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2020 Higher Ed Marketing Trends Roundup

2020 Higher Ed Marketing Trends Roundup

The habits and expectations of digitally native generations are transforming higher education marketing. The decrease in enrollment and increase in the importance of your online presence has dominated higher education marketing strategies for several years now. But, what can we expect in the year to come?

We asked five of our higher education marketing experts what trends and strategies colleges and universities should focus on to stay ahead of the curve in 2020. From analytics to branding, their answers center around creating an integrated, individualized experience for prospective students.


I was at a conference where I asked 20+ higher education leaders to raise their hand if their school had an admissions focused website. None did,” says Brad Frank, chief marketing officer with Collegis.

Frank’s key higher education marketing trend for 2020 is redesigning your website to target prospective students as the primary audience. His colleagues identify the use of analytics, curating content for search engine relevance, customized consumer experiences, and integrated branding.

Read on to find out how to leverage these five marketing trends to drive enrollment in 2020.

Brad Frank
Brad Frank, Chief Marketing Officer

Admission-Focused Websites

When I ask college leaders if their website is admissions focused, I often hear “There is no owner of the website” or “It’s political.” Why? If new enrollment drives the financial stability of your school, then your digital front door should be as inviting to a prospect as a campus tour. 

It is more efficient to capture the traffic you have than just about any other marketing activity.  Paid media is costly and media inflation continues to rise. Investing in your website may cost more in the short-term, but when done well, it can improve your marketing efficiency now and in the future. So think about the annuity value of creating an admissions focused website. 

You create an admissions-focused website by: 1) Speaking to the prospective student exclusively, or at least primarily; 2) Answering key questions; and 3) Making it easy to get to the next step.

Speak to the Prospect: An admissions focused website is as much about what you don’t see as what you see. Sections like events, calendars and news typically apply to current students, faculty, and staff and are not needed on your homepage. You can create a digital space for students, faculty, staff, alumni, athletics, etc., through links that send them to sub-domains.

Answer Key Questions: Understand what prospective students want to find and help them get there. Your homepage should inspire, but it is also a traffic cop to help get the prospect deeper into the site based on where they are in their journey. Any information that distracts from directing prospects is a barrier to admissions.     

Make it Easy to Get to the Next Step: Provide prospective students with clear next steps.  Relevant calls to action should be easy to find at the right time in their journey. If someone is on a program page, have a call to action about applying to the program. If they are on the financial aid page, have a call to action to download a financial aid guide. Think about how e-commerce makes buying easy. What can you do on your site to facilitate the buying decision?

Megan Danielson, Associate Vice President, Marketing

Attention to Analytics

One of the first things I ask college leaders is: When was the last time that you were in your institution’s analytics profile? If you are like most institutions, it’s not often enough. Your website analytics profile provides valuable insights into your students and the actions that they are taking on the website. Making key marking decisions becomes easier when you know:

  • Top pages on your website from a traffic and inquiry conversion perspective
  • Digital demographics and whether they align with existing personas
  • The percentage of traffic coming from mobile and if prospective students are dropping from your website
  • The types of traffic coming into your website and where students are coming from

Adam Dince, Director, Digital Experience

Search Engine Relevance 

Many college websites haven’t adjusted for the transition Google has made in its platform from a search engine to more of an answer engine.

Historically, Google returned a list of ten blue clickable links that pointed to relevant third-party websites. Google is now attempting to answer queries on the search results page, keeping more traffic on its platform. (See image) While those blue clickable links are still present on search results pages, so is much of the relevant content.  

This means that colleges and universities may see less web traffic coming from Google searches if prospects are finding the information they need without having to leave the search page. Aggregators and informational websites will continue to grow in prominence on search results pages, and higher educational institutions will need to invest in optimized website content to keep up. The best content is derived from search behavior, written for readers, and structured for search engines. 

Tanya Pankratz, Director, Brand & Creative Strategy

High-Touch Consumer Experience

As major brands continue to create more unique, focused, and individualized consumer experiences, customized consumer experiences in higher education will no longer be a ‘nice to have’ but an expectation. It might already be an expectation for Millennials and GenZ, since they’ve had customized experiences from their earliest shopping endeavors. Brands offering best-in-class moments — from awareness to conversion to advocacy — are winning the day and setting a high bar for the rest of the field.

In the education market this means paying closer attention to all the various touchpoints a prospect or student has with your brand. The high-touch consumer experience Millennials and GenZ expect will need to ring true across their interactions with an institution. Critical areas include:

  • A marketing mix that meets them where they are and delivers the information they need when they need it
  • A robust website experience free of friction from discovery through attendance
  • Integrated marketing and admissions experiences that feel cohesive and streamlined
  • Well managed CRM as the foundation for an integrated, full spectrum of marketing, admissions, faculty, and matriculation touchpoints
  • An attendance experience that leverages technology on campus and online

Creating high touch consumer experiences and remaining consistent through all touchpoints is no easy endeavor. It requires focusing first on the needs of the user across your brand experience and then collaborating between a variety of departments and technologies to see those needs are met. 

Jill Kuczmarski, Creative Director

Integrated Higher Ed Branding

Consistent branding, especially online, is going to become increasingly important. Digital natives value privacy and individual expression, and they make value-based and highly informed decisions. They’re pros at surfing across channels and devices to gather information to make minor purchases (like a sticker for their water bottle) all the way up to big purchases (like cars and education) with little to no hesitation about conducting transactions online.

Your brand is your identity, strategy and experience both online and offline. What attracts a student to an institution high in the funnel should hold true throughout every touchpoint of their experience with your brand. And don’t forget about personalization. Using machine learning to serve the right information in the right moment that aligns with and amplifies an institution’s brand across the student journey is paramount. Digital natives appreciate meaningful personalization and notice when a brand signal is off, or worse, tone deaf.

How do higher education institutions ensure that their brands are aligned with their evolution? How do they bring that brand front and center demonstrating transparency consistently across channels, while still aiming for in-moment relevancy? These are the questions for 2020.

One thing is certain: the importance of branding in higher education is not just a trend. Rather the current trends validate we’re at a tipping point for branding in higher education.

Created By: Collegis Education Staff

Collegis is passionate about education and driven by the technology that keeps institutions moving forward.