In challenging times where it is harder and harder to attract qualified prospective students, business schools need a robust, comprehensive digital marketing presence more than ever.
Ensuring that your institution is actively attracting engagement across multiple digital channels, reaching the right target markets, and properly tracking and measuring your success can all be vital, helping you keep your enrolment numbers stable and your recruitment efforts cost-efficient.
While it can be a time-consuming and resource-intensive process, investing in a digital marketing audit can help business schools refine and optimize their approaches in several different areas, and adapt their plans to the current climate.
In this blog, we cover just a few of the most crucial problems that a digital marketing audit can help address. If you feel your school is coming up short in any of these areas, this exercise could be for you.
Using an Audit to Refine Student Personas and Key Messaging
If you have never created target personas for your business school, a digital marketing audit might be a good time to do it. Personas will allow you to paint a clear picture of a typical member of your target audience, their demographic characteristics, goals, and pain points.
Example: An example of a persona for a business school.
Personas can help you develop key messages which emphasize why your school and programs are the right choice for your audience, and be integrated into your content across your digital channels to better speak to the needs of these prospects.
Even if you already have personas, an audit is a good opportunity to review whether they could be refined to better serve your needs. Many business schools may have long-established personas that need to be adjusted to reflect the current realities of their target audience. For instance, you might attract more international students that you used to, or prospects from different locations. Perhaps your prospects might have been younger in the past, but are now more likely to be older, established professionals.
Even if the changes haven’t been this major, your school may have collected additional information over the years, such as market research or surveys of current students that can be used to add more depth to your personas. You might also seek feedback from your admissions team about their experience speaking to students and the common questions and concerns they encounter.
During your audit, you can collate and analyze this information, identifying any inconsistencies or issues, and updating your personas and their corresponding key messages accordingly.
Evaluating Your Business School’s Web Traffic
Once you have properly defined your personas, your school should assess whether it is actually attracting that audience online. A good place to start is by reviewing your web traffic by location in Google Analytics. You can break this down by country, by city, or even by region, depending on how wide an audience you are targeting.
Example: This location report for a school shows steady growth in the United States and a number of countries in Southeast Asia.
You should also evaluate how each of these locations performs in terms of conversions, which may provide some valuable insights. In the above example, for instance, countries outside the USA report high traffic but not high conversions. This could possibly be improved if the school refined its website to better speak to international audiences.
There might be some pleasant surprises in store for your school, too. When analyzing traffic and conversions in this amount of depth, it’s possible you will discover that certain locations have extremely high conversion rates relative to the traffic they are generating. If these are markets you have overlooked, you may have discovered a high-value new audience.
In addition to looking at where in the world your traffic is coming from, you should also look at where online it is coming from. Reviewing your website traffic by source will allow you to discern which channels are performing best in driving interested prospects to your website.
Example: This channel report in GA shows organic and paid search driving the most traffic for a school, with small supplemental traffic from referrals, direct traffic, and social media.
Depending on your results and your goals, you might decide to change your approach or devote more resources to underperforming channels, such as specific social networks. Alternatively, you may decide that it’s more prudent to double your efforts on channels where you are already performing well, investing more resources to get an even higher return.
While it’s good practice to review all of this data on a regular basis anyway, doing so within the wider context of an audit will help you make connections that you didn’t see before, and discover deeper meanings behind the numbers.
A Business School Digital Marketing Audit Can Help You Track Conversions More Accurately
Almost any activity on your website can be tracked to help measure the health of your online presence. In Google Analytics, your school can create goals to measure everything from minor indicators of interest and engagement (micro conversions), to serious milestones in the enrolment journey (macro conversions).
Some of the conversions which might be important for your school to track would include:
- Form completions
- Event registrations
- Newsletter subscriptions
- Conversions from advertising campaigns
- Downloads of brochures and other materials
- Page and video views
- CTA clicks
- Online application submissions
A digital marketing audit for business schools can help you better define what these goals should be. Analytics experts can go through your website with a fine-tooth comb to identify and categorize different conversion opportunities and create a comprehensive plan that your team can implement going forward.
An audit can also be a chance to identify errors and technical issues that could make your tracking inaccurate. For instance, a common problem some business schools have involves the efficacy of cross-domain tracking. If your school is part of a university, your site may exist on a subdomain of the larger institution.
Example: The website of Rotman School of Management, the University of Toronto’s business school, is a subdomain of the larger institution’s main utoronto.ca site.
If not configured properly, prospects navigating from the subdomain to the main site and vice versa could be incorrectly labeled as referral or direct traffic, meaning your reporting will not properly reflect the channels that your leads are coming from.
Other common issues that audits can throw up include improper use of tracking codes, as well as the suboptimal classification of Google Analytics goals – e.g., goals which are being tracked as event goals (such as a website click or form submission), but would be more accurately tracked as a destination goal (reaching a specific URL such as a thank you page).
