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Top Insights on Search Engine Optimization and online advertising for Higher Ed from the 2019 Student E-Expectations Survey

Exclusive Preview of the 2019 Student E-Expectations Survey Part 2: SEO & Ads

This is the 2nd part of the 4-installment series on the 2019 RNL E-Expectations survey results. This survey focuses on the E-expectations of high school seniors, juniors and sophomores (n=900) and will be officially released on July 24. 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 RNL NC Conference in Nashville, TN.

Search engines: the top referral source for your higher ed website

With 86% of seniors, 82% of juniors and 85% of sophomores using a search engine to find a school site, there is no doubt search engine optimization (SEO) is key to higher ed digital marketing.

If prospective students search and can’t find your higher ed website in the results, you’ll definitely fail the convenience test in their book.

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

Ask Me Anything: Voice search on the rise!

Talking to devices is so 2019! Whether it’s on their phone, computer or smart speaker (like Amazon’s Alexa), 36% of prospective students surveyed in March have asked Google and Siri to search for them.

Devices to perform voice search by prospective college students

In almost three quarters of the cases, it’s about convenience, because it’s easier to ask than to type on a mobile phone.

For the prospective students who haven’t made the switch from fingers to mouth, 85% are just fine with typing while 31% find voice search results often inaccurate.

Devices to perform voice search by prospective college students

What this means for higher ed writers is that it’s going to become even more important to write your content in a conversational style (something we’ve always emphasized in Higher Ed Experts’ 4-week course on Web Writing for Higher Ed) — and do what you can (metadata, questions as headlines or sub-headlines, etc.) to make it easier for these AI agents (Google, Siri and the rest) to identify, in your content, the answers to the questions your propsective students ask.

Write your higher ed website content to make it easier to find

Your SEO goal is to rank as high as possible for what prospective students use to look for your school or your programs.

This is why it’s super important to pay attention to the combination of keywords they use with a search engine.

The vast majority (85%) of prospective students will search using a school name, but close to three quarters of seniors and juniors will use a combination of school name and academic program, a trend increasing over the past year.

Optimizing your academic program pages should be a top priority as more than half of prospective students only search by major, program or degree.

Search keywords used by students to find a school website

This year the surveyed prospective students were also asked to submit examples of search queries they would use or have used in their college search. The resulting word cloud shows some interesting insights.

Word Cloud of keywords used by students to find a school website

A text analysis of the 1703 total responses to this open question revealed that 44% of the queries focus on academic programs and 21% mention quality, ranking or superlatives.

As seen on the Web: Prospective Students see and click on digital ads!

After a 20-point year-over-year increase, digital advertising has reached a peak as a marketing channel for college search.

Nine seniors out of ten (vs. 66% in 2018) have seen an ad for a college and 63% (41% in 2018) have clicked on it.

Students who clicked on an online ad

When prospective students click on digital ad, Facebook is the winner (62% for seniors & juniors, 53% for sophomores) while Google search ads have lost more than 12-point percentage compared to last year with 44% of seniors, 41% of juniors and 40% of sophomores who clicked.

But, the rising platform for digital advertising is definitely Instagram (so happy to have suggested this option be added this year!) with 43% of juniors who have clicked an Instagram ad.

Types of ads students clicked on

When they click on an ad, the majority (53% of seniors, 64% of juniors and 69% of sophomores) of prospective students want to learn more about a school. This seems to indicate that digital advertising is a good option for the start of the admissions funnel.

Reasons for clicking on an ad for students

Asked about their relation with the school featured on the ads, 84% of seniors and 86% of juniors indicated some kind of familiarity with the school. This also shows that we are not in a one-size-fits-all configuration and further analysis is required.

This research data can show you the right direction, but it’s paramount for your school to set a sound measurement process for its digital campaigns, something that you can learn in Higher Ed Experts’ 4-week online course on Advanced Digital Analytics for Higher Ed.

Relation between students and the school featured in the ad

After clicking on a digital ad for a college, a large majority (84% of seniors but 93% of juniors and 91% sophomores) has looked at a website and about a fifth has watched a video.

For about a third (29%) of sophomores requesting print marketing materials was the call to action they answered.

Actions taken by students after clicking on an online ad

Want to set up a sound measurement process for your digital campaigns?

Higher Ed Expert’s 4-week online course on Advanced Digital Analytics for Higher Ed will guide you through all the steps.

With the help of your expert instructor and your classmates (all working in higher ed), you will set up the measurement process you need to assess the performance of your digital campaigns.

Sounds interesting?
Find out what our alums said about this course!

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 2019 E-Expectations Survey.

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