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Alex Boston

Alex Boston

Digital Strategist

Alex blends his academic background in creative writing with rigorous data analysis to conceptualize, create, and assess digital content for Northwoods clients. He’s particularly experienced serving higher education clients, having worked with many public and private universities as an agency partner. Before joining our team, he was lead digital content strategist at the University of Iowa. As digital strategist, he applies more than 10 years of digital marketing experience to serving clients across a wide range of industries.

Higher Ed Web Content Strategy

Enrolling Your Ideal Student

October 24, 2022 | Alex Boston, Digital Strategist

5 Minute Read

Anyone with a twitter account can craft content and share it with a broad audience. Creating effective content – meaning content that compels your desired audience to engage with you or your business – is much more challenging.

This is especially true in the higher education sector. Winning the attention of prospective college students is difficult, particularly as skepticism about the value of college degrees grows. Higher education is an expensive, life-changing, daunting commitment.

How can web content make your school the clear, best choice to prospective students? Here are some tips.

Content Strategy Basics: Serve Your Audience

Branded taglines and flashy campaigns might serve your branding, but they may not help audiences get to know your school. You need content strategy that helps your ideal student – who might not know your school exists – learn about you and enroll.

Understand your audience. Give them the information they need. Meet them where they are in their web habits. You can find the students you want online and drive higher enrollment, whether you’re starting a website redesign or producing a single piece of content.

Whom Do You Want to Reach?

It’s difficult to compose effective content when you don’t know who it’s for. Failure to specifically define the ideal student often undercuts higher ed digital marketing. The “ideal student” is NOT “anyone who wants to come here.” That notion leads to unfocused, kitchen-sink websites that serve internal audiences more than prospective students.

Work with stakeholders and leaders to identify goals and find the audience that will help you meet them. Once you have a rough idea of that audience, dig down. Get specific. What fields of study interest them? What’s their socioeconomic background? Why are they interested in your school? What do their academic records tell you? Is the audience mostly local? Regional? National and beyond?

Any considerations that narrow your focus will guide you to more intentional digital content that speaks to your well-defined audience.

What Information Do They Seek?

Measure engagement with your existing content, to see what draws the most user attention. Google Analytics, the industry standard tool for learning how visitors use your site, can tell you a lot. A quick audit will reveal which pages attract the most traffic. User surveys and heatmap tools can yield a more complete picture of which areas of your current site draw the most attention.

As you audit your current site, try not to judge the value of content and pages solely on numbers of views or visitors. Depending on your goals, pageviews might not be the most important metric. Let’s say your primary goal is to increase enrollment. Look for content that helps drive that goal. In other words, find content that successfully leads people towards your application portal or admissions requirements.

We know from experience that the list of available programs, admissions requirements, and cost/financial aid information should be top priority. Beyond that, every school has its own messaging priorities, initiatives, and offerings that might be worth highlighting in content.

Where Are They Looking for that Information?

Web browsing habits have changed dramatically as social media and search engines have become more advanced. However, most prospective students still start at the main university website. Social media is a close second; don’t neglect your Instagram page!

Know how your visitors scan your current site for information. Use Google Analytics to get a broad idea of where users get lost.

The best way to understand where they get lost is to ask your target audience directly. Website survey tools are the easiest way to do this. Ask users to complete a quick survey after they visit. Such questions as, “What information did you search for today?” and “Did you find what you were looking for?” can yield insight.

If you have the resources, consider assembling a focus group of college-bound students who are unfamiliar with your school. Current students perceive your school and its offerings differently than those who don’t know it well. We digital marketers love solid, numerical data, but don’t underestimate how much you can learn from a direct, personal conversation with your target market.

What Actions Do You Want them to Take?

You know who they are, you know what they want, and you know where they look to find what they want.

Now, what do you want them to do?

Every facet of the content and layout of every relevant page should support this goal. If you want to drive new applications, place an Apply Link prominently on the page (in multiple places, if feasible). Apply links play well with content about student experience stories that help site visitors picture themselves at your university.

If you’re doing a redesign, use exercises such as page tables to define a visitor goal for each page of your site. Include only information that serves the objective of that particular page. This helps keep your content clean, streamlined, focused, and easy for visitors to browse and find what they seek.

How Will We Know What's Working?

Measurement is often neglected during the content planning process. Figure out ahead of time how you will track the effect of your content in terms of reaching specific goals.

If your goals focus on brand awareness and reach, simply engaging readers might be enough. You can use time-on-page and similar metrics to broadly analyze content engagement. If you’re trying to drive new applications or donations to your advancement foundation, you need a more precise method

Google Analytics can show how many times visitors click on links, fill out forms, call phone numbers, and engage in a host of other custom interactions. You’ll see immediately whether your content supports your strategic goals.

It takes some code work to get this feature rolling. You might need some expert assistance with the Google Analytics 4 setup. Our GA4 experts are happy to help.

Content Strategy in Higher Ed: A Unique Challenge

Creating effective web content is tough for any industry. The political, resource-strapped, bureaucratic world of higher education makes it even tougher. It’s very easy to get lost in the weeds of stakeholder feedback, losing focus on what you’re trying to accomplish with your content.

Stay focused on your goals and never forget the audiences you serve with your content. By keeping them in mind, you can develop a strategic approach to content production, publication, and governance that helps your school stand out.

For assistance with your higher ed content strategy, audience research, or analytics, don’t hesitate to contact us. Our team of higher ed experts can help you achieve your goals!