In the higher education sector, there has been a rapid change in enrollment trends.

The traditional approach has largely been replaced by students using the internet to gather enrollment information.

As of 2023, approximately 90% of students in enrolled in high schools were internet users. This makes it imperative for universities to maximize their digital presence to attract prospective students.

The competition to attract the best group of students has been higher than ever.

Online marketing is challenging for the higher education sector, especially because of the different population and age groups targets. These include undergraduate students, graduate students and parents.

In the era of digital marketing, you can fulfil an individual group’s expectations by following dedicated strategies which guarantee a boost in enrollment numbers. 

In this blog, we will follow seventeen strategies with real-world examples that you can apply to fit your marketing budget.

17 Effective Digital Marketing Strategies for Higher Education

From mastering SEO to harnessing the power of content marketing and PPC, these tactics are designed to attract more students, enhance your institution’s online visibility, and create meaningful engagement.

1. Maximize Organic Traffic Through Optimized SEO Techniques

Search engine optimization allows higher ed marketers to analyze competitor’s, website’s health, trends, student search queries, and other strategies to help them rank better in search results.

SEO requires marketers to analyze user intent to create high-quality content to help build your university’s authority.

Over time, your website authority will help your content rank high on Google and be seen by the right students for university. 

That said, SEO is a long-term organic marketing strategy. It takes time for high-quality content to rank well on search engines.

A lot goes into planning an effective higher education SEO strategy.

Keyword research, internal linking, backlinking, technical audit, and on-page optimization all come under SEO.

Unless you checkmark all the pointers in an SEO checklist for universities, getting ranked will not be easy. 

Although SEO may not help you drive results quickly, it can help you build your website authority.

Website authority will help you rank organically on search engines and consistently bring you the right traffic you seek. 

Example:

California University Organic Traffic.

Example: California University Organic Traffic.

The organic keywords are ranking at the top of the SERP.

91.74% of the search traffic drives from Google alone

It's no secret that getting your website seen by the right people is critical to your success, but it can be difficult to know where or how to start your SEO journey.

Think Orion has been helping colleges and universities drive targeted search traffic for over a decade. We have the experience and expertise to get your website seen by the right people, increasing traffic and leads while decreasing costs.

BOOK A STRATEGY CALL

2. Accelerate Your Sales: Quickly Convert Leads with Proven PPC Techniques

After determining your university’s ranking on search engines, the next task is ensuring that all potential visitors turn into prospective students. 

The pay-per-click marketing strategy requires a considerable investment, where search engines charge the advertiser for every click.

It also includes paid advertisements on search engines to help your page stand out among the results. 

Ads on search engines are easily executed via Bing or Google Analytics where you choose sentences to describe your university’s landing page, a URL and keywords.

The ad takes limited space on the screen but the real challenge in this method is bidding on the keyword.   

Since students start by searching for university programs with broad terms and narrow down their options, it is important to follow a marketing strategy called the ice cream cone funnel. 

Using highly specific keywords in PPC ads takes prospective students to the desired page and gets them to click “enrol” or “learn more”.

Example:

3. Attract, Engage and Retain Students with a Winning Content Marketing Strategy

When strategizing content for the enrollment process, you should keep in mind that for students, this is a journey of expectations.

As a brand of education, the university should portray its targeted goals to win the audience. 

A content marketing strategy can be smilplifed into three basics steps:

1. Attract Prospective Students

Set the tone of the competition in the educational sector by stating the university’s vision for students to be able to identify the right fit for their careers.

Once your college is known for its niche, know which individuals will excel in your programs. This can be done using demographics of current students to answer a new user’s questions. 

It goes without saying that a flexible website that caters to students, as well their parents is key in marketing.

This is where you need to establish your brand presence on social media platforms such as LinkedIn or professional websites.

Content should be informative yet unique. Perform repetitive audits to adopt the best functioning strategy.

2. Engage

When connecting with interested users, the university should make them feel welcomed into their new family. 

To alleviate a newcomer’s anxiety, adopt virtual campus tours and one-on-one meet and greet sessions.

Talking to current students and faculty members is a great way to show where the university’s strength lies.

3. Retaining Students 

According to the National Research Cleringhouse Research Center, student retention was limited to 75% only.

The question arises on the digital marketing efforts of universities in maintaining the student persistence rate.

Build long lasting loyalty with interested students by understanding their environment.

