15 Higher Education Digital Marketing Strategies for 2018

Every day, universities and colleges are coming up with exciting, innovative courses for the millions of motivated students all over the world. The higher education space is being redefined by innovation in design, delivery and employability for many degree programs. Education experts have the resources they need to craft, test and rollout cutting edge online degree programs. That’s why higher education institutions are bringing on board creative communication and marketing professionals to keep their institutions and programs visible and desirable. Here at Circa, we utilize unique higher education marketing strategies that help raise awareness of courses and programs while bringing in high quality students that enable online degree programs to flourish. 

Innovative PPC Strategies

Andrew Glasser and Farzin Espahani

The possibilities for higher ed marketing are seemingly endless when it comes to PPC. It is by and large the most immediate method for generating high-quality leads while broadcasting your brand to qualified individuals, ultimately turning clicks into prospective students. In Search, PPC is a hotbed for student acquisition, with degree-seekers constantly turning to Google and Bing to help them decide their career/academic path. Within Social, PPC offers increasingly advanced tools which we can use to hone in on subgroups of your target audience, fostering lead growth in the student acquisition cycle while simultaneously nurturing your Brand’s reach.

When it comes to paid advertising on social platforms, we notice a clear trend for universities who are marketing online graduate degree programs: All the ads are the same. The ad copy makes it clear that the program is flexible and completely online, and the visuals often convey a happy working professional looking satisfied in their new role. In 2018, it is our focus, mission, and purpose to ensure that colleges and universities make a commitment to standing out from the crowd by showcasing their true story. Students understand that they have basic needs in their degree program, but in 2018, millennials need to have a connection to something bigger. It is important for universities to look at their missions, ideals, and unique value propositions outside of online, flexible, innovative curriculum to begin conveying the information that matters to a student’s personal journey.

Mobile Optimized Search Ads

Studies continue to show that mobile devices are the go-to option for searching the internet. In fact, mobile devices are used more often for searches than desktop computers.  The average person checks their phone 150 times a day, the average time spend on a smartphone is 177 minutes per day, and amazingly, the average mobile session is 70 seconds. This means consumers are using their phones all day, every day, but in short bursts of time. By bidding higher for mobile devices in Google Adwords and Bing ads while utilizing mobile optimized ad extensions we can increase the CTR significantly.

Managed Placements And Interests

Managed placements is a good strategy when there are specific websites that you think are related to specific program or university where can be visited by a potential student. For example for an online MBA program, we want to place our display ads on education related websites and focus on pages relevant to higher education and career advancement. This will help us to make sure our ads are shown to those more likely to click on the ad to learn more.  

Facebook Retargeting Campaigns

The beauty and effectiveness of retargeting allows you to reach out to users who have already showed interest to your brand or program and to get them to re-engage with your brand. This is a slow but steady and cost effective strategy that converts more students compared to traditional targeting, since users are more likely to engage with ads from brands that they know. The best way to achieve a winner retargeting strategy is to start with a brand awareness ad to simply introduce your brand. Then running a retargeting campaign that shows new ads to those who have already engaged with your previous ad.

Fundamental SEO Strategies

Tyler Cooper

Every month, hundreds of thousands of prospective students are logging onto their computers, opening up Google, and trying to figure out where they should earn their degree. If your website’s SEO strategy is not up to par, chances are you’re missing out on the vast majority of these leads. While you can use Google AdWords to show up for these results, you’re going to be paying a premium for each click. When you rank organically, there is no cost per click. When looking at this from an ROI perspective, the value of SEO is undeniable. Having a large search presence means more organic traffic, more leads, more applicants, and more students. If SEO is not a part of your digital marketing strategy in 2018, you are doing yourself a huge disservice.

Link building

Link building is undoubtedly the most important aspect of your SEO strategy. In order to compete in competitive markets such as higher education, your website will need a steady stream of high-quality and relevant backlinks. There are a number of link building strategies. You can read more about those here.

On-Page SEO

In order to get the most out of your link building campaigns, it’s extremely important that your on-page SEO is in place. Make sure you all of the content on your website is properly optimized for search. This includes keyword rich title tags, relevant meta descriptions, keyword density, optimized header tags, internal linking, and much more.

Technical SEO

While this may require assistance from a web developer, it’s important that your site is technically sound so that it can be properly crawled by Google. The easier it is for Google to crawl and understand your site, the more your website’s pages will be shown in Google’s search results. On the other hand, if your website is full of technical errors, your search rankings will almost certainly suffer. Some things to look for when performing a technical SEO audit are: 404 errors, missing/broken XML sitemaps, slow page load times, duplicate content, irrelevant/thin content, and more! Use a tool like Screaming Frog to identify some of these common issues.

Website Content Strategies

Frederic Lee

Creation of website content (articles, infographics, data visualization, and more) is an essential aspect of any search marketing strategy. The primary reason being that Google favors websites with fresh content. With this in mind, a strategy of continuous creation and publication of content is important for website visibility in Google’s search results. In addition to creating fresh content, here are three core strategies to get the most ROI in this content.

Traffic and Rankings Focused Content

Through careful keyword research with an emphasis on target long-tail variations of your core keywords, content can be created with the best opportunity to rank in the search results. Keyword clusters/pods can be established in order to streamline content creation and may cover many keyword opportunity areas surrounding a long-tail variation. Upon completion and distribution, this content may rank for competitive keywords and either bring in large quantities of industry traffic, or a lesser, more valuable flow of conversion-focused traffic.

Conversion Support Focused Content

Depending on your business goals, conversion support content have a goal of providing detailed information about your product/service and industry. This content is designed to speak directly to individuals in the sales funnel. Through paid and organic social distribution and careful placement on your website, these articles are designed to be a strong touchpoint in the sales process.

Social Signal Focused Content

A portion of the Google algorithm involves having positive social signals pointing towards your website and content. Articles and graphics can be created with this exact goal in mind. A detailed analysis of your target audience and how they interact on social network is a key first step. This content must give them a reason to share and engage. Upon publication, strategic social sharing and promotion can help kick start this content on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other relevant networks to your industry.

Creative Digital PR Strategies

George Bradley and Joseph Lapin

In the higher education industry, digital public relations is an important approach for any SEO strategy. Here at Circa, we believe that the faculty are one of a university’s greatest assets, yet in general, many higher ed marketing companies are not utilizing these key stakeholders. By leveraging traditional public relations strategies for the digital world, digital PR not only influences brand awareness and thought leadership for universities, but it also allows us to create high level media opportunities for our professors in publications such as the Washington Post, The Hill and HuffPost. Not only are the professors being placed here, but we are obtaining backlinks to our program pages. This directly influences organic traffic that leads to conversions and new students. In collaboration with on-page SEO elements, content marketing, and other link building strategies, digital PR helps bring prospective students to a university and serves as a significant contributor to a diverse link profile for an authoritative website.

Relationship Building

Professors and reporters/editors are the two key relationships that should be built as part of a higher education digital marketing strategy. By building trusting relationships with faculty, you are able to gain an understanding of their research and passions and also create opportunities that are specifically focused on their expertise. Relationships with reporters can also prove to be greatly beneficial. When you have a reporter who trusts you, they are far more likely to respond to your pitch and come to you for a quote from one of your faculty members.

Creative Pitch Writing

Pitching compelling story lines and sources are the crux of any PR strategy. In the higher education digital marketing space, we leverage the faculty expertise to write pitches that relate to current trending topics in the news. There are often four key components to a pitch, and these are the lead, call to action, unique value proposition, and conclusion. You can find more information on how to write these pitches here.

Stay on Top of the News

Having access to and critically understanding the latest news is imperative because you want to stay ahead of the curve. There are various ways to understand what is happening throughout the world, and you should consider each method to be as important as the next. Understanding stories in the newspaper and tying in our professors is the perfect way to begin the pitching process. All of this comes back to understanding your professors and the people working on relevant stories within the media.

Organic Social Media Marketing

Audrey Wills

In 2018, social media is an imperative part to any digital marketing strategy –– especially for higher education. To put the importance of social media marketing into context, take a look at the graph below. When the Pew Research Center began tracking social media usage in 2005, less than 8% of 18-49 year olds in America used at least one social platform. Today, over 75% of 18-49 year olds are active on at least one social media site, meaning social media is the optimal medium for reaching higher education’s target audience.

