Get on the Short List: 4 Digital Strategies to Reach and Influence High School Juniors

Carnegie Higher Ed Apr 04, 2017 Carnegie Higher Ed Persona The Visionary Frontrunner

Research tells us most college-bound high school students will have a short list of schools from which they’ll choose by spring of their junior year, which means the next two to three months will be critically important for admission marketers across the country. But how do you get your school on that short list? Sure, you can buy names, mail them a search piece, and send a series of e-mails…but everyone is doing that in one way or another. How can you set yourself apart?

Digital advertising is the answer. If you don’t have a digital strategy for the Class of 2018, now is the time to enhance your presence online.

Google data indicates nine out of 10 of those high school juniors searching for schools will begin their process with an open mind, which means they’ll be conducting non-branded searches online for things like “top private schools in the Southeast” or “best biology programs in the Midwest” or “best colleges for student life.” There are keywords and terms for every type of student and all kinds of institutions, and it’s imperative to be present in search results for students who are a good fit for your school. Because, as our friends at Google like to say, if you’re not there in the moments that matter, you simply don’t exist. Here’s what you can do digitally to stand out to students in the college search.

Strategy #1: Paid Search, or PPC

This is something you can do in-house if you have budget and someone on staff knowledgeable in Google AdWords, but make sure you have a thoughtful strategy in place bidding on keywords relevant to your brand and the unique things about your school you want to promote. You should also be sure to take advantage of a new AdWords tactic, RLSA, which stands for Remarketing Lists for Search Ads. What RLSA does is allow you to deliver more specific search results to students and parents who have previously visited your website, and you can tailor your messaging based on where they’ve been on your site. This is important for juniors and their parents, who will be visiting different pages of your site than those in the Class of 2017. RLSA also allows you to bid on broader keywords you normally wouldn’t be able to afford (i.e., top pre-med programs), because the audience of your Web visitors is smaller and presumably worth the additional investment as they have shown interest in your school by visiting your site.

Strategy #1A: SEO, or Search Engine Optimization

Making sure your website has good content with keywords relevant to the searches those high school juniors are conducting is very important. Again, you need to show up in the search results to exist in their world. But beyond that you must provide a positive experience once they click through to your site. Is your Web path clearly defined? Are you delivering what you’re promising? Are you providing call-to-action steps to help students progress down your funnel? More than 70% of colleges and universities are not actively taking steps to ensure good SEO. That’s a significant competitive advantage for those that are.

Strategy #2: Display advertising

Remember those nine in 10 students conducting open-ended searches in Google? Well, as they progress through their process and narrow their lists, their searches become more and more branded, which means they’re now typing in “University of South Dakota biology” or something like that. So, how does that happen? Google tells us students are 50% more likely to enter a branded search using a school’s name if they have been served a display ad for that institution. It’s easy to get hung up on click-through rates and such when analyzing a digital campaign, but that 50% stat tells you all you need to know. Bottom line, you can and will influence student behavior with display ads, and the results will show in the organic search traffic to your site.

Of course, there are several different ways you can reach students with Display advertising:

  • Outreach: Define an audience by geography, online behavior, and demographic profile.
  • Retargeting: Target past visitors to your website to re-engage them and drive conversions. Like RLSA, this is an opportunity to segment your messaging and deliver relevant content to students and parents based on where they’ve been on your site.
  • IP Targeting: Enhance your Student Search campaign and increase search response by layering in digital with your traditional mail/e-mail campaign and then target your inquiries to promote visit events and drive applications. IP Targeting sends display ads into the homes on your mailing list and hits all devices on those Internet networks.

Strategy #3: Mobile-Location Targeting, geofencing, and Footprints

There’s lots of talk going on about mobile geofencing, which creates an audience of mobile devices at a specific location (like high schools) and delivers ads to those devices wherever they go. It has proven to be a great tactic for raising brand awareness. You can take it one step further with Mobile Footprints, which links geofencing and IP Targeting to deliver ads not only to the mobile phones of the students but also creates an IP Targeting audience of the students’ homes to reach any device on those networks, including Mom and Dad.

Strategy #4: Facebook and Instagram

There’s a lot you can do here to reach both students and parents. Use behavioral targeting to leverage the data within Facebook profiles to zero in on students likely to be interested in your school, and/or their parents. Often students will list the high school they are attending in their Facebook profile, and you can use that to define an audience from your feeder high schools. You can also do list targeting, like IP Targeting, to enhance your Student Search campaigns and to target inquiries to promote visits and drive applications. Retargeting on Facebook is also a powerful way to re-engage your Web visitors and keep them moving down the funnel.

Surveys of prospective students indicate that the top resource for them during their college search are school websites, with 75% saying they go there for information. That seems obvious. In second place at 70% are online search engines or Google.

That’s a huge opportunity.

Now is the time when those juniors are out there searching for schools, many with an open mind. These are the moments that will matter for fall 2018 enrollment, your opportunity to get on the short list. And if you’re not there, you don’t exist.

Contact us today to reach and influence juniors with digital marketing.

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