Providing ideal resources leads to highly motivated individuals who can find their voice.

The University of Utah Landing Page

landing page engagement

Let’s look at a real-life example of a prestigious school, Princeton University, which uses a people-centric approach.

Instead of marketing the university directly, it talks highly of its alumni and their placements. This indirectly builds a sense of belonging to the community. 

Princeton University:

Princeton University landing page

4. Utilize Google Display Advertising for Better Awareness and Recognition

Google advertising is one of the most used platforms by businesses to improve their presence on social media. 

A recent report on Google Ads mentions its vast impact on users worldwide, with a global reach of 80%. It is also the most used Ad Editor across all industries.

Google’s trendiest initiative for higher education institutes is the Responsive Display Ads, which has AI capabilities. 

The top benefit of using such a tool includes the creativeness of machine learning which determines the best fit and format of the Ad. 

Responsive display ads adjust their size, appearance, and format to fit just about any available ad space and improve performance.

The university enrollment advertisement can be displayed on Google-owned platforms, such as Youtube and Gmail.

Additionally, the freedom of choosing the website to run the ad is a direct reflection of the target audience.

Investing in display ads is effective in targeting a group, so your past visitors are your definite leads.

Example of a banner ad displayed in a blog post

75% of marketing managers saying that Google ads are effective, it's clear why universities are turning towards this method.

Think Orion has the expertise that can help your institution become a leader in the industry!.

BOOK A STRATEGY CALL

Google Ads can serve your university ads on Google’s Display Network, which is a collection of two million+ websites.

Using Google Display Network, you can target prospective students based on their search histories and reach around 90% of the total internet users around the globe.

Example of a banner ad displayed in a blog post:

Increase Brand Awareness through Display Advertising for universities

5. Unlock the Power of Social Media: Boost Engagement and Grow Your Audience

Although digital marketing brings its set of challenges for universities, we cannot deny the fact that social media has been revolutional in reaching the right audience.

Data from 2022 reveals that Gen Z respondents used social media for at least four hours per day, making it a weapon of mass influence. 

A case study from School of Business Sciences of Polytechnic Institute of Viana do Castelo studied the use of Facebook and Instagram in attracting new students.

Analysis of student engagement concluded a positive relation between social media marketing and enrollment rates. 

Social media allows creation of interactive content, such as Instagram Polls to gain insights into the perspectives of new students.

Student ambassadors can go live and broadcast campus activities or ask Q&A as Instagram Stories and Highlights.

Another way of showing around your campus and highlighting international student engagement is by uploading stories to Snapchat for global users. 

Twitter Spaces allow multiple individuals to collaborate, be it faculty or staff and give the feel of an online seminar for prospective students.  

The University of Pennsylvania held a live Q&A session to allow prospective students to direct questions to the admissions committee. 

University of Pennsylvania held a live Q&A session

6. Use Newsletter Subscriptions to Promote Your Campaigns

Let’s step back towards a more traditional strategy, email marketing which has always stood tall in getting the message across to the right audience. 

Email marketing if not executed correctly can lead to emails in the junk folder. Moreover, emails from educational sector have an opening rate of 44%

To overcome this, higher education email marketing needs to begin with email or newsletter subscribers from website users.

This narrows down the emailing campaign and reduces the chances of reporting the email as spam.

University of Florida offers a subscription to its newsletter to send updates on campus-related events.  

University of Florida offers a subscription

7. Make Informed Decisions with Advanced Analysis and Tracking

We have been discussing the execution of the right marketing plan to boost enrollment rates.

However, the numbers hold little value if not interpreted in context of the analysis techniques. 

Between the different analytic techniques, admissions department looks initially at descriptive analysis for the dashboard numbers, demographics and insights.

Diagnostic analysis gives a possible explanation to the trend. Next, predictive data uses information from descriptive and diagnostic analysis to give the likelihood of an outcome, such as engagement rates on Facebook page.

Prescriptive analysis is the ultimate form, which aims to predict and see the likelihood of the possible plans working out. 


A McKinsey report talks about Northeastern University using advanced analytics to forecast and find the perfect prospective student during the enrollment process.

Example:

8. Utilize Video Marketing to its Fullest Potential

Nothing comes close to video if we talk about engaging social media content. 

Video content offers much more value than textual or image-based content. It is also highly versatile. For example, it can be consumed with or without sound.

