8 Essential Marketing Steps of Launching A New College Program

Date posted: September 30, 2015

college marketing

Colleges and universities are creating new program offerings at record rates as administrative and academic execs scramble to create programs to attract new students and additional tuition revenue. Unfortunately many of these same people are of the “build 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)      Clearly define student persona(s) for your target audience

Most people kind of take this for granted and will say “of course we know who our target students are”. You may, but you probably have not broken it down to a level of detail that you can use to effectively develop your messaging and refine your marketing. Check out this previous post on developing personas  for more details.

2)      Develop your program web pages

Depending on the nature of your program, your institutions 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)
  • testimonials
  • clear calls to action ( get info, download pdf, speak to an advisor)
  • lead generation forms to collect contact info of prospects

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 your pages will be found by, ranked and displayed in the search engines, particular Google. We’ve blogged a lot on this topic in the past so I refer you to two previous posts on why you must invest in SEO and SEO basics .  
Off-page SEO is a bit more complicated so keep this simple by focusing 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 online presence

It is important you take FULL advantage of your institutions online presence including the online full-time calendar, part-time and continuing ed calendars, which ever you 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 schools home page, even if only a limited time announcement about your launch to build presence and traffic to your program pages. One tactic I sometime use to identify all of these options is to search the site for the last really important new program launch to determine what options were made available to them.

5)      Get your content marketing in place

In today’s very competitive search environment you must have a content marketing component to your launch and on-going marketing efforts. Best case is to publish content related to your program once a week in your program specific blog, or web pages. 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 ppt presentations and videos on your program specific YouTube channel.  I appreciate not every new program will have the resources to do all of this but take on as much as you can, and you will get results.

Lauch nursing

6)      Set up social media channels

To realize your enrollment goals you need social media to amplify your content marketing and to create a channel with which to communicate with your audience. Social media offers a wide landscape of possibilities, so pick one or two to start, probably Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, and start building a presence. Most important is to tweet and link to the content your produce, which gets your message out and builds inbound links back to your pages, enhancing your SEO.  

Launch ribbon cuttingSource 

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 pay-per-click marketing

If you have the budget, PPC advertising is an excellent tool to help drive traffic to your pages at launch. 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.

8)      Monitor, test and improve your marketing

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. Analytics needs to be set up properly on your pages/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 begin 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?