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The role of your university website for student recruitment

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More than 5 million students are currently pursuing their education outside of their home countries. A number three times that of international student enrolments in 1990. By 2022, the number of internationally mobile students is expected to reach 7 million. Subsequently, this growth is causing an increasingly global competitive landscape among educational institutions. University student recruiters and marketers are always looking for new ways to grab the attention of prospective international students, in the hopes of making students choose their institution over the competition.

From anonymous to identified students

When aiming to create awareness and raise interest for your university, these activities often reach a large and anonymous audience. The challenge that follows is to be able to connect with the students that matter most to you – those who have a strong interest in a study programme at your institution and the highest chance of being admitted. However, to achieve that, you need to know who you’re talking to and remove that layer of anonymity. Only then can you communicate pro-actively, follow-up the right way with the right information and make the student part of the community before they even apply. Therefore, after generating brand awareness and interest, the next aim is to retrieve students’ contact details when they ask a question or request more information about a study programme, also known as ‘student lead generation’.

Student lead generation via third party platforms

With today’s availability of channels for students to explore their options to study abroad, adopting a multi-channel strategy is a must-have for institutions. Often, third party platforms are used to promote study programmes and include ‘lead forms’, enabling students to contact the university via the third party website. This allows universities to obtain the student’s contact details and follows up with them accordingly. However, an important detail is often overlooked when evaluating the effectiveness of such platforms. When we meet with higher education professionals at conferences and seminars, we hear many voices concerned about promises of receiving dozens or hundreds of student leads and wary of considering working with third party platforms. The doubts are justified more and more: lead generation platforms can use universities for their, sometimes, controversial practices to make large profits. For example, by sharing student information in bulk, without necessarily knowing whether the student has shown interest in a specific university or study programme, or even by simply selling student contact information lists. Although it might look like the channel is generating a lot of leads, in actuality, one often ends up making costs for low-quality student leads. Additionally, you also don’t get an honest view of the true interest in a study programme.

Why it’s time to let go of lead quantity and focus on quality

Though external platforms can be effective for creating awareness and informing prospective students about study programmes, university marketers and student recruiters should no longer aim to primarily use these websites for retrieving student contact details. Instead, its goal should be to bring more quality traffic to the university’s own programme web page. This moves prospective students that are most interested and motivated to find out more information further in the funnel: from informed to interested students who eventually want to apply. That is also exactly what Studyportals aims to do for universities on our portals. Although we do offer lead forms as an optional feature to those who wish to have it, our main focus is to redirect the right students to your study programme page and drive quality traffic. However, should you really want to use third party platforms for lead generation as well, our advice is to find out how exactly it works in order to get a guarantee about the quality.

Based on our research and observations, there are three main reasons why your university website should be the main channel of acquiring student leads, with other channels supporting quality traffic to your website:

1. Students are more inclined to share their contact details on a university website

These days, if you’re not paying attention, one easily ends up leaving their contact details with multiple sources each week. It’s not always easy to tell what happens with your information and spam emails don’t put a smile on anyone’s face. Therefore, people are becoming more careful with sharing their contact details and they are more inclined to do so on websites they trust. From that perspective, the official website of a university can seem more trustworthy to students than a third party website. There’s even a cultural aspect involved. Privacy regulations are regularly addressed in the EU and other western countries, causing students who live there to be even more cautious with sharing their contact details compared to students who live elsewhere.

2. You will connect and interact with the most motivated students

The sooner prospective students are presented with a contact or lead form during their online search, the more the quality of the lead usually decreases. Instead, universities should aim to retrieve contact details from students who have spent time and effort to find out certain information. This proves that he or she has a sincere interest in one of your study programmes. Yes, it does regard a smaller number of students, but your time will be spent more effectively and efficiently. For example, while students might ask for basic visa information via a form on a lead generation website, the more motivated student has already figured out the needed information by visiting your website and asks a more relevant and in-depth question instead. Consequently, by decreasing the quantity and increasing the quality of your leads, the need becomes smaller to answer basic and generic questions. This makes it easier for those working at the international or admissions office to handle the number of incoming enquiries.

3. The quality of your follow-up efforts increases

Acquiring contact details is one thing, but following-up the right way is a crucial part of each successful recruitment strategy. Research done by Hobsons indicates that students value responsiveness of universities. When students send an enquiry, 53% expects an answer from the university within 24 hours. However, for 43% of the Top 500 universities, it takes 2 days or longer to reply, and 21% of those universities do not send a response at all (source: Through Student Eyes). By replying promptly to student enquiries, universities can truly differentiate themselves from others. WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are considered the future of student communication, which indicates a preference for direct and responsive contact between students and universities. Following-up fast by calling, chatting or sending a personalised email is much more effective than sending one mass e-mail to all your leads. However, this is often unrealistic for an average sized admissions team when having a mindset that focuses on the number of leads, rather than its quality.

Making your university’s website fit for retrieving student contact details

Due to its great benefits, it’s worth considering your university website to be your main channel for lead generation and use other channels mainly for driving relevant traffic to your website. Although many universities think that their website can’t be changed easily, it’s probably easier to get it done than you think. You don’t even need your IT department to make your website fit for lead generation. How? Landing pages to the rescue! There are plenty of options available online to create your own landing pages and connect them to your university website. However, before you do that, it’s important to read about what separates a good landing page from a bad one and know what defines effective design.

Additionally, it’s critical to check the laws and regulations on privacy and data protection that apply in your country. For example, students should give permission to receive future emails (often via an opt-in) and having the possibility to unsubscribe and be removed from a mailing list should always be communicated in each email.

As many universities often lack the time and resources, many of them do use our service where we create these for them. Since our research teams spend a great deal of their time to understand the ‘wants and needs’ of international students, this knowledge allows us to create study programme landing pages that convert well. Additionally, landing pages provide you with two additional benefits. First, if set up correctly, you can exactly know which lead came from where, enabling you to measure the effectiveness of each channel in your multi-channel strategy. Second, landing pages are also a perfect way to find out more about your student audience. Want to know what type of images they like the most? Or which copy works best that tells the unique selling proposition of your study programme? By running two versions of a landing page simultaneously, time will eventually answer these type of questions. And when knowing what works and what doesn’t, you’ll also be able to optimise other marketing materials that are targeted to this audience.

Interested in our service for study programme landing pages or simply want a talk about the best practices? Let us know and we’d be happy to have a chat.

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