Study Reveals Most Popular Online Recruiting Strategies Of US Colleges

The always-insightful consulting and research firm Noel-Levitz is out this year with two new studies that nicely add to the current research on online recruiting practices and the motivations and concerns of prospective international students.

[Originally published on ICEF at http://monitor.icef.com/2014/11/study-reveals-popular-online-recruiting-strategies-us-colleges/ ]

The first, 2014 E-Recruiting Practices Report for Four-Year and Two-Year Institutions, draws on a survey of 258 US colleges and universities to provide a summary of the online recruiting strategies most commonly used among US institutions. A second study, 2014 International E-Expectations Report, surveyed more than 2,400 prospective international students (from 164 countries) in order to map the major preferences, concerns, and requirements of students planning to study in the US.

The two papers, while not explicitly companions of one another, nevertheless make interesting reading when placed side by side. They are both heavily oriented to the US market but many of the insights they provide will be useful to those recruiting or referring students outside of the US as well.

Top recruiting practices

Noel-Levitz asked institutional respondents to indicate which of 28 common e-recruiting practices – other than social media – that they used most frequently. The following table summarises the ten top-ranked options, broken down by type of institution.

Most popular e-recruiting practices by institution type. Source: Noel-Levitz Read more

How To Create An International Student Recruitment Action Plan

Worldwide student mobility has seen steady growth over the past several years and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon – in fact, OECD’s Education at a Glance 2013 report projects international mobility to nearly double to 8.5 million students by 2025. The result has been intensifying competition, particularly among English-speaking colleges and universities, seeking the rewards of increasing and diversifying their international student populations. In this time of budget cuts and slowing domestic enrollment, internationalization has transformed from desirable bonus into institutional imperative, but achieving such goals is no straightforward task and resource efficiency is increasingly a necessity. – See more at: http://www.higher-education-marketing.com/blog/international-student-action-plan#sthash.P0cM2sRh.dpuf

While many admissions professionals continue to travel to distant corners of the world for uncertain returns, there is a growing understanding that emerging digital marketing techniques can deliver more effective results for far less of an investment. By embracing these new mediums, colleges can better control their communications and branding, reducing reliance on external agents while developing more flexible and customized management of the admissions process. Implementing these types of initiatives successfully requires a willingness to adapt to rapidly shifting student engagement expectations, understanding not only the continuous advances in available technological tools but the cultural nuances of various target markets. No small challenge!

Going global takes more than just talking the talk – many higher ed institutions passively court foreign students with little more than an international page on their website and perhaps some “one-size-fits-all” attempts at social media or PPC ads in other markets. While this might be enough for super-brands like Harvard, the vast majority of colleges and universities with international enrollment increases cite active recruitment as the reason for their success.

Creating a Culture of Internationalization

Making internationalization a true priority means taking a longer term, bigger picture view of its role in enhancing your institution. More and more universities are publicly declaring internationalization a key component of future success, embedded in strategic plans or elaborated upon in high level documents.

Example: The University of Calgary highlights internationalization as a “key strategic priority” in their pursuit of becoming “a global intellectual hub”, according to their recent International Strategy document. The 24-page report highlights their commitment to these goals by illustrating current activity, tangible targets and strategic goals, namely:

Increase diversity of our campus communities Improve global and cross-cultural competencies within our campus communities Enhance opportunities for international collaborations and partnerships in research and education Leverage our unique areas of expertise to engage in international development

These kinds of documents serve to galvanize key decision makers while providing a shared reference for different stakeholder groups to further the school’s mission.

Expanding strategic international partnerships, research collaborations, exchange and study abroad programs, and alumni relations can greatly enhance a university’s educational capabilities, student opportunities and participation, brand reputation and much more. Colleges can strive to improve the experiences of incoming international students, thus growing valuable word-of-mouth referrals among other benefits, by broadening orientation services and retention tactics. Promoting internationalization means providing the pathways for growth, including resources for increasingly culturally diverse students (and staff) on campus to learn from each other.

These are all long-term projects demanding visionary leadership – but what can schools do right now for more immediate results?

Feeling out Markets with Paid Search

International strategic enrollment management begins with establishing and communicating clear goals for the number and types of students desired, leveraging enrollment data to forecast trends and develop realistic targets. Focus initial efforts by choosing markets with the best potential for your institution – likely typical leading countries of origin (China, India, South Korea) but sometimes smaller nations that have an established presence at your school. Also consider focusing marketing efforts according to preferred academic discipline and degree type.

