Is Your Digital Marketing Plan Generating the Student Leads You Need to Meet Your Enrollment Goals?

Bob StewartVice PresidentJune 21, 2022
Blog: Is Your Digital Marketing Generating Enough Student Leads?
Here are 5 common pitfalls institutions experience with generating student leads.

When I work with leaders in colleges and universities, I talk with them about their goals and how they were set. I ask: What are your goals? How did you set them? Were all the right people involved in the conversation about your goals? And finally, once the goals are set, Has your digital marketing plan been developed with your enrollment goal in mind?

A common response to that last question is a confident confirmation, quickly followed by a wavering, “Well, I think they are. What exactly do you mean by that?”

An easy way to think about aligning your digital marketing plan and your enrollment goals is to pose one additional question during the planning phase:

If our goal is to enroll X number of students, will our digital marketing plan generate enough student leads to meet that goal?

Calculating the number of student leads you need must be done at the program level and relies on conversion trend data from recent years and other current factors (that will be the subject of a future blog). Once you’ve identified the number of student leads you need to generate through your digital marketing plan, you can address potential gaps and avoid the most common pitfalls along the way to success. These include:

1. Over-Relying on Paid Sources

I often will visit a campus that has a relatively well-funded digital marketing plan, but that plan focuses almost entirely on paid lead generation. Even though the plan may be multichannel and using state-of-the-art tactics, the institution still isn’t meeting its goals.

Redirecting some of those paid resources to search engine optimization (SEO) can make all the difference—particularly considering that our recent RNL study of 1,600 prospective online students indicates that search engines were the top resource for finding the programs in which they want to enroll.

2. Overspending

When you have a gap between the number of students leads you are generating compared to the students leads you need to stay on track for your goals, it’s a natural reaction to spend more more money on the current tactics you are already using. Unfortunately, the solution isn’t that simple. You’ll need to consider:

  • Your marketing mix: Which channels are the bulk of your leads coming from? Where are they not coming from? How do the individual sources support each other?
  • Conversion and performance: At what rate do the leads from all of your various sources convert?

These two items raise another potential challenge: if you don’t know the answers to these questions, you need to get them ASAP. Knowing the answers to these questions will help you identify the channels and sources that will be most effective in getting your plan back on track with the expenditure of additional dollars.

3. Underspending

Another common challenge is having a budget limitation that is less than your digital marketing plan calls for. In my experience, enrollment leaders either hope the goal will be met anyway (purely on the basis of good luck) or simply plan to fail because you acknowledge that you aren’t investing enough. Since neither of these approaches is likely to get you the results you need, try articulating to others the dollar amount you need build a case for additional funding. The more detailed you can be the more likely you are to be successful—indicate specific channels, identify target numbers of leads, and speak the language of “ROI.” Help everyone understand that enrollment success is critical to your institution’s success, and you may find some creative solutions.

4. Timing

If your goal is to enroll 120 students per year, would you divide your goal by 12 and aim to secure 10 students per month? Of course not! You’d look at trends in the industry, your market, and your institution so you could set realistic goals for each month that reflect the peaks and valleys of when students enroll. Even though most of us understand this, not enough of us make data-informed decisions of this type. Planning for peaks and valleys can provide you with a much more accurate understanding of your progress toward your enrollment goal while providing staff with a healthy motivation supported by accurate data.

5. Insufficient Specificity in the Plan

When I work with campuses that are struggling, many of the plans I review are insufficiently specific for the weight they are bearing. What do I mean by that? The plan needs to have a 12-month duration. Goals need to be set at the program level. Targets for student leads and then enrollments need to be set on a monthly basis (and reflect the timing that I mentioned above). Channels and tactics need to be set for each program. Performance measures need to be stipulated in the plan, but allow for the flexibility to “course correct” along the way.

One of the most important themes that help institutions deal with these common pitfalls is data. When institutions have good data—on the channels that generate the most leads, the channels that convert at the highest rates (irrespective of the numbers they generate), the channels and sources that provide the best return on investment, and the ones that generate the student leads you need at the times of the year that you need them—you will not only be more likely to meet your goals but also to successfully make your case for additional funds if things are not going according to plan.

How can you ensure you have the student leads you need?

The big question is whether or not you and your team have connected those dots. If that idea resonates with you,reach out to RNL and we’ll set up a time to talk about how we can help. We’ve worked with hundreds of institutions to help them fully understand how small changes can yield big results!

Generate qualified graduate and online leads

RNL’s lead generation for graduate and online enrollment can produce the qualified leads you need to fill your programs and reach your enrollment goals. We help you attract more qualified student leads through paid digital advertising and search engine optimization.

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About the Author

Bob Stewart

Bob Stewart is a seasoned higher education professional with nearly two decades of experience in the industry.  As Vice President at RNL, he collaborates with colleges and universities to optimize revenue efforts, assess growth potential,...

Read more about Bob's experience and expertise

Reach Bob by e-mail at Bob.Stewart@ruffalonl.com.

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