first university chatbot, popularly referred to as “Pounce.” With it, the university recorded 90% student engagement and students got their questions answered within seven seconds, thanks for Pounce’s quick response time powered by artificial intelligence (AI).

Learn more about chatbots in our article “How Chatbots Are Useful in Higher Education Marketing.


5. Connect with Live Streaming and Video Ads

Higher education marketers can make use of video chat for Snapchat, Facebook Live, Periscope for Twitter, and Instagram Stories to market their institutions. You can live stream classes, events, or even Q&A sessions. Live streaming is very effective among Generation Z and can be an effective way to develop strong relationships with prospects.

Studies revealed that the human brain processes videos about 60,000 times faster than text. This makes higher education marketing via video ads very effective. Facebook has more than 1 billion active users, and its newsfeed is ideal for video ads. Research from databox suggests that video ads outperform image ads and result in higher engagement and clicks. Video content requires users to spend more time processing the information that they’re viewing before they continue their scroll, which results in higher click-through rates. Higher education marketers who are looking for the best advertising channels should consider Facebook video ads.


6. Increase Organic Traffic Through SEO

Simply having a website is not enough anymore. If people can’t find it when they conduct a search, you won’t have any visitors. You must improve your website’s search engine rankings if you want to ensure a consistent volume of website traffic. Several reports show that more than 90% of people use a search engine when seeking information on the web.

Here are some common SEO strategies that higher education marketers can adopt this year:

Focus on Less Competitive Long-tail Keywords

Keywords are crucial to any SEO campaign. Colleges and universities must conduct research to determine the best keywords to optimize for, which should then be strategically integrated into web content for effective organic search rankings.

Learn more about keywords in my article “What Are SEO Keywords: Definitive Guide for SEO Keywords.”

Create High-quality Content

If you want to rank for specific keywords, you need to have content and web pages that discuss that topic. Higher education institutions must ensure that the content they feature on their website is well-written and relevant. Think about the questions that prospective students have and what information they are seeking. Create helpful content that answers these questions and it will help you rank well in organic search results.

A popular type of content that higher education marketers can incorporate in their content marketing strategies is a blog. In the next section, I share more information on how to develop an effective blog.

Use Enticing Page Titles and Meta Descriptions

Colleges and universities should use relevant and enticing meta descriptions to attract prospective students to their website. When a prospective student is looking at their search results, the page title and meta description can help convince them to click on your link.

Read our Ultimate SEO Guide for Colleges and Universities.


7. Drive Organic Traffic Using Niche Blogs

Blogs are a crucial component of many content marketing and SEO strategies, and they can be a powerful tool for higher education marketers. Successful blogs can receive a large amount of traffic and the posts can reach a massive audience. Just as companies that blog consistently generate 88% more leads than companies that don’t, much of the same can be said of higher education institutions that keep quiet.

Blogs give higher education institutes an opportunity to showcase their brand and connect with students. When developing your content strategy, think about how you can relate to prospective and current students.

Here are some examples of how blog posts can help academic institutions reach a broader audience:

Admission Blog

Navigating the admission process can be confusing and intimidating for incoming students. They likely have many questions—as do their parents. Create a blog solely focused on admissions and use it as an opportunity to address commonly asked questions and to quell any concerns.

Niche Blogs for Different Departments

Different departments or colleges within your university can launch blogs to showcase their activities. For example, the College of Engineering may want to highlight groundbreaking research projects or their presentations at national conferences. The College of Agricultural Sciences could blog about community projects that they’re involved in, such as local elementary school gardens they maintain or their extension programs.

Guest Posts

Not only can higher education institutes write for their own blog, but colleges and universities can also submit guest posts to other high-traffic blogs to reach a larger or more targeted audience. Due to the nature of the content and the school’s reputation, it is easier for most academic institutions to get their guest posts accepted by blogs.


8. Design Mobile-Friendly Websites

Prospective students begin their search for a college or university online and the first place they visit is often a university’s main homepage. Websites should have effective UX and perform well on both desktop and mobile devices. Users should be able to easily access your content at home and on-the-go, delivering a mobile-friendly experience is crucial. This is particularly important to Generation Z, who is now the target demographic of most colleges and universities.

That’s exactly what Southern Virginia University is doing with its mobile-responsive website that displays well on both desktop laptops and cell phones.

Page speed is a factor that most search engines use to determine a website’s page rank. Search engines, like Google, strive to deliver the best results possible. They know that their users don’t want to visit websites that are slow to load or have a poor user experience (UX). If your website is slow to load, it will negatively impact your search rankings.


9. Communicate with Email Marketing

Some marketers have neglected email marketing, claiming that it is obsolete. This is far from the truth. Email marketing is still very useful and several institutions have begun to adopt this strategy. According to Statista, more than 70% of students said they’d rather get information from colleges and universities via email versus direct mail. However, with cold emailing, the odds are stacked against you as most emails sent to prospective students will go directly to their spam folder.

So how can higher education marketers ensure that their emails won’t go to spam?

Send Personalized Content

Send personalized, segmented, and relevant emails to leads. This has become a proven way to increase your engagement rate and improve overall deliverability. According to a report from Econsultancy, 74% of marketers confirmed that targeted personalization is one of the best ways to improve user experience and boost engagement rate.

Optimize Your Email Program with AI

There are some specialized tools that help higher education marketers identify the best time to send an email to anyone they have sent an email to in the past. Popular email marketing tools like MailChimp, ActiveCampaign, and ConvertKit offer these capabilities.


10. Increase Brand Awareness Using Display Advertising

Digital display advertisements are about 35% more effective than billboards and they can help colleges and universities increase their reach. Banner ads can be placed on high-traffic websites or through the Google Display Network to target prospective students based on their search histories Besides compelling text, banner ads should also include videos, GIFs, and photographs that are likely to attract prospective enrollees.

Here’s an example of Cardiff University’s banner ad displayed in the sidebar of an educational blog.


Start Increasing Enrollment Today

Higher education marketers are always faced with lots of challenges—especially how to increase student enrollment. If these 9 marketing strategies are properly leveraged, they will differentiate you from other universities, helping you to build stronger relationships with current and prospective enrollees. If your marketing strategies need a refresh, the digital marketing professionals at Atlantic Digital Marketing Company can help. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.


How to Communicate Vaccine Requirements to Students

[feat-text]Summary: As the predictably messy fallout from the global COVID-19 pandemic turns the page to a new chapter, higher education is in a conflicted position regarding vaccine requirements. Here’s how schools can reach out to students during this time to assure a safe “back to school.”[/feat-text]

These are strange times, and they keep getting stranger. A gaggle of politicians is moving to prevent universities from requiring returning students to provide proof of vaccination. This comes in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed 3.2 million lives worldwide as of this writing. The numerous vaccines have begun distribution in stages, with those most at-risk receiving them first.

At this point, getting the vaccine is a voluntary act open to most citizens. In most cases, this is a simple matter of scheduling a free shot at your nearest pharmacy. The controversy is over the proposed issuance of a “vaccine passport,” which would certify the holder as safe enough to participate in public gatherings, recreational venues, travel, and other activities previously restricted due to the pandemic.

Some of the states where universities’ (and general) vaccine policies are being challenged include:

  • Michigan: Dual House bills to prevent vaccine passports and prohibiting university vaccine mandates
  • Texas: Governor has banned any tax-funded entity from requiring vaccine passports, including state-funded universities
  • Utah: Governor has signed a law to prohibit any educational institution from requiring a student to show proof of vaccination
  • Florida: Governor has issued an executive order barring businesses from requiring proof of vaccination, but it’s unclear how this applies to universities
  • Montana: Governor has issued an executive order prohibiting vaccine passports
  • North Carolina: is having a debate about this issue
  • Iowa: Is advancing a bill to ban vaccine passports

The logic behind these bans is difficult to follow but seems to be based upon a mixture of concerns about personal liberties, privacy, and health choices. Idaho Governor Brad Little, issuing his executive order banning vaccine passports, stated:

“Vaccine passports create different classes of citizens. Vaccine passports restrict the free flow of commerce during a time when life and the economy are returning to normal. Vaccine passports threaten individual freedom and patient privacy.”


Universities Would Like Students To Be Vaccinated Anyway

On the flip side of this controversy, over 100 schools have announced a vaccine requirement for students. More are being added to that list nearly by the hour. It’s clear that most higher education institutions favor an immunized student base. Moreover, the American College Health Association urges COVID-19 vaccination requirements for all on-campus students beginning in the Fall season of 2021.


We did not expect this to become a politicized issue, but here we are. That’s our American politics, always full of surprises! In the meantime, continuing education students are torn with uncertainty about the future of school health policy. As we mentioned before, the pandemic has already darkened student mental health to crisis levels. On top of the already stressful burden which the pandemic has placed on us all, the last thing we need is a big political fight about ending it.

Universities may not be allowed to require student vaccines – but they can surely, strongly encourage them! If you need to persuade someone to follow a course of action, this looks like the marketing department’s turn to shine. And the going couldn’t be easier, because students are on our side on this issue already

Students Prefer Vaccination, With or Without Passports

Inside Higher Ed publishes a survey by Maguire Associates, taken from over 14K prospective students plus another 5K parents. The survey asked about students’ willingness to attend college when it requires various pandemic safety measures.

