Swot Up: Digital Marketing and Higher Education in 2017

by Laura McKinnon

Digital “real estate” is getting harder to achieve by the day. With rising costs of PPC, increasing difficulty to obtain visibility via organic means on social media and an oversaturated content-rich landscape, how do you make sure your Higher Education website is the first choice for your target audience?

We explore the potential pitfalls of digital marketing and Higher Education to look out for in 2017:

The Challenges of Technical Search Engine Optimisation

Higher education establishment sites are often complex and require a significant amount of advanced functionality. User experience should always lead the development of a new site- and building with a “mobile first” mindset is a given, however, without the supervision of a technically-minded digital marketing team, or at least an SEO expert, internal teams can find themselves in hot water only months after the launch of a brand new site due to technical SEO.

Take, for instance, the management of course listings. For many higher education establishments, leisure or recreational courses are a major stream of income. The nature of this very offering means that there may be several versions of the course running over an extended period of time on the live site. Naturally, as these courses complete their duration, pages on site will expire, creating broken links. Broken links in themselves aren’t a major issue, however, when several hundred or even thousands of these links gather, this will not only provide users with a poor experience, but create significant issues with search engine crawlers indexing your site too.

The result: your site suffers organically.

Without proper planning, the management of this can become monotonous and eventually unsustainable for internal admin resource to monitor and update as necessary.

Furthermore, with multiple versions of a course page existing, comes the challenge of ensuring duplicate content is managed correctly. Of course, this form of duplicate content will have no immediate negative impact on your organic search rankings, however, more pages saying essentially the same thing will dilute your optimisation efforts without the aid of canonicalisation - or implementing a directive to indicate which page should be given priority in the search engine results pages. 

The final technical SEO consideration is the long-term plan to rank for generic terms relevant to your site. SEO is the marathon of digital marketing activity - and in order to rank effectively for terms such as “fashion courses near me” a considerable amount of time - in some instances, several months - will be required. However, if course pages expire within this time frame, it renders the SEO efforts to rank for these key terms nigh impossible. 

Therefore, when considering the internal architecture of your site, finding a relevant, useful, permanent place for your generic keyword terms to live must be considered. 

Walking the Fine Line of Social Media

In 2017, the question is no longer “should we do social media?” but “what social media channels should we use?”

For educational institutes, the biggest difficulty will be to achieve a tone of voice across social media channels that resonates with their following. Erring on the side of too casual, and attempts to engage audiences will alienate or patronise your core audience. Taking a “too formal” tone will equally disassociate your audience. Striking the balance between the two means navigating a tricky tightrope of content.

Ensuring your presence is visible across the big three - Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn - is a great starting point. However, in a world where algorithms change daily, and visibility “organically” within user newsfeeds' becomes harder to achieve (we’re looking at you, Facebook), investment in social advertising in order to achieve “timeline real estate” is fast becoming a necessity, rather than a luxury. 

Further to this, in order to stand out in an over saturated market, content creation across channels should be akin to a work of art. Imagery, video and text should be complimentary, uniform and above all else, creative in order to retain engagement. Exploring the use of interviews, live streaming and even GIFs should be considered - after all, a little humour can go a long way.

“Live” style platforms such as Snapchat will attract the savviest of social media users, however, with each new platform, a separate content strategy must be applied. What works on Facebook or LinkedIn, is very unlikely to work on a reactive platform. 

In 2017, social media strategy should pay heed to the resources available for your internal teams - and prioritise quality over quantity. 

Unifying Channels

Despite the widespread adoption of new digital best practice, such as mobile responsiveness, the ability to measure online success for many is falling far behind. Many internal marketing teams are failing to tap into the power of relatively new (and free!) tools, such as Google Tag Manager in order to glean better insights into how exactly their audiences interact with the site across all channels.

From content experiments to effortless scroll tracking, utilising a Tag Manager system, when used correctly will curate an ultimately cleaner data set - all whilst reducing the burden on developers to implement complex custom tracking. The fact of the matter is, if you’re still hardcoding your analytics, you’re getting left behind. 

But unifying your digital channels goes beyond simply holding all the tracking bits and bobs from Facebook, AdWords and affiliates in one place. Quite often, as is the case with smaller marketing teams, core channel activities for Search Engine Optimisation, social media advertising or Pay per Click will be outsourced, however whilst one may be trading an investment for industry expertise, is this fragmented approach really the best approach? 

Absolutely not. As is the way with the modern digital landscape, all channels will influence each other symbiotically. Social media done well will boost organic search, e-mail marketing will support PPC campaigns and so on. So, to split out the management of each individual channel means that opportunities could be missed - and course enrolments lost. 

Digital Marketing and Higher Education in 2017

To yield the best results in 2017, a shake up of strategy and tactics will be needed for many institutions across the UK. Whilst it is undeniable awareness and knowledge of the importance digital marketing is growing within the Higher Education industry, the clock is ticking for the best and brightest students of tomorrow - and it bears the question: is choosing a fragmented and outdated approach worth the risk of losing valuable traffic? Can Higher Education institutes risk losing visibility if technical SEO is overlooked in the excitement of designing a new website? Are prospects at risk of being alienated entirely by social channels that talk at the user, rather than to them? 

To shake up your digital marketing in 2017, get in touch with tictoc now.

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