The first source of information students get about a college comes from the Internet. But inbound marketing methodology goes way beyond SEO.
What student recruitment used to mean
Cold calls. Bulk mailings. Conferences.
We’re not saying that those things are better left to the past—but it is important to know that these days, as many as 97% of students initiate contact with the college or university they eventually apply to.
That means they’re looking for you before you’re looking for them. And because they’re looking, you need to be ready to be found.
More than just a great website
Don’t misunderstand us: you do need a great website! Since most of your prospective students are likely using their smartphones and tablets for some of their college research, you’ll need to be optimized for mobile. But more than that, to be found, your website must be toward the top of search engine results. For that to happen, you need to have high-quality, regularly updated content that trustworthy sites link to and reference.
Content is Key
You already know that an effective higher education marketing strategy involves more than maintaining a nice website—particularly when that website does little more than function as a digital viewbook.
What makes inbound marketing methodology different is its focus on content. Your institution needs to offer meaningful, timely, important content that’s relevant both to the values of your school and to the concerns of your students. If you’re a small private college with an exceptional engineering program, a dedication to service, and you’ve got a beautiful, rural location that’s within an hour’s drive of an interesting city, you’ve got a story to tell.
Creating great content is all about telling stories from your institution and its constituents that are valuable and relevant to prospective students. The stories are out there—they just need to be discovered, reported, written, and crafted into the kind of content your students want.
Knowing what students want
We’ve already told you that students are likely to find you first—so it’s important for your institution to look great when prospective students come looking!
But how can you be sure that you’ll reach the right students with your great content? Well, you’ve got to speak their language. What kinds of terms are they going to be entering into search engines? Just how will they phrase things? What sorts of qualities would your ideal applicants be looking for in a school? These are the kinds of questions you’ll need to consider.
Personas, personas, personas: we can’t stress enough how important it is to create detailed, highly specific personas to represent the kinds of prospective students—and prospective parents!—you want to reach at each stage of the admissions funnel. How do you reach the rising junior who’s early in the process but thinking ahead—SATs and ACTs and whether to stay in-state or go far from home for college? You have to think the way they’re thinking, speak the way they’re speaking, and be in all the places they’re looking. That takes research, and we won’t lie: that’s an investment. But it’s part of how student recruitment has changed—and we believe it’s an investement that pays off.
Keywords are key
Content is key, and keywords are also key! Focusing your content around one or two carefully chosen (well-researched!) keywords helps you to rise in search engine result rankings. It’s not enough to have great content if no one ends up finding it.
Transforming visitors into leads
So far, none of this should sound much different from what standard content marketing offers. But here’s where inbound marketing methodology takes content marketing to the next level: we don’t just aim for high traffic, even high-volume, high-quality traffic. What we want is to transform that traffic into leads by gathering information about those visitors and following up with them in timely, appropriate ways—tailored to where they’re located within the admissions funnel.
How do you transform visitors into leads? By making an offer they can’t refuse. Maybe it’s an offer of a no-pressure conversation with an admissions officer—via text message. Maybe it’s a checklist for preparing for the SATs or ACTs. Or maybe it’s a great ebook on surviving the college search and application process! Whatever it is, it needs to be tailored around your institutional identity and that of your ideal applicant—and, we need hardly say—it needs to be great! Think about the kind of offers you’re willing to enter your email address for—and take it up a notch.
Now that we’ve identified the visitor and converted them into a lead…
Here's where things get interesting! You’ve created and distributed great content (perhaps using a marketing automation platform like Hubspot) and you’ve managed to capture lots of contact information. Your job is hardly done! To nurture those leads into actual applicants, you need to offer tailored, timely messages following up on the offers your visitors took you up on. The key here is to be responsive and specific: no one likes getting a “Dear Sir or Ma’am” kind of email. You want to be working toward getting a sense of where the lead is coming from and what stage of the process they’re in and craft and time your follow-up communications accordingly.
That’s how you convert leads into applicants—and delighted, matriculated students!
Summing it up:
The elements of inbound marketing methodology are simple enough to grasp—and with the help of automation platforms like Hubspot, the process can be streamlined. Is it an investment? Absolutely—but it’s definitely worth it; an inbound lead costs 61% less on average than an outbound lead.
The results speak for themselves: inbound marketing is poised to change student recruitment practices. And it already has!
Learn how to beef up your college recruitment with our free Inbound Marketing checklist.