Higher education institutions are on the cusp of a crisis.
Enrollment rates were already dropping when COVID-19 disrupted campuses worldwide. The pandemic made distance
learning a must, and an unexpected number of students have decided to stay home -- for good.
The fall 2020 semester saw a 3.3 percent drop in enrollment year-over-year. Spring 2021 wasn't much better -- enrollment was down by 2.9 percent. That's across all types of higher education, which means some groups fared even worse than the average. For example, enrollment in public two-year colleges declined by nearly 10 percent.
Having fewer students negatively impacts revenue during a period when many budgets are already stretched. For some schools, the impact could be catastrophic. The solution? Bring more students in - fast. But how?
Tuition Discounts Won't Solve Your Enrollment Problem - But This Will
There are several strategies for attracting new students. The most popular is discounting tuition, but
that has its limits. Deep tuition discounts add to budget woes, and eventually, the discounts have to
stop if expenses are to be covered.
A better option is to increase the school's appeal, bringing local, out-of-state, and international students into the community. In an increasingly digital world, the only way for higher education institutions to compete is with a high-quality digital presence that enhances the school's brand.
Websites are the first stop for prospective students and their families. A poor impression there and that prospect will be gone forever. Your content marketing strategy has always been important, but never as important as it is today. You can't afford to let a single opportunity slip away due to poorly planned sites, obsolete information, and content that fails to engage and inspire.
How do you optimize your content marketing to increase traffic to your site? And, once you have gotten prospective students and their families to your page, how do you persuade them to take action? Here's your step-by-step guide.
Content Marketing for Higher Education: The Basics
First things first. Creating a content strategy begins with defining your goals. After all, it's impossible to measure progress and determine success if you don't know what your content marketing is intended to achieve. These objectives are reasonable outcomes to expect from your content strategy:
Strong content is an opportunity to share your story in a manner that engages your target audience. You will differentiate your institution from the alternatives, and you will encourage readers to increase their interaction with you.
Increasing organic traffic to your website is always a good thing, but if you only attract current students, the return on your investment is limited. The goal is to expand your audience and broaden your reach in an effort to bring new students into your community.
Content writing does more than share basic facts. It creates a sense of community formed around shared passions. Your content marketing can be carefully crafted to strengthen existing connections and create new ones with like-minded students and their families.
Content Marketing for Higher Education: Your Step-by-Step Guide
These case studies illustrate that successful higher education websites have certain elements in common.
- The layout and format are visually appealing, which encourages visitors to explore further.
- Content choices are unique and engaging, keeping visitors on the page longer.
- Content writing is high-quality, and any images or videos are carefully structured to keep the audience's attention.
The combined power of these best practices increases the likelihood that prospective students and their
families take the next step in the application process.
How can you create a higher education website that mirrors the success of top performers? This step-by-step guide tells you all you need to know.
As anyone who works in higher education knows, thorough research delivers better results. It's no different when building a content marketing strategy. Begin with a benchmarking survey to see how other institutions present themselves online, giving special attention to sites that are most successful. Consider what makes each site inviting -- and note what doesn't work well. That ensures you avoid the same pitfalls and missteps when launching your own site.
Next, spend some time thinking about who uses your site now, and compare that to your list of goals.
If you discover that all of your site's visitors are current students and faculty, you are missing
your target audience: prospective students and their families.
Develop a written description of current visitors to your site, as well as the visitors you hope to attract through your content marketing efforts. These are called user personas, and you will likely have more than one. For example, current students, families of current students, prospective students, and families of prospective students have different needs. Your site will have to meet or exceed each user persona's expectations for you to reach your content marketing strategy goals.
Check in with actual members of your target audience to better understand their interests and their motivations. Your written user personas should answer these questions:
- What are the demographics of site visitors? For example, age, location, income, and so forth.
- What is their background? For example, what industries do they work in? What level of education have they already achieved? What are their career goals?