While the growth in social media usage is a good thing in the world of higher education digital marketing, this increased usage leads to users being inundated with ads and content marketing. So much so that at the beginning of 2018, Facebook changed its algorithm to prioritize content from user’s inner circles. Thus, making it even more difficult to get content in front of your target audience –– organically at least. So what tactics can you use to ensure you continue to reach your audience and boost enrollment? Let’s take a look.

Know Your Platform

As mentioned before, Facebook changed their algorithm in the beginning of 2018 to prioritize content from a user’s family and friends. This means that whenever you post content, whether it is on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, you need to post content that best suits that platform.

Facebook’s algorithm favors content that people want to engage with. Think: would I share this with my friends? Content that is made for Twitter should be concise, yet informational. Let your followers know what you’re sharing and why. Do some research and identify the most active hashtags for your industry and use them throughout your tweets to help increase your reach. When creating content for Instagram, think visuals first, and make sure you have an eye-catching graphic that will grab your follower’s attention and get them to stop scrolling.

Keep up-to-date on social media marketing by attending a conference: http://circaedu.com/hemj/13-higher-education-marketing-conferences-in-2018/  

Live Video

One tactic that all social media algorithm’s love is Live Video. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter enable you to leverage live video to interact with prospective students. My favorite tactic for utilizing live video is hosting live Q&A info sessions to address general program FAQs and provide prospective students the opportunity to ask questions and receive answers in real-time. Hosting a series of Q&A info sessions that address different areas of your program. To give students a better feel for your program, have different team members host each session. Anyone from an alumni, a current student, a faculty member, or even dean are perfect candidates to provide their own perspective and create a connection with the prospective students.

Chatbots At Your Service

Social media has changed the way we all communicate, and chatbots are taking our new forms of communication one step further. Chatbots provide a modern way for students to get questions answered instantaneously. Implementing chatbots into your recruitment strategy can help your admissions team speed up the enrollment process by weeding out unqualified candidates, answering questions in seconds, not hours, and even following up with potential students to ensure they finish their applications before the enrollment deadline.

Circa Interactive is the premier digital marketing agency in higher education. Since opening in 2011, Circa Interactive has helped more than 60 degree programs increase lead flow, build brand awareness,and generate more students. To find out how our services could help your institution, please email clayton@circaedu.com. 

 

Understanding the Value of A/B Testing

What is A/B Testing?

Have you ever wondered if a certain piece of content on your website is performing to its full potential? If the subject line on your email campaign is compelling enough to maximize open rates, or even if a button on your website is the best color to attract a user to click? Many businesses and their marketing teams ask these and similar questions every day. Thankfully these questions can be answered by utilizing A/B testing.

A/B testing, or split testing, as some people like to call it, is a controlled experiment whereby two or more variants are tested against each other to find which performs better. This commonly used approach allows marketers to make the most of existing traffic that has usually taken a lot of time and money to get in the first place.

The Stages of A/B Tests

There are a handful of stages when running a successful A/B test. These stages can vary depending on who you ask but in general, four show up time and time again. These stages can be represented in four questions.

Do I need to conduct an A/B test?

Testing random ideas just for the fun of it will more than likely be a waste of time. For this reason, it is highly advised to create a hypothesis first. This hypothesis must be based on research into where the problem lives. For example, “if I make this change I expect to see this result”. This will help you gain information on not only what needs to change on your site but valuable information on your customers and their behavior.  

What metrics will define the success of this test?

This stage is the most important, and thus should be given the most time and focus. It is important to define what metric which will be used to measure if the experiment group is better than the control group or not. To help you decide this, you need to ask yourself what are you going to use the metrics for. There are two main categories of use that you will be using your metric for; Invariant checking, variants that should not change across your experiment and control, and evaluation of metrics and evaluation. These can be either high level such as increase in revenue or percent of market share. On the other hand, matrices can be more finer and look at user experience.  

It is important to note that some metrics may not be able to be completely measure correctly due to factors such as technology and demographics used. For example, Java may not run on certain web browsers resulting in incorrect CTR. As a result, filters may be needed to ensure data is not skewed and the metrics chosen can actually measure correctly.

How to design an experiment?

Designing the experiment includes deciding on a unit of diversion, deciding on the size and characteristics of the population and how long the experiment will run for.  

  • The unit of diversion is what units you are going to run the test on and comparing. Commonly, these can be event based (e.g. pageview) or anonymous ID (e.g. cookie id) or user ID. It’s important to ensure when you have a user visibility change to assign people instead of events. This is so the user will not get confused if they see a change, refresh the page and then see that the change has disappeared. If measuring latency change, other metrics like event level diversion might be enough.
  • The population of subjects that are eligible for this test is then selected. Everyone who visits your site may not be eligible for this experiment as you might be only looking at US traffic, of wanting only students depending on what and why you are experimenting.
  • Timing in a/b testing can be a deciding factor whether the experiment has been carried out correctly or not. When best suits to run the experiment? During the holidays? At night? Weekdays vs the weekend? This will depend on who the population is and what you’re looking to achieve. Making sure the experiments run long enough to gather a sufficient amount of data but not too long to miss out on the opportunity to use the better performing page with all of your site visitors.
How to analyze data?

Tests can end in three different ways, either the control wins, the experiment wins or there is no change. Reading this much is for the most part easy but it is important not to pat yourself on the back just yet. It is essential to dig deeper into these results and find out more about the behavior of your customers. As Bryan Clayton, CEO of GreenPal explains “Only with A/B testing can you close the gap between customer logic and company logic and, gradually, over time, match the internal thought sequence that is going on in your customers’ heads when they are considering your offer on your landing page or within your app.”

A/B Testing Examples

MVMT

The Retention of customers is an issue for many watch companies as a customer is usually only in the market for a watch every few years. MVMT faced this issue and introduced a selection of interchangeable watch straps to their site. To ensure these straps increased consumer retention the way in which they were presented on the site was tested. The control in this experiment was with no cross selling of the straps with two test variations, one with the straps above the watches and one with the straps below the watches. By doing this test, MVMT were able to increase conversions by 5.5% for mobile shoppers and 2.2% for shoppers on desktop.

ASANA  

Teamwork-trafficking software Asana used a/b testing to successfully redesign and rebrand their website, improving user experience along the way. To ensure consumers were not surprised with a big website design, Asana implemented these changes slowly over time to gradually optimize the site for the best user experience. By breaking their tasks into two categories, Asana’s product team were able to first focus on core functionality features, implementing them once they had performed well in their test segments. After this, their rebranding team implemented the overall new look of the site and new branded look.

A/B testing is just one of the way’s that our PPC team ensures our clients campaigns are optimized and operating to their fullest potential. You can check out or PPC services here.

Aidan graduated with a Master’s in Digital Marketing from the National University of Ireland, Galway in 2016 where he gained a strong understanding of online marketing strategies, and marketing performance and productivity. Prior to his move to the US to work with Circa interactive, Aidan gained his experience in a variety of industries from festivals to medical devices. His current role within the Circa team is as the Jr. Digital marketing specialist, working with both the SEO team and the Marketing Analytics team, ensuring the service we provide is above the high standard expected from our clients.

Learnings (and Mistakes) that Have Shaped My Communications Career in Higher Education

With almost 20 years on the marketing and communications side of higher education, I’ve learned a great deal from key stakeholders and my brilliant teams. But I’ve learned from myself and my mistakes, too. It’s amazing what can grow from a few blunders, helping you lead a more productive, informed and fulfilling career.

Following are six of the biggest lessons I learned from my own failures:

Communicate with everyone.

During my early years in higher-ed communications, I would communicate with one audience at a time. My approach was not as inclusive; and, I sometimes left out key audiences that needed to be informed.

Lesson learned! As higher-ed marketing experts, identify every possible communication channel to disseminate updates through a mix of university websites, videos, email, newsletters and live discussions, as well as through external media, social media, community partners and education outlets. Different audiences receive information from a variety of sources, so accessibility is important – accommodating the way they are informed. Transparency helps reach key audiences; so they are not only informed, but so they feel part of the conversation.

