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Putting Online Experience at the Heart of Enrollment Marketing

Over the next six years, the number of 18-year-olds in the US is set to decrease markedly.

Combine that with the impact of COVID-19 on enrollments (decreasing by almost 50% from 2019 to 2020) and we are presented with a significant enrollment challenge for universities.

In this webinar, Stephen Morgan (Squiz) spoke with Zach Busekrus, Founder of Enrollify, about how enrollment marketers can overcome these challenges by focusing on digital experiences.

Ready to learn more? Watch the full interview below, or keep scrolling for a snippet from the Q&A.

Q. Zach, what did enrollment marketing, in your experience, look like before COVID-19?

Generally speaking, pre-COVID, events marketing was the bread and butter of institutions. There was a feeling that if you could get a student to come to an on-campus event, like an open house or an info session, you could ‘seal the deal’.

At the time, institutions were still spending money on digital media - some spending millions of dollars - but getting face time with prospective students was the top priority.

I’d suggest that around 25% of budget was typically spent on traditional digital advertising, with some top schools spending more on paid search, but what you didn’t see, pre-COVID, was much of an investment in SEO. SEO has been around, but focusing on what keywords your school is ranking for, how to think strategically about your content strategy, how to fix all the broken parts of your website to make sure that your technical SEO is strong just wasn't top of mind pre-COVID. Now, however, I think it's very top of mind for most institutions.

It was the institutions that pivoted that succeeded.

Those institutions that said, "We're not going to try to just replicate our offline strategy online," were the ones that won during COVID.

Some schools tried to use the same event marketing strategy that they had used for their pre-COVID on-campus experience, and turn it into something that worked well online. For example some schools held big Zoom webinars, but it didn’t really work.

The schools that said, "Let's reimagine the event experience; let's couple asynchronous content with dynamic edutainment type of content” and invested in video and SEO, invested in chat and removed friction from the digital experience were the ones that saw success.

One of the things that I think is particularly interesting about this moment was that there were schools that decided that their website needed to be their lead recruiter; that when prospective students hit the website they feel like they are experiencing something personal to them, with the right language and pathways that feel conversational. They feel like they are meeting with the institution’s top admission staff. That's a hard thing to do, and it can be a very expensive thing to do, but the schools that have moved in that direction and/or have at least oriented themselves towards that direction, those are the institutions that are going to win in the long run.

Q. What have you found are the most critical digital touchpoints for a prospective student as we make this shift away from the in-person to more digital interactions? 

One of the challenges with enrollment marketing right now, is that people have spent a lot of time going to conferences and reading content about why the student journey needs to be personalized; but I think we can over-personalize. It’s great that we can show prospective students that we understand their interests both personally and academically, but we need to remember that when they join a new school they are joining a community. We need to tell them about that community, too.

I would also say the next most important thing is search, and I use that both in terms of organic search and site search. If folks can't find what they're looking for in a matter of seconds, it's too late.

I was once sitting down with my 17-year-old brother, it was Christmas and we were trying to make a branded t-shirt. We were at my computer, and we're Googling how to get these custom t-shirts made. So we hit the first website that ranks number one on Google, he clicks on the website and immediately scrolls to the top of the navigation to look for a search bar. When he doesn’t find it he goes back to the search results. He did the same on another website, found what he was looking for and made a decision on what we were going to do , fast. He wasn’t thinking, this behaviour was almost innate. It’s your job as a marketer or website manager to make sure that they can find the search function and that when they enter their keywords we show them the optional pathways.

Q. What marketing tech are you seeing as mission critical? 

I think marketing attribution tech is really important. Often, marketing is pushing a lot of budget into various different channels then pushing the leads to admissions, but the admissions team don’t really understand where those leads come from or what it was that really convinced them to enroll.

As budgets are consolidated and as these teams are working more in tandem than ever before, I think having a true marketing attribution platform and systems that really tell staff the full picture of a student's journey to enrollment, that is going to be more important than ever before.

Q. What data do you think institutions rely on to continually optimize their enrollment marketing? 

I'm encouraged by the fact that the marketing and the admissions teams are working more closely together today than ever before. You've got data-sharing happening in more real time. We're actually starting to see job titles like enrollment marketer pop up, and somebody who is an enrollment marketer at an institution is typically reporting to admissions but they're this liaison between admissions and marketing, which is really exciting to hear. Because, again, in most institutions, the scope of work for marketing and communications is much broader than just admissions.

Admission metrics are very important but I also think that schools need to think more about their cost per acquisition, even breaking this down by program and channel. This is where you have to get really nitty gritty in the data.

For more insights, you can watch the full interview above.

About the speakers. 

Stephen Morgan is a Co-Founder at Squiz. He has been working in the technology sector for over 20 years and has experience working with higher education institutions across Australasia, North America and Europe.

Zach Busekrus is the founder of Enrollify, a learning community for higher education professionals. Zach also leads Growth at DD Agency, which is a agency that's dedicated to education marketing, specializing in SEO and digital marketing.

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