Ideas, insights and inspirations.

In times of the coronavirus, higher education marketers can easily get distracted and lose sight of the fundamentals. Included here are 25 timeless higher education marketing strategies that have generated proven growth in enrollment, endowment and reputation for colleges and universities.

Branding

1. Students and faculty, not the institution, are the real heroes of your story
Colleges and universities empower student journeys. Faculty enable students and build institutional reputation.

2. Invest in brand
Know your core promise, values, ideals, distinctions and what you stand for. Articulate your brand value cheerfully irrespective of whether you are a liberal arts college, STEM university, research powered, experiential brand, college of access, online educator or an integrative brand.

3. Speak with one brand voice to all audiences
Strike different notes for each segment of students, faculty, donors and partners.

4. Prove your brand claims
Buyers are smart. Provide proofs in the form of stories, stats and third-party validations.

5. Stand for something unique and let the world know about it
To draw attention you must do something unique. To stand out, here are three things you can do:

  • Become a product innovator in emerging fields of law.
  • Position yourself as a thought-leader in emerging fields of law.
  • Champion a meaningful societal or global cause that is rooted in your institutional core strengths.

Reputation Management

6. Invest in first impressions
Remember you become the story you choose to tell.

  • Tell a better story.
  • Celebrate your star students, alumni and faculty – the kind you want more of.
  • Fortify every touch point – including websites, social media channels, your Wikipedia entry, email signatures, newsletters, tours, information sessions, and all your presentations.
  • Fortify your Google results pages – ensuring the information that appears on search engine results is persuasive and inviting.
  • Make your facilities and grounds beautiful because beauty engenders confidence.

7. Claim your keywords on Google
If you are ranked on US News & World Report, then secure your Google rankings too. Don’t surrender top search rankings for your star programs to lead aggregators and commoditizers.

8. Transform your flagship university publication to a print/digital hybrid publication
Reimagine your print university magazine as a print/digital hybrid publication. Instead of publishing it bimonthly, quarterly, biyearly or annually, consider rolling out stories digitally on a weekly schedule, SEO-optimizing each for search engine rankings and promoting each on social media. You’ll be effectively weaponizing each article based on your schools’ thought leadership, innovation, and intellectual capital. Supplement the digital publication with a leaner, nimbler, annual print publication.

Enrollment & Admissions

9. Think student life cycle
From prospect to current students to alumni and donors. Take the long view.

10. Find students where they hang out
Allocate marketing investments in channels where students roam. Fish where the fish are.

11. Energize influencers, referral networks and reliable feeders
Over time, these wholesale student streams will create a rising tide that’ll relieve pressure from retail recruitment efforts.

12. Abandon ineffective and expensive traditional student search models
Embrace new ones based on right-fit, micro-segments, look-alikes, machine learning, big-data algorithms and affinity groups. Think right-fit, admission pipes and inverted admissions funnels, not traditional admissions funnels.

13. Mobilize and mutually reinforce paid, owned, earned and shared media
Surround and engage your prospects with your brand by leveraging various forms of paid media, high-fidelity content marketing, online PR, and social media to create a comprehensive marketing strategy for your program.

Create hermetically sealed landing pages/microsites for paid media, and open-fields of strong website pages for owned/earned media are the best combination for getting the best out of different strategies.

14. Romance prospects with high-fidelity academic program pages
They are the “money pages” on a website used by value-minded prospects and their families to make their college choices.

15. Pursue right-fit students
Create admission pipes, not funnels. Invert the admissions funnel by marketing the student and alumni heroes to attract like-minded prospects.

16. Check up on inquiry/applications follow up and boots-on-the-ground activities
This trifecta is the holy grail of higher education enrollment success. You take one out, and success will elude your institution.

Academics

17. Insist on offering a distinctive portfolio of programs
Foster creation of new programs where you have indisputable competitive advantage. Fight the temptation to start new commodity programs. No one has realized prosperity with boring non-distinct offerings. It’s easier to market and grow enrollment for distinct academic programs.

18. Help name new academic programs
Use competitive offerings and Google keyword search history histograms to inform naming of new academic offerings.

Fundraising

19. Cultivate a culture of giving
Adapt your communications based on the diversity of donors – small donors, intermediate donors and mega-donors. Insist on giving a ton before you ask for something even small in return. Students and families feel that they have given enough already.

20. Create customized marketing
Whether it’s emotionally appealing microsites for capital campaigns, process-oriented annual giving sites, printed appeals for specialty giving, direct action emails, social media campaigns, or personalized videos for mega-donors, create customized marketing materials to support fundraising.

Analytics & Metrics

21. Know industry benchmarks, but forge your own metrics
Create your own path. Perform better than how you did last year. Measure what matters to you, not to others.

22. Combine data and intuition
Embrace data-driven decision making. Measure what matters, watch what you see, see the unseen — but also trust your instinct and gut.

