At a time when people are spending considerable more time at home, many individuals are looking to upskill or pursue degree programs in order to gain a competitive edge in an increasingly competitive employment market.
As a result, colleges and universities are creating new program offerings at record rates as schools scramble to launch courses that today’s prospective students want.
Unfortunately, many of these courses are created with a “built it and they shall come” mentality, and often give little thought as to what marketing resources will be required to effectively launch these new programs.
So, with the overworked and often under recognized marketing manager in mind, whose responsibility it is to put “bums in seats” for these new programs, here’s a digital marketing checklist to help make your new program launch successful.
1. Make Student Personas Part of Your Education Marketing Strategy
Most people take personas for granted and will say something along the lines of: “of course we know who our target students are”.
You may say this, but you may not have not broken it down to a level of detail that you can use to effectively develop your messaging and refine your digital marketing for schools.
Creating student personas is a three step process. The first step is identifying who, exactly, your students are: where they come from, what languages they speak, etc. This will form the background section of your personas:
The next step involves thinking about what your prospects are looking for in a course, school, and community. These are the persona’s “motivations.” In other words, these are the selling points your students are looking for, which means they’re the factors you should emphasize in your marketing efforts:
The last step in persona development is “concerns”—also known as the things which prevent a person from applying, or, in other words, the things they most certainly aren’t looking for in a school:
Even the practice of thinking about these different components will help you greatly in your marketing efforts as you will be putting yourself in their shoes, so to speak, which will help you run more relevant, targeted, and accurate campaigns.
2. Developing Program Pages is a Key Component of Digital Marketing for Colleges
Depending on the nature of your program, and your institution’s web strategy and your resources, you may be dealing with anywhere from a couple of pages up to a microsite or a new subdomain.
Regardless of the number of pages you ultimately build, the most important principles of good program page design are the same. They include:
- use clear, informative content, telling your story
- plan for the user experience on your page
- professional images
- videos describing your program (if possible)
- clear calls to action (get info, download pdf, speak to an advisor)
- lead generation forms to collect contact info of prospects
Example: The Business section of Dorset College Dublin’s website, as well as an individual course page. As you can see, the design is modern and attractive; the layout is easy to navigate; and there are multiple calls to action (including “APPLY NOW” and “Leave a Message”) that follow as you scroll down the page.
Individual course page
Keep in mind that the above best practices apply not only to the desktop version of your site, but the mobile one as well. Even if your site has a responsive design structure, it does not automatically mean that everything will be perfectly laid out for your mobile users.
Here are a few best practices to keep in mind for your mobile course page:
- Reduce loading speed
- Ensure text is clear and easy to read
- Optimize menus for easy navigation
- Keep CTAs front-and-centre
- Ensure all buttons are clickable
- Disable popups
Although it will no doubt take time and effort to create a winning course page on desktop and mobile, it’s something worth investing in considering the fact that the majority of your prospects will rely on these pages to learn more about your new course.
3. Incorporate On-page and Off-page SEO Best Practices
Build your pages to be found. You must apply SEO best practices to your pages to ensure that they will be found by, ranked and displayed in the search engines, particularly Google.
On-page SEO refers to the practice of optimizing an individual web page to rank higher in search and generate more traffic. There are a number of different on-page optimization techniques, all of which revolve around keywords.
If you want to maximize the visibility of your new course, it’s important to include relevant keywords (i.e. those relating to the course, program, or degree) in strategic places on the course page, including:
- Page title
- H1 tag
- Meta Description
- Image file names
- Image alt tags
Your school may also want to integrate some keywords throughout the page copy, whether that be in the body text or header tags, but just make sure to not overdo it. If search engines suspect you of “keyword stuffing”—i.e. trying to arbitrarily add as many keywords into your content as possible—your rankings will take a hit.
Example: Medix College’s Dental Assisting program page. We’ve identified a few areas where the school has integrated dental-related keywords.
Off-page SEO, in contrast, is a bit more complicated. This practice refers to the actions taken outside of your own website to impact your search rankings. To put it plainly: every time another website links to yours, it improves your search rankings.
Although generating backlinks is not as easy as plugging in keywords, you can focus on getting your program’s business partners like advisory committee members, key suppliers and coop placement companies to put a link from their sites to yours.
