If online student recruitment tactics are like a car, Google Ads is like a Lamborghini. Expensive, but often the fastest way to get where you want to be.
However, speed is just one factor. To make the best use of it, you need to be very clear about the direction: your destination and the route to follow to get there. A car that easily hits speeds of over 300 km/h isn’t much use if it gets stuck in a traffic jam … or lost on the way.
Before driving to an unknown destination, it makes sense to spend some time to enter the destination into your navigation system and decide on the best route to take. That way, the navigation system can keep you on track while you’re on the way. Even if you take a wrong turn, it will signal this and put you back on course.
When you embark on a new advertising campaign, formulating your strategy is like setting up your navigation system; and following your strategy is similar to following the turn-by-turn driving instructions that your system subsequently gives you.
The word “strategy” can mean many different things to different people. But let’s not overcomplicate it: if you can agree internally on the answers to the below questions, you have a strategy for your Student Recruitment:
1. MISSION: What does your institution want to achieve in the big picture?
For example, if your college is focused on academic excellence and -eventually- publications, you’re really looking for a different type of student than if your focus is on preparing students for a successful career outside of academics.
The answer to this question will influence your answers in all questions below.
2. TARGET STUDENTS: Who are our ideal students?
If you sell ice cream, you’re not so concerned who ends up buying it. For Higher Education Institutions, who you recruit matters a lot. You want to speak to prospective students who have a high likelihood of admission, and ultimately successful graduation, in your institution.
At the same time, you can’t aim too high if your school’s reputation isn’t up to it yet.
A good way of identifying your ideal target students is to look at the characteristics of students who are currently successful in your institution. From which countries do they originate, and what prior education do they have? Can you make it easier for these people to come on board, e.g. by foreign language campaigns or scholarships?
3. COMPETITORS: Who are our competitors?
However ‘unique’ your program or school may be, prospective students always see it in the context of everything else that’s on offer for them. Besides your program or school, what other options do your target students face? These may be institutions similar to yours, could be based near you or in a different country, or even online learning options.
List some common alternatives and be aware of them. You need to have the best to offer; at least for a portion of your target students. And you need to communicate why you’re the best option for them.
4. DIFFERENTIATORS: What are our “unique selling points”?
After you’ve answered the previous two questions, you’ll have a good understanding of who your ideal students are, what they value and what kinds of choices they face.
Document the top 2-3 reasons why prospective students should pick your institution, so they can be included in every communication that goes out.
5. GOALS: What do you want to achieve in 1, 2 and 5 years from now?
If a man gets nine women pregnant, it doesn’t mean he’ll have a baby in one month. Similarly, some of the most impactful actions you can take to raise student numbers can take 3-5 years to show any result. Be aware.
For example, HAN University of Applied Sciences’ Technology Faculty tours pre-exam classes of secondary schools in the Arnhem region in the Netherlands with a technology bus to help ignite an interest in studying technology.
Beyond just numbers, you probably have qualitative goals. You may want to raise the profile of your institution or increase the diversity in your student population.
Set 2-3 qualitative and quantitative goals each for the short, medium and long term
6. BUDGET: What budget do we have available to make this happen?
With the above goals in mind, make an estimate of the resources (internal and external manpower, advertising budget, grants, etc.) it will take to achieve these goals. For Google Ads, I have a method to work backwards from enrollments to required effort and budget, which I’ll share in a later post.
Goals and budget need to be in balance. If you don’t have enough budget to achieve your stated goals, scale down your goals, negotiate for more budget, or both.
7. MEASUREMENT: What are our Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)?
While long term goals are important for overall direction, how do you know you’re on course to achieve them?
When you enter a destination and mode of transport into Google Maps, it gives you a projected arrival time. During your journey there, the software keeps track of your location as well as traffic conditions and adjusts the projected arrival time based on how far you have progressed at a given time.
Similarly, you need to keep track of intermediate steps in your recruitment campaign. If your goal is to enroll 15 extra students in a course one year from now, and simply wait for the enrollments to come in, it will be too late to take action.
Instead, keep track of a few intermediate steps in the student’s journey to enrollment. If you start a Google Ads campaign and after a few days, no one has visited the site, you’ll know something is wrong and can take action.
- Website visits
- Open day visitors
- Webinar participants
- Offers sent
- Virtual campus visits
- … and so on.
Has your team agreed on the answers to the above questions?
Once you have, writing a brief becomes child’s play, and your online marketeer or external agency will know exactly what to do.
This blog post is an abbreviated version of my book “Essentials of Online Student Recruitment”, slated to be published later this year. In the upcoming period, I’ll publish excerpts. Would you like to get an e-mail upon each new publication? Sign up for e-mail updates (make sure to select the “recruitment” box).