Unique cultural and language considerations add an extra layer of complexity when going global – choosing appropriate keywords is not simply a matter of direct translation. Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising is a tremendously cost-effective method of revealing insights about potential markets, since expense is only incurred when prospects actually click your link. It is a great way to learn which search terms are popular and which ads better convert, letting you see which combinations of keywords and messaging are more effective in a particular market. For an in-depth look at PPC for international student recruitment, our previous blog on the subject is an excellent starting point.

Google AdWords has a free Keyword Planner tool for searching keyword and ad group ideas, but keep in mind that Google isn’t the most popular search engine in several important source countries. Before launching a PPC campaign, it is essential that ad copy fits the requirements for the applicable platform, landing pages have been created on your website and analytics tracking has been established. Landing pages must meet expectations created by the ad copy and concisely convince prospects to take the next steps, such as completing an application or “request information” form.

International Search and Mobile Trends

Recent data analysis from Google shows a continuous increase in education-related search volumes, confirming that the student decision journey has indeed moved online. Non-branded search queries by prospective students uncertain of which school they wish to attend are rising at a faster rate. Google’s internal tracking revealed that queries including geo-specific keywords generated strong click-through conversions. Increasing specificity by promoting particular degree and academic programs in specific locations is recommended for better results.

Of course, going mobile has been another top priority for higher education marketing. Optimizing for mobile-device usage is even more important for international recruitment, since a majority of users in several source countries are mobile-exclusive. A negative mobile experience on your website is enough for 35% of prospects to move on to the next potential college on their list, according to internal Google research. Make sure you have your most important bases covered when developing for task-driven mobile searchers – top selling points of your school, programs and admission info, videos and application forms are among the most popular features to include. Shorter forms are far more likely to convert. International students will also want to know things like financial and study permit details.

Internationalizing Websites

One of the biggest challenges of internationalization is developing your website to appeal to multiple markets and languages. Although many options will technically work, using a top level folder on the same domain as your other content (rather than a subdomain or microsite) lets you develop a customized experience with fully translated paths while enhancing your SEO. Keep in mind that search engines won’t give your pages the same value if they think it’s only an auto-translation (or if content is out of date), and to avoid the issue of duplicate content you must create the proper links between translated content to alert them if it’s a translation. Alternate hreflang link tags let search engines know how content should be prioritized.

Right-to-left languages like Arabic require the appropriate fonts and additional “rtl” tags at the top level block element. Content using Chinese characters and other logographic languages presents the additional challenge of modifying the page layout and structure to accommodate the unique condensed properties. While providing content in multiple languages can be complex, it can go a long way to effectively communicating with foreign prospective students and, perhaps even more so, their parents. Ensure that users can easily navigate between available translations – the clearest way is to prominently display the language name written in that language at the top of the webpage. Even if you have multiple international websites, avoid auto-directing based on a user’s IP address as it will irritate prospects and inhibit Google’s crawlers from discovering your sites.

Content and Social Media Considerations

When developing any content for international audiences, it is vital to understand your target market as much as possible, including the local language (in the way that prospects actually speak), cultural norms and expectations, and priorities in education search. Try using student assistants to help develop or translate content and always test with various groups to ensure that messaging is clear.

Social media can be a valuable tool for discovering more about prospect groups through online conversations, informal surveys and the types of posts that receive greater interaction. Communication on these networks can serve to filter unqualified prospects and reveal insights about language proficiency, interests and your brand perception. It is an opportunity to showcase different sides of your institution and reinforce alumni successes.

International Lead Conversion

It is important that inquiries from all prospects, domestic or international, are addressed effectively and promptly. Students expect a quick email response, even if it is initially an auto-response with some helpful links – Hotcourses Abroad found that if given two similar universities, students from China, India, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore would choose the one that responded fastest. Prospects prefer personalized responses signed by a staff member they can continue correspondence with.