Delegate, delegate, delegate.

During my first job out of college, I tried to do it all. I wanted to prove to myself and others that I was capable and effective.  So I took on more work than I should, and, eventually, I started missing details – and I was not being very effective (and didn’t feel very capable). While I had good intentions, I was missing deadlines, making mistakes and feeling overwhelmed.

Delegation is important to a successful outcome. Your team is just that… a team, and delegation empowers all team mates to have a role and to feel involved in project success. When the right mix is involved, work gets done more efficiently and successfully. Delegation is a great way to coach and mentor, as well.

Give back – and Get Back.

In my early career, prior to getting involved in higher education, I was stuck, frustrated and not learning very much in my job. I was craving professional development and new challenges, and I made a mistake by waiting too long to satisfy this craving.

Then, I got involved with the American Cancer Society as a volunteer. With the sole intention of giving back to the community, I actually “got back” so much more from this experience.  Volunteering gave me the professional development I needed, while enhancing my communication and leadership skills.  Most importantly, I met a board member from Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU Denver), and that introduction led me to higher education and long-term communications role at my current organization. So, expand your community, and more will come.

Course Correct.

We’re familiar with the expression, “Life is what happens while we are busy planning it.”  Well, the same holds true with our careers. I wrote a plan for a previous president, and then I got so focused on sticking to the communications plan — and then I missed a few opportunities.

While it’s important to have a plan, I also learned that it’s helpful to step back, evaluate, adjust and course correct when new opportunities develop – and challenges occur. I now accept that plans often need to be adjusted, and that’s a good thing.

Listen to All Stakeholders.

It’s easy to isolate yourself and your team in your work. I’ve done that many times, and learned the hard way about isolated thinking. Big mistake!

Learn from stakeholders from all sides — from students to donors to staff members to the community, as they all have something to teach you. They wear different hats and can collaborate and add perspective to university outreach and strategies.

Model and Mentor.

In my early years, I wanted to show my bosses and leaders that I could figure it out by myself.  While sometimes I could, I also found that I made some mistakes along the way and that I could have benefited from some extra guidance.

Eventually, I started working with a mentor who taught me new leadership skills. In return, I mentor students and professionals, to help them grow in their careers and foster new partnerships. After all, higher education is about teaching others, and it’s important to mentor and model throughout your career.

We can learn from so many teachers and leaders in higher education, including ourselves.  So embrace the blunders, and celebrate the lessons. There’s plenty to learn from our slip-ups!

About the Author

As the Chief of Staff and Vice President of Strategy for Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU Denver), Catherine B. Lucas, APR, redefined MSU Denver’s brand in the higher education marketplace; spearheaded the legislative approval process to offer master’s degrees; and led the name-change transition from “college” to “university.”  She has earned a reputation for brand and reputation management, collaborative decision making and community engagement. 

6 Ways to Leverage Student Testimonials in Marketing

Today’s college search consists of visiting hundreds of college websites to find the perfect match. After researching several institutions, prospective students then compile a list of colleges and universities to apply to, but what are the deciding factors that lead them to applying? Is it hearing from faculty members, attending open house events, a google search, or chatting with recruiters? For me, it was how the university utilized testimonials in their marketing.

After graduating from American University with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism, I decided to pursue my master’s degree in integrated marketing communications at Georgetown University. Before making this decision, I was a prospective student searching for an online graduate program that had everything I desired and more. Throughout the several months of searching, I experienced various universities retargeting me around the web, sending emails with application deadlines and receiving recruitment schedules to make appointments. Again, it wasn’t the consistent emails, speaking with recruiters or the ads circling the internet that led me to my final decision. It was reading and hearing faculty, alumni and student testimonials.

As a marketer, and twice a prospective student, I want to share with you six key strategies that will help your college or university boost leads and engage prospective students by implementing student testimonials in marketing campaigns.

1. Create a student experience tab on your website and social networking pages

Including a student experience tab on your website and social networking pages provides current students, alumni, faculty and even parents the opportunity to share their success stories. In this section you have the chance to sell your university or college to its full potential by incorporating quotes, videos and blog posts. Make sure to also highlight topics that matter to your target audience, including internship opportunities, graduation rates, employment rates, campus safety, extracurricular activities, as well as students and professors interactions. This will give prospective students a feel for the student body culture and will enable them to apply and make an enrollment decision.

University testimonial example: Berkeley City College created an International Student tab page to help market its testimonials. Prospective students that navigate to this page will hopefully find a relatable experience that will get them engaged and excited about their possible opportunities at the college or university. *Pro Tip: Incorporating photos of your students leads to better results.

 

2. Revamp paid search landing pages to incorporate testimonials in marketing

Paid search landing pages give you, the marketer, an opportunity to sell your university or college with an incentive or social validation. This can be easily done by incorporating short video clips or quotes from students or recent graduates that may pique your prospective students’ interest. It’s also important that you provide trustworthy information along with providing social validation (video or quote) or an incentive, such as a brochure, to further explain your program.

The content you create must meet your prospective students’ initial motive and provide them with a solution. Make sure your content only gives your prospects two options, either to add their information or exit out of the landing page. Keep in my mind that no one sells your brand better than a joyous and lively student or alumni.

University Testimonials Examples from Unbounce

Source: Unbounce

University landing page example: This particular template is from Unbounce. On this landing page it gives prospective students the option to provide their contact information. However, before submitting their information they will see a testimonial quote from a graduating student that may spark their interest even further. 

A second example is from the University of Illinois at Chicago landing page where they’ve attracted new students by marketing testimonial videos. Using video and adding a small description takes the content further in making it personable and relatable.

3. Post video testimonials on social media accounts

When I scroll through my Facebook feed, I’m often attracted to videos. Whether I’m laying in my bed, walking down the street or taking a lunch break, I’m more prone to click on a video than an ad with a graphic. Honestly, I would rather listen to someone speak than sit and analyze an image. In fact, by 2017, video content will represent 74 percent of all internet traffic, according to KCPB. As a result, video testimonials are a great way to build trust and provide prospective students with additional information so they have a chance to learn more about the program you’re advertising.

As a marketer, whether you choose Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat to advertise your university’s videos, make sure you’re targeting a very specific audience and that you’re using the right social media platform. For example, Facebook attracts an older crowd. According to a BI Intelligence study, Facebook users aged 45-54 represent 21 percent of the total time spent on the platform, which is the most time spent compared to any other age group. Therefore, if I’m promoting graduate school opportunities, I would use Facebook ads to pitch to an older demographic. However, as a marketer, if I’m looking to attract high school juniors and seniors that are researching institutional programs, I would consider advertising testimonial videos on Snapchat. This is a great way to incorporate alumni and current students into recruitment methods to increase brand awareness.

American University social media marketing example

             

University Facebook page example: This example shows American University (AU) utilizing Facebook to engage prospective students and newly enrolled students. In this video, President Burwell starts off by explaining her testimony as a previous college student and later explaining the experience of current AU students and professors. Although, this is not a current student or an alumni directly explaining their experience, as a leader at the University, she is telling her story incorporating professors and current students into the storyline.

4. Specific statistics and photos perceive tangible results and trust

When marketing testimonials, keep in mind that prospective students always need assurance to make sure they’re making the right decision. Research shows adding a face to the name, along with a testimonial text, can increase empathy towards people, even when never meeting them. This will automatically allow prospective students to feel more connected and provides them with the assurance they need.

In addition, if you are sharing a faculty member’s testimonial and they happen to share a statistic, don’t be afraid to also share that with your audience. Statistics help illustrate that your institution is about producing results and lifting boundaries for your students by highlighting the curriculum and opportunities you provide for your students and graduates.

For example, before attending American University, I would attend numerous open house events, speak to recruiters and speak with current students and alumni. Although attending events and speaking with students convinced me enough to attend American University, there was always one statistic that stuck with me, because I would see the same statistic posted on billboards all around Washington, D.C. and the university campus. The statistic read, “92 percent of our graduates are working, in graduate school or both.”

By reading this statistic, I was easily convinced that American University would give me the proper resources and education I needed to succeed. Reading alumni testimonials was great and speaking with current students gave me an in-depth perspective of university. However, reading and keeping that statistic in mind helped me make my final enrollment decision.  