To make a long story short: Virtually nobody is opposed to the idea! Requiring face masks on campus is favored by 94.8%, required social distancing is favored by 91.5%, and even requiring a vaccine is opposed by just 14.9% of those students surveyed. Parents of students were a bit more reserved but fell in line mostly with the students on the issue.

The same survey found that students and parents were less enthusiastic about fully online school options, while they were far more optimistic about returning to the full on-campus experience. Finally, 69% said they were entirely comfortable getting a COVID-19 vaccine in any context.

At this point, telling students to get a shot before heading back to school sounds almost like preaching to the proverbial choir. But those numbers are not yet 100%, so there’s still some room for improvement. Most of the stragglers on this issue, in all likelihood, have simply not been informed of all the facts.


Pro-Vaccine Marketing Messages

Here are a few marketing message templates we can use to bridge the gap and inform students of the facts about vaccines.

#1: Overcome Vaccine Hesitancy

Surveys conducted on the general public regarding the vaccine have uncovered a few concerns that lead to vaccine hesitancy. Those who were hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine stated reasons such as:

  • worries about possible side effects
  • lack of trust in its safety and effectiveness
  • concerns that it is “too new”
  • concerns over the role of government in the development process

It stands to reason that people would still need some time to get used to this new vaccine standard. The whole pandemic has left everyone’s nerves jittery. Doubtless, the ongoing conflict between certain political influences and the education and medical industries plays into this. Young people look at stories like how Dr. Fauci and his family were targeted with death threats and think, “The world’s gone crazy, and I don’t know who to trust anymore.”

For school marketing messages, an education campaign about the COVID-19 vaccine will go a long way in quelling those jitters. We have a whole summer to gather surveys and statistics regarding the vaccine’s safety. Of the three vaccines, Johnson & Johnson did hit a snag, but the CDC has cleared it to be reissued. No such issues have cropped up with Moderna or Pfizer.

It is true that the COVID-19 vaccine, being a virus inoculation, provokes mild flu-like symptoms in some recipients for a few days afterward. We’re all seeing everybody tell their vaccine stories on social media. To address this issue, schools can begin their vaccine promotion campaigns early to ensure everyone’s over the effects come opening day.

Overall, an information campaign communicating vaccine facts is crucial for overcoming hesitancy. Universities can reach out through every media channel they have: social media, their own website, university blogs, student ambassadors, and printed information pamphlets.

#2: Unite Students With Hope For Putting This Behind Us

Are we all on the same page in regards to wanting the COVID-19 pandemic to be OVER? Does anybody out there want another year of lockdowns, quarantine, and grim daily statistics? We didn’t think so.

Universities can reach out to the student body with this very empathetic message: “We all want this to be over.” Virtually everyone at this point has at least some distant relative or acquaintance who has fallen victim to COVID-19 to some degree or another. We have experienced a stressful time. Everybody wants closure.

University marketing can target this emotional appeal, urging students to work together to end the plague. Use the example of history, that the world has overcome epidemics before, to ensure students that this, too, shall pass. Young people do respond to a message of idealism and the public good. Lean on their instinct to hope for a better tomorrow.

#3: Use Trusted Messengers

Medical professionals will be an expert voice in ending the pandemic. Universities can access groups such as:

    • Healthcare providers
    • Researchers
    • Civic and community groups
    • Healthcare organizations
    • Large employers


These groups can be recruited as partners to help the university deliver its message of vaccine benefits. As the polls we cited above reflect, medical expert advice still carries some weight with the younger demographic. Teens and young adults naturally seek out medical information online to begin with.

If your school has any medical program or courses, or access to any health professional, get their expert advice on record and include quotes from them in your campaign.

#4: A Little Peer Pressure Never Hurt

The Washington State Department of Health has a PDF pamphlet published regarding social marketing recommendations for the COVID-19 vaccine. In that document, we learn that social marketing identifies tools for promoting behavioral change, such as:

    • Social norms: “Everyone is doing it.”
    • Prompts: Everybody gets busy and distracted; maybe they need a reminder.
    • Commitments: Get people to sign a pledge to do something, and they are more likely to follow through.
    • Convenience: Remove all barriers to getting the vaccine, making it the course of least resistance.
    • Incentives: Providing a perk helps overcome reluctance.
    • Recognition and feedback: A progress statistic like “X% have now gotten the vaccine” or thanking people for helping to flatter the curve, etc.


We use this kind of logic in marketing all the time, and it’s the kind of template we have used in things like WWII scrap metal drives and getting out the “Rock the Vote” message every election.

Influencers and student ambassadors can be two valuable channels for selling the “social norm” angle. Influence and peer marketing are powerful ways to reach those students who wouldn’t listen to an authority figure.

RELATED: Student Ambassadors: A Marketing Strategy to Increase Enrollment



Given that the COVID-19 pandemic has dominated world news for more than a year now, one would think that a vaccine against it would be the hottest fad since fidget spinners. To be sure, we do see a massive amount of users on social media posting their vaccine experience. In fact, experts had to advise people not to post their vaccine cards online, for data privacy. Why would people do this anyway? Because of that “social norms” factor. A vaccine card is the “I voted” sticker of the pandemic. Tap into those instincts to create campaigns that rally your student body to get vaccinated.

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What Traditional Universities Can Learn From Online Schools

[feat-text]Summary: The 2020s pandemic pushed students out of the classroom and onto a laptop at home, shoring up the previously questionable reputation of online courses. Now that the proverbial genie is out of the bottle, some students might be reluctant to head back to campus. How can traditional higher ed stay in competition with online universities, and how can marketing reflect that strategy?[/feat-text]

We all have to face one sobering fact: We should have seen this coming. Even though the COVID-19 pandemic catalyzed bringing online schools to the foreground, that wave was a long time coming. EdSurge pegs the year at 2010 when the earliest Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) emerged. Internet-based educational options have ever since been growing to compete with traditional higher education institutions. COVID-19 just gave them a niche in history to propagate.

We should have seen this coming because the tech revolution of the past few decades has purged whole industries as remote digital equivalents replaced them. Take the movie theater industry, for example. Actor Jim Belushi recently polled his audience on Twitter, asking if people are willing to head back to movie theaters after the pandemic. Responses are very mixed, but a substantial percentage responded that they’re perfectly cozy at home streaming their Netflix, HBO, Disney, and Paramount services.

Like the various entertainment industries, higher education may undergo its own evolution. But the comparison is different this time because education isn’t just a matter of media. The full campus experience is difficult to replace with digital analogues, even though a classroom lecture is easy to reproduce over Zoom.


Pros and Cons of Remote Learning

In January of 2019, Inside Higher Ed covered a report which concluded that fully online education doesn’t effectively substitute for a traditional in-person experience. A few of the issues with online learning are stated as…

  • Employers perceiving online degrees less favorably than traditional degrees
  • Skepticism of online education compared to face-to-face education
  • Students from disadvantaged backgrounds under-performing
  • Online education failing to reduce costs, offering a lower ROI
  • Reduced student-instructor interactivity decreasing online education’s quality

For-profit, online universities are another factor contributing to pessimism towards online education. As one might expect, for-profit institutions have a “well-established and long record of predatory behavior and compliance troubles.”

Two grains of salt may be prescribed with this report, however. The article itself points out skepticism about the report, with critics citing outdated information and a blanket attitude of condemnation for online learning. And of course, the report predates the COVID pandemic when online learning switched from “optional” to “necessity.”

So much for the “cons.” On the “pros” side, online learning offers:

  • Flexibility – No longer limited by physical campus location or classroom size, students can pick and choose programs that tailor to their field of study
  • Convenience – We all know that taking a class is easier when you can do it from the couch at home
  • Digital accessibility – You can still jump into chat rooms with your fellow students, have virtual study groups, and pick your own schedule for more activities
  • Advantage for the motivated – The self-starter who is well-prepared benefits from not being held back by the slower members of the class
  • Decreased negative social interaction – Students who are disproportionately targeted for their gender, race, or religion may enjoy some protection in anonymity online

We can all think of many benefits that digital technology, in general, provides for the education experience. Indeed, the whole World Wide Web was created to assist academia in the first place. No less than Sir Tim Berners-Lee has called publicly for increased access opportunities for young people, in the form of government-supplied universal broadband by 2030, citing in part the need for access to virtual learning.

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Adopting the Good Traits of Online Learning

If you’re looking for a less wishy-washy take on online learning, look no further than the Harvard Business Review, which has boldly stated that the time for universities to adopt online learning was “long overdue.” This attitude draws a firm line, sorting the universities which will adapt to make digital transformation and technology a central priority and which ones will not – and hence perish.

There is much more to “remote learning” than a mere Zoom lecture, Harvard points out. Cloud computing can warehouse data, virtual SMS assistants are the new classroom tutors, and artificial intelligence can be harnessed to assist in grading assignments and to deliver adaptive content. Some of these services are significantly optimizing student support. Meanwhile, schools that adapt to a more embedded technology role benefit from saving labor on administrative functions.