Budgets

23. Insist on Investing 10% of revenue on marketing
In the world of for-profit schools who invest close to 20% of their revenue on marketing, and the $100 million marketing club of non-profit colleges (Southern New Hampshire, Purdue, Arizona State, University of Maryland and others), underspending on marketing will not yield success.

If you have generous marketing budgets, you’ll be able to set aside some play money to explore new marketing tactics and strategies.

24. Avoid democratic budget allocation
Pick winners. Judge. Allocate budgets equitably, not equally. Allocate pilot budgets for new approaches and tactics.

Operations

25. Balance tools, technologies, process and imagination
Adopt automation, but not to replace the essential relationship building work that needs to be done to win hearts and minds of prospects. Imagination, passion and purpose — not process — is what prospects ultimately buy and are buying into.

Remember, it’s all about balance: between profit and purpose, between near and far, and between data and story. At all times, but especially in times of a crisis, I encourage higher education marketers to stay focused on the fundamentals and deploy proven strategies.

If you are seeking higher education marketing agencies to fortify the reputation of your college or university, view our higher education marketing capabilities and consider partnering with us.

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A familiar Chinese proverb instructs: “To know the road ahead, ask those coming back.”

The current situation in higher education defies that enduring wisdom. Change arrived suddenly, with little regard for institutional history or might. In this respect, all colleges stand on relatively common ground. All college presidents, to a degree, have become new college presidents.

It might be tempting in this moment of great uncertainty to think that successful colleges/presidents will be those that summon deeper reserves of managerial will or command with greater “corporate turnaround” intensity.

More likely, how you and your college navigates this public health crisis and its aftermath will come down to something as fundamental — albeit elusive — as how effectively and artfully you communicate.

Every college has crisis communications plans in place, and these plans have served everyone — especially students — well through the initial weeks and months of this crisis. We know that eventually, the urgency of this moment will give way to larger questions that will require a different kind of communications mindset and strategy.

In ordinary times, such a strategy would seldom rise to the attention of a president. As long as key revenue indicators — enrollment, gifts, grants, partnerships — appeared healthy, a president would not bore into details such as keyword priorities, digital publication analytics or the nuances of storytelling and brand voice. The necessary shift in mindset would never become a mandate.

But these are far from ordinary times. Here are a few presidential considerations on how to leverage the power of communications to move and inspire an institution — students, faculty, alumni, donors and partners — forward.

Rethink Stakeholder Sorting

Historically, higher education audiences sort by simple data sets (SAT scores, FAFSA indicators, location, degree type, graduating year, giving record, net worth). Now is the time for a president to challenge his cabinet and key departments (enrollment, institutional research, alumni, development, marketing) to reimagine stakeholders along a different (cause/effect) axis.

For example, prospective students with an interest in medical and health research careers, alumni working in a broad range of health sciences, and partner corporations and foundations form one of many potential adhocracies. Communicating with and about such a group will change the way you operate and communicate.

Be more Socratic.

College presidents tend toward Socratic inquiry by nature and necessity. By modeling a higher questions-to-statements ratio, you will begin the process of mining for deeper insights and help to normalize the internal climate of the organization.

You can set the expectation that good questions – and the details that surface — matter now more than ever. By doing so, your cabinet and their direct reports can see that the road forward will not be strewn with blame, but with a persistent search for the best answers to support the overall cause.

Tell the better story.

Assume that anything that signaled “momentum” prior to this crisis has far less relevance going forward. Recent capital campaign success or improvements in student quality, however welcome, carry less promise than they might have otherwise. Resist chasing a lucky break or buying gigabytes of enrollment search names to address a new set of challenges.

Author Jim Collins (Good to Great; Turning the Flywheel) describes disciplined people pursuing a disciplined response:  “the process resembles relentlessly pushing a giant heavy flywheel, turn upon turn, building momentum until a point of breakthrough and beyond… with the same creative intensity that made (the organization) great in the first place.”

A case can be made for designating your digital communications efforts as that flywheel. As fundraising consultant Jim Langley writes: “True philanthropy is not about money, nor amounts given… It is the clear-eyed conviction that sacrificing a measure of one’s individuality is a worthy investment in a world more worthy of vesting one’s self in. So much of the hopes of humanity then, you see, hinge on preserving a healthy measure of true philanthropy.”

For colleges, an ability to use the power and reach of fully optimized digital publications, fueled by high-fidelity content, allows you to connect the college’s specific value to a philanthropist’s specific concerns and passions.

The gap between the best and most productive college flagship publications — a handful of outliers — and the great majority of college magazines and news sites suggests that much value (for reputation building and more) has been left on the table.

Only the college president can reframe a truly great flagship magazine and story telling operation from that of a cost center to one of a mission/vision/reputation/brand/value engine.