Best practices:

Address the student by name Answer the question personally and in detail Provide helpful additional information, including social media and relevant links

Email drip marketing campaigns can efficiently track and manage large quantities of inquiries for the entire student life cycle, automatically triggering customized messages based on specific conditions that provide effective resources while minimizing staff requirements. Instead of leaving it up to prospects to continue correspondence as many colleges do, be persistent and frequent in your responses, varying the types of follow-up messaging and addressing potential concerns with multimedia supplemental information to increase the odds of making a connection.

Virtual Campus Tours and Hangouts

A campus tour is a big part of most students’ decision processes, providing the opportunity for them to envision if they can really spend their next four years there. International students rarely have the luxury of visiting a prospective campus ahead of enrollment but virtual tours can help bridge the gap, emphasizing a school’s strongest features and providing a glimpse of campus life. Google Maps Street View also offers interior virtual tours of some schools and a few US-based universities are already developing tours using new Oculus Rift virtual reality technology.

To get better personalized interaction despite the distance, more colleges and universities are adopting web-conferencing via easily accessible tools like Google Hangouts. These digital face-to-face tools not only allow admissions personnel to engage directly with international students, but also clarify solutions using whiteboards, share documents or slideshares, and guide prospects through relevant webpages via co-browsing. To make the most of these opportunities, school personnel should develop and rehearse a script to work from and test all equipment many times beforehand.

More International Recruitment Ideas

Digital marketing is advancing all the time, providing new tools for schools seeking a competitive edge in reaching prospects across the globe. Here are some innovative ideas for colleges and universities looking to access the world:

List with international portal sites Develop apps featuring application tips, sample lectures, campus videos/pictures English-language training (online modules and/or collaborations with other training facilities) or online language exchange Reach out to international alumni (through internal networks or tools like LinkedIn) to support recruitment activities

Whichever initiatives you pursue, improving your international student recruitment can best be accomplished when you have a thorough and accurate picture of your web activity. When managing several social media and other student marketing channels covering various markets, it becomes even more essential to have a clear system to reveal what is working where and monitor your ongoing reputation – software and student assistants can help. Google Analytics can help you to understand your student mix and top source countries so you can track and monitor your progress while effectively segmenting and customizing communications.

For colleges and universities seeking to move from passive to active international recruitment, Higher Education Marketing has created the new International Recruitment Action Plan with two service packages designed to generate measurable ROI improvements with immediate results.

What is your biggest international student recruitment challenge?

International Students Reveal the Secrets of International Student Recruitment

Initially published on www.intead.com. In a world of fast-paced activity and seemengly never ending responsibilities, it isn’t always easy to find the time to listen. It’s important to take a break from charting progress, developing novel programs and tools, and talking through brochures, websites, social media and face-to-face. Listening is critical. With that in mind we recently conducted a focus group with international students, many of whom are college freshmen, to take the time to listen to what was important to them in the recruitment process. We learned four key takeaway messages which are outlined below.

Rankings are important.

While rankings continue to be viewed with more importance by some students than others, pretty much everyone in the focus group relied on rankings for guiding the search and decision making processes. US News and World Report holds real value to the students and parents, particularly in China, but there were other ranking systems that the students mentioned. A Canadian international student seemed least influenced by rankings and vocalized her skepticism of what she referred to as a contrived number to judge universities. Her voice was in the minority– students continue to be interested in statistics.

This doesn’t mean that if your institution doesn’t rank highly on the main US News and World Report ranking you will have no chance of recruiting international students. There are countless other rankings reported regularly that you can use to highlight your institution. Furthermore there are many ways to positively spin lesser known rankings in your favor.

Universities should develop a special page for international students.

All of the students mentioned that university websites are cumbersome and overwhelming. A dedicated page for international students with pertinent information would be most helpful for students as they move through the funnel from prospects to enrolling students. We need to make the information easily accessible to our prospective international students. They shouldn’t need to spend hours navigating through cumbersome websites, searching for information.

Universities need to better highlight unique facilities and features.

The students mentioned that many of the most impressive features of the universities they researched weren’t learned from the website or from the university directly. They were exposed to exciting aspects of campuses in a more roundabout way (i.e. College Confidential, other message boards, social media). The students want to learn about unique qualities of various universities, what distinguishes one institution from another, campus traditions, etc. International students want to learn about opportunities to get involved, the area surrounding campus, and special student perks (i.e. bus passes, free public transportation, free/discounted tickets to cultural venues). This content should be available on the university website, not strictly from third party sites.

