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Perspectives on eduWeb 2019

Philadelphia Pennsylvania at Independence Hall with the statue of Commodore John Barry of the Continental Navy in the foregound, along with the eduWeb conference logo and the SAI Digital logo superimposed on the photograph

As another eduWeb conference comes to a close, we take the opportunity to reflect on things we've learned from our higher education colleagues and fellow industry experts. But first, let me thank the eduWeb team for organizing another valuable opportunity to learn, connect and exchange ideas.

Our takeaways from eduWeb 2019

Respond to ongoing headwinds facing Higher Ed

A continued focus on ballooning student debt, challenging financial situations for a growing number of institutions and demographic changes are creating a difficult business environment. Demographic shifts (more pronounced in the Northeast and Midwest) are resulting in a smaller pool of high school graduates to fill enrollment funnels in the next few years. The end result is more competition for a smaller pool of traditional prospects. To combat these headwinds, institutions need to work much harder to differentiate themselves from peers/competitors and to build an effective message around the outcomes and return on investment (ROI) from the education they provide.

Optimize your website; it’s still your primary marketing tool

Even with a growing focus on marketing via social channels, research shows that prospects overwhelmingly rely on an institution's website to answer key questions and help them make their choice. The message that we first heard from students many years ago still holds true - a student will not necessarily choose a college based on a great website experience, but they will take an institution off their list because of a poor website experience. Continuing to optimize the website user experience should be a critical part of your marketing strategy.

Adapt your email strategy, it’s not dead yet

The death of email seems to be predicted every year, but no, prospects still find it to be a critical communication mechanism. How you design and craft those emails is vitally important as well. Since more and more email is read on mobile devices, trends have been to go very minimalist on the email's design. Turns out that may not be the most effective way to encourage prospects to open, read and act on those emails. Design, UX, and content strategy matter as much in email as in any other channel.

Do a better job of highlighting your institution's offerings and ROI

The most visited areas of higher ed websites are tuition/financial aid and programs/majors. How engaging is that content on your website? Does it read it like a course catalog? Do you highlight financial aid options along with tuition and cost information? Do you highlight program outcomes and alumni success stories? We find that in many cases these areas of higher ed sites provide facts and info but do very little to actually help you sell the value of your institution, or the quality of the programs in a way that resonates with prospects or parents.

Become stronger in writing punchy content

Attention spans continue to shorten. Therefore, writing shorter copy that engages as much, if not more, as your best web content is becoming key. Developing strong microcopy for landing pages, microsites, and other digital properties can make the difference between visitor abandonment and next-level engagement.

Become a data geek

Understanding what's working, what's not, and why is critical; particularly with increased competition for a smaller pool of candidates, and in many cases, with shrinking marketing budgets. You need to understand which tactics are getting results and shift your efforts and dollars appropriately. College and university leadership also wants to understand that ROI in order to justify marketing spend. Marketers must build their data analysis skills to be successful in adjusting their tactics to the market and in communicating to admissions and leadership how those tactics are impacting the enrollment funnel.

Get more targeted with your marketing efforts

Marketers are definitely getting more creative, and more targeted, in putting their message in front of their audiences. Geo-fencing, an advertising approach made possible by the proliferation of GPS-enabled smartphones, is one such tactic. It allows you to push advertising in very specific geographic areas where you know your target audiences congregate. It's a cost-effective way to micro-target prospects. Check out our blog post to learn more about geo-fencing.

Create a personalized experience

Personalizing the experience to your audience helps to create stronger engagement. Particularly if you’re an institution with a broad audience such as traditional undergrads, degree completers and grad students. Each audience has different goals, and to be successful, your message needs to be tailored to the specific needs of each audience. Creating a more personal experience allows you to better adapt that message. You can use a more automated approach based on data you have about your visitors, or a process where your site visitor builds their own personalized experience.

A great example is the “choose your own adventure” type of experiences we see on some higher ed websites where a visitor can choose their educational goals, academic and extracurricular interests, then be presented with content and resources based on those choices.

Make sure your digital experience is accessible

While accessibility is nothing new, the focus has increased, particularly with a series of accessibility-related lawsuits filed against 50 colleges and universities last November. Website accessibility standards have also evolved with the release of WCAG 2.1 last year. Making your website compliant is no longer enough. You need to ensure that any PDFs on that website are accessible, that videos have transcripts and any third-party plugins or included content are accessible as well. It’s also not a one and done process. Continued monitoring, content author training and validation are required to make sure your website remains accessible as it evolves. To learn more about web accessibility download our accessibility toolkit.

Grow website accessibility beyond WCAG standards

In addition to focusing on web accessibility for audiences with physical or cognitive challenges, make sure alt text and captions for photos and video recognize gender nonbinary audiences properly. “Inclusion for all,” was discussed not just in conference rooms but in hallways between sessions. Applying these standards beyond the website into all other digital properties like social media will add consistency to how your school and its brand are perceived.

We hope you enjoyed your eduWeb experience and please reach out if you have any questions about optimizing your digital marketing strategy. If you would like a copy of our “playbook” on geo-fencing in higher education marketing, please sign up to receive it electronically.

undergraduates walking along Stevenson University campus with superimposed messaging about the SAI Digital geo-fencing presentation delivered at eduWeb 2019

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