American University student testimonial statistic

Source: American University

University photo and statistic example: In the first example from American University, the statistic automatically sparks a student’s interest. It makes an individual think they too will find success and become apart of that statistic when it’s time to graduate. 

A second example is from Washburn University using alumni to explain what they’ve gained through their education. Again,  marketing testimonials along with photographs will encourage prospective students to start thinking about the long-term impact an institution can have on their careers.

 

5. Improve email marketing strategies and tactics

If you’ve ever submitted a contact form on a university’s website, I’m sure you’ve received thousands of emails reminding you about application deadlines, open houses, scholarship opportunities and upcoming webinars. Looking at all the emails filling up your inbox, how many of them do you see marketing testimonials to share alumni and student experiences? Not many!

One of the best ways to convince a prospective student to attend a university is by making the emails relatable and personable. Instead of sending a generic email explaining the application deadlines, add a video testimonial with a student or alumni explaining why they chose the institution. Make sure the videos showcase internship opportunities, extracurriculars, curriculum and campus culture.

Another strategy for marketing testimonials is to leverage scholarship deadlines and add a written testimonial, with a photo of the student, that explains the situation they were in before receiving the scholarship and how it has helped them to succeed.

Testimonials can also be utilized when advertising webinars. Make sure to implement testimonials from a student that will be speaking during the webinar throughout the whole email marketing campaign. Feel free to also add an incentive when marketing the student’s testimonial by offering a one-on-one opportunity with that student. For example, before choosing Georgetown University for graduate school, I also researched Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media and Integrated Marketing. I actually enjoyed reading the program emails because they always incorporated an opportunity to speak with an alumni or current student about the online program. While attending one of the school’s webinars, an alumni and current student shared their experiences with me and the opportunities the university offered them. Testimonials are your friend when it comes to selling your brand. Don’t run from them. Utilize them to their fullest potential.

University Email Marketing Campaign Example Using Testimonials in Marketing

Source: Northwestern University

“A recent IMC Online graduate, Erin Price, Senior Director of Strategic Planning at Sargento Foods, will be on hand to describe her experiences in the program.” – Northwestern University, Medill Program, Megan Castle

University email marketing tactic: This example from Northwestern University shows the institution marketing their online webinar and telling their prospective students an alumni will be present. Prospective students will be more inclined to attend the webinar because they’re interested in hearing a previous student’s opinion about the program.  

 

6. Use public speaking engagements to collect and market testimonials

During my junior and senior year at American University, my state recruiter would always ask if I could speak at accepted student events located in New York and New Jersey. After giving my speech, I remember taking a deep breath before seeing a number of students rush to me and ask questions regarding my experience, the professors, extracurriculars and student body culture.

I enjoyed connecting with prospective students and helping them make an important decision that will impact the rest of their lives. It was simply the way I leveraged my testimony that impacted their final decisions. As you can see, word of mouth goes a long way. If someone reads or listens to a story they will automatically feel more connected compared to someone just reading facts. When marketing a live testimonial, students may feel more inclined to make a quicker decision.

Here’s another tip – at the end of each event hand out evaluations. As a higher education marketer, this gives you an opportunity to see what you’ve done right and what areas to improve when conducting future events. At the end of the evaluations, feel free to also ask prospective students a question similar to this:

“After attending this event for accepted/prospective students to learn more about the (School Name) experience, how likely are you to enroll at our university or college? (1 – 10)

Also please feel free to leave a comment regarding your experience at the event and your name, so that we can post it on our website and social media accounts.”

Hosting similar events for your prospective students gives them social and tangible proof that everything your institution markets and advertises online is exactly what they will see during face-to-face interactions.

Takeaways:

  • In all testimonials, showcase a problem and provide students with a solution.
  • Student testimonials are a university’s success stories.
  • Always leverage the power of social proof and validation.

“Nothing draws a crowd quite like a crowd.” – P.T. Barnum

 

User generated testimonials are just one piece of Circa Interactive’s conversion optimization services. Convert the traffic you are paying for. Learn how Circa’s established methodologies, with new approaches, will help increase your university’s interest and ROI by visiting our conversion rate optimization services page.

Farah Green

Farah Green is a marketing and public relations specialist for Circa Interactive. She has background experience in both the broadcast media and digital marketing industries. While working at Circa, she has gained experience in higher ed content marketing while also improving her creative skills. Farah’s passion and continual education in marketing helps to enhance Circa’s team.

Education Market Research Tips for Programs in Higher Ed and K-12

What is Program Market Research?

The goal of program market research is to understand the competition, demand, and trends for specific programs or courses within a university or K-12 environment. Program market research can also provide insight into how a program or course should be designed based on current and future demand, in addition to how it should be positioned from a creative standpoint within the larger education market. This type of analysis can provide much more confidence to an organization that a program will be successful once launched.

Why is Higher Education Market Research and Program Feasibility Important?

The world of education has only gotten more competitive over the last ten years. With the rise of for-profit education, in addition to the adoption of online learning and MOOC’s, education has become both more accessible and more competitive. Prior to launching a new degree program or course, schools must complete a stringent market research analysis in order to ensure success.

Why is K-12 Market Research Important?

Completing market research for K-12 environments is important as it can shine light onto not only what is in demand from a course perspective, but also how it should be delivered. Classrooms continue to advance in regards to what medium subjects are delivered to students in, and keeping up with trends around how information is consumed by adolescents can be demanding. Market research for K-12 can ensure that the right programs and courses are created, which will in turn deliver education in a mode that is successful.

What is the Market Research Process?

The market research process can generally be broken down into three core sections, with each focusing on the three core principles of competition, demand, and trends.

1. Primary Research

Through a combination of qualitative strategies (focus groups and stakeholder interviews) and quantitative research, information is gathered around education drivers as well as large data sets upon which to formulate and execute plans. We follow a research trajectory that begins with qualitative findings that, in turn, inform cogent, useful surveys. We partner with an Ivy League university’s Survey Research Center to manage data-gathering efforts from hundreds or thousands of stakeholders to provide quick, efficient, and illuminating data with which to make decisions about online programs. Primary research tools include:

  • Surveys
  • Focus Groups
  • On ground program data

2. Competitive Analysis

Understanding the competition is an extremely important step in determining program viability. While understanding program demand is important, many times the barriers to entry and the cost to compete are too high to warrant an investment. Benchmarks are generally used to determine how a program or course stacks up compared to others, and can be a good way to determine ROI. Competitive research tools include:

  • Google trends data
  • Google keyword planner data
  • Keyword Spy (analyze competitors paid advertising strategies

3. Secondary Research

Looking to outside resources for insights into program demand can help ensure success. Compiling and analyzing data from existing resources, including the U.S. Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. Department of Labor, local/state/regional agencies, IPEDS, job search web sites, and accrediting bodies can determine benchmarks and requirements, as well as short and long term labor market demands.

What Are the Best Market Research Tools?

There are a wide array of free and low-cost tools that are available to individuals looking to complete market research around a program. The following are just a handful of what is available:

  1. https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/ – Insight into consumers via surveys, trends over time in search queries, and benchmarks for display related efforts.
  2. https://adwords.google.com/home/tools/keyword-planner/ – Understand the cost-per-click and search volume around core keywords that your potential audience might be searching.
  3. http://fedstats.sites.usa.gov/ – Centralized location for federal government data including insights into career and education data.
  4. https://www.surveymonkey.com/ – Complete surveys of core stakeholders and faculty.
  5. http://www.pewresearch.org/download-datasets/ – Large data sets to help provide insight into potential program target markets.

How Can Market Research Inform What to Introduce?

The insights acquired from program market research can shine light onto what programs to introduce based on demand and current competition. Insights from BLS data and other job related data can help to determine what types of degree programs are going to be, or are currently, in demand based on career data. Google trends and keyword data can inform how saturated a market is and can also illustrate how much it will cost from a marketing perspective to enroll a student.

How Can Market Research Be Used to Define Marketing Strategy?

