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Marketing Optimization in Higher Education

Jordan Avery
Associate Business Intelligence Principal
Jul 9, 2024

Higher education institutions must advance their digital maturity to enhance student enrollment, persistence and graduation rates. This involves building robust data foundations, optimizing the student journey, and strategically adopting cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). These technologies can be used to analyze large volumes of data, predict student behaviors and personalize marketing efforts. This article will guide you through creating a roadmap to effectively attract, retain, and graduate more students.


Higher education institutions face a significant challenge: the evolving landscape of student behaviors. As students increasingly question the value of a traditional four-year degree, universities must adapt to meet their expectations. The enrollment process is now expected to be straightforward and hassle-free, placing additional strain on institutions to capture prospective students’ attention and this heightened competition among universities drives up acquisition costs. 

To remain relevant, universities must excel in every marketing initiative. Unchecked competition can lead to rising costs, so focusing on optimal cost per enrollment is crucial. Rather than working harder, institutions must work smarter to achieve enrollment goals. 

A significant challenge for higher education institutions is the shift in student behaviors. Students are increasingly questioning the value of a four-year degree. Their expectations of the enrollment process are that it is straightforward and hassle-free. This places additional strain on universities to capture the prospective students’ attention early in the process, which, in turn, drives up competition with other universities. 

The question arises: How do we drive awareness and attract high-quality applicants? This challenge adds complexity to an already competitive higher education landscape. To address this, institutions should create a roadmap that considers the student experience, leverages supporting data and insights, and embraces technology. This roadmap will guide universities toward digital maturity and success in attracting, retaining, and graduating more students. 

Building a Framework

Example of a data maturity framework

Understanding the four distinct steps is essential to charting a course toward digital maturity and achieving success in attracting, retaining, and graduating students. By leveraging the power of predictive analytics, you can gain deep insights into student behavior, empowering you to make informed decisions and optimize outcomes, thereby making your audience feel empowered and confident in your institution’s strategies.

  1. Basic: Lay the foundation by ensuring universities have the necessary tools and processes for data collection.
  2. Emerging: Strategically integrate digital tools, like those from Further, to understand student behavior and create personalized experiences. 
  3. Strong: Leverage data practices and advanced analytics to proactively anticipate student needs and optimize their educational journey.
  4. Exemplary: Lead the way in digital innovation, using predictive analytics to create highly personalized and engaging student experiences.

Understanding the Fundamentals

Digital maturity isn’t just about technology, it is about building a solid foundation across critical areas. Let’s explore these key concepts:  

  1. Site Performance: Your university website is the prospective students’ first point of contact. It must make a positive impression and remain engaging for returning visitors. A slow or outdated website can deter potential applicants.  
  2. Marketing Execution: In today’s era of personalized experiences, one-size-fits-all marketing is no longer effective. By tailoring your marketing efforts to individual student needs and delivering relevant content immediately.
  3. Funnel Evaluation: Moving students from awareness to enrollment requires more than tracking metrics. It’s a dynamic process that involves shepherding students through each step. Targeted ad campaigns, streamlined applications, and staff support play a role.  
  4. Reporting: Data-driven decision-making is essential. Use the right tools to automate data collection and generate actionable insights. These insights will inform your strategic roadmap.  

By mastering these fundamentals, universities can conquer today’s digital challenges and create a pathway to success. 

Navigating Data Collection

In today’s digital landscape, data collection is the cornerstone of success for higher education institutions. Let’s delve into the essential components of a robust data collection strategy. 

  1. Comprehensive Setup: Ensure analytics tools are fully configured and seamlessly integrated. A holistic approach allows you to capture valuable insights across platforms.
  2. Tool Integration: Empower your teams with cutting-edge analytics technology. Stay ahead by connecting with the latest ad platforms, client relationship management (CRM), and using other essential tools. 
  3. Future-Ready: Anticipate growth and scalability. Your data collection setup should adapt to changing needs, accommodating new platforms and technologies.
  4. Privacy Compliance: Uphold privacy regulations. Navigate the complex landscape of analytics and consent management to build trust with your prospective students.

Gone are the days of siloed, on-premises systems. By implementing data collection, transformation, analytics, and visualization services from Further, universities can harness their available data, track performance across channels, and strategically drive enrollment, retention, and graduation initiatives.

Optimizing Online Visibility

Universities face a delicate balancing act in the digital realm; delivering compelling content to prospective students while appeasing the search engine algorithms that determine organic visibility. Let’s explore the four key strategies for effective search engine optimization (SEO). 

  1. Technical SEO: This behind-the-scenes work is critical for search engines and their bots. It encompasses crawlability, status codes, page setup and structure, site speed, duplicate content management, and ongoing website monitoring.
  2. On-site SEO:  Here, we find an equilibrium between human experience and algorithmic requirements. On-site SEO includes optimizing information architecture, metadata, on-page content, internal linking, image tags, and strategic calls to action (CTAs).
  3. Content Strategy: Identifying gaps and strategically expanding the organic footprint involves creating new content, refreshing existing content, streamlining the content process, and engaging professional copywriting services.
  4. Local SEO: Enhancing online presence within localized search results covers local listing management, review optimization, website fine-tuning, and effective vendor management. 

