Aug 10, 2018

6 Effective Digital Channels to Boost Student Enrollments

by Digital Marketing Institute

Higher education providers are facing a number of challenges in today's changing learning ecosystem.

It’s getting tougher to encourage people to come to colleges and universities, especially when they consider just how much debt they could incur for a few years of study. Then, there’s the rise of distance learning and online study which is often the most logical choice for adult learners.

But for many college students, it’s a harder decision to make and they conduct a lot of research before making their choice, so it’s vital that they can find the information they need.

Many institutions rank boosting enrollments among their top business priorities. But to engage new students, it’s becoming increasingly important to communicate with them online.

In this article, we look at 6 digital channels that colleges, universities and training providers can use to engage students and in turn, boost enrollments.

1) Email

A recent whitepaper found that more than 90% of teens preferred to receive information from colleges through email rather than any other medium. Whether it was about financial aid, admissions, or their application, email was the popular choice by a long shot.

From interesting and original copy to clever subject headlines, there's a lot an educator can do to entice a potential student to open and click an email.

Take the University of Pheonix as an example. By being focused and using clear and concise copy, the education institution engages potential students and uses a clear Call-To-Action to provide more information and drive engagement.

University of Pheonix email example

Easy to implement and track, colleges should work to nurture leads through this channel, as it has a greater potential to connect with people on a conversational level.

2) Content

Teens were more interested in a university’s website rather than its social media accounts with 87% of teenagers saying that college websites were either “extremely useful” or “very useful” during their research on colleges.

So, how can higher education providers leverage that interest on these digital channels?

There are many ways to do this. Firstly, a blog should be a high priority. As well as giving the faculty and current students a voice, blogs can keep prospects updated with developments at the university.

The State University of New York has a dedicated blog, which the institution uses to build a relationship with their students through posting about topics like Campus Life, Healthier New York.

BIG IDEAS blog - University of New York

This trove of content address student's pain points, showcases the USP of the university and provide an insight into what life (and learning) would be like at the institution. Bear in mind that a blog doesn't need to be complicated or loaded with content, the main thing is to focus on the topics that will resonate with your student base - current and future

Beyond blogging, educators can use brochures, infographics, and VR tours to lend a more visual dynamic to their online content.

And let's not forget video as a huge enrollment driver with 80% of college prospects turning in to those from potential future colleges, while 44% watch videos from current students.

3) Social Media

 Social Media

Social media is much more than staying connected with old friends. It's an integral part of life for almost half the planet. Younger demographics use it more than any other platform, so out of all digital channels that colleges could exploit, this one makes the most sense.

Often the challenge of social media for educators is the overwhelming choice out there. From Facebook to Twitter to Instagram to Pinterest, it can be difficult to know which platform deserves the attention and time of staff.

A good starting point is to find out where your students are. Send out a survey or post a poll on your website to find out which channels are the most popular.

Another way to gain insight is to look at your competitors, both locally and further afield. Where are they spending the efforts? What type of content are they promoting on it e.g. video, gifs, blogs etc?

While this may involve some legwork to know where to get started, it will be worth it when you have found the right platform/s and start to experiment with tone and content to get the best results.

One of the great things about social platforms is the ability to analyze the impact of each pot easily. So ensure your institution tracks and monitors what is successful in terms of key metrics e.g. website impressions, lead generated etc. and refine as you go.

If you want to learn from the best, check out 6 of the best examples of educators using social media.

4) Paid Advertising

Paid Advertising

The cumulative total spent on paid advertising by universities and colleges in the USA grew 18% from the previous year, smashing all previous records to exceed $1.65 billion. And it’s easy to see why – because it works.

Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising is increasingly popular, as it is a flexible and adaptable approach to targeting your audience. This comes down to clever use of analytics.

Analytics are a key part of conversion marketing. Schools that see they have a problem converting their applications into admissions will be able to fix the issue.

This makes pay-per-click advertising one of the best digital channels to use, as higher education institutions can target specific segments of their audience and increase enrollment in those areas.

Some key metrics you should track include:

  • Clickthrough to lead
  • Lead to application
  • Application to admission
  • Admission to enrollment

Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU), used paid advertising to great effect, turning around low enrollment numbers in a short space of time with some digital media campaigns. With the help of Katana, IWU was able to boost quality site visits by about 28%, and average CTR soared by 110%.

You can finetune your advertising campaign so they are more relevant to the viewers, and even if they aren’t clicked on, your brand awareness will continue to grow with all the ad impressions. There is a lot to learn about PPC advertising for universities, but when it’s done right, it can be a huge success.

Display advertising is another avenue worth exploring. Although not everyone likes to have pop-up ads appear on their browser, retargeting prospects with visual content when they’re already on the hunt for the perfect college can pay dividends.

You can even target your competitor’s domains so that your ads can potentially intercept people from applying to a rival college.

5) SEO

SEO isn’t just for business flogging products online. Almost 80% of college applicants are influenced by online content, and most of them research their options online. Therefore, SEO can have a real influence on your prospects, as it allows you to rise above your rivals in search results.

Search Engine Journal highlight some key areas higher education institutions should focus on, including:

  • Performing an SEO audit – Doing this will allow you to identify problems and opportunities for your website, which can help you improve organic search performance for your pages. Use tools like Ahrefs, Screaming Frog, and SEMrush to get a full picture of the current state of your site, so you can see how to improve the SEO.
  • Cater to the “mobile-first” audience – The vast majority of college-age students are Millennials and Gen Z, which means they’re looking at their devices more often than not. Google has already begun to implement “mobile-first” indexing, so it pays off to make your site mobile-responsive.

6) Publishing Platforms

Publishing Platforms

Studies by Google indicate that 9 in 10 students will research their desired higher education institution online.

Having engaging content can do wonders for a university, college or training provider's image. This is the era of clicks, shares, and subscribes, so if you really want to stir up interest in your institution, you need to be putting valuable, shareable content into the spheres that prospective new students are using.

Medium is a great platform because it allows companies to republish existing articles from their own sites, without incurring the wrath of Google for duplicate content. Another platform worth looking into is Pocket for sharing all types of content that syncs to a phone.

With some smart content marketing, you can bring great content from your university to a wider audience, establishing a strong online presence that sets you apart from competing schools.


In the modern world, many teenagers and adult learners face a dilemma when it comes to education. They must weigh the long-term value of a formal degree or consider the emerging trend of learning online.

With a greater emphasis on obtaining digital skills, many are tempted by the latter, believing it is the road to a prosperous future.

Higher education providers must work harder to market themselves on digital channels by reaching prospects through mobile, email, and social media to build a relationship and spread brand awareness of their institution and everything it has to offer.

Experimenting with analytics, paid advertising, and SEO may seem daunting, but it is an inevitable venture that traditional colleges and universities must dive into sooner rather than later.

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