You can show off your campus and discuss your university’s programs using video content in long and short formats. 

Nowadays, more and more universities are using video content to attract more website visitors and turn them into converting leads.

Video is a great medium to educate prospective students and nurture them throughout the student lifecycle.

On average, an individual was estimated to spend 61 minutes of the screen time watching videos content.

This does not come as a surprise, given the recent trends of binging movies and shows.

Since video marketing gives the creative freedom to attract an audience and deliver the same message in multiple ways, it can be a new approach for a young generation. 

TikTok has seen a 215% growth in value by providing video entertainment content. 

Higher education institutes such as the Univeristy of Georgia have used such a platform to put content to highlight the football culture of the university.

This helps attract like-minded prospective students and makes them a part of the campus life. 

The main challenge encountered in video marketing is tracking the metrics. 

However, the National Association for College Counselling reported that personalized videos have an average click rate of 86%. 

TikTok Video Marketing

This compels institutions to deliver important and repetitive messages such as admission deadlines as short videos on other platforms such as YouTube or Instagram.

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee used their YouTube channel to explain the enrollment process to the university.

Otherwise, this would have required prospective students to scroll through a content-heavy website.

 University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

9. Inspiring Student Success: Real-Life Stories of Overcoming Challenges and Achieving Goals

Incoming students are often overwhelmed with their circumstances related to the enrollment process, grades or securing financial aid.

You can give them an opportunity to find their voice by showcasing the diversity on your campus. Student success stories are always motivational in boosting a prospective student’s morale.

The Univeristy of Utah has dedicated a landing page to success stories of their students.

They have talked about the resilience of the individual, while also giving them a platform to promote a talent.

 Univeristy of Utah success stories

The University of Louisville has set another example of building a supportive community by providing guidance counsellors for its students to reach out to.

University of Louisville success stories

10. ​Maximize Your Reach: Harness the Power of Influencer Marketing to Boost Your Brand

Influencer marketing has found its way in the recrutment strategy of many institutes.

Universities can find themselves more connected to the newer generation by partnering with prominent figures.

These can be influencer bloggers or the university’s notable alumni with great job placements and careers.

Alternatively, you can scout for current students with a large following and impact on social media platforms.

Messages coming from individuals of a similar age group tend to appeal more to the prospective audience. 

With this, you can indirectly draw attention and give an accurate picture of a student’s experience with the faculty and administration. 

New York University invited a famous singer and an alum, Taylor Swift, to give the Commencement Address, which was broadcasted on all social media platforms.

11. Make an Impact in Seconds: Boost Engagement with Short and Snappy Video Content:

A prospective student aims to gauge maximum information about the degree in the shortest time possible. 

In recent times, short video formats have become much more popular than a full length video. 

According to a study, videos under 90 seconds retained 50% users and the short ad revenue is estimated to surpass $10 bn. 

Almost all social media platforms have introduced the ability to make an impact video in seconds. 

  1. Instagram with its Boomerag Effects last for six seconds only
  2. Youtube Shorts last for a maximum of 60 seconds
  3. TikTok videos preferred time limit is 60 to 90 seconds
  4. Snapchat Spotlight and Stories last upto 60 seconds

Such limited formats encourage enrollment committee to deliver the attention grabbing selling points about their program and highlight it with trending hashtags. 

12. Optimize for Featured Snippets: Unlock Visibility and Drive Traffic

Google Development offers featured snippets that appear as a stand alone result on the search engine, varying from bullet lists and paragraphs to a photographs. 

The short snappy headline with an accurate answer to the user’s question is more likely to generate visibility. 

This is particularly beneficial for universities struggling to get click-rates on their websites or land a zero position on the SERP.

For example, the Yale University uses a photograph and an interesting text to describe the balance between academics, self-growth and the close knit community it fosters. 

featured snippets

13. Reach Your Ideal Customers: Maximize Results with Lookalike Audience Targeting

Enrollment is as nerve-wracking for students as it is for the university, where reaching a large number of individuals can be aimless.

For this purpose, marketing departments can invest in lookalike audiences for the enrollment ads to reach a population closest to their current student database.

It gives universities the liberty to choose how closely alike the target audience can be. Platforms such Meta and Google can help you pinpoint the traits of the visitors.

After mirroring a similar audience and choosing the targetted location, you can launch the ad and monitor its ROI and leads generated.

