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Need more high quality student leads?

If so, you’re in good company because this is probably the most common requirement we hear about when speaking with higher ed marketers. Every school is a bit different in its approach to online lead generation but there are, of course, very common elements and recommendations that apply to just about everyone.

Source: Direct Marketing Done Well Blog

The number of leads your online marketing produces is a function of two things:  1) the number of visitors from your target audience that your site attracts and 2) your ability to convert members of that audience into leads. Items 1 -7 of this checklist suggest ways to increase your visitor traffic. Items  8-13 suggest ways to increase  your conversion rates on that traffic.

So here is our list of the most common recommendations we offer to schools looking to increase the number of leads they produce from their online marketing.

1. Become proficient with Google Analytics  To generate more qualified traffic on your website you must first understand the traffic you’re getting now. Google Analytics (GA)will help you do that. Get it installed and get it configured properly. GA is the computer that monitors your lead gen engine and tells you what’s working and what is not. Work with it for a while to understand the traffic and behavior patterns of visitors on your site. Then translate your business goals into key performance indicators and goals within analytics.

2.  Invest in Your On-Page SEO You must invest in on-page search engine optimization. On-page SEO is the process of optimizing the content of your pages so that the search engines find it and rank you highly for the keywords that your audience is using to search for on the web. It may be the one thing that can most improve your lead generation production. On page optimization involves keyword research, making sure your content includes your target keywords, defining you page meta data, setting good page titles, setting proper H1 tags, etc.  Don’t skimp on this work. It is critical

 3. Invest in Off-Page SEO – Off page optimization is primarily the activity of building respectable external links to your site.  For example, having the New York Times link to your site from within a story about well-run higher ed institutions. Each high quality link you get from a respectable source passes “authority” to your site. The more authority your site has the higher you rank. The higher the rank the more traffic you get. Link building is critical to high ranking but it can also be a risky if you try and take short cuts or do it badly.   Do the research to understand what good links are and then get to work to create them.

4. Develop and Refine your Content Strategy The concept of “content is king” has never been more true than it is today with respect to search rankings. To be successful you must have a strategy for content development and publishing where you regularly publish high quality, relevant, keyword-driven content that is specifically crafted for your target audience.  Develop an overarching plan that incorporates producing content for various media, ie, video, podcasts, blogging, press releases, infographics, microblogging, newsletters, email, etc. Set you sights high and aim to produce viral content. Start writing and publishing today. And don’t forget you have two audiences – people and search engine spiders, in that order of prioirity.

5. Get on Top of Social Media– If you haven’t got a well defined social media strategy yet then you are behind your competition. Get YouTube, Facebook and Twitter accounts set up immediately and start to engage with your target audience. Get your social media icons on everything, yes I mean everything, and the traffic will begin to flow. Your content strategy should also define what content gets pushed out to which of your social media channels. Track social media activity in analytics and identify which channels are producing leads and focus on developing them even more. Most importantly you must genuinely engage with your market, faking it simply won’t work.  Once you have the main channels addressed, start experimenting with the secondary ones like Pinterest. And keep experimenting, social media is not going to go away.

6. Build a great Mobile Website and get into Mobile Marketing – Your students live on their mobile phones. You probably do too. Your website traffic from mobile devices is probably between 10-15 % and increasing. You need a mobile strategy that includes both your content and your marketing. You can produce a separate standalone mobile site or you can redesign your complete website using responsive web design (RWD).  You need to have a mobile site to get your content there. Get your advertising there too, to meet them. It is still early days in terms of mobile advertising so you can usually get better than average ROI with campaigns here.

7. Invest Strategically in Online Advertising – PPC (and other online) advertising can do wonders for your traffic but remember, it is temporary effect and evaporates when you turn off the budget. It is a tactical marketing tool that can be extremely effective if used correctly. Unfortunately, a lot of people try out PPC on their own, fail and then write it off because it did not work. For example, pushing PPC traffic to your home page, for branding purposes is simply not a productive approach.  PPC advertising is not easy to do well, so get some help, at least initially, to learn the ropes on how to target it, track it, and optimize it.  Banner, button and newsletter advertising are other tactics you should consider to drive traffic if you have specialized academic programs that are suited to this kind of advertising for example,online MBAs.

8. Upgrade your Website Design We can all appreciate the aesthetic of a well-designed web site but what is the effect of design on lead and registration conversion. Research indicates that students will often drop a college from their possible list if they can’t find the information they need (or want) on the website.  So flatten your architecture and simplify your navigation for starters. Most importantly build your next site with your audience in the driver’s seat, and give them what they want.

9. Improve your Customer Segmentation – Your audience is made up of many discrete segments. To successfully capture them as leads your website and marketing must speak their language, address their mindset and provide information that is appropriate to their particular stage in the recruitment process. Many schools use home page segmentation strategies to do this but don’t rely on that exclusively. Develop page flow and conversion events that speak to their content requirements and psychographic characteristics for best results.

10. Create more Conversion Events –  Your web pages must provide conversion events at critical junctures to capture leads. Interactive video, chat agents, info request forms, document downloads, newsletters, ebooks, email lists, campus visits, etc ,are all examples of conversion points you can integrate throughout your site, at appropriate points, to capture lead info.

11. Increase your A/B Testing Activity – Research reports that organizations with the highest conversion rates are typically the ones doing 30+ A/B tests a month. If you want to increase you conversion rates you need to learn how to use “Experiments” within Google Analytics and make A/B testing a part of your regular marketing activities. Start simple and run an A/B test on the call to action on your most important landing page. Learn from it, optimize that page and then keep at least one test running at all times. (on this or other pages) and you will reap the conversion rewards.

12. Improve your Lead Conversion Rates with CRO Landing pages and your regular web pages all contain “conversion events”. The goal of the all pages is generally to facilitate those events.  A landing page is a pretty obvious conversion. Regular pages might contain a pdf download or a link to another key page that you know is really important to facilitate registrations. Regardless of the type of pages you manage or conversion you seek, you must see each page a having a goal, or multiple goals, and you must learn and apply the principles of Conversion Rate Optimization to produce more leads.

13. Understand Conversion Attribution for your leads – Do you regularly and accurately track which of your lead sources convert at the highest rate. Do you know what interaction of a visitor across your lead sources produces the highest rate of return.  Google Analytics now includes a tool that allows you to conduct this analysis and gain deeper insights into the effectiveness of your marketing. If you tag you offline activites you can even integrate those sources into your analysis. Why pursue these complicated analyses? Simply put, they will indicate what works and where to direct your marketing dollars in the future to get maximum lead conversions.

Your student lead production can be very directly affected by improving your skills with each of these tactics, not to mention the cumulative effect your can get if you apply yourself to using these practices across your marketing mix. Some are more appropriate for some schools than others but that is up to you to determine.  The important thing is to examine your specific circumstances and apply the most appropriate strategies to produce the most impact.

Does this checklist of key practices appeal to your marketing sensibilities? Would you recommend any that do not appear on this list. Which have you found to be the most important? We look forward to getting your feedback.