Thirty-two percent of students now take at least one online class, according to the latest report by the Sloan Consortium, a barometer of online learning in the United States.
Digital has forever changed the traditional college campus: Now, any place with an internet connection is a potential seat of learning.
But it’s not only the way people study that has been transformed by technology; it’s how potential students search for, discover, and choose institutions and courses.
The education decision journey is moving online — nine in ten enrolled students have used the Internet to research higher education institutions, according to a 2016 study conducted by Google and market analysts Compete.
And marketers need to move with it.
As a recent MBA graduate, I can tell you that deciding which program to partake in can be a very long process for students as they have so much choice in terms of programs and institutes which provide them.
It is important to know that things have changed a lot in how education providers are found by students – they now find them online as opposed to traditional brochures, flyers and school visits for example.
With 90% of students researching colleges and universities online, institutions who practice digital marketing for higher education are better positioned to engage prospective students along their path to admission.
So what does that mean?
It means that if you’re not moving with the times you’re falling behind! An Australian study conducted last year found that a whopping 97% of students researched their options online before making a concrete decision to apply for a program.
There are 4 points to cover:
- Narrowing the Selection
- In-depth Research
With a better understanding of these topics you’ll be better prepared for the influx of students coming to the website or web assets to begin their customer journey and better preparation ultimately means better conversion rates!
Seventy-seven percent of education seekers will first visit a school’s website at least two weeks — and often two months — before taking action, the Google and Compete study found. Education is a highly-involved decision and one that requires many different touch points along the way.
Asking prospects to fill out a lead form too soon might result in short-term success for a marketer, but in the end, both the student and the school will lose.
The key is to engage potential students in the right mindsets, on the right channels, and to enable them to experience all the great things your school has to offer.
The Students Journey Starts with Browsing Online
Some may know exactly what they want while others may not, but either way – all students know that they want to partake in a program or enrol in a tertiary institution.
Let’s walk through the journey of a typical student. The customer journey begins with program and institution research to determine what options are available to them and what value they can get out of each particular school or program.
They will spend their time browsing many, many different programs hoping to find ‘the one’ that clicks with them, peaks their interest and leads them to say ‘this is the program for me!’
Data that we have gathered has shown that 72% of Students have an idea of what program they want during this first stage of browsing within their user flow so it would be wise to ensure that each individual page for each program or program on your website has great levels of detail and information.
Often times I advise my clients to develop an in depth page for each of their program availing all relevant details to prospective students
At this point of the student customer journey there may be some students who are confused and uncertain of which program they want to do because of all the options they have, so it would be in an institution’s best interest to guide them through this confusion towards a program that relates to their interests.
This can be achieved with relevant content on their website that details out the career prospects of each of the programs on offer.
From our own personal experience we can tell you that students user flow will most certainly consist of browsing from website to website looking for something that catches their eye at this point in time with highly relevant information.
For instance, if a student who is interested in a computer science degree program lands on a university’s computer science webpage , ideally this page will have information on the program modules, fees, instructors (possibly) etc but an added or a competitive advantage will be if the university has another linking page that details the prospects of pursuing a computer science program in Ghana and some reviews and testimonials from current and past students and possibly photos of the computer science lab if any
If an institute can convey there and then on the web page what the best option for a student is in terms of their interest, time, price and career opportunities at such an early stage of their customer journey then the following stages suddenly become less difficult because of the hugely positive first impression made on the student!
The Student begins to narrow their selection
When a student chooses a program, it’s going to lead them to a career that will most likely be their career for a significant amount of time. Where will they go to find this information online though?
To your institution’s website and your competitors hoping to find a school that can answer their questions and get them motivated enough to sign ! Through this evaluation process they begin to narrow down their selection by filtering out the places that cannot provide them with what they need.
This point of contact is where a lot of schools lose students by offering a rigid user flow – they don’t accommodate their visitors and their stage in the user journey.
As stated earlier, choosing a program is a huge decision for students and they want to make sure that they’re getting the best of the best so that when they go looking for a career after they graduate they’re guaranteed employment.