Your college has a core reason for being that extends far back in time, well beyond this current crisis and many others that preceded it. The source of your institution’s renewal — and the key to leading others out of the current confusion — lies with telling the better story to a far wider and more engaged audience.

Before anything resembling progress, there will first have to be change. By changing how you communicate, you will begin to turn the flywheel and signal to internal and external audiences an ability — individually and collectively — to adapt to a changed world.

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As higher education departs the shores of government sponsorship and enters the era of academic capitalism (which unites the scientific search for truth with economic maximization of profits) improving the reputation of a college/university becomes mission-critical. However, becoming known as a college of consequence takes talent, discipline, money and smarts. Included below are the five best practices for improving college/university reputation and brand recognition:

1. Invest in Brand
Begin your journey for building reputation and brand recognition by investing in a brand. A brand is the sum of all experiences, be they virtual, experiential or architectural interactions. It is the DNA of an institution that affirms its purpose, defines its core values, creates distinction and is the foundation of its reputation.

2. Transform Your Flagship Publication to a Print/Digital Hybrid Publication
Reimagine your print university magazine as a print/digital hybrid publication. Instead of publishing it bimonthly, quarterly, biyearly or annually, consider rolling out stories digitally on a weekly schedule, SEO-optimizing each for search engine rankings and promoting each on social media. You’ll be effectively weaponizing each article based on your schools’ thought leadership, innovation, and intellectual capital. Supplement the digital publication with a leaner and nimbler print publication.

To create the digital publication, take the following steps:

  • Develop a Keyword Lexicon: Categories in the lexicon should include keywords for brand positioning, reputation, thought leadership, star faculty and their areas of research, leadership and their unique point-of-view.
  • Craft an Editorial Calendar: This will ensure topics coverage and cultivate the habit of routine publishing. Build in flexibility to take advantage of opportunities that surface over time.
  • Create High-fidelity Content: The high-fidelity content (such as videos, infographics, interviews, posters, field guides, animations, slide shows and microsites) elevates a college’s brand reputation and dislodges competitors from search engines for tough-to-rank keywords.
  • “Bake” Keywords into Each Article: Use SEO best practices to “bake” the keywords into each article.
  • Foster Social Sharing: The more an article is shared on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social channels, the more likely it will surface on page 1 of search engines.
  • Promote Content: Promote the high-fidelity content through your college’s earned, owned and paid media with the goal of reaching new prospect pools and encouraging peer-to-peer sharing.
  • Track and Measure: Measure reach and exposure to friends of the college, and more importantly to strangers who are unaware of your college. Measure keyword rankings to ensure your content ranks on Google. Sustain your rankings by watch your college competitors for signs of encroachment, and counter their moves on an as-needed basis.

3. Write Thought-Leadership Blogs
Encourage your thought leaders to follow these steps to create and manage their blogs:

  • Outline Goals: Create a readership that engages with their passion for their expertise by delivering practical, dependable and valuable content.
  • Manage Personal Profiles: Curate and manage their personal profiles on their school’s website, their personal LinkedIn account, and other social channels. Grow and cultivate their personal network comprised of practitioners, peers, collaborators and most importantly influencers.
  • Define Target Audience: Speak to practitioners, peers, collaborators and influencers.
  • Determine Keyword Focus: Think of the keyword or phrase you would like their blog post to be ranked for. Search Google to see who else appears on page 1 of Google for that phrase.
  • Content Focus: Write about research, studies, best practices, and policy issues.
    Educate. Quote other authoritative peers and aspirational brands. They lend you credibility. Tie content to the keyword or phrase.Limit the length of blog post to less than 500 words.
  • Articulate Unique Point of View. Provide authoritative perspective on their expertise and related topics.Share lessons learned. Risk yourself. Lean into controversy.
  • Voice: Be positive, real, helpful, accessible, insightful, professional and knowledgeable. Avoid jargon.
  • Engage Audiences: Encourage questions and comments on the blog. Share the blog on their personal social networks as well as on their college’s official social media channels. Respond to comments on the blog and social media.
  • Measure: Measure the number of shares and likes. Measure the traffic on the blog post. Monitor Google rankings for their keyword or phrase.

4. Strengthen Ties with Community Partners
Create porous walls between the the institution and community partners. Get connected with the vitality of external communities including corporations, non-profits and civic organizations. Create centers of excellence that fuse corporate and academic interests.

5. Implement Image Advertising Campaign and Public Radio Sponsorship
The strongest brands reserve a portion of the marketing and PR budget for image advertising and public radio sponsorships designed to shape the image of a distinctive, positive and memorable brand.

As more colleges face demographic, endowment and government funding challenges, their pursuit of market-like activities is only expected to increase. Colleges must begin investing now — in protecting their intellectual property, marketing their thought leadership and building their brands.

If you are seeking higher education marketing agencies to fortify the reputation of your college or university, view our higher education marketing capabilities and consider partnering with us.

