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4 ways your search marketing needs to evolve

August 27, 2021


4 ways your college search marketing needs to evolve

<a data-primary-product="" href="">Michael Koppenheffer</a> By Michael Koppenheffer August 27, 2021 5 min read

Search marketing has long been an integral piece of most institutions’ recruitment strategy. But the old methods of outbound marketing-focused only on generating inquiries and only on prospective students-don’t match the ways students search for colleges today.

Cultivate is our team’s approach to engaging prospective students from across your recruitment ecosystem and nurturing them to apply, yield, and attend. It’s about engaging students where they are, when they are there. Cultivate is an evolution of student search in a few key ways:

  • It isn’t just about generating inquiries: it’s about responding to and nurturing prospects’ interest over time.
  • It isn’t focused only on students: it engages their parents and families as well.

Here are four strategies enrollment leaders can adapt to evolve their search marketing and improve performance across the funnel.

Maximize your reach with a multifaceted audience generation strategy

Amid ongoing list source uncertainty, enrollment leaders can’t afford to overlook new sources of prospective students-especially sources of high-intent, highly qualified students. My colleagues who focus on helping schools expand their audience recommend identifying students from a range of sources based on your school’s enrollment and class shaping goals. For example, Cappex enables enrollment leaders to identify students who have expressed interest in your school on or At last count, these platforms included 1.5 million and 400,000 students respectively.

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Strengthen your funnel performance with audience generation strategies that can compensate for the reduction in name availability and marketing strategies


Of course, you also need to understand which audiences, in which geographies, and with which characteristics are most likely to help you meet your enrollment goals. That mix of audience sources looks very different for each school. And identifying which sources to prioritize often requires making difficult decisions about where to invest. In our work with enrollment leaders, we are continuously examining audience selection strategy to make sure we’re maximizing results and adjusting as their goals and the market change.

Use responsive marketing to meet students at their moment of intent

As I wrote in my last blog post, the linear and impersonal marketing of enrollment cycles past no longer makes the cut. Enrollment teams need to make sure students and families get the right information, in the right format, and at the exact right moment-an approach we call “responsive marketing.”

A key component of responsive marketing is developing digital assets that share your school’s unique value proposition in a way that feels relevant and personal to students. When developing digital content, consider:

  1. How you tell your story
  2. How you can create authentic connections among peers, at scale

One way colleges and universities can scale this important peer-to-peer interaction is through Wisr. The platform enables prospective students to connect with campus ambassadors, other prospective peers, and their parents in virtual communities. It fosters the kind of connection that makes a student feel like they belong at their future college before they actually step foot on campus.

Here’s how digital communities can boost enrollment

Don’t forget about parents

Speaking of parents, 55% of surveyed students identify parents, guardians, or family members as their top source of information during the college search process. In fact, parents are at least three times more influential than any other source, according to students. This survey underscored what we’ve long known-enrollment leaders need to engage parents directly, too.


of students say parents are their top source of information during the search process

Because parents are so important in college search, we recommend a two-part approach to identifying and reaching them:

  1. Ask prospective students to provide contact information for their parents. On average, we have found students who provide the contact information for their parents are 53% more likely to apply.
  2. Use data science and analytics to identify parent contact information from consumer databases. The team of data scientists who support our Enrollment partners recently shared that 30% of all students’ parents can be identified via this kind of analysis. This translates into roughly three times as many conversations with parents as you would have been able to have otherwise.

About 70% of parents tell us they want to hear directly from colleges and universities, so including families in your marketing campaigns not only behooves your team, but also benefits parents eager to learn more about college options.

See how parents are evaluating their students’ college options

Use behavior-based triggers to nurture students to enrollment

For both students and families, we know that it takes multiple interactions, over many months or even years, for them to progress from awareness to decision. So, from the moment a student or parent clicks on an email, inquiries through YouVisit, or expresses interest directly to you, they need content that will keep them engaged with your institution.


inbox placement rate among all EAB partners, compared to 80% industry average

In general, content should become more specific as the campaign progresses. For example, you might start with information about your college, such as content about academics or campus life, before sharing content focused on the admissions process.

But what’s most important is that you respond to student behavior. Let’s say a student engages with an email about student life. Perhaps the next piece of content you share spotlights various student organizations and leadership programs.

But we also know that many high school students are still figuring out what they want from their college experience. It’s important to be responsive to what we learn about students’ interest, but also share content that could be relevant to all students.

From maximizing your reach to nurturing student engagement, each of these individual components is an important part of your strategy. But it’s Cultivate, the combination of these capabilities, that enables you to go beyond traditional search marketing and brings your school’s value to light for students and parents.

Ready to find out more?

Learn how Cultivate, EAB’s fully integrated solution for engaging prospective students in today’s recruitment ecosystem, can deliver marketing campaigns that are responsive, personalized, and precisely timed.


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