4. Leverage your Institution’s Website in your Education Marketing Strategy
It is important you take FULL advantage of your institution’s online website when promoting a new course, including the online full-time calendar, part-time and continuing ed calendars—whichever your new course will fit into. Make sure you are cross referenced everywhere possible in terms of program listings.
Next, take advantage of every possible “news” channel including news pages, press releases, international department news etc. Request, beg or extort a link to your program page on your school’s home page, even if only a limited time announcement about your launch to build presence and traffic to your program pages.
Example: Linkoping University’s homepage, with its new program highlighted.
One tactic education professionals sometimes use to identify all of these options is to search the site for the last important new program launch to determine what options were made available to them.
5. Get Your School’s Content Marketing in Place
In today’s very competitive search environment, your school must have a content marketing component to your program launch and on-going education marketing efforts. Best case is to publish content related to your program once a week in your program specific blog, or web pages.
Example: A blog from the University of Essex launching their online Master of Education program.
Contributing to other blogs, be they internal to your institution or external, with a link back to your pages is also effective. Get into the practice of making announcements or promoting events, always on your pages, or externally with a link back to your pages for best results.
If you have the time and resources, engage with local media, publish PowerPoint presentations and videos on your program specific YouTube channel. We understand that not every school will have the resources to do all of this for each new program, but the more channels you can promote your new course, the more positive the enrollment results will be.
6. Social Media is an Integral Part of Digital Marketing for Schools
To realize your enrollment goals, your school needs social media to compliment its content marketing efforts. Not only does social media do a great job of getting the word out for your new course—it’s also a great channel for communicating with your audience.
Social media offers a wide landscape of possibilities, so pick one or two channels to start—likely Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn—and start building a presence. Now, this doesn’t mean that you can’t promote your course on other channels. This just provides you with a starting block upon which to build your social strategy.
The most important thing to keep in mind in your posts is to link back to the content you’ve produced. This simultaneously gets your message out and builds inbound links back to your pages, enhancing your SEO.
Example: A tweet from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology announcing its new winter city design course. Featuring your students, as NAIT did, is a great way to entice new prospects.
FYI – if you have a plan in place for SEO, content marketing and social media, congratulations, you can now tell your boss you have “Inbound Marketing” covered.
7. Consider Adding Paid Ads to Your Digital Marketing Strategy for Colleges
If you have the budget, paid advertising is an excellent tool to help drive traffic to your pages when you launch your new course. You can take a branding approach on the display network, driving traffic to your home page, or you can dive right into lead generation ads on the search network with recruitment landing pages to drive registrations. The options are endless
Example: In this particular search, four ads appear for the query “online marketing course,” thereby taking up a significant portion of the first Google search results page. Since it will no doubt take time to build authority and generate traffic for your new course page, search ads are a great way to ensure that interested prospects see your course when researching schools.
Social media ads are also a great option for spreading the word of your school’s new course. When it comes to digital marketing for colleges, social advertising is an excellent way to reach prospective students on the channels they frequent most.
Example: A Facebook ad for Cumberland College’s digital marketing program. Social ads tend to generate a great deal more traffic than organic posts, so, with the right design and targeting, you can gain a significant number of leads for relatively little ad spend.
If the student personas for your new course differs in any degree from your typical target market, advertising could prove highly effective for reaching this new audience.
8. Monitor, Test and Improve your Education Marketing Efforts
This may be more of a post launch activity but it is really important to also be thinking about these things at the planning and launch stages. Google Analytics needs to be set up properly on your pages or microsite to allow you to see the impact of your launch activities.
Goals in Google Analytics are a great way to monitor the success of your launch. Once your school begins to get feedback you can then begin to test ways to improve and optimize your content, calls to action, and landing pages, etc to drive better results.
Launching a new program comes with lots of excitement and high expectations of success. By putting a launch plan in place and using these digital marketing tactics you can greatly improve your chances of being successful.
In this post we’ve provided a number of high priority launch tactics but there are certainly lots of other creative approaches and tactics that can also be used. From your experience what other tactics have worked best for you at your institution? Leave your answer in the comments section!
**This blog was originally published in September 2015, but has been updated and expanded to reflect the latest trends and developments in the industry.