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College Marketing Must Haves that Attract Students

Yvonne Hall
August 2, 2019

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Education has been around a long time -- many centuries! For most of those centuries providers of education did little to no marketing of their school because there was no perceived need. People needed education, they had education, end of marketing plan. Ok, ok I realize it wasn't THAT simple. But compared to now it sure does seem like it was an easy scenario. Most schools only competed with other schools in their caliber or other schools in their region. With the dawn of digital marketing, educators now compete with schools across the world, with different delivery mediums, and vocational schools are even now competing with traditional schools. The competition pool extends far beyond other educators though. Now, the competition is simply everyone and everything.

Consumers use the internet to find and research almost everything. Whether on a desktop, tablet, mobile device or even using a virtual assistant -- we don't wonder about things anymore -- we Google them! However, many universities are not participating in content marketing, organic SEO, and some of them aren't even cognizant of their search engine rankings! I get it, historically they haven't had to worry about it.. But with application, enrollment, and retention rates dropping year after year, a change needs to be made. And not just by creating online classes and degrees. University marketers have to change how they are attracting prospects to their institution. 

So let's talk about how to shake things up by adding some new aspects to higher education marketing. 


Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) are huge factors when people are searching for answers.

Search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo, and even Facebook) find information for searches. However, my colleague Zach stated in a post earlier this year, "The third word in SEO, optimization, refers to the way smart business owners create content specifically tailored so that their content, and their website, will show up more prominently on one or more of these search engines."  Well said Zach! 

In essence, SEO is the active creation of content on your website to fuel information for search engines. Search engines need to know what your school offers, what those offerings entail, and yes, even how much it costs to earn that degree! With rich content that explains these items to search engines, your content is more likely to be used in a user's search results. Some key factors help with this SEO:

  • Ensuring each page has more than 300 words (though we recommend at least 500)
  • Utilizing keyword research to focus page content, metadata, and headings (especially H1, H2, and H3)
  • Using that same keyword in your page url

These factors help to ensure your pages show up in search results -- or rather search engine results page (SERP). And most people only look at page ONE. So, the more work you can do to increase your search rankings, the better chance you have of attracting new students.

Have you noticed, though, that search engines have A LOT of websites to index and organize these days? Everyone has a website. You have to know the rules of the game to play in this current SEO environment. You can help search engines out by organizing your website in a format that fits how users search. That means creating pillar pages with supporting topic clusters. 

Content Marketing

Content marketing may be a taboo concept at your school. It is time consuming and some also feel like it is an old tactic. But it actually feeds SEO and SERPs and increases brand awareness along the way. Content marketing could be the way a smaller, lesser-known university beats out a giant state school.

Blogging is merely one form of content marketing. In my opinion it is a must -- but it has to be done in combination with a couple of things:

  • Proper keyword research based on your target persona -- what your prospective students are searching for as well as how they are wording it in the search
  • Proper content for all stages of the decision process -- top, middle, and bottom of the funnel.

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Jonah Deaver, who has worked with 200 university programs, says it’s critical to engage with prospective students starting from the awareness stage. “Marketers should provide them with good information so that along the journey the students will think, ‘That X University is really helpful, I like them, and will listen to them going forward.’ This sets the stage for making a more impactful brand impression at the consideration/decision stages.”

Smart institutions may also include both gated and ungated high value content that provides prospective students -- and their parents -- with information needed to make the best long-term decision on where to attend college. With gated content, schools will then have email addresses or phone numbers to run lead nurturing campaigns and share additional content to help prospective students make their decisions or invite them to upcoming events or social media groups that bring them into the community even if their decision to apply is not yet solidified. 

You can't stop marketing at the awareness stage though! Experts are advising that prospective students should have between four and eight schools on their application list. So you'll need to keep marketing to those prospects all the way through until they enroll and attend that first class! 

University of Colorado Denver has used Facebook groups to increase enrollments after student applicants have been accepted. These invitation only groups for incoming freshmen allow communication between prospective students and include them in a community, even before officially enrolling or attending a single class.

Retention marketing is another thing completely that we won't discuss here. Typically that is not done in the university marketing departments. However, this a huge area of innovation at universities across the country. 

Feeling like you need more information on these aspects of marketing, maybe more of a how-to properly implement these SEO and content marketing tactics into your higher ed or college marketing? Don't worry, this post is the beginning of a series to dig deeper and explain in more detail why you need these tactics and, more importantly, HOW to use and implement them!

But if it sounds like too much for your team right now -- reach out to us for a chat on how we can help you attract students (put butts in seats) for your institution, your program, or your course. In the meantime, fill out our form for a FREE SEO audit and see how you stack up. 

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