The Most Exciting Higher Education Digital Marketing Trends for 2020

Date posted: December 25, 2019

higher education marketing

As we enter the New Year, the thoughts of you and your team members are no doubt turning to your enrollment and marketing objectives for 2020, and what tactics you can use to achieve them.

But it isn’t always easy. Since both digital marketing and student recruitment are fluid, ever-evolving fields, what worked for you in the past may not work for you in the future.

Conversely, the development of new technologies, smarter processes, and exciting new creative formats can provide new opportunities that can give your school the competitive edge it has been lacking.

Curious to know what digital marketing trends your school should be paying attention to in 2020? Keep reading to find out.

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1. Is Google Analytics No Longer the Bottom Line in Measurement?

It’s hard to overstate the importance of Google Analytics. Since its launch in 2005, the tool has been adopted by over 85% of websites that actively monitor their traffic. For comparison, Facebook Pixel, the second most common traffic analysis tool on the market, is used by just over 13% of these sites. For a lot of professionals in the industry, GA is digital marketing data.

However, with so many other platforms in the digital world, there are always competitors out there striving to provide something better, slicker, and more intuitive. As a result, marketing expert Neil Patel has cautioned against overreliance on Google Analytics as we enter 2020. “It’s a great tool, especially considering that it’s free,” Patel writes. “But here is the thing… marketing has been changing. New channels are being constantly introduced, such as voice search. And transactions no longer are as simple as someone coming and buying from you and that’s it.”

Patel’s contention is that business intelligence (BI) software like Tableau and Megalytic now offer data blending and report creation capabilities that GA can’t match, while also going far beyond measuring your online presence and commercial success to offer a deeper analysis of your business as a whole.

Tableau even offers tailored solutions for the education sector, and many schools already use the software to manage everything from enrollment operations, to digital marketing for education, to security, to analysis of university spaces.

Example: This video from Tableau documents how Indiana University and Santa Barbara City College have used the platform to improve enrollment management and student retention.

Of course, Google is not the type of company that fails to move with the times, and its own Data Studio offers many of the same capabilities as these platforms, providing a possible solution for those that are used to using GA but want more comprehensive reporting tools. Crucially, like Google Analytics, it is also free.

While Google Analytics isn’t going anywhere, it will be interesting to see just how big a role Data Studio and other BI platforms play in measuring digital marketing success for schools next year.

2. DuckDuckGo Offers Privacy in Search

Another area where Google faces increased competition is search. The latest platform to make waves in this area is DuckDuckGo, which has seen its daily traffic almost double in the past year to over 40 million searches per day:

higher education marketing trends

Source: DuckDuckGo

Now, it’s important to note that this is barely even a dent in Google’s overall traffic, which currently stands at an incredible 2 trillion searches per day. It is even dwarfed by Bing, which is said to attract around 873 million queries daily.

What makes DuckDuckGo noteworthy is its USP: privacy. The search engine commits to not tracking, collecting, or selling user’s personal information. As a result, it has found quite a loyal audience among internet users who are increasingly conscious of this issue. The search engine does offer advertising, but the targeting is based solely on the search terms used, rather than any user demographic information.

Example: A snapshot of a DuckDuckGo SERP. Two ads are placed in the header and in the right-hand column.

education marketing

How likely your prospects are to use DuckDuckGo will largely depend on how big a concern privacy is for them. And while the platform’s self-imposed data collection restrictions means there is very little in the way of established user demographics, it is known that around 37% of its users come from the US, with Germany and the UK standing as its next biggest markets with 9.1% and 5% respectively.

While Google’s 92% share of the market is in no danger of going away any time soon, the current public concerns over privacy aren’t going anywhere either, and DuckDuckGo could easily become more and more important in 2020 and beyond.

3. Should Your School be Making Long-Form Videos?

We’ve spoken before about the advantages of long-form content in digital marketing when it comes to blogging. Despite the generally accepted wisdom that attention spans are becoming shorter, internet users have routinely shown an appetite for consuming in-depth written articles online.

But could the same be true of video? While most marketers keep their videos short and sweet, a 2017 study from TwentyThree revealed that while the majority of videos produced on the web clocked in at less than 5 minutes in length, videos that were longer than 15 minutes drove over 50% of overall video engagement.

education marketing trends 2020

Source: TwentyThree

Marketers are slowly starting to take notice of this, and some experts are predicting that 2020 will see a spike in the amount of long-form content produced. “Many of us are still under the impression that videos should be quickly digestible—that with all the other content competing for your interest on social media, marketing videos should last no more than 30 seconds to one minute,” ClickConsult Senior Digital PR Executive Daniel Sarath told Smart Insights. “However, consumers still have a hunger for stories, and marketers can satisfy their need with creative, narrative, long-form content that exceeds five minutes in duration. The rise of long-form video content is one of the key changes we expect to see in 2020.”