Furthermore, there are quite a few schools already adapting. The University of Illinois has pounced upon the opportunity to reduce faculty labor using technology, creating a program where thousands of students can pick up an M.B.A. for $22K. Georgia Tech offers a master’s in Comp Sci costing only $7K, currently enrolling 10K students. Universities such as Stanford and Oxford have begun digitizing their libraries for easy student remote access as a service to their online programs. US News lists several more accredited online colleges, and they’re not all for-profit online diploma mills.

How are schools able to afford these competitive rates? We mentioned before things like those chatbots. Well, there’s much more to that story. Chatbots are not limited to those tacky little eCommerce customer service scripts. They are becoming virtual avatars with personalities, using machine learning to become competent at handling admissions, campus tours, and even student counseling.

There’s so much more that is possible when a university integrates technology with its infrastructure. While artificial intelligence systems are expensive to implement, once they are running, they become a tireless, full-time employee who never needs a paycheck nor calls in sick.


Targeting the Online School Audience With Digital Marketing

The summary of all of the above knowledge is to consider that your potential students are doing precisely this kind of research. They are also discovering an online MBA degree from UI for $22K. They are also weighing the pros and cons of remote learning versus the full campus experience.

But we have also seen where a strictly online class is not for everybody. You miss out that way on the hands-on course and lab work, don’t get the luxury of hanging out on campus networking with stimulating peers, and don’t get the full learning bandwidth that in-person class allows. So how do we market to all of these diverse needs?

The answer is easy: Have it your way! Why not offer the best of both worlds? The concept is called “blended learning,” a mixture of in-person and remote delivery where the online portion replaces some of the face time.

National University in La Jolla, California, has a page up with exactly this message. Take an example from there and use it for the first key in your marketing materials:

#1: Be Frank About the Pos and Cons of Online vs. In-person Learning

On the pro side, students may be more attracted to online learning for its flexibility, lower expense, and less need for commuting. Or they may be more attracted to in-person learning for the distraction-free environment, hands-on experience, networking opportunities, and increased guidance.

Tech-savvy students who have high personal motivation may do better with online courses. Students who like learning the analog way or would prefer more guidance in budgeting their time may find that in-person classes work for them. Still, other students may prefer a blend of both approaches. Address all of them and your school’s openness to taking the approach that works best for students.

#2: Offer the Same Perks as Online-only Schools

This is easier said than done, but if your school is at all on track to fully embrace tech innovation, your advertising can echo every single enhancement. Beyond mere “Zoom courses,” you can tout your smart virtual assistants, networked student hangouts, supplemental materials on campus blogs and YouTube channels, bustling online campus culture, and so on.

Don’t forget to compete on the price point too. We hesitate to advise you to start placing dollar amounts in every ad like a used car lot would, but students should be aware that if they are getting a pared-down experience through a monitor, they should expect to get the savings passed on to them as well. Remember, your online courses have no limit on size; you can enroll more students and make up the tuition discount in volume.

#3: Offer Something That Online Schools Can’t Match

Of course, you can also compete with online-only schools by offering something they don’t have: a campus! For those students who prefer an in-person or blended approach, your physical university facilities still provide that advantage.

One should note that certain fields are more suited to online learning than others. You’ll find many online-only computer science courses because being on the computer counts as a hands-on experience there anyway. Likewise, an MBA program doesn’t lose much when taught remotely; the spreadsheets and accounting parts are used on a computer regardless. But there are other pursuits, such as the performing arts or medical courses, which benefit from in-person instruction and lab work.

So you can broadcast a course portfolio that encompasses the spectrum from remote-only courses to in-class and hands-on instruction, plus the options that offer a blended approach. If you have made it this far in the pandemic, you have already partially adapted to offering more technology-based instruction methods. There’s no reason to throw them out after the pandemic has ended.

#4: Address Student Motivations in Learning

This generation of students views “learning” as something accessible anytime, anywhere, right on their phone. Their motivation in going to university is to get that degree and the career assurances that come with it. PwC, UK, has a report on the 2018 Digital University which points out…

“Students increasingly see universities as the main means of securing their future employment, rather than simply learning and self-development. The value proposition for universities is therefore changing, and this means that employability and the student experience is more critical than it has ever been.”

In other words, students don’t necessarily equate a lack of continuing education with a lack of knowledge. In many ways, the Internet functions like the world’s biggest encyclopedia, all free. Their attitude is, “If you don’t know it, Google it.” They come to university instead for that piece of paper that certifies their official credits for a field related to, hopefully, their career.

Your marketing message can focus on the end goal rather than the journey. True, we will still have students who want the full experience of classroom discussion, debate, guided practice, workshops, and exercises. Not everyone learns the same from just hours of reading text, and even the best book is no replacement for the give-and-take with a spirited professor. Your marketing content can, again, showcase the flexible options for each style of learning.


Conclusions: The Hybrid School

This article at Visible Body speculates on the future of higher ed, concluding that a hybrid approach, the blended learning model, will become the standard model for universities. That’s one more source forecasting a significant sea change in the education industry.

As we say at the beginning, we should have seen this coming. Science-minded universities have already been offering online options, such as MIT’s Open Courseware project. This is an initiative to publish all of the educational materials from its undergraduate and graduate courses online, where it’s free as rain for anyone to access. Instant class, just add instructor and exam.

Modern students look to the future when they think about school. Your school should do the same and message that vision to potential enrollees.

Interested in improving your college’s marketing and thinking of shifting to an online/in-person hybrid approach to learning? Let us help! Atlantic is a digital marketing agency with seasoned professionals who are eager to help take your higher ed institution to the next level. We specialize in SEO, PPC, reputation management, and everything in between. If you would like to know more about us, click here.


higher education marketing

5 Ways to Bring Your Campus Stories To Life

[feat-text]Summary: The most successful higher education content is built on compelling stories. Students want to see, read, and hear from other students, alumni, and professors and feel a connection. Here are 5 ways to bring your school’s stories to life and engage students. [/feat-text]

So we all know that higher ed institutions are more competitive than ever before, and they have to market aggressively to keep those enrollment numbers up. At the bottom line, you want to win more students to your school. But digital media is saturated by competing interests, including more than a few other schools and non-traditional academic venues, all fighting for the student audience’s attention.

How do you stand out and show that your school is special? You might have to throw out the traditional marketing playbook and adjust your strategy to a new level. What you are doing is trying to engage the candidate audience with your school’s story. Forget the empty marketing copy, and focus on the heart-felt, human-level message. Load your pitch with authenticity and sincerity, and show your personal side, so you’re not just another huge, intimidating institution.

Your marketing buzzword of the day is “brand personality.” You shape a brand’s personality with story-telling. Your school has a brand to sell, so let’s personalize it.


#1: Mastering the Art of Story-Telling

We often talk about creating “engaging content” in marketing, but what do we mean by that? It means that the content is interesting, relevant, and draws the audience in. In this aspect, content marketing is a little bit of an art form. It takes some story-telling skills. Even the most exciting and important story could bore someone if it’s told poorly.

Take the narrators for docu-drama TV series, for instance. All those “true crimes” and “unsolved mysteries” stories have narrators with not only a captivating voice but a script that carefully lays out each detail to intrigue the viewer. They pick and choose which details to reveal upfront and which to hold back. They create suspense here and deliver a payoff there, making a true story as interesting as any fiction.

Even if we aren’t all talented bards, we can follow the same templates they used. Believe it or not, most of the fiction that has ever been written, from Pride and Prejudice to Star Wars, follows one of several basic plot formulas. Here’s one list of seven basic plot structures; which ones seem ready to turn into a college story?

  • Overcoming the monster
  • Rags to riches
  • Quest
  • Voyage and return
  • Comedy
  • Tragedy
  • Rebirth

This is just one theory of templates, remember. Some authors and literary professors will tell you that there are twenty elemental plots. But let’s keep it simple. Here are some college student stories ready-made for these templates:

  • Overcoming the monster: Inspired by the COVID pandemic, a student joins medical school vowing to fight viruses on the research front.
  • Rags to riches: The daughter of first-generation immigrants gets to be the first in her family to attend college and starts her own design company.
  • Quest: A dissatisfied wage earner wants a better career for themselves and seeks a degree.
  • Voyage and return: A youth comes from the ghettos of Chicago to attend law school so he can return home and fight to win justice for the poor and underprivileged.
  • Rebirth: A parent facing an empty nest wants to get to that career, which she put off to raise a family all those years ago.

So we see at least five basic narrative structures, just like real-life stories, that can frame the experience of a higher education journey. When in doubt, copy the literary greats and frame student stories within classical story-telling templates. We do this all the time in marketing; even a 30-second TV commercial can encompass a short narrative. We use these story structures to connect with the audience. We are engaged in a story by identifying with the characters and situation.

Keep this story-telling framework in mind through the rest of this article. This is the core of your story-telling marketing strategy; the rest is more about producing it.


