With 90% of students researching colleges and universities online, institutions who practice inbound marketing for higher education are better positioned to engage prospective students along their path to admission.

For would-be students, applying to college is more stressful now than ever before. Choices abound, competition is stiff, and tuition is high. Some prospective students will ditch a degree altogether in the face of a great job offer. Those who don’t know that the college they select will have ramifications long into the future. They need information that will help them make an informed decision about the school that is right for them.

Enter inbound marketing. Colleges and universities who cultivate a thoughtful, carefully constructed inbound marketing strategy will have armed themselves with the tools to help those prospects during this critical stage in their lives.

What is inbound marketing?

Inbound is a marketing practice based on empathy with the customer, diligent planning, and thorough research. It focuses on two questions:

  1. Who are our personas?

    Inbound marketers develop what they call ‘buyer personas.’ Through qualitative and/or quantitative research, they identify what problems or ‘pain points’ are driving customers to seek out a product or service, and then craft marketing content that speaks directly to those pain points. In higher education, buyer personas may translate to student personas, parent personas, or even teacher personas. Anyone involved in the decision to apply to your institution may, can, and should be a persona.

  2. How do we remain relevant to our customers at each stage of their journey?

    The buyer’s journey is a model that breaks down the buyer’s decision-making process into three distinct stages: awareness, consideration, and decision.

    Inbound marketers strategically align marketing content with each stage of the buyer’s journey. Potential buyers in the awareness stage, who may not have heard of your company, need an introduction. Blog posts and social media engagement work well here. Content for the consideration stage should demonstrate what makes your product or service distinctive. The decision stage is the time for promotional offers and pitches.

    The buyer’s journey for the prospective student may be the journey to application or even matriculation depending on how much support is needed throughout the process.

Why inbound marketing for higher education is a good idea

Your college or university probably already generates plenty of digital content. Blog posts, statistics, photos, student testimony, recent events, and general information pages fill most university websites.

But one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to content. Parents, guidance counselors, alumni, and prospective students are all researching colleges and universities online, and they all want different information. A student who has wanted to be an engineer since she was five years old doesn’t want to hear about your college’s nutritional science program. Parents want to know about safety features on campus and dining hall accommodations. And professional studies students don’t want to watch videos from last year’s undergraduate orientation.

To add, inbound marketing is one of the most effective ways to market for businesses and organizations that have a long sales cycle. When well-wrought, a strategy focused on inbound marketing for higher education institutions ensures that the right content reaches the right parent, student, or teacher at the right stage of their journey.

Awareness: Reach more prospective students.

If a student hasn’t heard of your school, they won’t visit your website, apply, or enroll. You have to get your name out there. But how? By providing prospective applicants with information that they find helpful, not intrusive, you can begin to build a lasting relationship.

Try blog posts with titles like “10 Best College Essay Topics from Last Year” or “Top 5 Reasons to Go to College in Maryland.” Let prospective students find their way to your content through SEO and social media. Show them that you’re a reliable source of information and a name that they can trust.

Consideration: Differentiate your institution

There are approximately 4,700 degree-granting colleges and universities in the United States. What makes yours unique? After blog posts and other content helps guide prospective students to your website, you’ll want to make sure to have additional content designed to show students not just why your school is great, but why it’s great for them. Show off videos of student testimonies, for example, or offer a list of new fall course offerings for freshmen. Ask students to engage with you by sharing their intended major, and then reciprocate by offering content that speaks directly to their interests. When students feel acknowledged, they’re more likely to apply.

Decision: Provide support during the application process

When students apply to colleges, they apply to a lot of them. Consider streamlining your application procedures to help applicants navigate the process.  Craft content and tailor messaging to meet students’ concerns at this stage: finances, transportation, campus visits, and maybe even a letter or text message from an admissions officer who found a student’s essay to be particularly well-written.

In the face of decreasing enrollment statistics, crafting content to meet the needs of prospective students at each stage of their journey is an effective way to attract, engage and convert applicants and the foundation of a successful inbound marketing strategy for higher education and beyond.