Across the country, post-secondary schools are experiencing a squeeze between the combined forces of unemployment, reduced family income, increased family debt, and the nation's shifting demographics. This pressure has resulted in lower enrollments and higher tuition costs.
To break free of the squeeze, schools need students -- and the competition is intense. In order to survive and flourish, post-secondary schools can institute thoughtful, location-specific marketing plans to complement traditional recruitment tactics.
An Introduction to hyperlocal marketing
As its name implies, hyperlocal marketing is a digital marketing strategy that targets a specific audience within an equally specific location. It gives marketers (in this case, schools) the opportunity to deliver an effective, personalized message to its potential customers (prospective students) in a given community.
A familiar "old school" example of hyperlocal marketing is the Yellow Pages. This was traditionally the way local businesses reached out to local customers. Now, however, it's possible to leverage the power of mobile apps, GPS, and advanced data collection to create far more effective personalized marketing strategies.
Toyota’s recent super-targeted campaign for their Scion subdivided segments by make and model, keyword search terms, and zip code. The result? The pilot program sent more than 28,000 internet users directly to the websites of seven dealerships in the San Francisco area and resulted in a double-digit growth of auto sales.
Toyota isn't alone in their success. According to a 2013 survey by the marketing research firm Econsultancy, businesses that have personalized their marketing efforts have, on average, increased sales by 19%.
Winning begins with a solid foundation
In the case of digital marketing, your foundation should rest on a well-planned search engine optimization (SEO) strategy. Consider this: without using the name of your school, can you key in popular search queries like “Midwest business schools” or “best research universities” and find your institution in any search engine? If you can't, your SEO needs attention.
Here's why SEO should be your first priority: according to a 2011 report issued by ThinkEducation with Google, 84% of all queries about education begin not with a school's name but with keywords. And in the world of organic search, page rank is everything -- literally. A 2013 study by the online advertising agency Chitika shows that first position on a Google search page yields 32.5% of all traffic; at the twelfth position, that number drops to under 1%.
Additionally, it's imperative to avoid simple pitfalls that could give rise to rank dissipating penalties. A common mistake by post-secondary schools is to duplicate content across different subdomains or websites (graduate versus undergraduate for example). Instead of having multiple pages with the same content, consider a content rewrite and ensure each page’s content is personalized for its audience. You can alternately redirect to a single page.
Improper 301 redirects and DNS records are also common mistakes. For example, the "www.youschool.edu" URL should point to "youschool.edu" or vice versa. If not, one page will likely reveal the following error: “Oops. This page is unavailable” or worse, create an infinite loop where neither page is accessible. At best, the improper canonicalization will affect how your inbound links are distributed, which will also affect your page rank.
Speaking of search -- location, location, location
Internet searches have become increasingly location sensitive, especially in the case of mobile devices with GPS. Therefore, your school is not only competing against nationally recognized schools with similar programs and environments, it's also competing with smaller local schools in a given student's hometown.
The winning edge is a strategy that incorporates e-mail campaigns, strong lead generation resources, and custom geo-targeted landing pages optimized for local search. It's important to note that mobile searches for higher education increased by an astounding 49% in the past year, providing both the impetus and the opportunity for schools to develop custom local landing pages.
Simply put, every school has the same goals: find, recruit, and enroll. In marketing terms, that's conversion. Conversion on a website could be a student signing up for a visit, chatting with an online admissions rep, or completing an application. By running different campaigns in different locations, geo-targeting results in more conversions.
As in any new venture, it's best to begin with small steps.
- Choose a few cities where your school can improve recruitment and enrollment.
- Create custom images and custom content for each city. Provide prospective students with relevant information -- for example, specifics about upcoming recruitment events in the area, along with photos of the admissions representative who will be attending.
- Locate alumni advocates who are willing to chat with students via LinkedIn, Twitter, or an email account set up specifically for recruitment. Offer videos of current "hometown" students.
- Supply relevant comparisons of your institution's city to the targeted city; things like population, climate, and so on.
On these, and all the pages you create in the future, be sure to provide students the opportunity to request further information via e-mail; this builds your e-mail list and helps you keep in touch. Additionally, remember to include social sharing buttons -- and start posting on social networks like Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.
After your initial geo-targeted pages are in place, test them thoroughly and track your results. Pinpoint the areas of success and failure. Then repeat your best efforts in more locations.