#2: Using Video To Show and Tell

Video has become the dominant content format on the web, which is why YouTube itself is the Internet’s second-most-used search engine. More video content is uploaded to the Internet in a month than three decades of network television. Especially among the young adult audience, video content connects more than other media formats.

So put this together with the story-telling factor: Lights, camera, action! The most engaging way to tell a story is to tell it on video. Universities are already set up for video marketing opportunities, such as:

  • Student and alumni testimonials
  • Interviews with campus staff
  • Tours and virtual open house events
  • Showing the student point of view in a “day in the life”
  • Recording lectures and capturing in-class activities or projects
  • Videos of guest speakers and presentations
  • Documentation of extra-curricular activities


As the rise of platforms like TikTok has shown, you don’t need Hollywood blockbuster production standards to create a relatable video. Students are already swapping gigabytes of video captured with any pocket phone. It’s more important to join this exchange now than worry about fancy editing and production design.


#3: Letting the Students Tell the Story

We all know that social media rose in popularity this century to dominate the world’s attention. What we don’t all often note is that there’s an important lesson there. Social media would not be possible without users who were eager to share themselves online. Therefore, we’re all driven to speak our minds online. We all love an audience!

The youngest generation is no exception. They spend more time engaged in social media than previous generations. To them, live-streaming your life in-between watching others’ live streams is a natural lifestyle. Take advantage of this innate drive to create and share, and work with students to develop user-generated content about your school. You can share everything from spirited student shenanigans to documented curriculum projects on your marketing channels. Here are some more ideas:

  • Your school website can feature embedded user-generated content, even up to hosting student video blogs.
  • Your school should have a YouTube account cranking out content routinely.
  • The school Instagram account can be an accessory for broadening your reach
  • The best user-generated content can even be used as testimonials within Facebook Ads

There are several points to using user-generated content in your marketing. Your audience will see that you trust your students to do the talking. They will see that on your campus, students have their own voice. Peer-produced content carries much more weight with them than P.R.-produced marketing. Most of all, student-produced content makes the story of your campus and the accomplishments of the students come to life.

Learn more about creating user-generated content for higher ed.


#4: Staying Current With New Tech and Apps

Keeping up to date with the latest in big tech news seems a Sisyphean task. But staying current with electronic media is a necessity for any kind of digital marketing. Jumping onto a new platform early gets you noticed more. You’re better off if you beat the competition and get your message pushed to the front.

@universityofgaWhere do you like to hit the books, Bulldogs? ##BeKind ##fyp ##college ##uga ##tiktokuniversity♬ original sound – UGA

Just in the past few years, we’ve seen the rise of:

  • Snapchat
  • Twitch
  • TikTok
  • Clubhouse
  • Zoom
  • Caffeine
  • Houseparty
  • Telegram

The list goes on and on, with tens of millions of users per platform. Some of these channels are good for content marketing. Others are better suited to digital ads. A few are ideal for creating things like integrated messaging features on your campus website or using them as a chatbot platform.

You want to go where the students are going, so pay attention to what they run and use daily. Students are often the first to try out a new app, so you’ll have to keep an eye on the changing social media and app landscape. Once you find a good fit, join the conversation and add value. Don’t just spam people with ads or marketing junk. You want to have authentic conversations, which leads us to our next point:


#5: Caring About What Students Care About

Back in step #1, we talked about common plot frameworks for stories. But every story has a character, and every character, if they are an active agent in that story, has a motivation.

What is your students’ motivation to continue their education? Many will simply answer “to advance my career, duh,” but that’s not necessarily the only motivation. If it were just about trying to acquire wealth, they’d all be home investing in Bitcoin. Clearly, we’d all prefer to make money while following our passions. That is our motivation!

What do your students care about? What issues do they find to be the most pressing? What if they want to change the world? What is it about the world that needs changing?

So when we tell our story about the school or the student, make sure we also highlight the other motivations for students to pursue a brighter future. Your alumni success story and student testimonial don’t have to focus on just the bigger paycheck. Remember those other quest objectives in the narrative.

  • The students who want to research alternative energy or other environmental progress
  • The future social workers and politicians who want a world without poverty
  • The socially conscious who want an equal voice for all
  • The medical student who wants to nip those future pandemics in the bud

These are the students with the most compelling stories. Your message can be more than just “we helped this student succeed,” but “we helped this student make this a better world for all of us.” That can be your school’s call to action. If you have any programs and courses related to solving problems in society, your school is doing something to help society progress.

Appeal to that troubled young mind out there and ask them to join you in your journey to a brighter future.



Why don’t we see more schools using a more engaging, emotional message in their marketing? It might be that traditional marketing doesn’t always work at this level. You can’t pluck a lot of heartstrings trying to sell most products. By contrast, schools are in the business of selling the future, spreading the enlightenment to fight for all that’s fair and just in the world, and yet they’re often stuck marketing themselves like a pack of cigarettes. Your higher education institution needs to find a digital marketing partner that understands your unique challenges and the natural advantages you can use to promote your business.

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7 Marketing Strategies to Prevent Summer Melt and Keep Students Enrolled

[feat-text]Summary: It’s easy to get student commitment in the fall, winter, and spring. But along comes summer, and the drop-off rate begins. Summer melt doesn’t have to be inevitable![/feat-text]

We made it to the spring of 2021, and summer is just around the corner. We’ve all been through a lot, with the COVID-19 pandemic and its accompanying recession still casting a tall shadow over our futures. Even as vaccinations are finally coming through, some challenges remain in higher education and for young adults that may impact enrollment next year. At this time of year, a top concern for most academic institutions is summer melt: a syndrome where up to one-fifth of students don’t follow through on their college plans.

On top of the many difficulties we’ve faced this year, higher ed may have the “perfect storm” for a summer melt.


Understanding Summer Melt in Higher Ed

The tendency for students to drift away from their educational track over the summer occurs for several factors, but the most important one is financial uncertainty.

It hits home when they have to file a FAFSA, which is a daunting piece of paperwork for those from lower and middle-income households, especially for first-generation college students. In addition, they may have low to zero support from family and peers when it comes to navigating the transition to college life. Sure, they graduated high school and have been approved to continue their education, but it’s been a tough time of change and uncertainty all the same.

Factor in the effects of the pandemic, which has brought student mental health to an all-time low. It’s not just the pandemic but the economic uncertainty that comes with it. Which industries will survive and which ones will fold? How can you bank your future on a career path at a time like this? All the dreads, doubts, and “what-ifs” loom greater this year than ever before in recent memory.

So our challenge is to fight against the tide of pessimism. This summer might be the time when higher education marketing has to work harder than ever before to keep students engaged and committed to enrolling or coming back for their next semester.


#1: Keep Students Engaged on Organic Social Media

Students may be out of your influence sphere when they’re not on campus, but you can bet your bottom dollar that they’re not giving up their phones. Pew Research pegs mobile phone saturation at 97% of the population. Pew’s 2021 Social Media Use in 2021 report says most 18-to-29-year-olds use Instagram or Snapchat, and about half use TikTok. If you want to stay in touch after they graduate high school, social is a prime channel to use.

Summer melt happens partly because young adults lose touch with the excitement of shaping their futures. They no longer have access to teachers and guidance counselors to keep them focused. They stop mentally identifying themselves as “students” and start looking for summer jobs. They may get distracted by other opportunities, or financial concerns can creep in. Both may steer them towards different career paths.

Social media can be the bridge for your school to reach out and keep that mental tether. As soon as students are accepted, invite them to follow your school’s social media channels. Use this environment to highlight future opportunities. Feature alumni testimonials and interviews that will help them envision a successful future at your school. Spotlight programs and activities, showing off the fun side where possible. Keep the hype going for three months.

Engaging students on social media is something we hope you’re already doing. If not, it’s essential this year.


#2: Create Social Media Ad Campaigns Targeted At New Students

This is definitely the year where you want to reach out through every channel possible. For those students who don’t follow your school’s social media channels, you can still stay present in their minds using social media and display advertising. On Facebook and Instagram, you can use student email addresses to create a custom audience. These hyper-targeted audiences allow you to tailor your ad messaging to specific barriers or pain points that might lead to attrition.

Don’t let students wrestle with difficult decisions alone; use advertising to let them know that support is available. You should meet all their doubts and concerns head-on.

  • Don’t know how to fill out FAFSA and other forms? We can help.
  • Are you worried about transitioning to campus life? Here are our resources for new student initiation.
  • Have questions about enrollment, tuition, housing, or pandemic safety? Here’s our hotline.
  • Still feeling uneasy about taking this big step? Our student ambassadors know just how you feel!

The common thread we’re going to be emphasizing this year is “support.” Student attrition happens in the first place because students are frustrated with the challenges facing them and feel like there’s nowhere to turn. Do everything you can to make committing to college feel like the path of least resistance.


#3: Partner Students With Mentors

As we mentioned above with student ambassadors, this is the year to push the hardest, keeping all hands on board. You can never have too much one-on-one support. Marshall all the forces you have from ambassadors, tutors, mentors, and counselors to evangelize your campus.