By integrating these SEO strategies, aligning keywords, and complementing them with a well-executed paid media plan, universities can drive targeted traffic to their websites.

Beyond Open Rates: Measuring Prospects’ Interaction

In the past, marketing campaign success was gauged primarily by email open rates and click-through rates. However, we’re entering an era where automated workflows revolutionize how we engage with prospects. 

Consider this scenario: Imagine an online application process seamlessly integrated with automated workflows. As prospects progress through the application journey, the system tracks their interactions. If someone abandons the process midway, the workflow sends timely reminders to complete and submit the application. This not only streamlines the application process but also reveals common bottlenecks--insights that empower universities to enhance the student experience. Examples of such workflows could include automated email campaigns, personalized landing pages, and dynamic content delivery.

By harnessing automated workflows and leveraging data analytics, marketing teams can craft more effective messaging, optimize workflows, and create student-centric platforms.


Personalization across digital platforms increases trust, engagement, & enrollment

Personalization has become a cornerstone of effective marketing strategies in today’s competitive landscape. But why is it so crucial? Let’s delve into the reasons behind its significance.

  1. Building trust and engagement: Research consistently demonstrates that personalized communication fosters trust and engagement. When prospective students receive tailored messages that address their specific needs or celebrate milestones, they feel valued and connected to your brand. 
  2. Frustration-free experiences: Imagine being bombarded with generic content that doesn’t resonate with your interests or preferences. Seventy-six percent of consumers share this frustration. Personalization ensures that your audience receives relevant information, reducing annoyance and enhancing their experiences.
  3. Beyond Email Solutions: While adding a recipient’s name to an email is a basic personalization form, it is merely the tip of the iceberg. True personalization involves understanding individual preferences, behaviors, and needs. Whether customizing website content, or tailoring email content, the goal is to create a unique experience for each student.
  4. Relevance Matters: Personalization isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s about delivering content that resonates with the recipient’s unique desires. Doing so increases the chances of conversion, loyalty, and overall satisfaction.

Personalization goes beyond superficial gestures--it’s about creating meaningful connections, meeting prospective students where they are, and guiding them to where they want to go.

Types of customer segmentation

Predictive Analytics

Personalization has emerged as a critical factor in building trust and engagement with prospective students in the ever-evolving landscape of education. But why is personalization so important? Let’s explore the reasons and how predictive analytics plays a pivotal role. 

Research indicates that personalized experiences resonate deeply with consumers. Individuals feel seen and valued when tailored messaging addresses their specific needs or celebrates milestones. It’s more than adding a name to an email; true personalization involves understanding preferences, behaviors, and unique combinations of desires.

Predictive analytics goes beyond historical data. It leverages advanced statistical algorithms and machine learning techniques to forecast future enrollments. By analyzing variables such as demographics, academic performance, online behavior, and socio-economic factors, institutions can anticipate student behavior with unprecedented accuracy. Armed with these insights, institutions can prescribe effective strategies to optimize outcomes.

Predictive analytics value chain

Exemplary Digital Maturity

Once the groundwork is laid – testing processes, implementing personalization, and harnessing predictive analytics – organizations can propel themselves toward exemplary digital maturity through seamless integration across platforms, ensuring consistent student experiences.

Artificial Intelligence

AI isn’t just about automated responses; it’s a strategic asset transforming marketing initiatives. Consider these three AI adoption strategies:

  1. AI as a Co-Pilot: Use AI to support marketing and enrollment teams, enhancing decision-making and efficiency.
  2. AI-Driven Experiences: Create personalized, data-driven experiences for prospective students, making their journey memorable.
  3. AI Integration: Leverage a robust, integrated technology stack (like that offered by Further) to strengthen systems and platforms.

As with any tool, ethical considerations are paramount. AI must be used responsibly, adhering to privacy regulations. Teams need the training to understand AI’s implications, and transparent business objectives should guide its adoption.

Dive Deeper

To understand these processes and tools comprehensively, explore our on-demand webinar recording on this topic and visit our website for further insights.


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Jordan Avery
Associate Business Intelligence Principal

Jordan has 10 years of experience in data analytics, business intelligence, and project management. He loves finding new ways to enable businesses to use their data and insights to create an obtainable action plan and measure results. He has supported partners across all industries including healthcare, hospitality, media, consumer goods, and higher education.

Prior to his time at Further, Jordan led a team through the creation, rollout, and support of a joint pricing and inventory management system for seven major cruise lines. Jordan is located in Atlanta, GA where he spends his time chasing his 18-month-old around or out playing disc golf and board games with friends.


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