Universities need to monitor their presence on College Confidential and similar sites.

“Listening” to the conversations among prospective and current students as they pertain to your institution are critical. Maintaining a positive presence on College Confidential is important. This means assigning someone on staff to periodically check what is being written about your institution and then, if necessary, turning the conversation into a positive one.

7 Tips to Improve The Effectiveness of Your Lead Generation Forms

Initially published on www.higher-education-marketing.com. This post is focused on how to create more effective lead generation forms. Lead generation forms appear on custom landing pages but are also embedded within content pages, home pages and contact pages. More and more higher ed institutions are adopting the practice of using them on high level home pages and program specific recruitment pages. This has been a common practice on the for-profit side of higher ed for a long time but now more public institutions are applying them in the very serious business of internal site managed lead production

Here are a few tips to help you improve the effectiveness of your lead forms:
1. Keep your Forms Simple and Open – One of the simplest rules of good form design is to keep them simple, and let the fields “breathe”. This allows the page visitor to “digest” the page and make an easy choice to engage with it. Here is a good example below. Complex, dynamic, or overdone forms often over-stimulate the visitor and in those few thousands of a second you have their attention, they may choose to move on, simply because it is too complicated to stop and try to figure it out.

2. Keep the Number of Fields Down – The research is pretty clear on this. The fewer fields you ask a prospect to fill in, generally the more leads you will get. But at the same time, the more information you get from a prospect allows you to follow-up more effectively and generally convert at a higher rate. This is the Catch 22 of lead forms that you have to resolve. I say go with as few fields as you can, with name, email and phone number as the key fields. Zip-code is a good fourth to get more location detail without having to ask a prospect for street, city, province/state, country. With the right back end software running you can extract the location details from the postal code/zip. Whether to include phone number can be a difficult call. Having it included in the form can reduce your conversion rate as much as 5% but conversely, if you can follow-up immediately with a phone call to the prospect, conversion rates to student improves dramatically.

forms

3. Use Value – Based Buttons – The text on the form submit button needs to express what the button will do when it’s clicked. “Get information”, “Book your Visit” , “Get our View Book” are all examples of good value based button text, that provide relevant and non-intimidating outcomes that have value to the prospect. Spend some time thinking about this text, as it has been shown that the default use of “Submit” can reduce your conversion rates by as much as 3%.

forms

4. Include a Privacy Policy – Always include a statement that tells prospects that their info will be protected. Including a link to your privacy policy is even better. As you know, students are very reluctant these days about providing their true contact info to recruitment offices, so every little bit of trust you can engender helps to engage and draw a prospect into your recruitment funnel.
5. Data Verification – I really don’t like to use Captcha forms to ensure that there are humans at the other end of a lead request. I think they are awkward and rather ugly and the research shows that they can have a negative impact on your conversion rate. If you are having a problem with robots spamming your forms, as I have lately, you have to make the choice between volume of leads vs quality.”Smart” Captcha offers a bit more finesse, appearing only after a second attempt to fill you form coming from the same IP address.
6. Always Position Your Forms Above the Fold – It is always surprising to me when I see lead gen forms below the fold , (the portions of a webpage that are visible without scrolling). If a particular page is the right page for the form then it deserves to be above the fold where it can be seen on first glance, rather than in the middle or bottom of the page, where few visitors ever actually see it.
7. Test , Test and Test – Lead generation forms are very unpredictable elements with respect to their performance. I would love to be able to say that there are 10 best practices that always work for everyone to improve your form conversions but it just does not work that way. To determine what works best for you, you have to do some real testing. Google Analytics Experiments is a great tool for A/B testing your forms but there are also a number of really great multivariate testing tools available () out there for the more adventurous. You have to learn what works for your programs and then keep testing on an ongoing basis to keep improving your results. Here is an example of two forms that I encountered on the Southern New Hampshire University site while researching this post that are likely part of a multivariate test. In multivariate tests a larger number of elements of the form are interchanged to determine the best mix for optimal conversion rate.

request informationforms

The structure, content and copy of your lead generation forms are critical to your lead generation efforts. Apply the basics first and then expand your knowledge through form testing. These tips can help you to manage the volume, quality and overall ROI of your leads. Good luck and let us know what you’ve learned from your experience. What approach has worked best on your forms? Do you use any data verification techniques? What is your most effective button copy?