Stop Worrying About Stealth Applicants

Carnegie Higher Ed Sep 11, 2014 Carnegie Higher Ed Persona The Visionary Frontrunner

The stealth applicant effect has been around for several years now. Here at Carnegie we hear schools reporting their percentage of stealth applicants everywhere from the teens to upwards of 70%—sometimes higher. Whichever end of that spectrum you fall on, it’s likely that you and/or members of your staff have spent time worrying about how you can combat the stealth applicant “dilemma.”

While it’s important to better manage stealth applicants, I would argue that there’s a more important question to be asking and worrying about: What about the stealth non-applicant? What are you doing about them?

Stealth applicants are the positive result of someone not identifying who they are to you until they apply. But for every one of those, how many prospective students are not telling you who they are and making the decision on their own not to apply? How significant is that pool? How do you have an impact on them? How much marketing attention and investment have you spent on them?

Consider this: over half of the people who convert on your website don’t do so until they’ve visited more than five times. One-third don’t do so until they’ve visited your site more than 10 times. And that’s just the numbers for people who actually do convert (i.e., identify who they are). Other data shows that 98% of the visitors to your site won’t do what you want them to at all.

So to address this, think about a couple of opportunities to do things differently . . .

  • Your non-responders: Assuming you’re conducting Student Search efforts throughout the year, what are some of the things you’re doing with your non-responders? For most schools, 80%–90% of the students they target via search campaigns never respond. Do you have follow-up communications (e-mails) customized to their lack of response and personalized for who they are and what they’re interested in? This can be much simpler than it sounds and have an enormous impact.
  • Your website: How easy is it for someone to actually identify who they are, and what’s in it for them if they do? Can they do it on their mobile device? Do they have a reason to tell you who they are beyond just “getting more info” that they could probably already get themselves? Audit your site to answer these questions and optimize accordingly.
  • Your data: Your website can also tell you a lot about the people visiting and not identifying themselves. Something as simple as weblogs for certain pages can provide you with IP addresses that can be leveraged for further marketing efforts. And now you know those efforts are going to people who have already demonstrated a certain level of intent.
  • Your lists: Search buy lists are often a big starting point for schools. And those mailing and e-mail addresses can also help you reach those same audiences online and through social channels. Today, your search campaign does not need to just involve print and e-mail; your audiences can be reached, influenced, and converted through online channels as well.

And if you’ve read any Carnegie blogs before, chances are you’ve heard us speak to the value of Retargeting in so many of these equations. For both stealth applicants and non-applicants, Retargeting’s ability to keep you in front of your website visitors after they’ve left gives you a frequency of message that drives people back to your site, which increases your chances for conversions. Plus, your communications with them can be specific to where they were on your site and the level of intent they’ve demonstrated.

Though the digital landscape has helped grow the number of stealth (non)applicants, it also provides the tools, resources, and capabilities to combat the problem. As so many other schools worry about how they can do things differently in this environment, you have the opportunity to make an immediate impact and help your institution stand apart. If 98% of site visitors don’t do what you want them to, it only takes a small shift to make an enormous difference. By changing that equation just 2%, you’ve doubled your conversions. The steps above and so many others that can be taken can help eliminate the worry.

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