Ready for Launch: A Guide to Positioning Your New Academic Program for Success

Carnegie Higher Ed May 16, 2018 Carnegie Higher Ed Persona The Visionary Frontrunner

Many schools around the country are launching new academic programs as a way to attract more students or better serve those already on campus. Cyber Security was one we heard a lot in the past 18 months, but it ranges from Nursing to Engineering and everything in between.

It’s a sound strategy. If market demand is there, you should capitalize on it. But many of the schools launching new programs are making critical errors along the way and missing the opportunity to take full advantage of the boon to enrollment a new program launch can provide.

We want to help you avoid those pitfalls. So, here is a step-by-step guide to tactical execution of a new program launch.

Be strategic in selecting your program

Take time to do market research to find out if there is, in fact, demand in your target market for the program you are considering. It’s not enough to follow national trends; you need to know the program is viable for students you can attract, and you need to know what the perception of your institution is among the target audience for your new program. If they don’t know you as an institution, they’re not going to all of a sudden recognize you as a destination for XYZ program.

Align your program name with online search terms

Oftentimes we in higher ed name programs for illogical reasons, be it a combination of the departments running the program or something else that satisfies internal politics. This is where a lot of schools miss the boat. The name of your program is critically important. It must align with what your audience of prospective students thinks it would be called, because that’s what they’re searching for online. You can conduct keyword research to find out what prospective students are searching for and then develop a program name that makes sense and will show up in search results on Google and other search engines.

Develop a great program landing page

What’s a great landing page? I’m so glad you asked. Your program landing page needs to have relevant content that is optimized for search engine performance. That means using the right keywords in your content, the ones you researched to name your program. You also need to find out what questions prospective students are asking about programs like yours, which you can do through keyword research, and make sure your landing page content answers those questions. Oftentimes it’s things like whether the program is offered online, part time, full time, or at a remote site.

From a technical standpoint, make sure your page is optimized for mobile and that the content is structured properly in terms of headers and subheads, and use custom metadata on the backend within your content management system (CMS).

Lastly—and most importantly—make it really, really, really, really easy for prospective students to submit their information. That means having an RFI form with fewer than five fields above the fold on your page.

Be intentional about creating awareness

You know the one about the tree falling in the forest with no one there to hear it? Well, if a school creates a new academic program and doesn’t have a plan to market it, does anyone know it exists? The answer is no.

You need to have a plan that covers paid digital advertising, including Display, social, mobile targeting, and PPC. If it’s a graduate program, LinkedIn offers fantastic ways to identify and reach your audience, as does Facebook. And both have simple and effective mechanisms for generating leads. For undergrad, a 10-second video on Snapchat or Instagram can do wonders for creating a buzz.

Of course, all this awareness-building is intended to influence online search behavior, which is where PPC comes into play, and it also brings us back to the importance of your program name and the quality of your landing page.

And don’t forget about leveraging your social channels to share the news organically. You can use the program launch to position faculty and staff as thought leaders by having them write blogs or articles and then continue to share those across your various social platforms.

Bottom line: a program launch is an exciting thing and can really provide a boost if executed properly. Make sure you make the most of it.

If you get stuck and need help, let us know.

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