10 Digital Marketing Strategies for Higher Education

10 Digital Marketing Strategies for Higher Education

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Higher education is experiencing a digital revolution. The era of glossy college catalogs and mass-produced mailouts is nearing the end of its effectiveness. Today’s prospective students are digital natives, requiring colleges to take a new approach to long-established marketing strategies. Now armed with the power of online research, potential students are taking a deep dive into your institution, and almost everything they need to decide is in the palm of their hands.

To thrive in this new reality, colleges and universities must embrace a comprehensive digital marketing strategy to connect with and convert leads into applicants and, ultimately, collegians. We’ll explore higher education marketing strategies to showcase your unique institution that resonates with a new generation.

What is Digital Marketing, and Why Does it Matter for Higher Education?

Digital marketing for colleges and universities involves using digital tools and platforms to attract and retain students, build relationships, and drive enrollment and engagement. It allows for personalization, creativity, and targeted messaging to reach specific audiences cost-effectively and efficiently.

Today’s students live online. A strong digital presence allows you to connect with them on the platforms they use most. Higher education marketing strategies must go beyond print advertising in order to connect with target audiences.

  • Research from bestcolleges.com shows that students have strong opinions about which factors influence a college decision, including location (47%), general student quality of life (38%), campus safety (33%), and diversity of student body (23%). (source)
  • However, according to the 2021 E-Expectations Trend Report, only 27% of students surveyed said they would respond to brochures or letters from direct mail.

So, how do prospective students learn about the colleges they want to attend? With the rise of online platforms and social media, students increasingly use digital channels to research and engage with universities.

Five Pillars of Effective Digital Marketing for Higher Ed

Targeted Campaigns

An effective marketing strategy helps you reach the right students with the right message at the right time. And although your primary target audience is prospective students, it’s crucial to expand your reach beyond them to parents and influencers like guidance counselors. According to the E-Expectations Trend Report, two-thirds of students said their parents were involved in their college search.

A targeted marketing campaign will also consider current communication with current college students, alumni, and donors.

Engaging Content

Capture attention, spark interest, and build a connection with your institution. Dry brochures won’t cut it. Create content like YouTube videos, Instagram Stories, blog posts, and social media posts that feature student activities and campus culture.

Highlight Your Strengths

A strong online presence helps you stand out from the competition. Through digital marketing, showcase what makes your university or college unique and valuable—your programs, faculty, and student life.

Get Measurable Results

As a higher education institution, you know the value of measurability. Just as monitoring student achievement provides concrete data to demonstrate their abilities, digital marketing offers measurable results that allow institutions to gauge the effectiveness of their outreach efforts and make data-driven decisions. Digital marketing allows you to see what’s working and what’s not.

10 Digital Marketing Strategies for Higher Education

Knowing what you want to achieve will help you create an effective strategy. Before you begin, define the goals and objectives for your marketing campaign. To simplify this process, we’ve developed the IDEA framework to keep your goals at the forefront:

Define your goals and objectives with the IDEA framework.

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Identify Your Target Audience – Define who you want to reach.

Determine Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)—Decide which metrics, such as website traffic and social media engagement, you’ll track to measure progress towards your goals.

Establish SMART Goals – Set specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound goals.

Align Your Goals with Strategy – Identify how your digital marketing efforts will contribute to achieving your goals.

With this IDEA in mind, let’s explore ten digital marketing strategies for higher education institutions that will boost visibility and help you make the grade.

1. Optimize Your Website

A user-friendly, mobile-optimized website is crucial for a positive student experience. Students say a college website is their most trusted resource besides their parents. Optimize your website and content to rank higher in search results. It should be easy to navigate, and the program pages should be easy to find.

2. Use Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Keep your website at the top of the search results with search engine optimization. SEO is improving your website’s ranking in search results for relevant terms.

For colleges and universities, strong SEO is crucial because it ensures prospective students actively researching institutions online will quickly discover their websites. This increases website traffic, brand awareness, and, ultimately, the number of qualified applicants.

3. Keyword Research

Keyword research involves identifying the words and phrases prospective students use online to search for colleges and universities.

Here are some statistics on student search queries according to EAB (formerly known as the Education Advisory Board):

  • 82% of students search for colleges by academic programs, such as “computer science programs for undergraduates.”
  • 57% of students’ queries include the phrase “the best,” such as “the best college for marine biology.”
  • 50% of students search by geographic location, such as “colleges with environmental science programs in Maryland” or “computer science programs on the West Coast.”

Here are some other frequently searched terms:

  • College financing terms: financial aid, scholarships, affordable, tuition, cost, and grants. For example, a student concerned with college financing might search for “colleges with the highest financial aid packages for out-of-state students.”
  • Subject area, major, or field of study: A student searching for their desired major at a specific type of institution might search for “public universities with strong engineering programs.”
  • Name of the school: Students researching whether their favorite college has the program they desire would search for something like “Reviews of [Name of School]’s nursing program.”

In essence, good keyword research allows you to speak the language of your ideal students online, leading to greater visibility and targeted outreach.