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Like every market, the audience of college-bound high school seniors is responding to change and uncertainty with… more change and uncertainty.

Very recent surveys show roughly a quarter of next year’s class feeling uncertain about whether they will attend their first choice college, attend a school closer to home, or delay college enrollment for a year.

College enrollment marketing teams (already stressed by acceptance/deposit season) now have to scramble to reassure and to some degree, re-recruit the Class of 2024.

Here are five content needs/priorities to consider.

Liberal Arts as catalytic.

How often and how well do you make the case for why complex times and challenges require agile thinkers? Do you routinely interview students who find the core curriculum applicable across a range of research, internship and other experiential learning opportunities? Do you trace that confidence back to encounters with specific faculty, courses, assignments and texts? Do you ask internship supervisors and employers why such learners outperform their peers? Do you get perspective from mid- and late-career alumni on how the liberal arts enabled them to mature into fully reflective professionals?

Faculty as wellspring.

How routinely do you assign experienced reporters/writers to engage faculty? Do faculty trust your ability to translate their research and life’s work to general and prospect audiences? Have you identified opportunities for faculty to contribute — in person, in writing and through podcasts, video and other owned media? Do your blogs and flagship publications leverage keywords of importance to departments and faculty?

Student life as real.

How candid have you been in your communication with prospective students and families about the emotional and social realities of the transition to college? Do you partner with student life to offer prospective students and families a realistic set of expectations, and a transparent view of support systems? Do you drill into the details of residential life, housing, wellness and diversity enough for prospects to see you as honest information brokers?

Rigor as welcome adversary.

Have you found ways to reveal and celebrate the academic challenge of college — the progressive building of resilience and mental muscle — that sets a baseline expectation for all prospects and families? Have you studied closely the true readiness of prospects, and have you worked with faculty, advising and academic support to give prospects anticipatory guidance? Do you look for creative ways to capture all dimensions of learning?  Or do you disguise the harder truths of academic challenge under the guise of college as some kind of extended summer camp escapism and excitement?

Agency and maturity as outcomes. 

Is your communication with prospects attune to less tangible measures of integrity and character that, as much as major choice or final transcript, foreshadow someone’s career trajectory and quality of life? Do you look for opportunities to celebrate good judgment among current students — not just athletic trophies and scholarly honors? Do you hold out for prospects the goal of being able to think independently, and do what’s right, in the face of falsehoods, economic pressures, and distortions. So much of someone’s college experience comes down to simple actions. Negotiating with roommates. Meeting a deadline. Supporting a teammate. Showing up for a friend. Do you track — from orientation to graduation — that small voice inside your students as it matures into a growing faith in one’s ability to shape one’s own thoughts and behavior and handle a wide range of people, assignments, challenges or situations?


Everyone is being tested right now — far more than any of us expected. Rather than scrambling to put a brighter shine/smile on our features and benefits, now is the time for generous action and straight talk with prospects/families.

We move into our integrity when we speak what we know to be true — and act upon that truth in the best interest of students (not our colleges).

With truth, comes trust. And trust — especially in times of uncertainty and crisis — is your most enduring strategic asset.

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Colleges and universities can take the following SEO steps to grow their undergraduate, graduate, and online enrollment.

1. Make your website responsive, secure and fast
Google rewards responsive websites – the ones that auto-adjust gracefully on smartphones, tablets or desktops. Google also ranks higher those websites that load fast and are running in secure mode.

Google Ranks Responsive Websites Rank Higher

2. Use .edu Instead of Using .com, .org and Other Domains
Since each college and university can be awarded only one (and occasionally two) .edu domains, search engines generally rank .edu websites higher than other domain extensions. Use .edu domains for websites, landing pages and microsites.

3. Create a Keyword Lexicon, and Claim Top Search Engine Rankings
Develop a Keyword Lexicon for your college. The lexicon is comprised of keywords and key phrases the college should claim. Categories in the lexicon include program keywords, brand positioning keywords, reputation keywords, decisioning keywords, and location keywords.

SEO Keyword Lexicon

Prospective students use different clusters of keywords at each phase of the decision funnel. (e.g. they’ll use reputation keywords during the awareness phase, category keywords during the consideration phase and branded keywords during the preference/purchase phase). Write copy that responds to the issues that matter in each specific phase of the decision cycle.

higher education marketing SEO decision funnel

4. Optimize all Assets for Search Engine Bots
Optimize copy, images, videos, pdf’s, tables, links, and meta-data on every college website page. This will ensure that Google serves up your copy, images, videos, maps and tabular data on a search results page. Since search engine bots also review and serve up assets on college social media channels, ensure that they are also optimized.

5. Multiply Social Signals 
Social signals (a webpage’s shares, likes and social media visibility) impact organic rankings. Add them to every page of your college website.

6. Secure Top Rankings for Mission-Critical Pages
Secure top rankings for your signature academic programs by developing high-fidelity, sharable and optimized content to secure top rankings for each on Google. This helps colleges combat competitors and lead aggregators.

