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In these challenging times for higher education providers, many colleges and universities are looking to international student recruitment to meet enrollment goals while expanding campus diversity. As student mobility has increased, so has the global competition to attract these students through various digital marketing initiatives. Some institutions have proven more successful in this pursuit than others – according to the recent Institute of International Education “Open Doors” report, just five percent of U.S. colleges and universities host 69% of all international students in the country.

When recruiting internationally, it’s important to recognize that it takes more than applying your same domestic marketing strategy worldwide. To target prospective students in a specific country or region, an emerging best practice is to create a customized microsite in the applicable language, providing only the most relevant information for a certain audience and purpose. Multilingual microsites can be condensed versions of your primary website or feature unique content differentiated to appeal to specific cultural characteristics. They are a cost-effective way of testing new markets, introducing new audiences to your brand, and meeting program-specific objectives in a controlled online environment.

Example:  Australia’s Monash University created a Chinese microsite to act as a window to existing websites and the wider school community. “China’s online world operates quite separately to ours and our existing websites did not register on the Chinese search engines – we were invisible to the majority of web users in China,” said Dorothy Albrecht, Executive Director of Marketing and Communications.

Monash University international microsite

Expanding Reach Strategically

As internet access spreads rapidly throughout the world, formerly impenetrable regions can now be reached directly without an agent intermediary. Microsites can dramatically expand a college’s reach, often at a fraction of the cost of overseas print ads or other initiatives. They are specially crafted to communicate your school’s benefits in the language of your visitor’s choice while also making it easy for them to find you by integrating keywords that prospects are searching for in their language. Google’s Keyword Planner is helpful for searching keyword statistics by country or region, whether conducting international PPC campaigns or exclusively for developing web content.

While students look to the internet as their primary source of information on universities, multilingual microsites are even more vital for convincing their parents, who play a particularly important role in the decision process for international students. It is both a significant investment and a tremendous leap of faith to send a child overseas for study, so colleges that can provide reassurance about both the academic excellence and campus support programs for international students will have a clear advantage in gaining the family’s acceptance.

Localization and Features to Emphasize

Make the most of your microsite, not with a straight translation of your English content, but considering the particular phrasing and priorities of your target market. Be sure to consult with your foreign students, alumni or other reliable sources to ensure that your wording and benefit propositions align with local preferences. You may choose to develop a “core microsite” template and adapt to specific markets as necessary, perhaps using a language dropdown menu instead of developing several unique microsites. Localized research will help identify which types of degrees and program types are most popular with which students. For example, Chinese students have been known to highly value the prestige and “ranking” of a university, favouring business and law programs. Hybrid models combining classroom with online learning have shown to be very effective for South American student recruitment.

Retain a look and feel consistent with the main site, with links back to the primary program pages to assure visitors of the microsite’s legitimacy. Choose initial markets to focus on strategically, considering your institution’s established presence in the country of choice and existing student population that can be leveraged for word-of-mouth referrals.

Example:  Idaho State University’s second largest international contingent in 2008 was surprisingly students from the tiny nation of Nepal, based on positive recommendations and perhaps the mountainous environment that is somewhat similar to back home. The Graduate School recognized this trend and developed a strategic plan to recruit in Nepal, including advertising in English-written Nepalese newspapers, mailing promotional materials, and creating a microsite for Nepalese grad students with personalized response to each web inquiry. As a result of these contacts, Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu, Nepal, has proposed joint initiatives to promote research collaborations and academic exchange.

Nepali student recruitment Idaho State University


Align Microsite with Greater Strategy

Refine your microsite focus to ensure implementation meets operational capabilities, remembering that foreign exchange rates, economic and political conditions can significantly impact international recruitment. Define your goals early in the process, making calls-to-action and application forms prominently displayed and establishing success metrics for analytics tracking accordingly. How will you manage your lead flow? Measuring compliance with admission standards, including language and prerequisite qualification, can be highly complex and visa processing times vary greatly by country. Education lead generation and nurturing methods should also vary with cultural norms – some institutions employ local call centres with regional experience to qualify candidates.

Many international markets are predominantly mobile internet consumers so ensure that your site is suitably optimized. Teenagers around the world love social media but each market has its unique preferences. Qzone is most popular in China, V Kontakte in Russia, and Cloob in Iran, for example. A vibrant local social media campaign could make or break your microsite’s popularity or at least be considered within the international promotional strategy. Leverage interactivity on your microsite by integrating local social media links and sharing, even user-generated images. Ensure videos are at least subtitled or dubbed, or go the extra mile and create your own original foreign language content. Consider a virtual campus tour, embedded on your site through companies like YouVisit. Other interactive features may increase user engagement but proceed cautiously in your international expansion initiatives to safeguard your return on investment.

Example:  Old Dominion University (ODU) recently developed and launched a series of microsites in five languages – Vietnamese, Arabic, Portuguese, Spanish and Chinese – chosen based on “market intelligence and enrollment trends in the United States.” They used Hotcourses websites made to look like ODU’s page, including a general description of the university and location, a slideshow of past commencement photos, and extensive information about academics, housing, sports and clubs. “It’s what we call armchair recruiting,” says David Danenberg, ODU’s international admissions recruitment coordinator. “If I were a student looking at this site, one of the things I like about it is that it does look like the ODU website, so I’m reassured that I’m actually getting legitimate information. And when I click the links it takes me directly onto the ODU website.”

He says that before the microsites went live, he was getting “maybe five inquiries a day, and now I’m getting more like 25. I’ve seen a definite increase in the number of student inquiries from South America.”

university recruitment microsite marketing

Multilingual microsites can be a very effective resource in attracting the attentions of international students but they should be a good fit with your college’s long-term goals. The initial creation and localization efforts are just the beginning of your commitment to developing the target market, as any website requires regular maintenance, fresh content, and usability revisions to deliver sustainable results.

Has your school developed a microsite for international recruitment?