The competitive analysis that is performed during program market research will also focus on the brands of the competition. With education continuing to get more competitive, having a brand that is unique in the market can help to attract students and lead to more organic PR. Insights from this analysis and internal stakeholder interviews will provide insight into what the creative messaging should be for the programs in addition to  what markets to enter and which demographics to target.

By completing a thorough program market research initiative, universities and schools will enter the program creation process more informed about what should be introduced and how it should be positioned within the market. This type of information will help to ensure program success and will also provide upfront insight into costs and metrics, which can prove to be instrumental during the planning and budgeting phase of a new launch.

 

Robert LeeRobert offers a decade of demonstrated digital marketing expertise, and he has provided results to clients both within and outside of higher education while working as an analyst, team lead, and director. He has planned and implemented digital marketing campaigns for a number of large universities throughout the United States, and he leads Circa on all aspects of client strategy. Before founding Circa Interactive, Robert led digital marketing teams at the higher education organization Embanet.

5 Qualities of High-Converting College Websites

At Circa Interactive we’re fortunate to work with a few outstanding partners. Below, our friends over at Finalsite put together five useful tips to increase the conversion rate on your institution’s website. Enjoy!

 

The term “conversions” covers a wide landscape of actions happening on your college or university’s website. It can mean a prospect did something as small as subscribing to your bi-weekly newsletter, or something as big as applying. It is the term used when a current student purchases a ticket for an upcoming football game, when a parent orders some swag, and when alumni make donations. In short, a conversion happens every time a form is submitted on your website.

When someone makes the decision to submit a form, it means that the perceived value of what you’re offering them is greater than giving you their personal information, their most prized possession in today’s world of sponsored posts and spam.

 

Therefore, a high-converting website has five main components:

 

  1. A website that drives qualified website traffic: The first part of getting conversions is getting qualified visitors to specific pages of your site.
  2. A semi-controlled website experience: You want certain visitors to go to certain pages and forms, so guide them there.
  3. Content that influences a conversion: Use visual and textual storytelling to appeal to the logos, ethos, and pathos of your target audience.
  4. Forms that facilitate a conversion: Your form length should vary based on what the user is receiving in exchange.
  5. Follow-up campaigns that engage a recent conversion, and nurture a future one: When someone converts, it means they’re interested in something — so never lose out on an opportunity to capitalize on that momentum.

 

Let’s dive into a little more detail on each of these five qualities:

1. A website that drives qualified traffic.

83% of search query paths (AKA, a simple Google search) begin with an

unbranded term such as “best colleges in Georgia for chemistry,” or “affordable liberal arts colleges.” This means that less than 20% of searches include a specific college or university name.

While this data may be a sign word-of-mouth-marketing (WOMM) may be dead, it’s also a sign that getting qualified traffic to your website is harder than ever. In addition to the mass amount of website traffic stemming from unbranded

searches, 60% of all organic clicks go to the top three search results. (Top of

the page means top of mind for lazy, quick-to-make-a-decision high school students.)

So how exactly do you combat this to drive qualified website traffic and boost your conversion rate? You have two main options:

  1. You can implement an SEO strategy to earn your website and its pages a Page 1 presence. This is a critical long-term strategy, but doesn’t always yield the best short-term results due to its complexity and time it takes to earn authority.
  2. You can invest ad dollars into a Pay-Per-Click (PPC) ad or social media ad strategy. These strategies often yield to best and most immediate results as you have more control over the journey the website visitor takes. For example, when someone searches for “best liberal arts colleges in MA,” you can pay to direct them to a landing page about your school’s liberal arts programs with a form to learn more.

 

A combination of SEO and PPC will be most successful, but if you’re looking for an immediate fix to drive new conversions, go with PPC.

Pro tip: When you send a searcher to a specific landing page on your website with a form, be sure to remove the primary navigation to further “force” a conversion. You can include your navigation on the “thank you” page.

 

2. A semi-controlled website experience.

The website experience can begin in search, but when it begins (or progresses) to your website, you’re also going to want control. This comes in two main forms: Calls-to-Action (CTAs) and specific landing pages.

A good first step to a successful CTA strategy usually begins by placing 2-3 CTAs right above the footer, as the bottom of the page is one of the highest-converting locations. However, the CTAs used on each page should vary based on the content and end-goal. For example, admission pages should have CTAs that drive traffic to inquiry and open house forms, while athletic pages should have CTAs that drive traffic to pages where they can read athletic success stories or meet with a coach.

While CTAs can be used to drive traffic virtually anywhere on your website, you’ll want to use them to drive traffic to specific landing page. Landing pages are where you earn your conversions.

A different landing page should be made for every type of conversion on your website. These pages include a form, as well as compelling content that influences them to fill out that form. When you build a landing page, it is a best practice to have the following content:

  • A value proposition
  • Photos or a video
  • Testimonials and social proof

 

3. Content that influences a conversion.

Take a quick moment and do a role reversal: If you were a prospective student who just did a broad search in Google, and you were sent to a plain page with a form, would you fill it out? Or, if you were an alumni who just received an email to give back, and were sent to that same type of page, would you give back? Chances are, that’s a resounding “no.”

Conversions require content. And lots of it. Your school’s homepage, interior pages, and landing pages all require content that engages a particular target audience. Content should appeal to all stages of the applicant’s journey through awareness, consideration, and decision.

As you build out your content and website pages, ask yourself:

  • Who would find this content useful or interesting?
  • When should we share it?
  • How should we share this content?
  • Where should this content live?
  • What happens next?

Content is a broad term, but the most effective forms of content are social and authentic — meaning look to student testimonials, a student-run blog, and social media to serve as your primary source of content.

4. Forms that facilitate a conversion.

Forms may appear to be the easiest part of a high-converting page, as they are the tool used to gather information. But for that exact reason, they are complex.

Forms need to appeal to two very different types of website visitors:

  • Low-Commitment Visitors: These individuals are just shopping and browsing. Therefore, they are less likely to give you a lot of personal information. Forms for low-commitment visitors include pieces of content (like an informative whitepaper) or a newsletter subscription. Keep the form only 3-4 form fields in length for optimal conversion rates.
  • High-Commitment Visitors: These individuals already know and love your school. It doesn’t matter how long your forms are, or how hard they are to find, they’re ready to fill them out.

Most of your website visitors — especially those in the awareness phase of their journey — will fall into the low-commitment visitor category. It’s important to have a mix of forms that appeal to low-commitment and high-commitment website visitors to fill your admissions funnel. For example, a newsletter sign up form with 1-2 form fields will help fill the top of your funnel, while a longer open house visit form that is 6-8 form fields will help fill the middle of your admission funnel.

 

5. Follow-up campaigns.

When someone makes a conversion, that’s their way of raising their hand and saying “hey, I’m interested!” And, you should use every digital opportunity you can to spark another conversion. Here are some good tools to have handy:

  • A Thank-You Page: This is the page that comes after the form submission. Here, it is a best practice to have the content/information related to the form submission, as well as other similar content they may be interested in.
  • A Page Pop: Putting a PagePop on a thank you page provides you real estate to drive traffic to a specific page or form to move your user further down the funnel.
  • A Follow-Up E-mail: Whenever someone submits a form, there should always be a follow-up email with the information requested, and additional information.
  • Email Campaigns: Based on form submissions, build different email campaigns. For example, individuals who have only filled out your inquiry form, but have never attended an open house, should receive nurture emails to spark a conversion on that form. Another example is alumni who have signed up to volunteer but haven’t donated money. Today’s consumer requires specific, personalized content to move them down the funnel.
  • Social Media Campaigns: Instagram and Facebook are two great social media networks where you can go after those who have converted on your website. In this case you can remarket to them and drive them to new pages on your website on which they may be interested, and where you can garner another conversion.

For more tips and strategies for a high-converting website, download Finalsite’s eBook “The Ultimate Website Guide for Colleges and Universities.”

Higher Education Marketing: Why Chatbots are the Future of Communication

Higher Education Marketing experts are projecting chatbots to be the future of communication between schools and potential students. For many universities, improving communication with students has been a key focus. As any applicant knows, the process of researching university programs can be a complicated one. Whether it’s speaking with various individuals and departments, browsing through program pages or finding out the right information for financial aid, the amount of research required to find the right university can be daunting. But what if, instead of having to spend hours researching, all of the information could be presented to you via instant messages?

