Karine Joly No Comments

Top Insights on Search Engine Optimization and online advertising for Higher Ed from the 2017 Student E-Expectations Survey

Exclusive Preview of the 2017 Student & Parent E-Expectations Survey Part 3: SEO & Ads for Students

This is the 3rd part of the 7-installment series on the April 2017 RNL E-Expectations survey results. This survey focuses on the E-expectations of high school seniors, juniors and sophomores (n=4,274) and their parents (n=3,530) and will be officially released on July 27. If you read the first part, just skip to the next section without reading the short intro below.

As I explained in the first post of this series, Stephanie Geyer from RNL shared with me the complete survey data set she’ll present for the first time at the 2017 National Conference on Student Recruitment, Marketing, and Retention in Denver, Colorado.

This annual survey launched in 2005 has become the gold standard of research on the digital expectations and habits of college-bound students.

Here’s the key to understand the legends used in the charts:

  • 2017: High school seniors, class of 17 – or their parents
  • 2018: High school juniors, class of 18 – or their parents
  • 2019: High school sophomores, class of 19 – or their parents

Search engines are the top gateway to college sites

With 82% of seniors and 81% of juniors using a search engine to find a school site, there is no doubt search engine optimization (SEO) is mission critical for higher ed digital marketing. If your site isn’t properly listed in search engine results for the keywords used by your prospective students, most of them won’t find your school. Period.

At Higher Ed Experts, registrations for our professional certificate 4-week online course on SEO for Higher Ed have picked up over the past year. The course is taught by one of the best SEO strategists in higher ed, Joshua Dodson, who has accomplished wonders in organic search placements. Yet, it used to be the least popular of our courses, but more and more higher ed marketers have finally started to realize the importance of SEO in our industry.

When you see charts like this one below, I guess it’s more difficult to ignore the impact search engines and good SEO can have 🙂

Top website referral marketing channel used by students

While search engines dominate the top referral channel list, their share among the marketing referral channels did lose a few points (from 88% for seniors and 86% for juniors) compared to the results in last year’s survey.

Print materials doubled their share over the past year from 16% in 2016 for both seniors and juniors to 28% and 31% respectively in 2017. I don’t think this shows as much a decline in the role of search engines as a noticeable come back for print publications that are increasingly used as a reference tool in the college admissions process.

Searching for school names but also for programs

When it comes to SEO today, your goal should be to rank high for what prospective students use to look for your school or your programs

Unsurprinsingly, the vast majority will search using a school name (which can be tricky for schools when you share a name with annother or more institutions). More than half of seniors will also search for the school name along with a program name, so this is important to make sure your program pages are as search-engine-friendly as possible. It’s even more important when 49% of juniors search for program names – not schools. So, a good academic program page might result in your school being added to their short list of schools.

Search keywords used by students to find a school website

Think prospective students don’t notice advertising?

Well, think again. Not only do they notice the online ads, 47% of seniors, 55% of juniors and 61% of sophomores have also CLICKED on a search, display or social media ad for a college.

Students who clicked on an online ad

When it comes to this “ad clicking” activity, Google search ads get the lion’s share (about three quarters) followed by Facebook ads (44% for seniors, a bit less for juniors and sophomores) and YouTube ads (about a third). Display ads take the last position, which isn’t surprising as they are often used more for awareness campaigns than for campaigns with a strong call to action.

Types of ads students clicked on

When they click on an ad, the majority of prospective students are looking for more information about schools they already know.

Reasons for clicking on an ad for students

After clicking on a digital ad for a college, a large majority has looked at a website and about a third has watched a video. About the same share – in the case of seniors – has filled out a request for more information form.

What does it mean?

It’s probably time to beef up your digital advertising budget, because this data show us online ads can work pretty well for lead generation.

Actions taken by students after clicking on an online ad

Next: Insights on SEO & Ads for Parents

Check out my next post in this series with insights from the 2017 Parent E-Expectations Survey about search engine optimization and online ads.

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