4. Develop a Content Strategy

A one-size-fits-all approach won’t win over this generation of students. A diverse content strategy with blog posts, infographics, and videos caters to different learning styles and interests. By creating engaging content, you curate a dynamic knowledge base.

Blog posts allow in-depth exploration of academic programs and student experiences. This variety keeps students engaged, strengthens your brand image, and positions your university as a place that understands today’s learners.

Engaging visuals like infographics break down complex information, while videos offer a dynamic way to showcase campus life.

A study by Google showed that 80% of prospective students said an online video influenced their decision to apply for a college. Additionally, the popularity of virtual campus tours spiked in 2020 when in-person events were limited. This trend continues, especially for parents and students who live far from the institution they are considering. 

An example is this video produced by the University of Southern California, highlighting USC Village, which is home to 2,500 students. 

5. Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Advertising

You can target the right students with pay-per-click advertising. Here are a few benefits of PPC for higher education institutions:

  • You’ll get qualified clicks when you focus ads on specific programs, locations, or search terms. 
  • You can bid on relevant keywords and craft compelling ad copy to grab students’ attention.
  • Design targeted landing pages that match the ad content and satisfy the students’ search queries.

PPC offers data to track clicks and conversions, allowing you to optimize campaigns and ensure you reach the students most likely to apply.

6. Showcase Student Stories

Students today crave authenticity. Here’s how to leverage the power of their voices to build trust and credibility for your institution:

Feature video student testimonials on your website and social media. Real students sharing their positive experiences resonate far more than generic marketing messages. Encourage current students to create “day in the life” videos and promote them on social media.  A glimpse into campus life with an unfiltered lens fosters a connection with prospective students.

Amplifying genuine student perspectives builds trust and credibility with future students. When they can see themselves reflected in your institution, they feel they belong.

The following testimonial is from a student at Midwestern University:

7. Livestream Events

When students research a college or university, they want to see the real deal. Livestreaming gives them a glimpse into how the institution works and what they may experience. The 2021 E-Expectations Trend Report also states that 40% of high school seniors reported watching a college livestream. Here are some key events to livestream:

  • Live Q&A sessions with professors allow students to interact with faculty directly, ask questions about specific programs, and get a feel for the teaching style.
  • Showcase faculty expertise by livestreaming lectures on trending topics.
  • Highlight the vibrant campus life by livestreaming musical performances, plays, or talent shows. 
  • Behind-the-scenes live streams offer a glimpse into unique aspects of the college, like a live look at a research lab in action or a studio where student artists create.
  • Livestreaming athletic competitions attract sports enthusiasts. To generate excitement, consider adding pre-game interviews with coaches or players.

8. Email Marketing

Most people can remember the thrill of going to the mailbox and receiving personal communication with the college or university they wanted to attend. Whether receiving a follow-up postcard from a student ambassador or a letter from an admissions counselor, these communications kept students engaged until they became bonafide college attendees.

The same is true for personalized email campaigns with the new generation. Email nurtures leads and keeps prospective students connected.

9. Engage on Social Media

Social Media is a virtual space for fostering a vibrant online learning community. A study from EAB shows that Instagram and YouTube are the most popular platforms, so tailor your content to each one – eye-catching campus life images on Instagram and in-depth videos on YouTube. Feature real student experiences and run interactive polls. Actively engage with comments and messages to show you care!

Consistency is the key. Post engaging content regularly to connect with students and make them feel part of something special.

This Instagram post by Emory University shows the beauty of the college and encourages engagement by asking students to share their own photos.

Image of an Instagram post by Emory University that displays the college and student engagement.

10. Strategic Linking

Imagine a website as a maze. Internal links act as pathways guiding users and search engines to the most relevant information. Backlinks from high-quality websites are like helpful signs from trusted sources, pointing others towards your valuable content.

Here’s how a solid linking strategy boosts your website’s ranking:

Internal Linking Guides Users and Search Engines

A student browsing your “Engineering Programs” page can be driven further into your site by strategically linking to relevant content like “Faculty Profiles” or “Career Paths for Engineers.” Search engines see this SEO signal and follow internal links to specific pages on your website. Linking relevant content together improves the overall ranking of all connected pages.

For example, on your “Financial Aid” page, you could include internal links to:

  • A scholarship opportunities page
  • A blog post explaining different types of financial aid
  • A step-by-step guide on completing the financial aid application

Backlinks Demonstrate Credibility 

If a prestigious educational blog links to your article on “5 Tips for Choosing the Right College,” this backlink is a recommendation for your valuable content, boosting your website’s credibility in the eyes of search engines. In turn, backlinks from high-traffic websites drive new visitors to your site, expanding your reach beyond those searching for your university’s name specifically.

You can contact education-focused websites or prominent alumni to see if they’d like to feature a faculty member’s guest post on a specific topic. The guest post should ideally include a backlink to your university’s website.


By embracing digital marketing, colleges speak the language of tomorrow’s learners and become leaders in the digital education revolution. From targeted SEO to engaging social media, effective digital marketing helps you speak the language of the students you want to attract.

Are you looking for a digital marketing partner to help optimize your website for digital search? Our team of SEO experts can provide strategies designed to assist your website in achieving top rankings for competitive terms and enhance your brand’s online presence. Contact us today!

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