Getting digital marketing and communications right is one of the most important priorities for every university today.
It is particularly critical when it comes to recruiting new fee-paying students of the right calibre for an institution.
Given the high stakes involved in filling courses, it’s not surprising to see that universities are getting more daring in the way they seek to influence prospective students.
Bold student marketing
Alongside marketing campaigns which make bold use of video, events and experiential marketing, the use of established and emerging channels like twitter and snapchat to engage with prospective students at crunch times like clearing is relatively commonplace.
This innovation in targeting a demanding audience with notoriously short attention spans and rapidly changing media habits is to be applauded.
Websites are overlooked
But it appears that in the rush to the new and the bold, there is one communications channel which is still proving to be a weak link in the journey to converting a prospective student to an applicant: the university website.
This was one of the findings of Eduserv’s recent research among university marketers where they told us that despite its critical role in student recruitment, websites are failing to do a good job of reflecting what is distinctive or great about an institution.
What students want
If you listen to students – as I did recently at a Universities UK panel on digital marketing – they will tell you that websites matter a lot when it comes to cementing their views on an institution.
When they arrive on a website – quite probably with high expectations if the rest of the marketing has done a good job – they want to see that the University has made it easy for them to find concise information about course structure, teaching, facilities, fees and other basics.
The trouble is that, as our research found, many university websites are drowning in content which is dated, ill-targeted or with a poor user experience.
The result is a big turn-off for students who are putting together their shortlists for application.
As one put it: “If the university can’t put a website together, how can I trust them to put my course together?”
The digital marketing gap
There is no doubt that dealing with university websites and the burgeoning amount of content is a headache for communications teams. The marketers who we spoke to said that the budgets involved, the need for new governance and the associated political sensitivities make change problematic.
But it’s a nettle that must be grasped.
Students aren’t going to stop visiting your website. In fact, of all the communications mix, they say it is the most trusted source and as such, a university website remains the bedrock on which all other marketing rests.
That means closing down the experience between this and other digital channels by embracing personalisation, building websites which better reflect your student experience and allowing for more flexible content should be a priority for every university communications team.
John Simcock is Head of Business Development at Eduserv and works extensively within Higher Education. You can download a copy of the Eduserv research into University Websites here.
Image courtesy of Jisc