There are a lot of factors that come into play at this stage of a students customer journey, namely:
- Is this the right program for me?
- How much does the program cost?
- How long is the program?
- What will I learn?
- What career can I expect?
A search for “The best IT schools in Ghana” revealed these related questions asked by students
Most universities answer some of these questions but overall fail to answer questions efficiently when they occur. The result of this is often a continued search to find a competitor that can provide them with the confidence and assurance they require for a feeling of security.
When this is provided to the student then they can be comfortable and have enough trust in that particular school to sign up and leave all its competitors behind and never look back.
Having a cross-device strategy is critical. Half of all prospective students use mobile devices to research higher education institutions, according to a study Google did with Nielsen this year. And Google’s internal data also indicates that from 2018, 40 percent of education search queries will happen on mobile devices.
We encourage schools to optimize their mobile websites with tailored content and to take advantage of new advertising technologies that allow you to more effectively and efficiently reach mobile users.
I reviewed the website of one of my clients’ students’ new decision journey, and found prospective students often visited its website on smartphones early on and then returned later on desktop for more information.
So one of the first strategies I implemented along with my team was to simplify its mobile website to focus on three features: embedded video, programs offered, and a short lead form. The idea was to optimize the experience as it relates to smartphones and tablets.
So if you went on their site on a mobile without it being optimized, it would just be overkill. So we made it very simple — the videos talk about an emotional experience as it relates to the school, and the short lead form allowed students to conveniently enter an inquiry
Research is done on your Institution
Whether you’ve made a fantastic first impression to stand out from the multiple institution websites that students have visited at the first stage of their student journey or provided them with all the information they needed at the second stage – either way, the next thing that’s going to happen is research.
The student is going to continue their user flow by seeing how your offer fares in all aspects in much more detail than they would have previously done. Aspects of your offer that will be looked might include – student life, fees, accommodation and program structure because they’re coming that much closer to signing up so they want to leave all doubts at the door.
The keywords used in this state will be much more specific than before.
Examples fetch from google includes:
- Accra business school accreditation
- Accra business school admissions
- Accra business school spintex, accra
- Webster university ghana fees
- Webster university ghana hostel
- Webster university international campuses
- Webster university ghana application
- Webster university office of study abroad
- Webster university ghana scholarship
- Webster university ghana fees
- Lancaster university ghana hostel
- Gimpa masters programmes fees
Students will do their research on the internet to see what current students are saying, they may attend open days to visit and see what the environment is like, whether the class sizes for their preferred program are big or small with opportunities to make friends.
During this research reviews and testimonials will play a big part in a student’s decision and if they find something they don’t like then that one thing could be enough to convince them to leave your university and sign up with another!
Bearing all that in mind – ensure that you constantly put your best forward and leading by example. Offer an incredible experience that compliments the customer journey and be there for each student ready to answer their questions with ease and really demonstrate why your offer is the best out there and why signing up with you is the best decision they can make.
The Decision is Made
The student at this stage will have narrowed their choice down between, at the most, 3 institutions including yours and will begin the final elimination. Our data has revealed to us that this overall process on average will span over several months!
That is the amount of time that you have to do things right and create an amazing user flow and experience for students. When this stage is reached there is nothing more that you can do to persuade students as they will have their decisions set in stone and there will be no changing their mind.
This is the final result and you’ll have either succeed or fail – either way there’s room to grow and learn from the habits of students for the next potential student.
Although it’s difficult to predict how the education landscape will evolve in coming years, it’s clear that the web has a permanent place. The question is: How will educational institutions show their school colors online?
The institutions that win the new moments that matter will be those who understand the new education decision journey.
By taking full advantage of digital tools to tailor their messages, schools can leverage the power of search marketing, content marketing, marketing with video to shape perceptions and deliver content that’s right for their devices and their decision journey stage. And ultimately it means institutions can focus on directly engaging the prospects who are most likely to become their next success stories.