University Best Practices: Digital Marketing – Measuring the Impact of Your Marketing Efforts

Fiscal Year Planning

That time of year has come around again where it is time to begin planning for next year’s budget(s) to bring in the next cohort of prospective students. You have plans for traditional marketing like TV commercials, Billboards, Bus Wraps, Mall Kiosk, and even Direct Mail pieces to capture interest. Within that budget, you may have some money set aside for online or digital marketing efforts (we hope you do), but the question is do you have a plan to measure the success of all of these campaigns to help inform next year’s budget breakdown? 

In our experience, we have worked with a number of Universities that base their budgets solely on the prior year’s budget, and not on the success or impact of the campaigns behind those budgets. It’s important that we follow the student’s decision journey and measure what marketing channel drove the lead that ultimately turned into an admission. This data defines our ROI and allows us to better plan budgets in the future.

If digital hasn’t been a focus for you and your organization, please see our blog on why businesses need to adapt to this digital era.

Establishing a Digital Foundation

Let’s focus first on our digital landscape, our “online presence”. 

The foundation of a successful digital marketing strategy is having a well-built website first and foremost that focuses on the student experience (UX) and their path to submitting a lead form or application form. The site should not only be aesthetically pleasing, but the information and content of the site should be easy to digest and should answer the questions of why someone should attend the University and what offerings differentiate you from the rest. Most importantly, you will only have a small window of capturing interest and the lead, so make sure that your lead forms are eye-catching and simple, meaning there isn’t a long-form that takes the user more than 2 minutes to fill out. Keep the form fill information short and to the point, your admissions team can handle the rest. 

Once a prospective student submits a lead, and they have now gone through the sales process with the admissions team. As a marketer, it is important for us to understand where that lead came from (if through one of your marketing channels) and in turn, the value of that admission. Ensure tracking is setup on all of your digital channels and as students go through your CRM system, ensuring those channels are labeled correctly will help you define the success of each campaign and the ROI. 

Lastly, it’s essential that Admissions and Marketing communicate, especially when it comes to prospective students who have turned into students. Tying back where they came from and the revenue associated with their education helps the team understand the success of your campaigns.

What Channels Greatly Impact Traffic & Leads?

Paid Social

It’s very important to note that a big chunk of your undergrad population is well a part of that Millennial demographic and now diving into Gen Z. Having a presence on social media (i.e. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.) and implementing a social media strategy will put you in front of the right eyes. Key elements to keep in mind while focusing on your social channels:

  • These generations are very visual so having good creative is mandatory – this cannot be emphasized enough! There are many University’s out there doing the same marketing with similar creative. A compelling and distinguished creative campaign can draw a lot of attention. 
    • This should be refreshed every 6 to 8 weeks to avoid stale creative. 
  • Because these generations are so visual, video campaigns are also another key element to focus on. 
    • Simple & to the point messaging (subtitles built into the video if necessary)  
    • Make sure the format is usable across all social platforms (dimensions and video length)

Paid Search

Since time on the web primarily involves search engines like Google & Bing, it is important to make sure this is a channel to be present on. If you aren’t, you leave the door open for your competitors to take over the space. 

  • Make sure you are bidding on your own branded terms. If you don’t, someone else will and that’s a big no-no.
  • Non-branded terms should be a very calculated approach. Because of the competition out there for certain keywords, this can cause your cost per lead to drive up higher than you want it to. 

At the end of the day, it is important that any University has a strong online presence and a foundation internally to be able to measure the success of that online presence. This takes time and the right teams in place to make sure it all ties together with the greater goals of the organization. Furthermore, there are a number of strategies and tactics that exist beyond what is identified in this article. If your organization has an interest in discussing strategy around your brand, please connect with us and we would be happy to assist.

Let’s talk.