- How do they interact with other brands? For example, are they active on social media? What communication preferences have they expressed?
- What goals do each of these user personas have? And what challenges are they experiencing in achieving their goals? For example, the families of prospective students are often focused on quality education, but they are concerned with their student's safety. Prospective students, on the other hand, want to feel comfortable in the on-campus community. They want to see that they will fit in with their peers.
- Finally, how can you help your site's visitors achieve their goals? How can you address the challenges they face in choosing the right college or university?
The user personas you create after collecting this information will direct the content you post. By customizing your content marketing strategy to user personas, you increase your ability to attract your target audience to your site and keep them there to learn more.
Chances are, departments throughout your institution have added ad hoc pages to your site over the
years. In many cases, outdated information is on display, and it's impossible to find specific items
without a site map.
You've done your research and gathered information on how other higher education sites are laid out. You know what works and what doesn't. More importantly, you know who your target audience is and what will pique their interest.
It's time to create a plan for your site -- one that is intuitive, organized, and user-friendly. Start with the basics, including sections for current students, prospective students, departments, and general information about the university.
Next, determine which features and functions are important for achieving your goals. Examples include the following:
- Lead Magnet - users are offered an incentive for adding their email address to your mailing list.
- Payment Processing - if your goal is a full-service site, set up payment processing functionality to accept deposits, fees, and similar.
- Blog - this section will include your most current content tailored for particular personas.
- Contact Page - how do users reach you for more information?
- Share Buttons and Links to Social Media - make it easy for users to interact and participate in promoting the school.
This is just a starting point. Your website developer can offer dozens of additional features that will make your site more appealing and easier to use.
This is the exciting part. You have the general structure of your site mapped out. What are you going to fill all of those pages with? Of course, you have to have basic information that answers visitor questions, but that's not what will bring them to your page and keep them engaged. The key to your content marketing strategy's success is the extra content that you have carefully crafted to capture users' attention. These are some of the most popular:
- Blog Posts - Answer questions, share informal information, and let the campus community's personality shine through with a blog. Regular posts keep visitors coming back again and again.
- E-books - Offering high-value content is a proven method of driving traffic to your site. Consider a how-to guide on getting settled into freshman year, financial planning for education expenses, or preparing for a future career.
- Interviews - Everyone has a story, and visitors to your site want to hear everything. Interview professors, students, and administrators to help prospective students get to know your community.
- Images - Photographs of campus life don't have to be posed and formal. Candid shots give your visitors an opportunity to picture themselves in your space.
- Infographics - Images go a long way when it comes to attracting attention. When you pair them with useful information, you have a winner.
- Video - Your goal is to help prospective students feel as though they already belong on campus. Video tours engage, entertain, and encourage a sense of inclusion.
- User-Generated Content - Current students, alumni, faculty, and staff will provide some of your most valuable content if you give them the opportunity. Make space for them to add their own images, video, and content writing to the site.
These types of content are just a starting point. After the initial launch, keep adding new pieces so that the site stays fresh and exciting.
Search Engine Optimization, known to content marketers as SEO, is a collection of techniques that get
your page noticed by automated search engine algorithms.
Search engines are only useful to the extent that they return relevant results based on search terms,
so each search engine has a proprietary algorithm to select and rank sites when a user initiates an inquiry.
The elements of each search engine's algorithm are kept secret, but that's okay. You want content that is meaningful to your target audience rather than posts that appear forced for SEO purposes. With that said, there are techniques you can integrate into your content naturally. When you do this properly, you will increase the likelihood that your page appears at the top of results lists when users input terms related to your site.
Certain SEO strategies have been proven effective, though again, no one knows exactly how search engines rank pages. Generally speaking, it appears that the following factors are important to search engine algorithms:
- Keywords - The number one factor in search engine ranking is whether your page contains the same keywords as the search query.
- Authority - Search engines want to direct you towards reliable sources of information. The automated system notes which sources you link to and whether other sites have linked to you.