With emerging chatbot technology, universities delivering information to potential students could be the future of how universities communicate and market to future students. To help explain this developing trend, below I’ll highlight what chatbots are, why they are projected to be the premier form of communication and how chatbots could provide more effective communication between universities and potential students.

What Are Chatbots?

If you’re active on Facebook, you probably have interacted with early forms of chatbots. For those that haven’t, here is a quick overview.

Chatbots are computer programs designed to provide a service to individuals that interact with it via instant messaging. Typically found in social platforms like Facebook or Slack, chatbots have been used to help with a variety of tasks, ranging from ordering pizza, getting a weather report and even offering therapy.

Communicating with chatbots is no different than messaging with humans. In fact, some have found that services provided by chatbots are often more effective and efficient. Because of this, chatbots are projected to have a major impact on the ways that humans communicate with businesses, universities and other service providers.

Why Chatbots?

Chatbots are a fairly simple concept and forms of communicating with robots have been around as long as 2001 with Smarterchild for MSN and AIM. So why is there sudden hype surrounding chatbots?

There are a number of reasons for this, yet the major factor is that messaging apps now have more active users than social media platforms, with messaging apps attracting just over 3,500 million users while social media barely passes over the 3,000 million users mark. What is most interesting about this increase is that users are not just using messaging apps to communicate with friends, they are also looking to connect with brands, share media and even shop.

Almost all higher education universities have social media accounts, yet few have utilized chatbots to connect with students. This means that chatbots provide higher education marketers with a major opportunity to get ahead of the competition.

How Chatbots Can Provide More Effective Communication Between Universities & Students

A recent Gallup study found that messaging is the preferred method of communication for the younger generations, with 68% of Millennials saying that digital messaging had been their primary source of communication. This shift towards texting has resulted in a major decrease in phone calls amongst the younger generation. In fact, many millennials consider phone calls invasive and uncomfortable, especially when they are speaking with someone unfamiliar.

For many higher education marketing departments, phone calls or emails are the primary source of contact with potential students. By using now antiquated forms of communication, universities are missing out on building quality relationships with potential students and developing insights on what younger generations are looking for in a school.

For instance, consider the ease of messaging back and forth with a chatbot whenever and wherever you choose compared with being stuck on the phone with someone you don’t know, asking you semi-personal questions regarding a major life decision. Wouldn’t you be more comfortable sharing accurate and insightful information when you had time to think and weren’t feeling pressured to answer right away?

Another benefit of chatbots that higher education marketers should consider is the relief of financial and organizational pressure. For example, Georgia State University implemented a chatbot strategy to improve communication with students. Having never tried chatbots before, the university was unsure of how quickly students would adapt to the new technology. Yet after only 4 months, 63% of students had used the chatbot platform on a regular basis, resulting in approximately 200,000 messages. Without chatbots, responding to questions would have required a full-time staff of an estimated 10 members. That’s an annual savings of at least $200,000.

With improved communication and the ability to offer schools major financial savings, chatbots may soon be the future of how universities communicate with students. Keep in mind that, as with most advancements, the most benefit will come from leveraging chatbots before they are standard communication protocol. For higher education marketers looking to improve communication and increase enrollment, testing and utilizing chatbots should be under strong consideration, with potential plans in place for upcoming recruitment drives.

Tyler Putz of Circa Interactive Tyler is a retired division two college basketball player and a recent graduate from the University of Iowa. His creativity, as well as passion for entrepreneurship and the expansion of technology and communication, helps Circa to continue to stay on the cusp of new technologies and trends influencing future generations of students.

Increasing Web Traffic: Content Strategies to Achieve Marketing Goals

For the past decade, digital marketing agencies and experts around the world have emphasized the phrase “Content is King,” but even to this day, a majority of marketers still do not understand how to increase website traffic to the content they’ve generated. For this reason, I have decided to tackle the intricate subject of content development and discuss how this can help to drive traffic to your site.

Every website on the Internet creates content that serves a specific purpose related to the site’s marketing objectives. An online content strategy should provide transparency about daily operations, share relevant industry news and allow the company to share their unique story. As we all know, a strategy that incorporates content marketing and link-building can bolster content SERP rankings which in return will increase the amount of organic traffic. My analysis shows that there are four primary types of content marketing objectives a website can optimize for, but the best equation for any website is to use a multifaceted content approach by utilizing each of the following content marketing objectives.

 

Lead Generation:

To reach this objective, content is created based specifically on user-intent searches or an audience that is actively searching the web for information on any given subject. Since the content is built to be extremely relevant to the user’s search, the end goal for this type of content is to collect a lead which usually consists of a visitor’s name and email address.

  • Example search: What is the best car insurance for teenagers?
  • Example content for search: The Best Car Insurance for New Drivers

 

Advertising:

When building a site using a business model based on advertising, content is created for a niche audience with an entertainment purpose. Most of these advertising-based sites implement Google Adsense or native advertising, which pays the web owner through three different methods: cost-per-click (CPC), cost-per-impressions (CPM) and cost-per-engagement (CPE). In order to generate as much advertising revenue as possible, it is imperative that these sites drive high amounts of traffic through their shocking, entertainment articles to increase ad impressions and clicks.

  • Example search: What did Kanye West Talk to Michael Jordan About?
  • Example content for search: Jordan and West Speak on Upcoming Shoe Collaboration

 

Informational:

This type of content objective is used to drive traffic based on informational, educational and newsworthy articles that provide value to the reader. Some of these sites may generate minor income from advertising but that is not their sole purpose. An informative site’s core mission is to bring together a like-minded community of individuals with similar demographics. Once the strong niche community is established, the site can promote new jobs, national events and sponsored posts to this audience.

  • Example search: How do I find a civil engineering job?
  • Example content for search: 10 Civil Engineering Job Hunting Tips

 

Awareness:

To meet this objective, websites create content that provides a behind-the-scenes perspective on daily operations, showcases business transparency and creates a community for social good. Unfortunately, there are very few sites that are created for pure awareness and transparency purposes.

  • Example search: How much pollution do Nike factories create annually?
  • Example content for search: Nike Reduces Pollution by 25% Thanks to Volunteers

 

The Sites We Analyzed:

Through countless web searches and backlink analyses, I found the four best sites that provide unique insights on content marketing and highlight the different SEO and ranking metrics that prove each content strategy works.

Lead Generation: Bankrate

Advertising: Only in Your State

Informational: Education Week

Awareness: Coca-Cola Unbottled

 

Bankrate

bankrate

Bankrate has a major emphasis on lead generation within the automotive loans, mortgage loans and credit card industry. When taking a quick glance at their homepage, you’ll notice topics like “10 Best Tips for Buying a Car” or “Anxious about the mortgage process? Start Here.” As you can tell, each of these topics is built around a user’s intent, and in this case, they are topics that emphasize a purchase that would require a loan. Throughout Bankrate’s articles, their team will include call-to-actions (CTAs) which ask the visitor to conduct a loan or credit card rate search. These CTAs link back to their loan, mortgage or credit card rate calculators. When a visitor fills out the rate calculator form, their information is collected as a lead and then usually sold to a number of loan companies. With Bankrate, creating content that precisely matches the user’s intent, whether it is tips on buying a car or mortgage refinancing, provides the user value with their easy-to-use calculators, which then generates a lead for them.

