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higher education marketing

The last 8 years has been a very exciting period of growth for our company, beginning as a one man shop in a shared office, to the present, where we have 20 staff, and are currently looking for a building of our own in Montreal.

We began publishing this blog in July of 2010, with the goal of providing helpful information about the news, strategy, tactics, and tools of digital marketing to higher education marketers. Since then we have published over 250 posts on topics ranging widely from analytics to our favourite college and university Christmas greetings. Our blogging has been rewarding and fun, particularly when we get your feedback and have the chance to engage with you about our favourite topics.

Over the last 5 years, the practice of higher ed digital marketing has also changed in dramatic fashion, maturing and in many ways coming of age as an industry. Technology, content, design and marketing have mixed, blended and flourished.  Casting our mind’s eye back over the last 5 years of blogging brings into focus a number of really significant changes in our marketplace that we thought we would highlight and share with you.

So, here’s our list of the 10 most important shifts that we’ve seen in higher ed digital marketing over our last 5 years:

  1. The Evolution of Google Search – The Google search algorithm has changed a lot over the last 5 years with Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird, Pigeon, and other updates. Google has refined the science of relevance to new heights, continuing to challenge, frustrate and send search marketers into apoplectic fits as they try to discern search ranking factors. But the essentials are clear – high quality content, on high quality responsive websites will prevail. And a presence on other google properties like YouTube, Google+ and Google places can certainly help things along.
  2. SEO has grown up – Search Engine Optimization is now recognized and generally understood, if not embraced by higher ed marketers.  Budgets are there for it, and web designers, producers, webmasters and marketers have learned the basics of SEO and are now moving towards becoming competitive in capturing critical keyword intersections.  In our new world, where the customer finds you rather than you finding the customer, SEO is an essential tool in the toolkit.
  3. Content is still king – The emergence of content marketing over the last few years has been nothing short of remarkable.  Google led the way, encouraging marketers to enrich themselves by contributing rich, high quality content to the web. Social media also took up the torch, making it so easy to create and publish content that it seemed natural from the start. Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn, to name only a few, are now content publishers and warehouses at a scale of which no one could have imagined 5 years ago. And the content juggernaut continues to change and evolve, optimizing on bandwidth and processing power to give us the visual web, fueled  by high quality images, animations and video .
  4. Social media plays a critical role in prospect engagement – Social media has both tantalized and frustrated education marketers with the great promise of access, engagement and student conversion.  But the numbers are undeniable. Social media has virally expanded into the lives of your teenagers and your grandparents and everyone in between. Social media is where prospective students gather and relate to each another. Direct conversions are rarer but the power of social media to amplify content and to draw eyes to your message and brand is undeniable.
  5. The Rise of Mobile – I think it was about 3 years ago when responsive design really hit the higher ed market.  It has taken a while to sort itself out but it is now crystal clear that web sites must be mobile friendly, if not mobile-first.  The google search algorithm gives it preference and social media thrives in it, and your prospective students never put it down. Mobile apps, local search and geo-location now present even more opportunity to reach your market in real time. Higher ed  institutions are realizing they must have a clear mobile strategy to take them into the future.
  6. From Outbound to Inbound Marketing – The traditional outbound marketing model used by most institutions in the past is rapidly eroding. From opt in email, to web chat, to social media,  the tools of the trade today engage and encourage the prospect to adopt the institution rather than to be simply sold on its merits by it. There is still a place for traditional outbound marketing tactics in the mix but they must support a different focus in today’s marketing.
    higher education marketingSource 
  7. The integration of SEO, Content and Social Media – In the past these marketing “tactics” have been perceived and often managed as separate and discrete activities. They are better seen as a tightly integrated, “tumbling triangle”, sustaining each other, building momentum together, and ineffective if treated in isolation.  Quality content drives SEO, is amplified by social media, and produces more content and the cycle repeats.
  8. Migration of budgets from traditional to digital –  The shift of marketing dollars from traditional to digital marketing has happened across all verticals including higher ed with over half now being digital. Many schools still lag but we have seen examples with up to 70% of budget in digital. The cost effectiveness of digital marketing simply cannot be ignored, driven by the fact that you can measure your ROI on monies spent and direct new spend most efficiently.
  9. Analytics has come of age – HEM is a highly analytics-driven marketing services company and has been since day one.  Tracking digital marketing performance and measuring ROI is fundamental to our approach. In the early days, one of our biggest challenges was to educate our customers about the importance of analytics and to frame our services around that. In today’s marketing environment everything has analytics built into it. From Google Analytics, to Twitter, to marketing automation tools like Hubspot, the practice and use of analytics are fundamental to good marketing.
  10. Students have changed –  Lastly, but definitely not least, it that is very important to note how much students and their behavior have changed with respect to pursuing higher education. Search patterns, mobile use, comfort with PPC advertising, preference for mobile, social media (and their friends) for determining their choices are a few newer realities of note.  Consistent with the emerging tenants of inbound marketing, they often do not want to talk to advisors, but would rather research and make decisions uninfluenced by others.  Today, marketers are much more sophisticated about knowing their customer, using sophisticated segmentation and customer personas to refine their messages.

The research and writing of this blog has helped us expand our knowledge and expertise in the always challenging intersection of digital marketing and higher education. Your feedback on the blog tells us it has also been helpful to you, and for that we are very glad. We would like to thank all of our clients, colleagues and readers for their encouragement and support of this blog over the years. We look forward to the next 5 years of blogging for you with great excitement and enthusiasm.

Do you agree we hit the right points above, or did we miss any major changes that would be in your top ten.  What would you add? Or subtract?

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