 Facebook lookalike audience

14. Improve Customer Service and Boost Efficiency with Chatbots Integration

Chatbots use Natural Language Processing to give prospective students round-the-clock updates without the university having to invest in manpower. 

During the enrollment process, students have repeated questions related to the application status, application requirements and the university degree in general.

A chatbot can deliver immediate updates and answer student queries.

Another advantage of using chatbots in the admissions process is in scheduling in-person campus visits or integrating it with calendars to schedule interview appointments. 

Arizona State University uses the AI-driven chatbot, Hey Sunny to make the students feel supported at all times.

It gives quick links to common queries and allows students to submit their questions. 

chatbot integration

15. Build Connections with Live Streaming

Connecting with prospective students and their families online is a part of the recruitment process. 

Support anxious students who cannot visit the campus by live streaming around the campus.

Student ambassadors can show affordable housing options and dorms to help them to make a wiser decision.

Offer incoming students a virtual classroom environment experience with a session on Google Classroom, Zoom, Collaborate  or Microsoft Teams. 

University of California Irvine offers interested students an opportunity to schedule a live stream and walkthrough of the campus and get their questions answered.

Live stream capus tour

16. Unleashing the Power of AI-Generated Content

When working harder during enrollment season, do not forget to use artificial intelligence to streamline the process.

AI can be used to fulfil tasks liable to human error, such as tracking application deadlines, sending out timely replies to prospective students.

Universities use AI based softwares to pre-screen applicants for basic demographics and filter them based on cut-off scores and academic credentials. 

A case study by Forbes revealed how instead of spending thousands of dollars to acquire lists of prospective students, Aible generated a model for targeting a subset of the student group. 

Similarly, with AI-generated lists of students most deserving of financial aid, the university was able to yield a 15% increase in enrollment for the session.

Harvard University, has implemented AI tools to create personalized content for its diverse audience.

Harvard AI Tools

17. Guiding Prospects with Personalized CTAs

The last but an important guide to boosting admission rates in your university is by adopting a personalized approach to your website and emails.

The placement of call-to-action buttons on the website or the email determines the CTR of new users.

For example, the University of Toronto uses a Form CTA that leads students to sign up on registration pages that capture the submitted information. 

University of Toronto uses a Form CTA

Click-through CTAs are another example that lead users to a linked page of content and allow further interaction. 

Click-through CTAs

According to HubSpot, personalizing CTAs and giving students exactly what they are looking for, yields a 202% higher conversion rate than the basic one. 

For each student enrolled, colleges and universities spend between $429 and $623 on marketing each year

Are you looking for an experienced, creative, and innovative digital marketing team to help promote your higher education program?

Think Orion specializes in helping universities, colleges, and educational institutions bridge the gap between the traditional higher education model and new digital learning opportunities.

BOOK A STRATEGY CALL

Frequently Asked Questions:

How much do universities spend on digital marketing?

According to a survey, universities spend around $429 to $623 per student enrolled yearly on marketing. Based on past data, colleges collectively spent around $2 billion in 2018 and $2.2 billion in 2019 on marketing.

How do I do digital marketing for college?

To carry out digital marketing campaigns for colleges, marketers must:

  • Optimize college website for search engines
  • Target keywords that are long-tail in nature
  • Come up with a strategy to earn backlinks
  • Focus on creating a sound website user experience
  • Run PPC ads
  • Create social media presence
  • Offer unique selling points
  • Create a responsive site for mobile and desktop

What is the target market for universities?

The target market for universities includes:

  • Undergraduate students
  • Graduate students
  • Prospective students
  • Parents
  • University alumni
  • Teachers

How do you attract university students?

To attract new students using digital marketing for higher education, marketers must:

  1. Must invest time to create virtual campus tours.
  2. Run paid digital marketing (PPC).
  3. Use social media to attract prospective students.
  4. Onboard influencers or student ambassadors to promote your university
  5. Use email marketing to reach and nurture student leads

Conclusion

In order for your university to stay on the forefronts of the enrollment process, it calls for the correct and timely use of digital marketing strategies.

Keeping yourself updated with the changing trends of the student population will give insights into the best marketing tool.

Be it influencer marketing, using engaging video content or personalizing the website with chatbots and CTAs, it requires diligent monitoring of metrics and page interactions. 

Digital marketing to increase student enrollment numbers is set to become highly competitive, therefore, invest in the right tools to execute campaigns timely.