Let’s face it. The days of flipping through college ranking books to find the perfect school are over. Instead, today’s prospective students are hunting for higher education and technical education programs online. According to Google, half of all prospective students use their phone to look for a school, and one in ten students exclusively use the web to search for programs. Clearly, the education decision journey has gone digital. But that’s not all. The sales cycle for higher education programs is long. A prospective student can research schools for two years (or more!). The combination of a long sales cycle and the new digital decision journey has changed the game for digital marketing for higher education.

What does this mean for marketers?

It’s an interesting challenge. Because prospective students are online, you need digital advertising efforts to meet them there. But because the funnel is so long, it can be difficult to track your digital marketing efforts.

Unlike other industries, it’s not as simple as launching one social media marketing campaign and seeing an immediate influx of applications.

Still, that doesn’t mean marketing for higher education doesn’t follow the same purchase funnel as everyone else.

The purchase funnel we all know and love goes like this:

Awareness → Interest → Consideration → Conversion

Prospective students still follow this funnel; they just take a lot more time in the first three stages.

That’s why you need to adjust your marketing efforts accordingly. Lucky for you, Perfect Search has studied up on education marketing trends and created a little cheat sheet for you.

1) Take advantage of long-tailed keywords

Search is the second most used tool students use to look for classes and programs, yet nine out of ten students start their search without a specific school in mind.

That’s great news for education marketers. Prospective students are in the awareness stage of the funnel—and they’re open-minded. This means that your education program can start using different marketing strategies like search engine optimization and paid search to get your name out there.

At first, students are likely searching for more general terms like “fashion design program.” This broad search signifies that the prospective student is early in the funnel, but you can still target them with SEO and search campaigns targeting these keywords. This gets your brand name out there and builds your authority.

However, targeting long-tailed keywords is even more valuable. When a student gets more serious about looking for a school, they’ll search for terms like “part-time fashion design program NYC.”

It’s less competitive to target long-tailed keywords, and it’s more effective. That’s because a long-tailed search goes beyond the “awareness” phase. The student could be ready to sign up for an email list, schedule a school tour, or even apply.

2) Don’t forget about micro-conversions

Because the path to an application or an enrollment can take years, it’s important to track other kinds of conversions that still help you target and track your prospective students.

After all, education sales funnel journeys that end in a conversion often have almost 20 page views, 4 conversions, and over 10 search queries.

Those four conversions likely include micro-conversions. Micro-conversions are smaller conversions that still signify interest in your program. These could be an email list signup, a course description download, or even watching a video about campus life.

Tracking students who complete micro-conversions can help you get a better picture of which prospects are worth investing more money and resources into targeting with emails and social campaigns.

3) Remarketing is key

You should treat your initial marketing efforts to prospective students in the “awareness” stage as a lead generation opportunity. The first time someone clicks on an ad or visits your site, they’re probably not going to apply—but you might get their email and some details about their interests.

This information will help you better market to them as time goes on. If you get a prospective student’s email, what courses they’re interested in, and which campus they might want to attend, you can target them more specifically.

Always tailor your remarketing efforts as much as possible. This could mean creating a social media marketing campaign with videos that feature professors and current students in a major or crafting an email marketing sequence that includes quotes from graduates of a specific program.

These methods help keep prospective students interested in you—and you’re providing them with valuable content that helps them make a decision.

If you want to keep studying digital marketing for higher education, check out our handy infographic.

Digital marketing for higher education Infographic
Screenshot: Perfect Search Media Infographic

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Guest Post by
Kayla Hammersmith, Manager, Copywriting & Content Strategy