We’re not indulging in hyperbole with the word “evangelize,” either. Forbes will tell you all about “brand evangelists,” the super-fans of a brand that will market it most enthusiastically. Take a page from that article and copy it to your mentor program. Your student mentors can likewise:

  • Inspire them: Be a role model and show prospective students what’s possible at your school.
  • Support others with their knowledge: Teach and instruct students on how to succeed at school.
  • Be genuine and personal: Use grassroots tactics to motivate students to persist in their education plans.

For example, students might express being discouraged because of all the trouble going on in the world right now. A mentor can counter that with the old saying, “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.” The events of a pandemic, a flailing economy, and various other natural disasters point to the greater need for graduated professionals. Inspire them to be the change the world needs.

In a difficult situation, the most significant difference between somebody who pushes through and somebody who gives up is confidence. Many students quit over the summer because of their fear of failure. Have your mentors switch those students into the mindset of “with this wind at my back, I can’t fail!”


#4: Address Common Barriers to Continuing Education

Your content marketing, meanwhile, should also focus on overcoming resistance to continuing education. You have to consider elements such as the fact that first-generation college students may not have the support at home to launch their educational careers. Let’s be frank; some kids have less of a home than others. They may need help navigating the transition to college life, applying for FAFSA, or finding housing.

Reach out with an empathetic message to underprivileged students. Create content that alleviates their concerns. Via university blogs, YouTube channels, and other media, you can create a workshop environment where students can find support to walk them through the steps of negotiating college sign-up and orientation.

#5: Use SMS and Chatbots – They Work!

It’s hard for adults past a certain age to appreciate how well students respond to automated prompting. We older folk might consider text messages and scripted chatbots to be trivial, something we dismiss.

For the younger generation, even automated messages serve as motivating prompts. They have already gotten used to relying on Google to find information for them, Wikipedia for deep learning of topics, and peers on social media for mutual support. Reminders to complete a goal becomes just one more convenient service to them. Research has shown that 86% of today’s students report that text messages prompted them to tackle a task.

A similar effect can be found in the concept of “gamification,” which is the application of video game concepts to a non-game context. It may sound silly, but applying a score and achievements to mundane tasks helps students finish the tasks. Logically, we know that we don’t get three points per folded shirt when putting away the laundry. But psychologically, the human brain is hardwired to respond to any validation, even the artificial kind.

So… Our SMS and chatroom robots can be the motivating avatar in a student’s life:

  • Send reminders about approaching deadlines
  • Augment email communication with short prompts
  • Use chatbots for 2-way communication, allowing them to respond to queries
  • Provide phone numbers and links where students can reach out for more assistance

Remember not to use SMS and chatbots for trivial messages or irrelevant content. Focus on helping them navigate the most significant hurdles and give them just enough nudges to stay on the right path.


#6: Reach Out With Other Automated Marketing

Email marketing is another crucial channel you can use to anchor students to the back-to-school mindset. This is a separate channel from SMS; text messaging is for brief prompts and essential reminders. Reserve email for more engaged communication.

Modern email marketing automation software can be scripted in advance, personalizing the emails to address students by name and track their individual progress on their commitment. We’ve all gotten these from various services we’re signed up for, be it online shopping or whichever service we use to file taxes.

Use the script to keep students informed of their next steps in the process. It can also be a marketing channel of an introductory nature.

  • have a “meet the professors” email with thumbnail bios
  • offer a student orientation package
  • share testimonials from alumni
  • send program information and schedules
  • share links to tutorials for submitting financial aid forms
  • Preview new campus features and attractions

Whenever a student does complete a milestone in the enrollment process, follow up with that congratulatory email and offer to show them the next step. Keep that momentum going.


#7: Build An Enrollment App

Everybody and everything these days has an app. Building a custom app is a considerable undertaking, but picture the benefits. An app is an ultimate anchor in the student’s life. They install the app on their phone. You can ignore a text message, but you have to uninstall an app.

Your app can have:

  • a checklist and schedule for completing enrollment steps
  • prompts for admissions deadlines and financial aid submissions
  • student housing information and points of contact
  • menus for class and course selection
  • invitations to student orientation events
  • support chats with an enrollment counselor

You can draw inspiration from “Mission: Admission,” a digital college enrollment simulator developed by USC Pullias Center for Higher Education’s Digital Equity in Education team in partnership with USC’s Game Innovation Lab. Once again, it’s a way to psychologically appeal to students native to the video game mentality. Higher education is foreign turf to a young student, but couching it in terms of digital breakpoints and achievements brings it into a familiar headspace for them.



Hopefully, this gives you a few ideas on how to keep students engaged this summer. Looking back over the above plan, the one important factor we want to come back to is “support.” Make everything as easy as possible for the student. Be ready with an answer to every “what if” concern. Offer the students your dear sweet time through every resource you have. We’ll see if that summer melt doesn’t turn into a freeze!

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Ultimate SEO Guide for Colleges and Universities

[feat-text]Summary: Our complete one-stop guide for search engine optimization for the higher education industry. We drill down to the essential components of an effective SEO strategy that will get your university website noticed on the web.[/feat-text]

Prospective students are searching the Internet for college, program, and career information. To position your university as a voice of authority and expertise, you need to rank highly for prospective student’s top questions and draw as many of those searches to your site as possible.

This article presents the complete higher-ed search engine optimization (SEO) playbook in one place and shares the essential elements of creating an effective SEO strategy.


SEO: Every Strategy Needs a Plan

Developing an SEO and content marketing strategy for a whole university is a considerable project. To make sure your effort isn’t wasted, you need to formulate a plan that best meets your goals. So what is a school’s goal in attracting search traffic to their website? On the surface, you might just say “to drive more enrollment,” but you can focus your campaign on subsets of that broad general goal.

Possible university goals in an SEO campaign:

  • Increase enrollment in select programs
  • Increase brand awareness and visibility of a new program
  • Change the focus market to attract more of one demographic
  • Stay competitive with other universities
  • Boost the school’s image and manage its reputation
  • Promote a new location or feature
  • Attract more funding from potential donors

For each goal, you should have in mind a target audience. If you’re opening a new branch, perhaps there’s a market that has been under-served before, and now they need to know about this new opportunity. Or if there’s a “silicon prairie” tech boom going on in your town, you may want to emphasize your engineering and STEM programs.

Keyword Research: Search For Searches!

Nothing gives you insight into creating ideal website content like seeing how people search the web. If only there were a “search engine for searches”? Well, these kinds of resources do exist. Some starting points:

  • AHrefs: SEO analysis tool, close to the industry standard
  • SEMRush: A more feature-filled SEO analysis tool, very close competitor
  • Google Search Console: Better for analyzing the traffic you get already
  • Ubersuggest: A keyword suggestion generator
  • Answer the Public: A search snooper which pulls up whole questions people search on a topic

Our goal with these is to find out what our audience is searching for, and then write to position content so it is a response to that query. Searches about tuition costs can be answered with a full fee schedule and links to financial aid. Searches about career prospects from a degree or course can be answered with testimonials from alumni about their ongoing career success. Whatever the query is, you want to have a web page that provides the answer.

Search is Evolving

It is important to note that SEO keyword practices have changed drastically over the years. As Google continues to update its algorithms and introduces artificial intelligence methods to facilitate better results, the new standard is “semantic search.” This is a step beyond parsing the raw keywords to parsing the most likely user intent for a search. You can now type in a general question the same way you would ask a human…

  • “Where can I watch Godzilla vs. King Kong?”
  • “How many calories should the average adult consume in a day?”
  • “What is the average airspeed velocity of a laden swallow?”

…and get a web page that answers that exact question. For this reason, you don’t have to worry about including lists of exact text keyword phrases in every blog post. That is a very outdated method and produces content that no one would want to read anyway. Instead, provide comprehensive information on a topic using natural language, and Google will pick up the idea from there.

Note that Google also has a standard for certain industries, encapsulated in the acronym “E-A-T” for “expertise, authority, and trust.” The E-A-T standard mostly applies to important issues and high-stakes industries, like medical, legal, and financial information. Google started doing this when the web at large circa 2015 became riddled with fake news and quackery. It’s trying to weed out bad faith advice from dodgy sources with an agenda.

As a university, you should strive for high-quality content which is factually correct and thoroughly researched. Google values content by how useful it is to searchers.

The Taxonomy of Keywords

You can break down keyword searches into general groups. Some of these categories might overlap in one search, but it’s still helpful to think of them when writing targeted content.

  • Broad searches: “high-ranking universities” – these phrases are likely to have some hot competition for clicks on the web already.
  • Long-tail searches: “campus cafeterias that serve halal or kosher food” – far narrower searches that are rare but also under-served make an excellent opportunity to claim a niche.
  • Informational: “What niche scholarships are available?” – the user wants to learn something in general.
  • Navigational: “Medical degree near me” – the user is looking for a med school program near their home, which Google will recognize for their location and provide nearby results.
  • High transaction intent: “Sign up for fall classes” – the searcher is ready to commit this instant. This is also a highly competitive search category.