The good news is that many schools already produce long-form videos, particularly when covering events like lectures, campus tours, and graduation ceremonies. Capitalizing on this trend may simply be a matter of applying better production values to this content.

Example: This 27-minute video from the University of Sheffield documenting a student expedition to the Tian Shan Mountains of Kyrgyzstan is a great example of well-executed, engaging long-form video. The clip has attracted over 2,400 views on YouTube.

4. Could TikTok Finally Take Off for Education Marketing?

The phenomenal rise of TikTok over the last few years is no secret. With a reported 500 million monthly active users, the video sharing app has become the go-to social network for teenagers and young adults.

As with many new social media platforms, however, it has taken a while for brands to get up to speed, and for the app to develop the infrastructure to support sustained marketing and advertising efforts.

Fortunately, though, that is slowly but surely starting to change. It helped that the company introduced biddable ads to the platform earlier this year, which are available in three formats, including the novel hashtag challenges, where TikTok encourages users to create their own content using your hashtag on your behalf.

Example: An ad on TikTok for an app.

higher education social media trends

Source: Social Media Examiner

While advertising on TikTok isn’t cheap (daily budgets need to be at least $500), more affordable options may become available as the platform matures. Creative schools may also find some success posting on TikTok with unique GIFs, videos and challenges.

Example: The University of Florida has over 86,000 followers on TikTok.

5. AR Goes Mainstream, but What Does it Mean for Schools?

Since we’re talking about higher education marketing trends, remember Pokemon Go? Back in the summer of 2016, you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing people on their phones, frantically chasing after animated creatures that only they could see.

At the time, we speculated that even though the game might ultimately prove to be a fad, the augmented reality (AR) technology that made it possible could prove to be incredibly valuable for schools. And while the app’s popularity did ultimately dwindle, many experts are predicting that 2020 will indeed be the year that AR goes mainstream.

This is evident in the increase of its practical use among commercial brands. Ikea, for instance, has had huge success with an AR app that allows customers to place virtual versions of its furniture in their homes.

Of course, the most visible example of AR in the current digital landscape is the stories format on social media, which is now used by Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube. The graphics and filters available in the apps are basic forms of the tech.

These companies have shown signs that they will be doubling down on AR in the future. Both Facebook and Snap have been working on AR-enabled glasses which would allow users to overlay the outside world with different images as they walk around. While Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said their glasses won’t be ready until around 2022, some experts believe they may come out earlier than that, while Snap filed the patent for its own model – essentially an AR-enabled version of its existing Spectacles product  – back in 2017.

Example: A rendering submitted in Snap’s patent filing for its AR-enabled glasses, illustrating how the product would work.

higher ed digital marketing trends

Source: Social Media Today

The growth of AR could open up a number of exciting avenues to schools, who could potentially use it to liven up campus tours and events, add a digital edge to printed promotional materials, or create other kinds of unique, immersive experiences.

6. Responsive Search Ads Could be Huge in Higher Ed Paid Advertising

In the world of paid advertising, perhaps one of the most exciting developments of the year was the launch of Google’s Responsive Search Ads. Not only do these ads adapt to fit different devices and screens, they also adapt their content to match what users are searching for.

Advertisers can create up to 15 different headlines and up to four alternate descriptions for a single ad, and Google’s AI will then determine which combinations most closely match the intent of individual users based on their search term. The AI will also test different combinations to determine which ones deliver the best results.

Example: An example from Google Ads of a Responsive Search campaign in action. The first ad shown is a combination of Headlines 1, 2, and 3, and Description 1. The second ad combines Headlines 11, 7, and 9 with Description 3.

digital marketing trends 2020

Source: Google

This feature could make a huge difference to schools running paid ad campaigns on Google, helping to improve conversion rates by mirroring the language your prospects use more closely.

Experts are predicting that the growth of Responsive Search Ads could have huge implications for digital marketing, fundamentally altering the way search advertising works, and requiring those who operate in the field to develop expanded skillsets in both content creation and algorithm development.

“To stay ahead of the competition in 2020, we’ll need a new kind of digital marketer,” said SEMrush Senior PPC Manager Sergey Matrosov. “The one to combine creative assets, strong data analysis skills and the ability to build and maintain neural networks for digital marketing. This is what the PPC specialist will look like in the near future.”

While it’s always interesting the speculate about what the future will hold, it’s important to do so with caution. This time last year, we discussed everything from IGTV, to YouTube Reels, to ad-free social network Vero, all of which have struggled as of yet to make a significant mark on the digital landscape. On the other side of the coin, there’s always a chance that a new app, feature, or trend will come out of nowhere and set the online world on fire.

When in doubt, keeping faith with tried and true best practices and channels is usually the wisest approach in higher education digital marketing. Strategies which are built on solid foundations – clearly defined personas, carefully chosen key messages, and a commitment to crafting quality content in all mediums – will always be a recipe for success, no matter what the future holds.

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