An Audit’s Findings Can Help Improve Your School’s SEO
Search algorithms are complex systems that account for a variety of factors, with everything from page architecture, to inbound and outbound links, to page speed and mobile-friendliness all having the potential to affect your school’s rankings.
Digital marketing audits for business schools can be an opportunity to take a deep dive into every element that could potentially be influencing your visibility in important searches. As a starting point, your school can define a list of priority keywords it should be targeting. This can include search terms specific to your programs, localized keywords, or any other specific keywords which might have high relevance to the audience you are targeting.
Example: An excerpt from a recommended keywords list for a business school.
With a defined list of target keywords, your team can see how well it is ranking in specific searches and strategize ways to improve.
An audit from SEO experts can help you in this process by providing a detailed list of on-page and off-page SEO recommendations that you can implement to increase your chances of achieving more visibility. Some common recommendations might include:
- Reviewing and optimizing page titles and meta descriptions
- Optimizing header tags (H1s, H2s, etc.) and ensuring they are being used correctly
- Redirecting 404 error pages
- Removing or redirecting broken links from your site
- Removing, deferring, and compressing elements on certain pages to improve loading speeds
- Creation of new content for SEO purposes
While they may seem complex, the majority of these issues will often be relatively quick fixes and could have a hugely positive effect on your visibility.
Analyzing Your Business School’s Competitors
One of the most valuable parts of a digital marketing audit can be comparing your efforts to your main competitors. Going channel by channel, you can assess how much visibility and engagement other institutions are generating, what techniques they are employing, and how strong their presence is in comparison with your own.
The results can be particularly instructive, and pave the way for both small scale and large scale improvements that your school can implement. You might find, for instance, that your competitors rank more highly than your school does in a number of key searches or enjoys more visibility in certain target markets.
Example: In a Montreal-based search for the keyword business master’s programs, Schulich School of Business, Rotman School of Management, Smith School of Business, McGill University, and Alberta School of Business all rank in the top six. This is likely a highly desirable keyword for each of these schools.
Armed with this information, you might resolve to focus more resources on improving your organic SEO, or even supplementing your efforts with paid search advertising to improve your chances of reaching prospects more immediately.
You may also be able to learn from your competitors’ creative strategies across digital channels. For example, they might have a particularly active, engaged community on LinkedIn, demonstrate thought leadership when creating blogs and news articles, or even just have a more intuitively designed website. In these situations, your school might be able to take inspiration from their strategies and adapt their approaches in your own initiatives.
Example: This is the homepage of Schulich School of Business, the top-ranking school in the above search.
And this is the homepage of Smith School of Management, which ranked fourth in the search.
Which website leaves a better first impression? What could they learn from each other to improve? Analyzing your competitors can often be as simple as asking these questions.
To take this to the next level, an audit could also include a mystery shopping component, where inquiries are submitted to your competitors by team members posing as potential applicants in order to assess their follow-up processes. Do they follow up more quickly than you? Do they attempt contact by email, phone, SMS, or a combination of different channels? What features and benefits do they emphasize in their lead nurturing efforts to convince students to choose their school? This exercise will help you to get a clearer sense of how you measure up, and decide how to best utilize your resources to improve.
Auditing Your CRM and Marketing Automation Processes
Digital marketing can also drive many aspects of your internal admissions process. From how you segment and categorize the leads you generate online in a CRM, to the use of marketing automation processes to streamline your lead generation and follow-up, the digital aspects of your activities can determine their efficiency and effectiveness.
A business school digital marketing audit is a chance to have experts review your CRM and marketing automation software accounts and how they are set up, including the roles and permission levels of your staff, the stages in your lead lifecycle, and your reporting. They may be able to suggest better ways to your organize your team, or draw your attention to functionalities in your system that you were not utilizing.
Example: Lead scoring – seen here in action in HubSpot – is a common feature of many CRM and marketing automation platforms, but is not always widely used by business schools.
It is also an opportunity to review your various marketing automation assets, including CTAs, forms, emails, and landing pages, and evaluate their design, copy, use in campaigns, and alignment with your marketing goals.
In addition, an audit carried out by marketing automation experts can reveal errors in reporting, workflows, and other more technical marketing automation functions that can cause problems in helping you move prospects down the funnel towards enrolment. For instance, many business schools use very complex email workflows for certain campaigns, which can often contain small mistakes that might stop them from working correctly.
Other Areas You Can Evaluate in a Digital Marketing Audit for Schools
In addition to all of these areas, a digital marketing audit can be used to analyze your presence across a number of online channels. You can evaluate your social media marketing efforts to ensure your posting strategies are reaching prospective students effectively. You can also use it as an opportunity to refine your content marketing strategy, evaluate the ROI of your paid advertising efforts, or even analyze the UX of your web design.
An audit can include all of these areas, just a few, or even just one if you only want to look at a specific area of improvement or your time and budgetary resources are limited. Whether large or small, it can still provide in-depth recommendations that will help shape your digital marketing efforts for years to come.