Some searches can fall into multiple categories. Take an example like “school with the best COVID safety measures on campus.” This might be a prospective student who is seeking out information using a longer-tail query.


Create Compelling Content

Now we’re going to want to address those keywords and search queries in our content. That content can take the form of blog posts, comprehensive web pages, press releases, editorial content in leading magazines, and sometimes even support from linked social media profiles.

You’re clearly not the only university trying to draw enrollment candidates. So, how do you compete, especially with a domain that isn’t well-established or has lacked much content up until now? Here are some strategy tips:

  • Create long-form, in-depth content that beats shallow, low-bandwidth content.
  • Aim for the question that you, yourself, cannot find answers to.
  • Create robust resources that fill an information void and draw backlinks, which can help increase your rankings.
  • Stay aware of the latest trends and news and write to what people are searching for.
  • Find the sweet spot between general, broad keywords and narrow, lower-volume keywords.
  • Don’t write just to write. Create content that helps people.
  • Google ranks your content based on quality standards that look at your authority and expertise on a topic. Always keep E-A-T in mind.

Remember also that we’re not just writing for the students, but for the guardians and peers of those students, such as teachers, counselors, and parents.

Improve Your Writing Quality

For the longest time in the SEO field, we used to tell people, “you don’t have to be Earnest Hemingway here; any half-capable hack can grind out content that keeps Google happy.” But now? We hate to gatekeep, but writing quality standards have come up a notch as compared to, say, the 2005 web. It might be beneficial to hire a pro-writing team or at least an editor to refine the copy. Let’s go over our quality content standards so far:

  • Adjust your reading level: Determine the most appropriate reading level for your audience, and use tools like Readable to make sure you’re writing to that level.
  • Write for people first: The best way to appease Google is to write for people first. l
  • Be concise: While we want comprehensive content, it shouldn’t be rambling and hard to understand.
  • Mind that grammar: It counts.

Now that we have all that covered so far, we need to talk about user engagement. We could meet all of the above standards and still not produce engaging content. We could instead create a dull, droning, great wall of text. Nobody wants to be put to sleep by reading copy unless it’s actually bedtime.

The most boring topics can be made engaging with a gifted enough writer. For instance, “the history of operating systems” sounds like something you’d read just to pass an exam and then never think about again. But along comes Neal Stephenson, author of In the Beginning was the Command Line. Bookmark it to read at your leisure sometime. Neal Stephenson has the advantage of being an accomplished science-fiction novelist, so he knows both how to wrangle a tech topic and sling a few good words around. His essay brings the topic to life with metaphors ranging from used car lots to Disneyland, with plenty of humor and a first-person layman’s perspective.

So we’re not all Neal Stephenson, but we have an example to aim for. We’re not all Earnest Hemingway either, but there is a Hemingway text grading app. It’s becoming easier to write well.

User XP is Important

The other half of engaging content is simply breaking up that wall of text into usable, digestive chunks. We do this through a well-formatted layout, using headers, subheadings, bullet points, collapsible sections, and the occasional image to illustrate a point. Doing so enhances our user experience.

This web page is an excellent example of formatting an important topic for easy digestion. Note the collapsed, clearly labeled sections. Clicking on a section expands that content with sections, lists, and links. This technique allows you to create comprehensive web pages that include all relevant information, but it’s easier to use. Instead of scrolling to the section a user needs, they can go straight there by clicking on the heading.

Additionally, you might consider including anything that clarifies the information, such as a chart, infographic, or FAQ (frequently asked questions) section.


Use Good Website Structure for Web Search Optimization

Now that we have user XP settled let’s try to make the page easier for our other user: Google’s web-crawling bots. The two steps work hand in hand because Google reads page titles and subheadings, too, using them as markers to indicate topic focus, essential parts of content, and so on. The WordPress plugin Yoast is suitable for handling lots of these details for blog posts.

There is much more to think about when it comes to the technical aspect of SEO, which is best to take up with your website maintainer.

  • Your website structure: You want robust interlinking, descriptive URLs, and easy navigation.
  • Your website speed: Google is penalizing slow sites now
  • Your mobile-friendliness: Google ranks mobile-friendly sites ahead of sites written mainly for desktop and laptop

Website structure has to take into account not just us Internet-savvy folk, but people who may be elderly, impaired, in a hurry, not paying much attention, or just not that adept at this whole Internet thing. This includes those of us with fat fingers struggling to tap a link on a phone screen. To have a good website structure, you need at the minimum:

  • A sitemap: Most online CMS come with this by default now
  • Categories and tags: Use them correctly, be careful not to generate duplicate content with one-hit tags or sparse categories
  • Navigation tools: Menus, sections, breadcrumbs, pagination widgets, archives, and more – “redundant” here is just barely enough
  • Lost user recovery: A site search feature and useful 404 pages that help the user find what they are looking for
  • Regular site audits: Nobody likes doing them, but they are essential for huge websites

University websites tend to be bulky. There are dozens of different departments, student blogs, professor blogs, campus news and announcements, school policy, contact points for recruitment, and more. Managing all that information is a challenge not to be underestimated.

As for site speed and mobile friendliness, there are a couple of points to address on the back-end:

  • Consider upgrading and maintaining your server or hosting plan to accommodate traffic.
  • Keep your image and video files small! This is the easiest way to increase your page loading speed.
  • Use accelerated mobile pages (AMP) for blog mobile-friendliness.
  • Audit and upgrade your website to adhere to Google’s new Core Web Vitals standards.


Build a Strong Back Link Portfolio

A backlink is when another website links to your site. It’s an important signal to Google, telling it that other users find your site helpful. Getting more links is called “link building,” and there are right and wrong ways to do it.

The wrong way is to try to buy backlinks or engage in other dodgy schemes to generate a false site reputation. Google knows all these tricks and penalizes you for them.

The right way to get backlinks requires some patient diligence. While universities are blessed with “.edu” domains, which Google naturally ranks highly, your main issue is competing with other universities. Higher ed has turned ruthlessly competitive. Small schools struggle to keep up with massive Ivy League institutions, as well as having their taillights chased by non-traditional remote education resources that have thrived during the COVID pandemic.

Here are the top three ways schools get links:

#1: Get in the News

Universities are naturally engaged with their local community, industry, and academic community. You have connections with government and industry partners, which you can leverage to your advantage. No municipal government was ever reluctant to promote their home campus, so you have a natural ally there. Beyond that, you can build up links from initiatives and programs between your school and collaborators.

  • Industry and tech partnerships: Your STEM department should have a friend or two in business, possibly in a start-up incubator
  • Partnered scholarships: Work with special interest groups, donors, alumni, and industry partners
  • Community outreach: Any charitable activity or support for the social infrastructure is worth a headline or two
  • Conferences: Whether it’s a professor heading to a tech talk or an art student giving a presentation at TEDx, make sure it’s publicized
  • Competitions: Any department you have which enters students in science fairs, blog-o-thons, hack-a-thons, and so on

Any of the above, such as tech companies, competition headquarters, or conference guides, will have their own website to link back to you. More likely than not, they will have great Google ranking authority themselves. A busy school is a well-linked school.

#2: Publish

Universities are a natural for publishing white papers, RFCs, research findings, exhibits, etc. Ideally, you should either have a university PR department or some eager students who want some experience in media. Work with them to issue press releases, post blogs, manage social media, or publish campus magazines or newsletters.

Any content you release is fair game for a backlink, especially from industry partners in the same field. This is where your content can serve a dual purpose; being good SEO search bait on your site and being linkbait from allied websites and social media accounts.

Now, what if your usual activity isn’t getting a lot of backlinks? Perhaps it is a bit general and other universities have the same news to report. However, what if you move into a niche with less competition? This is a tip from the blogging community, where bloggers at other websites are constantly seeking out long-tail information in tiny niches you would never think come up.

Does your school have any research departments? Can you do a study and aggregate data from other research resources? Can you take an existing study and make a graph or chart about it? Do you have an expert who can break down a complex topic and explain it in simple English? When paired with hard data that other authors can link to for a citation, these are all good ideas that can be your next ticket to a surprisingly lucrative backlink.

Try finding data that isn’t well-addressed on the web, especially for new fields that didn’t exist ten years ago. What are the exact effects of vaping, and what chemicals matter there? How are social media apps shaping youth’s social interactions? What effect are streaming services having on the satellite and cable TV industry? What became of the Hong Kong protests against China? Dig into today’s headlines, find a hot story, and link research A to story B.

As a backup, you can always be an original information resource for interviews. The next time there’s a big news story that has everyone arguing, look for an opportunity to partner with an expert in that field. Sitting down with a professor for a fifteen-minute chat is a better source of information than 90% of what the web has to say. If you can create content that debunks a common myth or shoots down a spurious claim, you’ll be in a better position to attract more backlinks.

#3: Guest Posting

Guest posting is just like regular publishing above; only you do it on somebody else’s site. Even though guest posting is a shopworn method of getting backlinks, it still works. SEMRush reports that there are still sites benefiting from guest posts, with more than half of surveyed respondents saying they use guest posts.