The more competitive a keyword, the more high-fidelity content you’ll have to create to secure page 1 rankings.

Increased Content Effort Required for Higher Competition Keywords

Claim thought leadership by re-packaging, optimizing and re-marketing new content assets based on your college’s natural wellspring of ideas, innovation, and intellectual capital.

7. Embrace Voice Search
We have entered a new era of “natural language”, “sentence based” and “question based” search with the advent of voice-activated search on mobile phones (like Google Assistant, Siri, Microsoft Cortana and Amazon Alexa) and gadgets like Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple HomePod and others. 30 percent of searches are now voice driven. Get ready for the voice era by taking the following steps:

  • Write colloquially. Since people won’t change their speaking habits for the computer, write new content using everyday vernacular.
  • Write page summaries. Write short, persuasive, 29-word page summaries above the screen fold on long-form pages. These summaries act as pop-up snippets served up by voice searches on mobile devices and home gadgets; they also appear as answer boxes on desktop search results.
  • Build social shares. Implemnt social share campaigns because the more shared the page is on Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn and other social channels, the more likely it will surface on voice search.
  • Think globally. Act locally. Since more than 20% of searches are local, add phrases such as ‘near me’ into your copy, especially if a college is a local or regional brand.
  • Rank high on desktop/mobile search. If a website is not ranked on desktop/mobile search, it is unlikely that it will be ranked on voice search. Therefore, focus on achieving top rankings on desktop/mobile search for your college website.

8. Monitor and Protect Keyword Rankings
Measure keyword rankings to ensure your college ranks on Google and sustain your rankings. Watch your college competitors for signs of encroachment, and counter their moves on an as-needed basis.

Remember that leads generated from high-fidelity content out-convert paid advertising leads by three-folds (which, again, out-convert purchased names by three-folds). The best prospects prefer to “discover” the college of their choice through word-of-mouth on social media and via “accidental finds” on Google page one.

If you are seeking higher education marketing agencies for your college or university, view our SEO capabilities and consider partnering with us.

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Colleges and college admissions teams have their hands more than full managing current and prospective students through the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic. Here is a 10-point plan to help you meet next year’s numbers:

 

How College Admissions Should Respond to Coronavirus

 

A 10-Point Response Plan for College Admissions

1. Create Online Concierges
Rally financial aid to help prospects and parents understand their options regarding extended deposit deadlines and revised family income estimates.

Anticipate the distinct concerns of first-generation prospects and families and take on more of a concierge approach to working through their indecision and obstacles. Audit existing admissions and financial aid materials and language for assumption, blind spots and jargon.

Consider joining the 200 colleges who have moved their May 1 deposit deadline by a month or more to give families extra time to assess their income and financial decisions. If your institution subscribes to rolling admissions, work with your accepted students and their families to mutually determine the right date for them to respond.

2. Rethink the Idea of a Virtual Tour
Most off-the-shelf virtual tour projects produce a lifeless version of “ours alone” academic and student culture. Instead, engage current students to post authentic Instagram moments once a week. Consider creating “Welcome Wednesdays”.

3. Break Through the Test Ceiling
Join the 1,100 test optional colleges. Expand portfolio evaluations and find other innovative ways to assess emerging talent and predict college success.

4. Hold Admissions Webinars and Webcasts
Upgrade every digital communication — starting with webinars/webcasts — for story, brand, voice and impact. High-fidelity content will reassure nervous prospects.

5. Enable One-on-One Online Meetings with Admissions Counselors
Engage brand/story/content experts to coach admissions counselors on everything from brand to call scripts to face time/webcast staging.

6. Hold Online Student/Alumni Panels
Recruit current students and alumni as panelists — hold virtual Q/A sessions for very targeted segments of prospects by affinity and academic interest.

7. Fortify Facebook Groups for Accepted Students
Offer more robust academic and outcomes content to reduce potential melt.

8. Hold Virtual Admitted Days. Create Hybrid Online/In-Person Academic Offerings.
Use social media live events to improve your admissions yield. Offer accepted students an option to begin their degree remotely, giving time for the virus to subside. Consider offering a gap year or deferral option to give admitted students the flexibility to overcome uncertainty.

9. Secure Local and Regional Search Engine Rankings. Accelerate Integrated Search Campaigns.
One third of students are considering a local/regional school due to fear of contracting coronavirus far from home. Reallocate existing budgets or request capital funds from the college president to give your top 10 most distinct academic program pages an immediate upgrade — with an eye toward winning page-one local/regional SEO rankings.

Since college fairs, college tours, and other hitting-the-pavement activities aren’t an option now, ramp-up integrated digital campaigns to reach and cultivate prospects for the next academic year. Leverage look-alike audiences, micro-targeting, machine learning, and big data algorithms to invert the admissions funnel for the coming year.

