Ideas, musings and inspirations.

There are multiple approaches to building a successful brand for a college or university. I work with brand specialists, designers, writers and content marketers who all have different opinions on what is important to a higher education brand. But from a search marketing perspective, some of the things I consider most important include brand awareness and reputation. An institution that’s not covering these bases is missing some opportunities.

For each institution, individual goals may be very different: to train leaders or to increase global understanding, for example. But the common link for every college and university is enrollment: filling the seats with engaged students. In order to continue enrolling students, it is essential that the brand is as familiar to their target audience as possible. Let’s take University of Phoenix as an example. In the for-profit higher education space, Phoenix is the best known brand name. As they have marketed themselves as a for-profit school, they continue to attract the audience which is drawn to that market.

For a non-profit school, the set of activities that the marketing team has to do to raise awareness and build reputation is very different from that of University of Phoenix. Here are some guidelines that higher education marketers can use to strengthen their brand awareness and reputation online:

  1. Clear brand focus: A brand should really signify what that institution stands for. As this article in Businessweek puts it very aptly: ‘Your brand is the genuine “personality” of your company.’ Ed Macko, our director of creative brand strategy, does an even better job of explaining what branding is in his post: “The best institutions treat their brand as something more – an ethos – something that represents what they inherently believe. To them the brand represents an ideal, something the world needs more of.” Abiding by branding principles to create a strong brand with a clear focus will help in building the long term reputation of the brand.
  2. Quality website: Website design, architecture and structure should focus on making it easy to find information. The more users have to hunt for the information they want, the more frustrated they will get and the higher the likelihood for them to leave without taking any action. An effective website should also focus on having prominent calls to action. This will make it even easier for searchers to get more information and move to the next step of the process.
  3. Top search rankings: Assuming your brand and website are strong, achieving high search rankings is the next step to gaining success in higher education marketing. It has been proven time and time again that top rankings yield higher traffic results. Multiple studies have shown that the first search engine result receives the most traffic, compared with each of the other nine results on that first page, and the traffic drops off even more on subsequent pages. But, with frequent algorithm changes a search results page has many elements vying for a searcher’s attention. It could be an image; it could be a map listing, etc. Therefore, along with focusing on top rankings, the focus now also needs to be on distinguishing the ranking from all the results on that page.
  4. Distinguishable search ranking: A good quality search snippet will draw people in. First of all, the title and description that describes a search listing should be an accurate representation of the content that it’s leading to. Secondly, with the introduction of rich snippets, it is important to present as much information as you can in that snippet. If you have a blog, you can leverage your bloggers authority by connecting their images with the content they create. It gives a different view of the institution that will set them apart from their peers. Any interesting content that will draw searchers in and create familiarity and comfort with the brand will help to build a strong connection with the searcher.
  5. Content & Social Marketing: No matter what type of content you use to get a prospect’s attention, it’s really important to make sure it all has a purpose. The first step is to create the content and then get the content in front of prospects and users. Blog posts, social media posts, press releases and other public relations activities will all help in generating the type of content that will build overall awareness and reputation efforts. The next step is then to engage users in a dialog and encourage conversations and user engagement.

To learn more about how Elliance helps colleges and universities, visit our higher education marketing services page.

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