So send your best professor off to another site and have them guest-post. There is some etiquette to observe here:

  • Pick a site that is not only an excellent authority to link to you but will actually benefit from your content.
  • They get the SEO; you get the backlink. Make sure your pitch takes into account that the site would benefit from your content. Think hard and come up with a related topic or angle they haven’t covered yet.
  • Still, remember that they are doing you a favor.
  • Inquire once, then follow up if no answer after a week or two, then move on. Many site maintainers are simply too busy.
  • Do send your best and brightest! Don’t make the website owner go through all this for a junk, fluffy article.

Whatever you do, do not turn in a broad, general article about the host site’s topic. They have ten blog posts on their core topic already. Perhaps even ask the site editor what they would like to see. Every site editor has that one piece on their wish list that they can never get around to doing themselves. They’ll jump at the chance to complete it now that they have a university research department and a professor at their disposal. In fact, you can produce something outstanding from some collaborations.


Conclusions: Higher Ed SEO is a Tough Game!

Times used to be when colleges barely even thought about marketing. They just went about their business, and the students enrolled because they had little choice if they wanted a degree. The 21st century changed a lot. Remote learning and mobility became substantial driving factors in competition. The Internet now allows any student candidate to research anything about schools and compare them on every metric. Students can afford to be pickier.

Your mission is to prevail in the sea of Internet noise, standing out to today’s attention-challenged youth while presenting your school’s brand identity as an excellent choice for continued education. Hopefully, we have helped you make it look easy!

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SEO vs PPC: How They Work Together to Increase Visibility and Enrollment

[feat-text]Summary: Both PPC and SEO are commonly used marketing strategies. But which one is better for drawing student applicants to the higher education industry? Like many things in life, the best answer is a sensible middle ground.[/feat-text]

There are two schools of thought when it comes to search engine marketing: earned or paid. First, you have search engine optimization (SEO), where you create content hoping to earn an audience from organic Google searches. Then there’s pay-per-click (PPC) advertising where you create an ad unit and buy space on the search engine results page (SERP), without having to claw your way to the top of the organic search queue. Both of these tactics aim to increase visibility on the SERP and attract searchers to your website.

That’s the process in a tight nutshell. SEO and PPC have many factors in common. They’re both dependent on market research, testing, and sometimes the whims of Google updates (or other platforms but we focus on Google here). They both rely on keywords, and both aim to pounce upon the opportunity of a user search to unite their intent with what we’re selling.

Both SEO and PPC are effective strategies for higher education, so it shouldn’t be an either-or situation. When researching a life-changing decision like enrolling in college or continuing education, people head to a search engine to find answers to their most important questions. While other brand-building strategies will help spread the word about your school, if you want to reach a larger market and attract more students, you need to rank highly on the SERP or use Google Ads to claim the top spots.

Let’s take a look at how these two strategies compare and what insights you can learn from individual campaigns that will help you optimize your overall search engine marketing strategy.


Differences Between PPC and SEO

One of the biggest differences between SEO and PPC is that SEO is “free” which PPC costs money. Well, that settles that, you might be tempted to think. Not so fast: SEO is “free” only if you don’t count the grueling man-hours it takes to create that content and plaster it onto a well-maintained website. You have to do the market research, hire the talent, have them crank out pages of content, and then comes the painstaking chore of maintaining a website and keeping it in SEO-friendly shape.

Now you might be tempted to flip over to the other side, saying “Let’s just cut out the middle man and all that time, and go with PPC.” But there are downsides to the PPC route. It, too, requires research and careful creation of ad content, plus unique well-optimized landing pages for each campaign. You may need time to test the ad unit, pull it down, tweak it, and put it back up. There is a misconception out there that PPC ads produce instant results, but that’s not always the case unless you got extremely lucky on the first try. We find that 30 days gives you enough data to optimize campaigns so that they’re performing at their best. Finally, the PPC ad is working only as long as you keep paying the tab. Once you take the ad down, your marketing has disappeared from the web.

SEO content marketing, on the other hand, is everlasting as long as you keep paying the server bill. Write a solid piece of content on a site that’s peaking into top Google ranking, and you have a reliable feed of traffic. SEO is a game where it is tough to claw your way to the top, but once you’re on top, it’s easier to maintain your rankings. From a cold start on a brand new registered domain, you typically need a minimum of six months to achieve first page rankings for target keywords. That figure assumes a less saturated market, at least on the local scale. For highly competitive markets, it could take even longer.


Strengths and Weaknesses: SEO and PPC

In the first place, universities and colleges are naturally adept at SEO. Schools are expected to have a website anyway; in fact, schools were among the first adopters of the World Wide Web. Website domains ending in .edu are also favored by Google as reputable sources of information. Since you likely have a website already, you obviously have some content and an established digital presence to work with. SEO and content marketing, then, is just a simple extension of what you’re doing already.

SEO is good for:

  • Sustained traffic, year in, year out
  • Maintaining visibility—it’s easier to stay at the top of search results once you get there
  • Establishing yourself as an industry thought leader
  • Keeping your brand identity in the public’s mind
  • Long sales cycle where the buyer conducts extensive research

Nobody makes a snap decision about which school to attend; the decision can take months, if not years. During that time, people research different programs, career paths, and seek answers to any questions that arise. When they visit a search engine with their latest question, SEO ensures that your content is found.

As higher education and your student body evolve, you can write more SEO content to answer their questions and concerns regarding tuition and financial assistance, career practicality, compatibility with lifestyle, etc.

But PPC advertising has a few tricks up its sleeve as well.

PPC is good for:

  • Driving fast traffic and leads
  • Adding visibility to under-performing programs
  • Getting new offers out fast, such as new courses or programs, new locations, etc.
  • Keeping high visibility during peak application season
  • Focusing marketing only on segments with the highest conversion intent
  • Buying a seat at the table for highly competitive keywords
  • Having a more nimble marketing campaign that’s easier to adjust for new demands

PPC offers a lot of flexibility. You can test ad messaging and offers quickly, and increase investments in the highest-converting campaigns. If you’re experiencing low enrollment in one program, you can ramp up an ad campaign to try to boost your numbers. You can run several campaigns concurrently, each focusing on a different market sector.

You can tailor your message and keyword strategy to target the raw high school grad, the established professional looking to retool their resume, or the stay-at-home mom who is itching to realize her career dream now that the kids are older.

So which is it, SEO or PPC? No rule says you can’t use both!


SEO and PPC: More Than the Sum of Their Parts

Knowledge, they say, is power. The higher ed industry should be no stranger to that axiom. Marketing, just by coincidence, happens to be highly data-driven. Behind every SEO blog post or PPC ad is a mountain of market research and testing. On top of that, both of the digital marketing wings enable their unique dataset.

SEO and PPC are more powerful when used in conjunction. You can use market research and performance metrics gained from one hand to strengthen the other. The results and feedback you get from either marketing strategy help to refine both approaches. Here’s how they work together:

  • More campaigns give you more data
  • Keyword research metrics from individual campaigns help to optimize the overall search marketing strategy
  • A piece of SEO content that is ranking highly could indicate a growing interest in a new topic, which you could complement with a PPC ad campaign to increase visibility
  • A PPC campaign that is driving high conversion rates can help you refine your SEO content to use that compelling messaging
  • Greater oversight allows you to see your campaign’s strengths and weaknesses, such as opportunities to double-down on a keyword or points where competitors are ahead
  • You can claim more real estate on the SERP, increasing conversions and leads
  • The combined strategies enhance your brand reputation and increase exposure

If you run both PPC and SEO in conjunction, then the two coordinated approaches give you an advantage on both sides. It’s like playing poker where you get to see two hands at the table instead of one. Meanwhile, a strong SEO campaign combined with a steady PPC presence gives you a double shot of brand exposure to your audience. Users figure “well they’re on top all the time, they must be the best.”

You might think that the younger generations, particularly the marketing-jaded Gen Z, would be more skeptical about open, aggressive marketing. But you just happen to be in an industry where perceived marketing power lends to your appeal.

In higher ed, you are selling success. What looks better on your resume: a famous, well-known school or an obscure institution nobody’s heard of? Students are motivated to attend school in the first place to build a successful life. So your very appearance of a thriving status within the education industry enhances your reputation with students, provided your marketing isn’t cranked up to late-night TV infomercial levels.


SEO and PPC: The Smartest Schools Use Both

Check it yourself by searching Google for common phrases related to university marketing. You will see that the top names that pop up, again and again, have both a PPC presence and a website with strong SEO content. They are using both sides of search engine marketing to reach their audience.

In melding the strengths of SEO and PPC, it is first important to understand how each tactic works in isolation, and what data points you can reap from each. Then you can develop a strategy to use both to reach your school’s goals, both in the short and long term. You can continuously optimize your overall strategy as you review marketing campaigns and assess metrics gleaned from A/B testing. It’s the smartest strategy in the digital marketing information arms race.