10. Fortify Flagship Publications
Accelerate plans to transition existing news and your flagship college magazine content to a more robust digital platform. Engage an agency with deep content, SEO and CMS experience that can transform static (print or issuu) assets into dynamic and productive content.

11. Expand Financial Aid Pool
To meet the dwindling financial resources of families, colleges ought to consider expanding their financial aid funds and packages. This will reduce the discount even further, but it’s better to live to fight another day.

Every cloud has a silver lining. This pandemic will likely create the most diverse, representative applicant pool in the history of higher education. This is your opportunity to embrace and leverage technology to reduce costs, scale operations, and modernize marketing efforts.

If you are seeking higher education marketing agencies to collaborate and solve the challenges your school may be facing during the coronavirus epidemic, consider partnering with us.

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The best higher education marketing agencies are being invited by their college and university clients to solve a spectrum of challenges – from the very routine to the most sophisticated ones.

Over the last 25 years, in serving over 100 colleges and universities, we have solved the following challenges for numerous clients:

Enrollment Challenges

Undergraduate Programs

  • Grow inquiries
  • Increase college visits
  • Improve our college visit experience
  • Grow applications
  • Get inquiries and applicants from new geographic markets
  • Make us more selective and allow us to shape the class
  • Improve college’s yield rate
  • Reduce summer melt
  • Grow international applications
  • Turn parents, teachers, high school counselors and principals into recommenders
  • Reduce transfer out rates
  • Increate our transfer in rates

Online Programs

  • Grow inquiries and applications
  • Grow international applications

Graduate and Doctorate Programs

  • Grow inquiries and applications
  • Grow international applicants
  • Make our college more selective and allow us to shape the class

Reputation Challenges

  • Brand our college/university
  • Make us look like a college of consequence on key touch points
  • Situate us on page 1 of Google
  • Make us known in new geographies
  • Project our thought leadership far and wide
  • Let media find our subject matter experts
  • Improve our US News and other rating agency rankings
  • Expand the reach of our brand beyond our alumni and friends
  • Weaponize our publications on digital channels
  • Grow attendance in our symposiums, conferences and workshops
  • Increase attendance in our arts and cultural events
  • Transform us into a regional economic development engine

Giving Challenges

  • Create a culture of giving
  • Increase our annual giving rate
  • Market our capital campaign
  • Create a perpetual online giving engine
  • Market our new center of excellence
  • Find mission-aligned mega-donors, foundations and government partners

Placement & External Relations Challenges

  • Position us as indispensable R&D partners
  • Seek corporate recruiters
  • Find mission-aligned trade groups, foundations, corporations and government partners
  • Deepen ties with our trade groups, foundations, corporations and government partners
  • Find funding partners for our labs and centers of excellence

Talent Recruiting Challenges

  • Let prospective faculty and staff know about our open positions and motivate them to apply

If you are seeking higher education marketing agencies for your college or university, view our higher education marketing capabilities and consider partnering with us.

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Top performing SEO agencies help their clients realize that fortune smiles on colleges and universities that pursue and achieve top organic rankings. Prosperity takes many shapes and forms for colleges ranked on page #1 of search engines. Their best practices arsenal includes:

1. Determine Goals and Objectives
The best SEO agencies help colleges and universities realize that a college website has numerous audiences and each enjoys unique benefits. They help their clients determine the right goal for each SEO campaign:

  • Prospective Students find them, get them to inquire, show up at open houses, apply and enroll
  • Prospective Talented Faculty and Staff find them and motivate them to apply for open job postings
  • Prospective Parents: find them and suggest their kids apply
  • Foundations and Donors: connect with mission-aligned centers of excellence
  • Corporations: seek and connect with faculty for research & development
  • News Makers: find faculty experts
  • Ranking and Rating Agencies: discover new emerging gems
  • Enrollment Officers: boast a low acceptance rate, making the college more exclusive
  • Financial Aid Officers: extend aid by design not compulsion
  • Presidents and Board Members: garner invitations to speak at top conferences for their expertise

2. Use .edu Instead of Using .com, .org and Other Domains
Since each college and university can be awarded only one (and occasionally two) .edu domains, search engines generally rank .edu websites higher than other domain extensions. Leading SEO agencies steer their college clients to piggyback their websites, landing pages and microsites on their .edu domains.

3. Create a Keyword Lexicon, and Claim Top Search Engine Rankings
The best SEO agencies create a Keyword Lexicon for their college clients. The lexicon is comprised of keywords and key phrases the college should claim. Categories in the lexicon include program keywords, brand positioning keywords, reputation keywords, decisioning keywords, and location keywords.