Site Statistics:

ahrefs-bankrate

13.9 million backlinks

76,200 referring domains

6.7 million monthly organic traffic

1.4 million organic keywords ranking

Top Organic Keyword: “Mortgage calculator” generates 372,110 visits per month

Top Content by Traffic: Bankrate Auto Loan Calculator – 614,400 monthly traffic

Top Content by Backlinks: Bankrate Mortgage Calculator – 95,926 backlinks

 

Only In Your State

only in your state - sedalia, mo

This website was created for entertainment and advertising purposes. Only in Your State has a unique approach on how they create content, but it is apparent that their end-goals for the website was to become an advertising revenue platform. Right when you enter the page, you’ll see a number of banner ads displayed at the top of the page and off to the right-hand side. Only in Your State isn’t focused on advertising a particular product or service, their goal is instead to give the ad position to the highest bidder. But you may be interested in knowing how they drive nearly a million organic visitors a month. Here’s how: their blog is focused on geo-based or localized content within each state, so not only do they produce content related to specific residents within each state, but they utilize “near me” searches as content opportunities. For instance, Only in Your State has created numerous articles on “fireworks displays” you must see in each state.

fireworks

Anytime someone types in the phrase “fireworks near me,” Only in Your State generates a large amount of traffic because they have localized content with high SERPs for searches in every state. Additionally, many residents are passionate about their state and where they live, so they are more inclined to share content that reflects who they are. This is another reason why they are able to generate high amounts of organic traffic and backlinks. Overtime, the more backlinks they receive the higher their domain authority gets and this will increase the number of organic keywords they rank for. As you can see, when developing a site based on the advertising objective, traffic is your best friend. To learn from Only in Your State’s strategy on generating traffic, be sure to create content that is localized to an audience, relates to people’s personalities, provides a laugh and easy to read.

Site Statistics:

ahrefs-onlyinyourstate

131,000 backlinks

5,410 referring domains

875,000 monthly organic traffic

835,000 organic keywords ranking

Top Organic Keyword: “Fireworks near me” generates 2,250 visits per month

Top Content by Traffic: Texas Amazing Beaches – 7,822 monthly traffic

Top Content by Backlinks: The Ultimate Georgia Waterfalls Road Trip – 341 backlinks

 

Education Week

education week

Education Week was created as an informative central hub for all K-12 educational news. EdWeek emphasizes that they are the leading news community for American educators and administrators. Since they are targeting a specific niche, they are able to create personalized high-quality content pieces for the sole purpose of informing this demographic. As they continue to create trust and loyalty as a leading education news source, there will an uptick in the number of repeat visitors and the community will only get stronger. Once established, they are able to start to promoting career fairs, job boards and educational events which is one of their revenue streams. With EdWeek being viewed as a leader in education, they receive higher engagement rates and generate more backlinks from other education and news sites.

Site Statistics:

ahrefs-edweek

6.68 million backlinks

25,300 referring domains

127,000 organic keywords ranking

119,000 monthly organic traffic

Top Organic Keyword Phrase: “No child left behind” generates 14,204 visits per month

Top Content by Traffic: No Child Left Behind Overview – 35,634 monthly traffic

Top Content by Backlinks: Carol Dweck Revisits the ‘Growth Mindset’ – 892 backlinks

 

Coca-Cola Unbottled

Coke-Unbottled

This blog was created by Coca-Cola with the purpose of transparency in addition to creating a community for the millions of worldwide Coke fans. Coca-Cola wants to create awareness on their social responsibility and provide behind-the-scenes access to their products. Their top organic search term is “Coca-Cola Life” which is one of their newest products that uses cane sugar and stevia, so when users search this term, they will find the product information and ingredients. As you can see from the other types of top content by traffic and backlinks, Coca-Cola focuses on highlighting community initiatives such as “Share a Coke” and conservation partnerships that impact the world. When implementing awareness as your main content objective, use the Coca-Cola Unbottled Blog as an example and be sure create content that provides insights your brand’s values and overall mission.

Site Statistics:

ahrefs-unbottled

31,600 backlinks

2,630 referring domains

16,000 organic keywords ranking

24,000 monthly organic traffic

Top Organic Keyword Phrase: “Coca-Cola Life” generates 1,261 visits per month

Top Content by Traffic: Is Your Name on a Coke Bottle? – 6,874 monthly traffic

Top Content by Backlinks: Happy Anniversary: Coke, WWF Celebrate Progress for the Planet – 536 backlinks

 

Conclusion:

As you continue to plan your future content and fill your editorial calendar, remember to first decide what content marketing objective you want to achieve. From there, the subject matter of your content is all based on what industry or niche you reside in. As I mentioned, your website may have one main objective, such as advertising, but that doesn’t mean every post should be created for entertainment purposes. It is smart to diversify the type of content your site produces in order to attract new audiences, generate more traffic and reach the business’s overall goals. Now that you’ve finished reading this article (thanks again!), it shouldn’t take you very long to formulate your next post and start generating traffic.

 

andersonideaAustin Anderson is a forward-thinking, motivated growth marketing specialist. Before joining Circa, Austin built an e-commerce business and managed online marketing for startups in San Diego. Austin strives to be a future influencer in the world of digital marketing and e-commerce. Connect with Austin on LinkedIn and Twitter @andersonidea.

PPC Tips & Tricks: Facebook’s Lookalike Audiences

Facebook is an incredibly powerful platform, where marketers can seek and engage new prospects across a variety of business goals (purchases, lead generation, awareness, etc.). As I’ve said before, the channel is an indispensable asset for generating prospective student leads to the degree programs we market.

Beyond the vanilla demographic targeting options available (Interests, Fields of Study, remarketing, etc.), wrapped within custom audiences, there lies an enormous bastion of advertising potential. This is the second part of my series dedicated to Facebook’s Custom Audiences, and today’s post examines Lookalike Audiences – a feature that is undoubtedly one of the greatest tools the channel holds in its arsenal. Here’s a bit of info:

Custom Audiences Beget Lookalike Audiences

Although powered by data from Facebook’s trusted third-party partners Acxiom, Datalogix, and Epsilon, Lookalike Audiences must have a source to mimic in order to inform the amalgamation of a viable target audience. If third-party data partners are the fuel, then Custom Audiences are the engine of this vehicle. Traditionally, Lookalike Audiences are cloned from one of these 3 sources: Custom Audiences (Customer Lists: email addresses, phone numbers or mobile advertiser IDs, Website Traffic, App Activity, or Engagements), Conversion Tracking Pixels, and Facebook Pages; of these options, I have found Email Lists and Conversion Pixels both to be viable resources for spawning a killer Lookalike Audience.

The more data, the better…to a point

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 2.44.56 PMAccording to Facebook, “The optimal source [for creating a lookalike audience] is 10,000 to 50,000 people”; however, it also notes “Lookalike Audience performance declines when it’s based on a source of over 50,000 people.” If acquiring an email list of this magnitude is not feasible – don’t fret! “The most important aspect of a source is that it is made up of high value customers” – and I’ve seen exceptional results from lists as small as 1,000 high-quality users.

Lookalike Audiences are HUGE

That list size of 1,000 to 5,000 users? It’s about to seem really, really tiny. Get ready to reach a vast amount of users across Facebook’s placement options (Desktop, Mobile, Instagram, etc.) – and that’s still while only leveraging the highest degree of similarity Lookalikes can be set at. If Customer Lists are David, then Lookalikes are at least ten Goliaths.

In the penultimate step of Lookalike creation (which we’ll cover next), remember, “when choosing the size of your audience… smaller audiences more closely match your source audience. A larger audience increases your potential reach, but reduces the level of similarity to your source audience.”

So, let’s walk through creating a Lookalike Audience:

Custom Audiences HEMJ 1

With a Custom Audience (or Conversion pixel) already in mind, navigate to the ‘audience’ section of your business manager and select Create Audience > Lookalike Audience. A light-box will appear, prompting you to ‘create a lookalike audience’:

Custom Audiences HEMJ 2

Click on the Source entry field and you will find a myriad of your saved Audiences available to choose from. Next, select a Country to target.

Custom Audiences HEMJ 3Finally, select an Audience Size; this is where you will decide the degree of similarity between your source audience and the resulting Lookalike. As illustrated in the graphic below, “Audience size ranges from 1% to 10% of the total population in the country you choose, with 1% being those who most closely match your source.”

I prefer to begin with a one percent Lookalike (the highest degree of similarity). When performance of that segment starts to ebb, I then begin to spiral out towards three percent — although I haven’t dared go beyond this degree of dissimilarity, my Paid Search teammates have gauged success in as large as a four percent Lookalike audience.

Quick tip: it’s a good idea in managing concurrent Lookalike segments to sidestep intra-account competition by excluding Lookalikes of the same kind (source) from their peers (e.g. excluding the one percent Pixel Lookalike Audience from your two percent Pixel Lookalike Audience); this can be managed on the ad set level. Furthermore, if you proceed beyond two percent in defining your Lookalike’s size, it may also be a good idea to narrow your audience by implementing cross-targeting (see “How does detailed targeting work” under Facebook’s Targeting Basics); here I like to start with Facebook’s old glory, Interests.

