E-mail marketing and landing pages for college student recruitment

Michael Lofstead

Associate Vice President, Digital Marketing Services

November 20, 2012

Prospective college students often receive many e-mails from different colleges and universities. Streamlining your e-mails and creating effective, engaging landing pages will help your campus get noticed.When I conduct workshops with college marketing and recruiting staff on the topic of e-mail marketing in higher education, I often lead with this question: “What’s the single most important job of an e-mail message?”

Frequent responses include “to get new students,” “to inform,” or “to get someone to apply.” More often than not, folks in the room are surprised when I share my answer: The most important role of an e-mail message is to get someone to click out of it as soon as possible.

The reason is simple. Landing pages—the pages sitting behind those e-mail clicks—are where the real action takes place. Regardless of your preferred area of marketing interest, be it effective message storytelling, understanding campaign performance, or moving someone who’s clicked to take a preferred action such as inquiring or applying, landing pages are the most important part of the equation. Sadly, however, they are often the most ignored pieces of the marketing communications puzzle—especially in higher education.

Don’t strand students on your home page

Too often I see perfectly good recruitment e-mail messages sending readers who click the links straight to the institution’s home page. (Your messages do have “call-to-action” links in them, right? If not, we’ve got a lot more to talk about!) In these instances, marketers are inviting someone who had the courtesy to take them up on their call-to-action to “learn more” or “request information today” to wander around the school’s Web site—unchaperoned and unguided—to seek out the content that the e-mail persuaded them to believe was of value to them in the first place.

In the physical world, we would find this kind of behavior to be unacceptable. Imagine if you were to approach the information desk in a shopping mall and asked if you could have help finding the Apple Store. Would you not find it frustrating if, instead of saying “Sure! That’s in this wing, just five stores down on the right hand side,” the desk attendant said, “Go to the main entrance and just inside the door you’ll find a map showing all the store locations in the mall. The Apple Store will be listed on that map”? You likely would not be pleased. This is effectively the same rude behavior we are guilty of when we direct those who take the time to accept our e-mail (or other interactive marketing) call-to-action invitations by clicking links that take them to less-than-helpful pages on our Web site. Beyond being rude, it can also present some serious risks to our interactive marketing campaign’s effectiveness.

As we know from a recent blog post highlighting information from the Noel-Levitz 2012 E-Expectations study, 93 percent of prospective high-school students remain willing to provide schools with their e-mail addresses. Nearly 70 percent will readily consume marketing e-mails even from schools with which they are not familiar. Whether we are marketing to high school students or to adult student markets, we know that members of our e-mail target audiences are exceptionally busy, are managing more messages in their in-boxes than ever, and are often reading e-mails on the go using their mobile devices.

When students provide us with their e-mail addresses and show a strong willingness to open and consume our e-mails, is it not a wasted opportunity to risk losing the interest—and potential conversion actions—of those who take the time to click the links inside? This is just one downside to routing those clicks to your institution’s home page or other ineffective landing locations.

What makes for a good student recruitment landing page?

So now that we know where not to send those e-mail readers who accept our call-to-action offers by clicking our e-mail’s embedded links, what sort of landing experiences should we be designing? While learning the craft of designing effective landing experiences goes well beyond what can be covered within a single blog post, there are some essentials that can guide our thinking in important ways. In general, effective landing experiences should fulfill the content and/or offer expectations created for an e-mail recipient by the phrasing of the call-to-action link that persuaded the person to click.

Put another way, effective landing experiences should pay off on any promises that e-mails make to their audiences by:

  • Featuring quality, on-topic content that matches what landing-page visitors were expecting to find once they clicked;
  • Allowing those who click a “learn more” link to truly learn more or by providing those who click an e-mail’s “request information today” link with an embedded form (or at minimum a direct link to one) where they can make that request;
  • Being clear, simple, and straightforward in their purpose and with any actions they are requesting of their visitors;
  • Spotlighting informative (but not exhaustive) content that continues the narrative begun in the e-mail message that led people there; and
  • Including only pictures and artwork that specifically help the visitor understand the information presented or the calls-to-action requested of them.

While numerous and compelling enough to be the sole reason for adopting better practices, the benefits of effective landing experiences to support e-mail (and other marketing) campaigns do not end with the advantages they provide prospective student audiences. Instead, properly developed landing experiences also offer today’s higher education marketing teams robust and rich campaign performance data to help improve our ability to evaluate marketing campaigns and to better understand individual student market segments.

Tracking e-mail and landing-page behavior for prospective college students

Insights gained by partnering your e-mail delivery tool’s performance data (e.g., open rate, bounce rate, click rate) with modern Web analytics tools such as Google Analytics to monitor what happens after e-mail recipients click to your landing pages can help you unearth valuable information and hone the effectiveness of campaigns. When marketing teams are successful in growing their approaches, skills, and toolsets to deliver robust e-mail landing experiences, they become able to exploit the power of testing content for landing pages. Landing-page testing methods such as multivariate or “A/B testing” can help teams research the effectiveness of more elusive elements of marketing such as which brand messaging variants resonate most, which student images work better to motivate audiences, and which calls-to-action best motivate students in various stages of the recruitment funnel.

Are you convinced yet of the powers of the e-mail and marketing campaign landing experiences? Please share your questions and thoughts in the comments area below. Or feel free to e-mail me directly with any specific landing-page challenges and I’ll be glad to share suggestions with you on questions such as how to adopt advanced landing-page strategies on a small scale or how to expand and improve  landing pages you are already using.

2014 E-Expectations Report

About the Author

Michael Lofstead offers more than  20 years of experience in higher education marketing and communications. His areas of expertise include interactive marketing (e.g., PPC/SEM, and social media paid strategies), online lead generation, content marketing, conversion...

Read more about Michael's experience and expertise

Reach Michael by e-mail at Michael.Lofstead@RuffaloNL.com.

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