Reality Check: 5 Truths About Digital Marketing for Higher-Ed Enrollment

Get the facts about using digital marketing to achieve your enrollment goals.

by Spark451 Digital Media Team • August 25, 2020

By Nicole Piering and Ann Levy

Updated August 2020

As you finalize your plans and begin launching communications for Fall 2021 recruitment, now is the time to make sure you’re getting the most out of your digital marketing efforts. When it comes to digital marketing, there are many myths that other agencies may spout in order to attract new clients. Here, we set the record straight and debunk some of the most common myths about digital marketing, specifically in regards to higher education enrollment. Below are five key considerations to keep in mind when discussing your digital media strategy with a new agency partner.

1. Immediate Tinkering is All Smoke and Mirrors

According to digital advertising giants like Google and Facebook, all campaigns require a learning phase to allow the systems to properly optimize. In most cases, this can take two to four weeks beyond the launch. Facebook, for example, needs 50 leads to come in for the campaign to complete its learning stage. It makes sense though; the platforms need to accumulate data points on what performs best in a campaign, and the more data you have, the more precise the picture will be of your audience, the creative that resonates, and who will be more likely to take the desired action.

We want our campaigns to perform based on data-driven optimizations, and this can only occur if we give the platforms time to learn, which doesn’t happen overnight. While we know it’s scary to not see immediate results, we find that campaigns tend to perform better after being given some time to optimize. At that point, we can confidently make adjustments and optimizations that are in the best interests of your campaign.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that every change to a campaign restarts the learning phase. While the new learning phase may not be as long as the initial one, the platforms are constantly learning and re-learning, which is why immediate tinkering is never recommended.

2. Don’t Let Impressions Impress You

It’s easy to get impressions, but it’s hard to get qualified clicks, and it’s even harder to get high-quality conversions. Many other digital marketing agencies will inflate their reports with impressions garnered through one of many display networks. While these display networks can provide some value, they’re also often wrought with fraud and bots that contribute falsely inflated numbers of impressions. Display ads are an important element to a digital branding campaign, but unless you’re receiving clicks and conversions, there’s no way to truly know that you’re reaching the right people.

The moral of the story here is that impressions are the least critical element of a digital media campaign. Anyone can get impressions, but it takes truly skilled marketers to get clicks and conversions.

3. Less Is (Sometimes) More

We’ve run thousands of campaigns exclusively for our higher education partners (not many agencies can say that!) and we’ve learned that there’s no one-size-fits-all recipe for a successful campaign. In fact, we’ve been saying this for years.

While there may be a hot new platform suddenly garnering a ton of buzz, that doesn’t always mean it’s the right fit for your audience or goals. For example, we use Snapchat to engage younger audiences with a branding message, but we know from our experience that those campaigns will rarely lead to an action being taken on your site. Keeping that in mind, despite Snapchat being “hot,” we may recommend other platforms to get you leads, applications, event registrations, or prevent melt. It all depends on your audience, goals, and budget.

Sometimes, both we and our partner institutions would like to run ads on every platform, but we just don’t have the budget to do so responsibly and still garner results. This is where our experience comes in. We can take a look at similar campaigns we’ve run in the past and suggest the platforms that are most likely to achieve your goals while staying within your budget.

4. Every Flight Needs a Safe Landing (Page)

In order to achieve the best results on a digital media campaign, it’s important to focus on where your ads are driving. In almost all cases, your ads should drive to a strong landing page. The page should be designed in a manner that’s user-friendly and cohesive with your ads. It should render quickly on a mobile device, provide the visitor with an incentive to submit their information, and the embedded inquiry form should only have three or four required fields.

Pro tip: When it comes to campaigns running on Google Ads, the landing page is a critical element of a successful campaign, as it actually impacts the performance and delivery of your ads. In order to achieve maximum success with Google text ads, you want to have your keywords appear not only in your keyword lists, but also in your ads, and of course, on your landing pages. (Plus, a quick load time will only improve your Google quality score!)

In select instances, you may opt to use an in-platform lead generation form in lieu of a traditional landing page. When used under the right circumstances, these in-platform lead generation forms are also safe places to land. In fact, we’ve seen much higher conversion rates using these forms, so it’s important to discuss this option with your account team when planning your digital strategy. However, these forms aren’t right for every occasion. Each campaign has unique goals, and it’s important that we align our strategy in a way that helps you best achieve your desired outcomes, whether that means driving to a landing page or lead generation form.

5. You DO Need a Partner with Strong Higher Ed Experience

When you partner with us, you’re not getting a generic agency that works in multiple verticals or areas of “expertise” (a jack of all trades, master of none, anyone?) — you’re getting an agency that specializes in higher education, with professionals who have worked in the field. We have higher ed specialists across departments who have been on your side of the desk, including former admissions counselors, directors, and even VPs. They work together to develop relevant customized digital campaign strategies for every one of our college and university partners. Have you met another agency partner that can say the same?

Enrollment strategy is what we do, day in and day out. From balancing domestic vs. international populations and high-performing vs. low-performing academic programs, to lifting a university brand, we have you covered. Additionally, our real-time reporting dashboards will provide you with essential data, available at your fingertips, at any time. Our university partners can also rely on the fact that we’re here to advise and support your goals as an extension of your internal team.

Don’t sell yourself short with an agency that won’t understand your enrollment goals and vision.

If you’d like to discuss potential digital media campaign strategies that will support your institution’s goals for Fall 2021 and beyond, please reach out. We’d be happy to help you pinpoint the tactics that will help you achieve optimal results.