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Top Insights on Search Engine Optimization and online advertising for Higher Ed from the 2018 Student E-Expectations Survey

Exclusive Preview of the 2018 Student E-Expectations Survey Part 2: SEO & Ads for Students

This is the 2nd part of the 4-installment series on the 2018 RNL E-Expectations survey results. This survey focuses on the E-expectations of high school seniors and juniors (n=529) will be officially released on July 25. 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 2018 National Conference on Student Recruitment, Marketing, and Retention in Orlando, Florida.

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

Search engines: the highway to higher ed websites

With 85% of seniors and 88% 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.

That’s why it’s so important to optimize your web content for search engines, something we also teach at Higher Ed Experts in our 4-week online course on Web Writing for Higher Ed.

Top website referral marketing channel used by students

Email is definitely not dead as almost half of prospective students (48%) get to college websites via links included in email messages.

Optimize your web content 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

Unsurprisingly, the vast majority (81% of seniors and 77% of juniors) will search using a school name (which can be tricky for schools when you share a name with another or more institutions). The recent move from Google to feature its own new “college search entry” about your school can probably be explained by the popularity of this option among prospective students.

More than half of seniors and close to 60% of the juniors will also search for the school name along with a program name. So, make sure your program pages are as search-engine-friendly as possible. It’s even more important when 55% (49% last year) of juniors search for program names – not schools. A well-optimized 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?

The majority (66% of seniors, 68% of juniors) does and remembers seeing college ads online. Not only do they notice the online ads, 41% of seniors and 45% of juniors 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 take the 1st place (56% seniors & 68% juniors) followed by Facebook ads (50% for seniors – but much less for juniors) and other social media platforms or blog posts (about a third).

Types of ads students clicked on

When they click on an ad, close to half (48% of seniors) of prospective students are looking for more information or want to find out more about an interesting offer.

Reasons for clicking on an ad for students

Asked about their relation with the school featured on the ads, 88% of seniors and 74% of juniors indicated some kind of familiarity and in a smaller proportion, interest. This shows how digital ads can play a role in integrated recruitment campaigns in the middle of the funnel and not as a first touch point.

Relation between students and the school featured in the ad

After clicking on a digital ad for a college, a large majority (81%) has looked at a website and about a fifth has watched a video.

Actions taken by students after clicking on an online ad

And, if prospective students didn’t click on college ads, it wasn’t the end of the story yet. When asked whether or not they would visit the college website featured in the ads they’ve seen, 90% of seniors and 98% of juniors said “yes” – two thirds with the caveat that it would have to be a school they were interested in.

Impact of ads even when not clicked

According to this data, digital ads can work as part of an integrated marketing campaign targeted to prospective students. However, they will work better on prospects already in your recruitment pipeline

Next: Insights on Higher Ed Websites for Students

Stay tuned (or subscribe to my newsletter) for my next post in this series with insights from the 2018 E-Expectations Survey.

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