- Quality - Search engines have been fine-tuned to weed out pages that attempt to game the system. For example, they recognize and disregard pages with invisible text or obvious attempts at stuffing out-of-context keywords into the content. Instead, they prioritize pages that get a lot of traffic, as this is a sign other users with similar inquiries found a particular site valuable.
- Topical - Pages recently updated with fresh content are prioritized over those that are rarely touched. That's one of the main reasons why most sites publish blog posts often.
As you develop your content strategy for your higher education website, leverage available tools and resources to get your site noticed by search engines. Prioritize on-page SEO -- the elements of SEO that you can control -- but keep in mind that keyword research is critical to your success.
You can gather information on which short and long-tail keywords generate the highest search volume through the following sites:
Note: There is a fee to use the more sophisticated services.
Short-tail keywords are just two or three words. They are high-volume search terms, so it's hard to get a link to your site on the first page of results. Examples include:
- Cheap universities
- Best colleges
Long-tail keywords are far more specific, increasing the likelihood that when your site comes up in the search results, you will be at the top of the list. Examples include:
- Affordable MBA in Colorado
- Music theory program in California
- Best colleges in New York
You will know you are doing SEO right when your content is selected for the featured snippet at the top of the search results page.
High-quality content writing is non-negotiable for a higher education website. Poor grammar, unclear
sentences, and misspelled words will irreparably damage your credibility. Choose a content writer that
delivers compelling posts and articles -- one that can engage and inspire while staying aligned with
Scripted has the experience and expertise you need to maximize the reach of your digital marketing efforts. Simple content writing isn't enough. You need skilled content marketing specialists to ensure the application of proven SEO strategies that increase organic traffic. Learn more at Scripted.com and browse our writers here
You can tell how well your site is working to achieve your goals through web analytics tools like
Google Analytics. Once you set up an account, you will have access to in-depth reporting on both
real-time and historical activity for your site. You'll see the demographics of your visitors, as
well as their behavior while on your page. For example, reporting shows how much time users spend
with you - and more importantly, how many leave after a single glance.
Google Analytics offers one more indispensable set of data: how your visitors found you. Did your page appear in a list of results when they searched through Google? Did they type your web address directly into your browser or link from another site? Understanding how users get to your page gives you an opportunity to tweak and refine your SEO strategy.
It's a hard time to be in higher education. Attracting students to your campus is a challenge. Content marketing is a proven method of connecting with your target audience and expanding your reach beyond your current footprint.
Higher Education Websites that Have Mastered Content Strategy
As you begin to develop your content marketing strategy, explore a variety of university websites. Which
are most appealing and why? What best practices can you adopt for your own digital marketing plan? These
three case studies illustrate the impact strong content marketing has -- even when the institution doesn't
have a centuries-old reputation to fall back on.
It's safe to say that North Dakota doesn't top out-of-state students' application lists, but a few minutes on this university's site creates an entirely new impression of the institution. The University of North Dakota has perfected the use of video to complement narrative descriptions of campus life. Virtual tours, department surveys, and entertaining discussions of North Dakota living serve to engage an entirely new audience that likely never considered this school.
Community colleges are often omitted from best-of lists, but Sante Fe simply can't be overlooked. Thoughtfully curated images and strong written content showcase a close-knit group of students and faculty that is ready to welcome new members. Whether it's a story about campus life or notification of upcoming events, content is written in an appealing manner that draws readers in and inspires them to learn more.
This primarily online institution was a pioneer in distance learning. Perhaps that's why it is so
successful with its digital marketing strategy - it has more experience than most. This institution
expends tremendous effort on its content marketing to increase organic traffic and expand its student body.
One of the most envied components of its online presence is the skill with which the University of Phoenix promotes user-generated content. The school has perfected its ability to motivate its students to post about their University of Phoenix experience. This serves to achieve all three goals -- it builds the brand, broadens the audience, and strengthens relationships.
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