SEO Keyword Lexicon

The best SEO agencies understand that prospective students use different clusters of keywords at each phase of the decision funnel. (e.g. they’ll use reputation keywords during the awareness phase, category keywords during the consideration phase and branded keywords during the preference/purchase phase). They write copy that responds to the issues that matter in each specific phase of the decision cycle.

higher education marketing SEO decision funnel

4. Optimize all Assets for Search Engine Bots
Google serves up a mix of overview copy, images, videos, maps and tabular data on a search results page, the top SEO agencies optimize copy, images, videos, pdf’s, tables, links, and meta-data on every college website page. Search engine bots also review and serve up assets on college social media channels, these assets also need to be optimized.

5. Multiply Social Signals 
The leading SEO agencies know the impact of social signals (a webpage’s shares, likes and social media visibility) on organic ranking. They collaborate with the college’s web/IT team to ensure that they are added to every page of a college website.

6. Secure Top Rankings for Mission-Critical Pages
The top SEO agencies help their clients secure top rankings for signature academic programs by developing high-fidelity, sharable and optimized content to secure top rankings for each on Google. This helps colleges combat competitors and lead aggregators.

High-Fidelity Content Marketing

They also ensure that their clients claim thought leadership by re-packaging, optimizing and re-marketing new content based on college’s natural wellspring of ideas, innovation, and intellectual capital.

7. Embrace Voice Search
The premier SEO agencies know that we have entered a new era of “natural language”, “sentence based” and “question based” search with the advent of voice-activated search on mobile phones (like Google Assistant, Siri, Microsoft Cortana and Amazon Alexa) and gadgets like Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple HomePod and others. Since they know that 30% of searches are now voice driven, they are taking the following steps to get ready for the voice era:

  • Getting responsive. Speeding it up. If a college website isn’t responsive yet (i.e. auto-adjusts gracefully to mobile devices, tablets and desktops), they are encouraging their college clients to build one – ensuring the websites are fast, fully SEO optimized and running in secure mode.
  • Writing colloquially. Since people won’t change their speaking habits for the computer, they are adapting by writing new content using everyday vernacular.
  • Writing page summaries. They are beginning to write short, persuasive, 29-word page summaries above the screen fold on long-form pages. These summaries act as pop-up snippets served up by voice searches on mobile devices and home gadgets; they also appear as answer boxes on desktop search results.
  • Building social shares. They are running social share campaigns because the more shared the page is on Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn and other social channels, the more likely it will surface on voice search.
  • Thinking globally. Acting locally. Since more than 20% of searches are local, they are adding phrases such as ‘near me’ into your copy, especially if a college is a local or regional brand.
  • Ranking high on desktop/mobile search. They are aware that if their clients’ website is not ranked on desktop/mobile search, it is unlikely that it will be ranked on voice search. Therefore, before investing in voice search, they are focused on achieving top rankings on desktop/mobile search for their clients’ websites.

8. Monitor and Protect Keyword Rankings
The best SEO agencies are diligently measuring keyword rankings to ensure their college clients rank on Google and sustain their rankings. They are watching college competitors for signs of encroachment, and countering their moves on an as-needed basis.

The Best SEO companies inform their college clients that leads generated from high-fidelity content out-convert paid advertising leads by three-folds (which, again, out-convert purchased names by three-folds). They are telling clients that their best prospects prefer to “discover” the college of their choice through word-of-mouth on social media and via “accidental finds” on Google page one.

If you are seeking higher education marketing agencies for your college or university, view our SEO capabilities and consider partnering with us.

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At last count, more than 1,100 colleges have gone test optional. This translates to fewer names that ACT can sell to colleges for marketing.

As Included below are 12 proven strategies for increasing enrollment in your your college if you can’t rely on buying names of prospective students:

1. Abandon traditional student search models. Hunt like sharks. Don’t feed like whales.
The era of buying prospects names, spamming them, seeing who sticks, and praying some convert is over. Embrace new methodologies based on right-fit, micro-segments, look-alikes, machine learning, big-data algorithms and affinity groups. Think right-fit, admission pipes and inverted admissions funnels, not traditional admissions funnels.

Inverted Admissions Funnel

2. Energize influencers, referral networks and reliable feeders.
Wholesale student streams provide a solid foundation upon which you build retail recruitment.

3. Befriend corporate and government HR & Training leaders.
Many corporations and government organizations use provision of advanced degrees as a retention tool. It behooves the enrollment officers to be the provider of choice for these organizations.

4. Avoid democratic budget allocation.
Lead with strengths. Bet on program champions and star programs. Let the star programs create prosperity to sustain others. Allocate pilot budgets for new approaches and tactics.

5. Think student life cycle.
From prospect to current students to alumni and donors. Take the long view. Insist on providing robust academic support, career guidance and campus experiences to your students. Graduate brand ambassadors that generate referrals and donate their time, treasure and talent to the institution.

6. Insist on offering a distinctive portfolio of programs.
Foster creation of new programs where you have indisputable competitive advantage. Fight the temptation to start new me-too programs. No one has realized prosperity with boring me-too offerings.

