Over the past year, we’ve worked with a large, private university to recruit new students for a number of graduate-level business programs. It’s been a highly successful effort from the standpoint of enrollment increases (up double digits year-over-year) and efficiency (cost per lead down 35% year over year). Along the way, we’ve learned – sometimes the hard way – a heck of a lot about Higher Education marketing.
And just cause we’re nice guys, we thought we’d share five of our top takeaways from our continuing efforts:
From first contact > handraiser > application > admitted > enrolled is a really long journey. We liken it to Automotive since the decision cycle can be 6-12 months or longer and the true conversion to (student) butts-in-seats is sub-10%. Lead nurturing is just as important as lead gen, so if you’re on the marketing side, it’s best to pay close attention to your recruitment team’s feedback. International student visa lead-time cutting too close to program start? Shift your mix to domestic. New scholarship money available? Call it out. Leads not the right fit for the program? Your targeting may need to shift.
It’s an international market. According to Stilt.com, over 60% of the applicant pool at U.S. Full Time MBA programs is from international students with Asia making a huge impact. Here in Florida, Latin American applicants also make up a sizeable chunk. So while Part Time and Professional programs may primarily draw locals, Full Time and some hybrid on-campus/distance programs can very successfully recruit with solid international strategies. Google, Facebook/Instagram and even LinkedIn have strong international reach. However, China requires a Baidu account or an authorized WeChat partner and both come with longer account approvals, spending minimums and more operational complexity.
To use a little Boston vernacular, it’s wicked expensive. Paid search is statistically the top source of online leads at 14.4% (according to Digital Media Solutions Q2 2018 Higher Education study). But frankly, we’re sometimes reluctant to pay the price for head term-type program names that are supremely competitive. Instead, we’ve nibbled around the margins to find keywords that are affordable and convert well for our programs, even at the expense of volume. This has helped us reduce cost-per-lead to very respectable levels while providing high quality leads at steady levels.
Client data is your best friend. Today’s Facebook/Instagram and Google offer similar targeting options in terms of the ability to leverage proprietary data to create Custom Audiences. These can be based on previous site visitors who didn’t convert, lists of program participants or handraisers, or third party data – if authorized for digital use. Some of our best campaigns are Retargeting and Gmail campaigns underpinned by client data that might otherwise only be used for in-house email blasts or often, not at all. We’ve had a learning curve here, especially about the slow boil for Gmail ad conversions, but now we’re hooked.
It’s about quality over quantity – especially at the graduate level. Recruiting and lead nurturing for graduate programs is a high-touch effort that takes lots of people power. Low-intent leads are a huge waste of time, so it’s best to make sure you can track leads from every source (hello, UTM codes) all the way through the funnel. Optimizing your ad accounts for form fills and phone call conversions is one thing, but true success means understanding which campaigns are truly driving enrollments.
We love to talk online advertising and totally dig the Higher Education space. So if you share our interest, let’s connect.