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More Leads, Less Spend.

Who says you have to spend money to make money?

Many higher education institutions attribute dips in enrollment to low marketing spend. However, I visit hundreds of higher education websites every month and I can tell you that almost every school is leaving leads on the table. These leads, or prospective students, have already been earned, but they aren’t converting due to poor user experience, uninspiring content or hard-to-navigate website architecture.

If you want higher enrollments, your first priority should not be spending more money, but improving the conversion rate of website leads.

Let’s say, you get 1,000 potential students to your site organically in a given time period and your conversion rate is a healthy 8% (the industry average according to Formstack). That’s 80 leads. Now, imagine you make the small tweaks recommended below, and your conversion rate increases to 9%. That raises your lead count to 90. If you assume a CPA (cost per acquisition) of $225 per lead overall, that means those small changes saved you $2,250 in marketing spend. More importantly, assuming your organic lead-to-enrollment rate is at least 10%, you just gained a student! Your proactive marketing tactics saved your institution money and helped improve your bottom line.

Before you spend another marketing dollar, focus on improving your website performance. Here are 3 tactical approaches to improving your website and thus improving your organic conversion rate.

  1. Audit your calls to action. For years, schools have taken a piecemeal approach to website construction, adding as much information as possible rather than strategically creating an effective user experience. An institution should consider its website a pivotal part of its sales strategy. Content should have clear calls to action (e.g., request more information, contact a recruiter, complete an application). It would surprise you to learn how many institutions with national brand value still don’t have request for information (RFI) forms on their program pages. When reviewing your own RFIs, remember that conversions increase when forms are:
    • Easy to find. Forms should be no more than one click from the homepage and present on all prospect-focused pages.
    • On-page. Your main landing pages should feature the form next to or within the content, so users don’t need to click away to request info.
    • Easy to complete. The fewer fields, the more conversions you will see.
  1. Put yourself in their shoes. My first step when researching any potential university partner consists of acting as a prospective student and reviewing the website experience as a “mystery shopper”.
    • How accessible is your program information?
    • Can you easily find the pieces of information that the online student considers most important? (Research by The Learning House identifies what information potential students deem as critical during the decision making process)
    • Upon submission of the RFI, what type of communication does a prospective student receive? How quickly are they contacted? According to Velocify, contacting a prospect within the first minute of submission increases the chances of conversion by nearly 400%.
    • Mystery shop your competitors. Figure out where you can gain an advantage and differentiate yourself to potential students.
  1. Utilize Google Analytics. It’s a free, intuitive and easy-to-learn tool. Google Analytics will help you:
    • Determine your conversion rate.
    • Ascertain whether you need to generate more traffic or improve your conversion rate.
    • Better understand your visitors – where do they come from? Where do they spend their time on the site? At what point do they exit the site?
    • Determine your most popular pages – this is where you should prioritize your attention.

When Emerge begins working with an institution, we ensure that these tactics are in place before we start spending marketing dollars. Once this is established, you can move forward knowing that you have maximized the potential of your website and marketing spend.


Tim Prusha, MBA

Tim drives the marketing, lead generation, social media and website strategies for Emerge Education and their partner institutions as the Vice President for Marketing. His 14 years of higher education marketing experience have led to him being recognized as an expert within the online higher education marketing space.