September 7

The 5 Steps of a Student Intake Optimization Strategy


by | Sep 7, 2023 | Featured, Strategies, Podcast

While brand awareness is an important marketing goal, it may not be the priority if you’re a small to mid-sized school. Instead, consider implementing a student intake optimization strategy to boost your enrollment numbers before launching brand awareness campaigns. 

When you’re a small to mid-sized school, it’s tempting to look at your institutional colleagues (aka, the competition) and assume that what they’re doing in regard to brand awareness is what you should be doing to help achieve your goals. 

With this thought process, you might be spending a lot of time and energy on brand awareness campaigns such as billboards and magazine placements. 

Unfortunately, taking a one-size-fits-all approach to marketing yields poor results for enrollment. 

So many small and mid-sized colleges and universities are caught up in trying to spread brand awareness that they’ve forgotten their core purpose — meeting the needs of prospective students. 

As a result, enrollment numbers suffer.

Philip Smith shares invaluable insights on how to improve your student intake optimization strategy. Philip Smith, Founder and CMO of Education Marketing Agency, thinks it’s time for higher ed institutions to stop trying to imitate their competition and get back to the basics.

Philip joins us on The Higher Ed Marketer podcast from Ireland to give us the inside scoop on how he helps schools in the UK with his Student Intake Optimization Strategy.

What is the Student Intake Optimization Strategy?

This conversation is so densely packed with incredible insights that can boost your enrollment marketing efforts, that I cannot put it all into this blog post. (To get all the valuable information Philip shared with us, please listen to the whole episode.)

So let’s begin with Philip’s description of his Student Intake Optimization Strategy (what he calls SIO), and then dive into a few of its key aspects. 

SIO is really a kind of direct enrollment strategy. It focuses on how to optimize what’s already there to get more direct enrollments. 

Obviously, universities have other methods of getting students such as recruitment fairs, getting students from agencies abroad, and so on. But this five-step solution for optimizing direct student enrollment [hones in on the core activities of enrollment]. 

Step one is CRO, conversion rate optimization of the website. 

Step two is improving the social word of mouth. 

Step three is ad optimization. 

Step four is optimizing the sales and admissions process. 

Step five is optimizing the SEO of the website.

These are the basics of enrollment marketing. 

Philip, Troy, and I explored each step throughout our conversation, but for this post, I want to focus on steps 1 and 2: CRO and word-of-mouth

Step 1: Conversion Rate Optimization

I was really glad to hear Philip touch on this important topic. 

Many college and university websites suffer from a glut of information that doesn’t actually lead the student to make a decision, which would move them along toward the next step in the enrollment cycle.

There could be 100 or more different touch points and changes to a website while optimizing for conversions, but here are some good takeaways. 

A lot of university websites have huge amounts of text content and a lot of pages. Typically, there might only be a small portion of [the website] actually dedicated to the courses [majors]. When you come to the website, quite often it is difficult to find the courses you’re looking for.

Because there’s a content overload, it’s not always clear how to find the courses. Navigation is a big part of [conversion rate optimization]. 

That is the first takeaway. The next one is that when you go into the course pages, [you need] to have the right content and urgency. Urgency is something that a lot of universities haven’t historically done a lot of, but it’s becoming more and more prevalent in the sector. 

When I say urgency, it’s things like having a special offer or value-added additional offer to give [students] a reason to enroll now. It could be a discount on price, or it could be an added additional course or something in there that makes it a bit more of a “no-brainer” to do this now.

[Another way to create urgency is to post] how many places are left [in a course before] an enrollment deadline. [The point is] to create a sense of ,“Why should I do this now? Why should I enroll now in the course?” 

[A third takeaway for conversion rate optimization is] the copy and content on the course pages. Often course pages are full of loads and loads of content, but they don’t always speak about the outcomes of the course or, “What will I become because of this course, if I do it?”

Simply put, there are three key things that students want, and your website needs to make it easier for them to see if your school has what they’re looking for:

  1. Students want to be able to find out if you have the major they’re looking for.
  2. They want to know if they can afford your courses.
  3. Many times, they just want to find out if they will fit in at the school. 

Conversion rate optimization is about optimizing your website with the end user in mind as you use psychological elements such as urgency to drive conversions. 

Word of Mouth

The second step in the Student Intake Optimization Strategy is improving your word-of-mouth advertising. 

For Philip, that translates directly to social media marketing in today’s world. 

Word of mouth is really, “How should universities and colleges engage in social media?” 

There are a lot of ways to quite easily and quickly improve the PR [of a] university [and how it] is seen online and on social media. 

Understanding social media marketing as the modern form of word-of-mouth advertising will change how we approach our social media platforms. 

Philip went on to share a specific way that schools can help spark more word-of-mouth advertising on social media with digital certificates.

Leveraging Digital Certificates on LinkedIn

A lot of universities still don’t have a digital certificate that is easy for the student to share [on social media]. 

[With digital certificates] the student is able to receive their certificate digitally through email. Then, they can click a button to post it onto their Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook to share it on social media very easily. 

Platforms like LinkedIn are really, really underrated even in terms of how much they can add to the online presence and the word-of-mouth of the university. 

[If you make] it easy for students to add their university or their qualifications onto their LinkedIn profile, anyone that then sees that LinkedIn profile has a good chance of seeing your qualification. 

If the average LinkedIn profile gets a few hundred views every week or month, all of those people on that LinkedIn profile will see that this person has got your qualification. 

For me, there’s a very good word-of-mouth effect there, where if someone gets a degree in graphic design, and they have that qualification, if they share that qualification, then they’re showing it to an audience of people who are all possibly working in the same sector.

[This audience is people] who are also interested in that [qualification], and [your graduate is] giving their seal of approval that others should also do this course. 

This is a major insight for us as enrollment marketers!

Schools often miss the word-of-mouth opportunity on LinkedIn. This is more than a social media campaign!

With digital certificates on LinkedIn, you are empowering and encouraging your graduates to share their success with their audience. 

In sharing their story, they are effectively sharing who you are and what you’re all about.

Discover more when you listen to the podcast!

Like all of our blog post reviews of The Higher Ed Marketer podcasts, there’s so much more to learn in the podcasts themselves.

Listen to our interview with Philip Smith to get even more insights into:

  • The 5 steps of the Student Intake Optimization Strategy (4:23)
  • Why schools need to start engaging students with video (20:18)
  • How fractional CMOs help struggling marketing teams (27:15)

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