Have you tried Lookalike Audiences? Let us know your thoughts!

Andrew croppedA graduate of the University of California, Andrew is our analytics and paid search team lead. He is both Google Analytics and AdWords certified. With an ROI-focused and problem-solving approach, he researches, plans, and manages our clients’ PPC campaigns.

 

Next time on Facebook Ads Tips & Tricks: Boosted Posts vs. Newsfeed Ads – which is the right fit?

 

 

5 Reasons Why Digital Public Relations Should be a Part of Your Marketing Budget

Within higher education, digital marketers are lucky, because we have access to professors who are thought leaders on the cutting edge of their respective field. Clearly, professors are incredible resources for their students inside of the classroom, and outside of the classroom, professors function as brand ambassadors for their programs and the larger institution. Of course, marketing teams are aware of a professor’s value in order to attract students, and they build videos and web assets around them to create trust and illustrate value. But when it comes to student generation, are marketers effectively leveraging professors to accomplish larger organizational goals, such as increasing organic rankings, acquiring traffic to their website, and creating new touchpoint? What is clear about higher education digital marketing is that even in 2016, when changes in the SEO and social media industry have forced marketers to rely on the highest quality content, professors are not being leveraged effectively. Here is what they’re missing:

Marketing teams can utilize their professors to acquire more students by leveraging traditional public relations practices for a digital world. This is commonly referred to as digital public relations.

Digital public relations uses the larger media in order build brand awareness, increase the thought leadership for professors and university stakeholders, improve organic rankings, and, ultimately, generate more students. In order to illustrate the importance of digital public relations for higher education digital marketers, I created a list below that focuses on why all higher ed digital marketers should strongly consider incorporating digital public relations into their marketing strategy and budget.

 

1. Digital Public Relations Influences Search Rankings

Digital public relations is the best way to build the highest quality backlinks, which serve as indicators—or votes—that convince Google your site is relevant, trustworthy, and valuable. These indicators will in turn help to place your university program higher up in the search engine results page (SERP). When you land a backlink from a domain authority of a website that is strong, then that helps to strengthen your own website. (The higher domain authority of a website, the more value for Google.) The larger media landscape is one of the best avenues to land high quality backlinks, because they have incredibly strong websites, and they are constantly looking for content.

By leveraging faculty members, a skilled communications team can build stories around professors and pitch them to the mainstream media as sources. It’s very difficult to acquire a profile in the Wall Street Journal or CNN, but a digital public relations team can pitch professors to take part in a larger conversation. For instance, as the news broke on the controversy between the FBI and Apple over an encrypted phone, a digital public relations team can pitch their professors in criminal justice and computer science to provide expert commentary on the story. Reporters will include quotes from the professor, and the public relations team will ask for a link within the article. To see more about our successes, you can read the following article: Tracking digital public relations with SEO goals.

Byline articles are another way to leverage faculty members to create high quality backlinks. (It’s best to have a team who understands how to pitch articles to publications, and it takes someone with a background in journalism or public relations to land these types of opportunities.) In order to build backlinks at high quality publications, the team will pitch article ideas generated in collaboration with the professor to editors. By collaborating with the professor, the team will send an approved article to the editor, and in the bio information on the site, the professor can add the link. The best communication teams provide ghostwriting services.

Expert commentary and byline articles are essential strategies that digital public relations teams implement to reach the highest quality publications, and by landing a link on these sites, it will help build your site’s domain authority as well as send indicators to Google that your site should be higher in the search results. Students will then find your program organically for your targeted keywords, which creates leads without spending any money.

 

2. Increase Brand Awareness

Online education is more competitive than ever, and one way that your program can position themselves in front of your targeted audience is by creating media opportunities at publications with large reaches. By leveraging publications that are trusted, you’ll establish your program as being on the cutting edge of their industries. This will send signals to potential students that not only are the program’s professors actively engaged in the research they’re teaching, but show prospective students that they will be a part of the most relevant conversations and receive an education that will propel their careers. This type of publicity can serve as an opportunity for a prospective student to interact with your brand in a unique way.

While many online programs have marketing strategies that focus on creating interactions with potential students through landing pages, social media, and websites, those brand assets might not initially convert the student because of a lack of clout. Brand awareness and trust can be an issue. Digital public relations begins to create interactions with potential students by leveraging vetted organizations in order to build upon their brand. By interacting with prospective students in a natural way, the message will sink in easier, and the brand assets as well as the larger content marketing strategies will only be strengthened.

 

3. Create a Path for Students

As digital marketers, we’re always trying to imagine the research process of how prospective students come to make a decision about signing up for an online degree program. When a student searches for information about a degree program further along in their decision process, what will they find? Will they simply come across the program’s web assets—or will they find that their program is in the news and that their professors are not just engaging in an academic community, but that they are trying to tell their program’s story to a larger audience?

Digital public relations changes the way that a student researches a degree program by creating a new digital narrative. For instance, a prospective student will benefit by encountering a story about a professor who is quoted in a larger article at the Los Angeles Times, discussing the future of their profession. Perhaps they will remember a professor’s name in the Wired article on the future of 5G technologies. Perhaps students can also come across how a professor is a part of the evolution of digital education and dedicated to creating the optimal environment for students to grow. Or perhaps a prospective student will benefit from seeing a profile highlighting a professor’s advancement in their field based on a new grant. What digital public relations helps with is creating a path, an outline, for students to follow in their research, which illustrates the career options they will have when they graduate.

 

4. Build Relationships with Professors

One of the thoughts that many stakeholders consider when investing in digital public relations is whether or not a marketing team can handle the complex nature of the academic world. In order to have professors invest their time into a digital public relations strategy, they need to trust the team they are working with and know that they will represent their work in the highest regard. So a digital public relations team working in education must have the ability to understand and translate complex academic topics into something that would make sense for the mainstream media.

It’s essential that digital public relations professionals are experts in the art of turning complex academic jargon into something more informal and journalistic. Often, our team has found that professors have no idea how to change their style, so we help them learn to tell their stories in a way that can attract major media outlets. Our team accomplishes this by staying up-to-date on industry trends, interviewing professors the same way a journalist would engage with them, and doing our homework on a professor’s research and background so we can prove to professors that we can not only represent their university but their own personal brands.

But most importantly, we help professors shape their stories outside of academia, and this often creates great relationships with the team and the professor. They value our hard work and expertise, and when professors see their names or bylines in leading publications, they appreciate the value of a larger marketing strategy. Digital public relations benefits both the program and their professors by supporting their research and academic interests. This helps bridge the gap between the marketing team and the individual stakeholders that make up the program. The more a professor’s work is promoted, the more they become thought leaders in their industry, and they will be sought after by other journalists and editors, leading to the opportunity to create new backlinks and touchpoints.

 

5. A Long-term Investment

When it comes to deciding how to spend resources in a marketing budget, the fundamental question every stakeholder wants to know is: What is my ROI? With paid search, a stakeholder in an online program can see how their money is being spent in the short term and evaluate their cost-per-lead as well as their cost-per-acquisition and quickly understand whether or not their strategy is working. While this is an essential part of the larger strategy, a diversified marketing approach will take into account how to leverage all available tactics and try to think about ways to maximize the budget spent on paid ads.

Digital public relations is different than paid search in the sense that it is a long-term approach, and it is essentially free advertising. By building up the number of touchpoints potential students have with your brand as well as the number of backlinks from high quality publications, digital public relations helps online university programs increase their organic rankings, and students will naturally find the degree program without paying for keywords or social impressions. It’s a strategy that pays long-term dividends when it is a part of the larger digital strategy, and it’s an worthwhile investment in the long haul.

To learn more about our digital public relations strategy, see our process here: Circa digital public relations

 

JoeJoseph Lapin M.F.A. is an author, creative director, and journalist, and his writing has been published in the Los Angeles Times, Narratively, Salon, Slate, and more. He is a former adjunct professor at Florida International University, and he has worked on PR campaigns for Ernst & Young, Brentwood Associates, and more.