7. Deploy a unique game plan for every stage of the admissions funnel.
Know what prospects and influencers need at every stage of the admissions funnel, and cater to their needs. Pay as much attention to the follow-up and yield communications as you do to the lead-generation and lead-nurturing communications.

8. Augment integrated marketing with timely follow up, and boots-on-the-ground activities.
This trifecta is the holy grail of higher education enrollment and marketing. You take one out, and success will elude you. Don’t let automation get in the way of personalized and timely follow-up. There are no short-cuts for old-fashioned, belly-to-belly relationship building.

9. Combine data, intuition. and courageous action.
Embrace data-driven decision making. Measure what matters, watch what you see, see the unseen — but also trust your instinct and gut. Take bold action once you gather the insights from your data.

10. Leverage tools, technologies, process and imagination.
Adopt CRM and marketing automation, but not to replace the essential relationship building work that needs to be done to win hearts and minds of prospects. Imagination, passion and purpose — not process — is what prospects ultimately buy and are buying into.

11. Know industry benchmarks, but don’t benchmark.
Forge your own path. Perform better than how you did last year. Measure what matters to you, not to others. Keep an eye out on your student quality, melt rates, graduation rates, placement rates, and alumni giving rates.

12. Balance profit and purpose.
No money, no mission. No mission, no soul. You need both to survive and thrive.

If you are seeking higher education marketing agencies to fortify the reputation of your college or university, view our higher education marketing capabilities and consider partnering with us.

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Top performing higher education marketing agencies help their clients deploy the following best practices:

1. You become the story you choose to tell.
It’s how institutions make meaning from the arc of their history, and operate with a sense of destiny to create purpose that propels them into the future. This story is what students, parents, donors, funders and partners buy into. A brand rarely exceeds the size of its ambition.

2. Students, not the institution, are the real heroes of your story.
Colleges and universities are generative when they feed their students’ passions to enable them to realize their personal hero’s journey.

3. Invest in brand. Speak with one brand voice.
Know your core promise, values, ideals, distinctions and what you stand for. Articulate your brand value cheerfully irrespective of whether you are a liberal arts college, STEM university, research powered, experiential brand, college of access, online educator or an integrative brand. Speak with one brand voice to all audiences, but strike different notes for each segment of students, donors, partners and influencers.

4. Prove your brand claims.
Buyers are smart and skeptical. Persuade them by providing proofs in the form of stories, stats and third-party validations. In this day and age, it’s better to be long on proofs and short on claims.

5. Invest in first impressions.
First impressions matter.

  • Brand your college because in the sea of sameness, brands win. Speak with one brand voice to all audiences striking different notes for each audience segment. Tell a better story.
  • Fortify every touch point – including websites, social media channels, your Wikipedia entry, email signatures, newsletters, tours, information sessions, and all your presentations.
  • Celebrate your star students, alumni and faculty because they, not the institution, are the real heroes of your story.
  • Claim your Google page 1 rankings – ensuring the information that appears on search engine results is persuasive and inviting.
  • Make your facilities and grounds beautiful because beauty engenders confidence.

6. Romance prospects with high-fidelity academic program pages.
They are the “money pages” on a website used by value-minded prospects and their families to make their college choices. Build them with the right balance of persuasion architecture, argument construction and beauty.

7. Pursue right-fit students.
Invert the admissions funnel by marketing your students and alumni heroes to attract like-minded prospects. This will create admission pipes, not funnels. Leads generated here out-convert paid advertising leads by three-folds (which in turn out-convert purchased names by three-folds).

8. Surround and engage prospects and influencers where they hang out.
Fish where the fish are. Allocate marketing investments in digital channels where students roam. Invest marketing dollars in both traditional and digital channels where influencers live.

9. Claim your mountain.
If you are ranked on US News & World Report, then secure your Google page one rankings too. Don’t surrender top search rankings for your star programs to competitors, lead aggregators and commoditizers.

10. Reimagine your publishing potential. Claim your thought leadership.
Weaponize your content based on your college’s natural wellspring of ideas, innovation, and intellectual capital with a thoughtful Keyword Lexicon, search engine optimization, social sharing and automation.

Leads generated from high-fidelity content out-convert paid advertising leads by three-folds (which, again, out-convert purchased names by three-folds). The best prospects prefer to “discover” the college of their choice through word-of-mouth on social media and via “accidental finds” on Google page one.

11. Stand for something. Win battle for meaning.
Stand for a societal or global cause that is meaningful and consequential yet rooted in your institutional core strengths. Actively participate in it and promote it. In a fragmented world where there are competing voices and narratives, it’s vital for a brand to win battle for meaning – with intentionality – by owning mindshare, social shares and Google rankings for your distinct point-of-view.

If you are seeking higher education marketing agencies to fortify the reputation of your college or university, view our higher education marketing capabilities and consider partnering with us.

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