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5 Ways Colleges Can Improve Facebook Ad Performance

[feat-text]Summary: Is your social media presence feeling more like an absence? Are your Facebook ads sitting in the back of the class? Learn how to do more with your school’s ad budget than just showing up for attendance.[/feat-text]

The main thing to understand about Facebook marketing is that there is organic reach and then paid reach. “Organic” social media presence is the content you post to your page. Your organic reach is always limited to the number of users following you and Facebook’s algorithms. The average organic reach for a Facebook post is only 5.2% of the page’s total likes and can be lower for less active pages. If you have 1000 followers, that means only 50 people saw your latest post. Frustrating to say the least.

Facebook advertising campaigns can help you increase visibility and extend your reach. Now with a paid ad, your school gets served in front of Facebook users whether they follow you or not. When it comes to advertising platforms, it’s tough to beat Facebook since its potential reach is roughly 2.8 billion active users worldwide. The trouble is, everybody else knows that Facebook is a lucrative marketing platform, so they’re on there too.

It’s not enough just to buy ad space, have the art department whip up a square graphic, dump it in there, and hope for the best. You have to make ads pop in the 2020s, and then you have to make them pay off in results. Let’s see what the valedictorian Facebook marketing campaigns do:


#1: Use Outstanding Creative Design

Let’s go over the basic elements of an ad, using the above example. A higher ed ad should have:

  • Brand Identifier: Don’t make them guess who
  • Pitch: Your value proposition
  • Motivational Imagery: Anything that snags their attention or inspires
  • CTA: A “Call To Action” that gives visitors an easy first step

We accomplish all of the above with an authentic, inspiring video and concise copywriting. So you have the basic elements of an effective ad, but how do you make users stop scrolling and pay attention?

You’ll notice that university ads feature photos of people often because higher ed is a people-oriented business. The reader has to be able to identify with the photo’s subject, to think “that could be me.” We are selling the concept of self-improvement, the gateway to a better life. Keep that sense open-ended, because everybody has a different dream, but keep it uplifting and inspirational, because everybody has that one dream unfulfilled.

The ad must also be able to stand out from the crowd. This is why you don’t always want to follow trends in advertising because you end up looking like everybody else. Instead, you analyze what works in successful ads and then come up with your unique spin based on those trends. The audience has seen universities before, but they haven’t seen your university. People can spot a stock photo a mile away. To stand out from the crowd and show what makes your school unique, use original high-quality photographs and video or amplify user-generated content.

Remember that the font, typography, and layout are part of the design, not just the graphic. Your writers and designers should work in concert.

The CTA is your pointer along the desired pathway. Direct students at that first step, making it as enticing as possible.


#2: Market To Mobile

We’re sure this won’t be a shocking news flash, but young people spend a ridiculous amount of time on their phones. We all do. It’s our TV and movie theater through streaming video services, our game console with mobile video games, our office PDA with productivity apps, and of course our chief way to use social media platforms.

Designing for mobile is different from designing for the laptop and desktop. It’s best if you think of mobile hardware as a completely separate device from computers. On the mobile screen, it is important to:

  • Use big fonts and easily recognized images
  • Keep your message quick and skim-able
  • Compress data into simple infographics
  • Use a format that’s best for mobile (for example, vertical video ads)
  • Keep interactive features, such as buttons, thumb-friendly
  • Use color schemes with enough contrast to stand out on a small screen out in daylight

Remember the environment in which your ad will be framed. Facebook surrounding it, with all of its distractions. Readers tend to go “ad-blind” so you have to use your ad space to give them an attractive rest for their eyes for a second. In the middle of a Facebook scroll, you might just be the sole note of a positive vibe amid the latest social media tizzy.


#3: Create Unique Landing Pages For Each Ad Campaign

This is the part that often gets neglected. Some marketers think “We already got them to click through; they’re ours now.” Thinking like that will get you a high bounce rate and no leads.

Whatever you do, don’t just dump visitors on the front page of your website. You need an individual landing page for each ad campaign, and the landing page should look like a visual extension of the ad.

Your campaign should not be a catch-all generic advertisement for your school. Your school caters to individual markets, which demand a unique experience and offer that fulfills their needs

  • You have potential students, or you have parents, mentors, and guides to those students
  • You have first-year freshmen, or you have grads looking for continuing courses
  • You have art majors, STEM majors, budding entrepreneurs, athletes, and academics
  • You have students with motivations ranging from “change the world” to “achieve financial security”

Your landing page copy and imagery should speak to these different types of students, and compel them to take action. The message that works for an all-star athlete likely won’t resonate with an aspiring artist or entrepreneur.

Even with all these differences, your landing pages will always have a few elements in common across campaigns, like your brand identity, mobile-optimized web page design, and some supporting resources like financial aid information.

What to Include on Your Landing Pages:

Now that you have an interested student or parent at your doorstep, they want to know:

  • What courses do you offer? Give a course overview
  • What is the school like? Offer a campus tour, open house, a meet-and-greet with faculty
  • Are students satisfied here? Show testimonials
  • How am I going to pay for this? Link to the financial aid package
  • When can I enroll? Show application timeline
  • How do I start? Provide the next step as another CTA

You might also use this space to answer some frequently asked questions if they come up repeatedly. But you’re best off keeping it minimal and uncluttered since you’re still on mobile. Keep the landing page light on resources so it loads fast and keep the layout responsive and user-friendly.

Not to apply too much pressure, but this step is crucial. You have an interested potential customer here heading down the sales funnel. Put everything you’ve got into closing the deal.


#4: Harness the Power of Video

The higher ed industry is one where customers have to make a strong commitment; attending university is a life-determining event. We’re selling an experience, maybe even something you can think of as an adventure.

When you have a big story to tell, turn to video. Video is favored by advertising algorithms and offers higher engagement rates. Using video, you can guide the potential student through your school’s story, using these kinds of pitches:

  • Brand identity: what makes your school unique?
  • Campus tours: what is a day at your school like?
  • Alumni testimonials: how does your school enable success?
  • Video course plans: what will students learn?
  • Value proposition: why is your school worth the tuition?

You don’t need to make an epic production. A length of between 5 and 15 seconds is typical. That sounds like a short time, but try talking continuously over slides for 15 seconds and you’ll see that you can pack a lot of information in there.

Use Vidoe Engagement to Refine Ad Targeting

Facebook offers robust campaign reporting that allows you to create audiences based on campaign engagement. Facebook will identify which users allowed your ad to play and watched it for a set amount of time. This new audience is more engaged than the initial cold audience who scrolled by your ad and didn’t watch the video.

Using this information, you can create a second “chapter” in your marketing campaign’s story, targeting the more interested, engaged audience.

This full-funnel strategy moves that audience along the path to conversion by offering a compelling and complementary CTA. If they watched a campus tour video or a student ambassador testimonial, what step would they take next? Maybe they’re ready to schedule a campus tour?

The best CTAs follow the customer’s journey and guides them towards their goal: selecting a school. Consider CTAs like submitting an application, scheduling an appointment with an advisor, or requesting financial aid information.


#5: Give Your Marketing Campaign a Final Exam

So, you made one ad campaign, which means you can knock off for the afternoon, right? Oh no, you don’t! Testing isn’t just for students. By testing your marketing campaign, you are applying some science to all this theory. Develop different variations on each campaign, refining it down to the proven most effective message.

Facebook offers tools for A/B testing, which means running a split ad campaign and testing the response from each half. You can try out different visuals, different pitches, different incentives, and different layouts.

What kinds of variables can come up in testing? You may find that the combination of your school, your location, and your target market combine to make one message more appealing than another. Some examples:

  • Driving at financial aid is usually good, but maybe you’re in an affluent neighborhood or appeal to an upscale market that doesn’t worry about fees as much.
  • Maybe you’re targeting STEM students who care more about the rigor of your curriculum and your support for completion, such as hands-on experience, tutors, and mentors.
  • Maybe your school appeals more to the activist mindset and you need to emphasize your commitment to their values and ideals.
  • Perhaps the students in your niche aspire to white-collar professions, and they only care about interviews with your alumni who have gone on to make their mark.

You can see where appealing to the law student in Philadelphia is different from appealing to the creative theater major in Berkeley. Until you test your ad campaign, it’s nothing but a theory with a lot of hot air behind it.

No campaign is so perfect that it can’t be improved through A/B testing and focusing. You’ll get surprising results that may even defy explanation, but there is no way to get to that point without the research. We don’t know why the sign-up form worked better in the center than it did off to the right, or why this shade of lime green for the CTA button beats other colors by a 2.3% conversion rate. But we know what works, so we can put it into action and psychoanalyze it later.


Your Higher Ed Facebook Powerhouse

In the above list, some of these practices are mandatory, while others are worth an experiment or two. We recommend that every ad campaign focuses on mobile, follows through on the landing page, and uses testing to achieve the best results.

Universities are strongly urged to offer a video option because of the nature of their industry, but we still see successful ad campaigns that do without it. Of course, you should make your ad as easy on the eyes as possible, but don’t let that stop you from going for an attention-grabbing aesthetic if testing shows it gets results.

Per ad impression, paid social media marketing on Facebook is still one of the best options for the money. By refining your marketing process, you can be sure to get all the value you can out of your advertising dollar.

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