As the higher education sector diversifies and competition intensifies, universities are pulling out all the stops to pique the interest of potential students, and many are spending vast amounts on paid advertising campaigns as well as concentrating on organic marketing strategies.
Photo by Robin Worrall
According to The Guardian, universities are spending millions on marketing in a bid to attract students - the highest spenders being those in the middle and lower ranks of the league tables. Speaking about the English market, The Guardian writes: “...the lifting of the cap on the number of students universities can recruit, together with a demographic fall in the number of 18-year-olds, has resulted in an aggressive new market in higher education.”
Getting your institution’s brand to the front in a digital space saturated with competitor content can be difficult; and with institutions facing budget squeezes, it’s important to “get it right” early on. It’s also key that ad content accurately aligns with your institution's legacy, vision and values.
That said, successful advertising is - to some extent - dependent on trial and error. Luckily, flexible channels such as PPC and social allow for a fairly reactionary approach. What works for one institution won’t necessarily do so for another, but we’ve pulled together some general tips and suggestions that are being trialled by universities today.
Of course, recruiting international students is a whole different ball game, so we’ve included some alternative approaches too.
Social media ads are great; they allow you to choose from a broad range of targeting options that enable you to refine your reach to the most appropriate people. Furthermore, it can be a relatively inexpensive means of getting your message out there, especially compared with other channels. Yet, with so many platforms out there, which should you focus on?
Firstly, you need to find out which channels your target audience is engaging with and which are likely to generate the most enquiries. For the purposes of this post, let’s take a look at two of the most popular: Facebook and Instagram.
Facebook is still the world’s largest social media platform. Two billion people use it every month and more than seven million advertisers utilise the channel to promote their brand.
Currently, there are three different ways to target users through Facebook ads. Core Audiences enables you to target according to age, education, interests - even things like purchasing habits. Custom Audiences allows you to pinpoint potential candidates based on their past interactions with your institution (perhaps they’ve made an enquiry or visited your website in the past few weeks).
Lookalike Audiences on the other hand can source users who are similar to your current follower base, enabling you to widen your reach to the “right” people. Facebook ads operate on a cost-per-click (CPC) basis, and reporting tools make it easy to track your campaigns, identify what’s working well and pick out areas for improvement.
1 billion people actively use Instagram every month, and 71% of these users are under 35 - so it should definitely be on your radar when it comes to attracting new students.
According to a study by Trackmaven, Instagram has higher engagement rates than other social networks - especially in the higher education sector. The report also reveals that institutions active on Instagram get an average of 83.05 engagements per post for every 1,000 followers they have.
When advertising on Instagram, it’s important to use imagery that’s visually engaging - photos and videos that strike a balance between quality and authenticity. The text accompanying visuals should be short and snappy with a clear CTA.
To reach international cohorts, you’ll need to take a different approach to social media advertising. It’s also important to develop an understanding of how users interact with social media in different markets.
A few key things to remember:
Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising has the potential to be very lucrative, but it isn’t without its challenges and it can be very expensive (individual “clicks” costing upwards of $40). However, there are a few tricks and tips to make it worthwhile from an ROI perspective.
According to GetResponse, running ads using competitors’ branded terms can work well for some businesses, but not higher education institutions. In doing this, universities run the risk of paying for clicks from students who have little or no interest in the institution.
Instead, they recommend bidding on more generic search terms like “masters degree” or “business degree”. That said, they also acknowledge that specificity is even better.
“Remember, you’re not trying to attract huge volumes of clicks. You’re trying to get clicks from intention-rich users.
“Thus, specific, subject-related keywords like “history degree” or “Nursing MBA” are of much greater value than more generic terms like “bachelor’s degree” or “master’s degree”."
As with social media advertising, you’ll need to consider additional layers when crafting PPC campaigns for candidates in other countries. The first step could be to identify the markets with the most potential for your institution - places that you already recruit from successfully.
Subsequently, you’ll need to think about the cultural and language aspects. Remember, direct translation of key words and phrases doesn’t always work. You can use the Keyword Planner tool on Google Adwords to look for ideas, but bear in mind that not all countries prioritise Google. For instance, to reach potential candidates in China, you’ll have to run campaigns on Baidu which is the country’s main search engine.
If you’re considering paid advertising, there are numerous channels to explore and get to grips with. It’s important to note that these platforms are constantly evolving, so in order to compete with everyone else out there, keeping up-to-date with developments and new features is key.
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