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The time period when prospective students are looking at their options and deciding when to apply is crucial when it comes to marketing your university. In analyzing student behavior, we’ve found that the 120 days leading up to application deadlines can have a huge impact both on whether or not a student applies, and how they make a decision after acceptance.

Prior to Applying

In today’s competitive market, 20% of students begin looking at and researching universities as far out as 120 days before they actually apply. That means months before applications are due, your website could be seeing an increase in traffic, and it’s imperative to be showing up for applicable search terms.

Approximately 83% of query paths begin with a non-branded term, meaning for the majority of students, you aren’t necessarily on their radar when they begin researching colleges.

Make sure your SEO strategy is ready to go and reflects the benefits you offer at your university. While you’re at it, don’t forget to optimize your website for mobile use. For more info on why this is crucial, check out our post about Google’s algorithm update that rewards mobile-friendly sites. The search giant rolled out changes in April 2015 that are still affecting the university sector.

Even when at home, two out of three researchers use a mobile device when researching education. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot from the get-go — instead, make sure your website is mobile ready and highlights the same points you would want to emphasize to a prospective applicant.

The time prior to application deadlines can be a long one, so make sure you stay in front of those people who have searched your university before. This is a great time to look at retargeting opportunities and to start lead nurturing campaigns to further entice people who have already been on your site but haven’t already applied. Don’t underestimate the power in an ad that runs in front of users who’ve already visited your site and are still thinking about their decision to apply.

Applying and Last Research

Although applicants may start their search early, many applicants wait until the last minute to submit their application. These last few weeks prior to application deadlines are crucial to highlight your unique selling proposition. Imagine that everyone who visits your website is asking the question:

“Why should I go to school here?” Are you answering with the highlights that will matter to these applicants?

In 2011, 29% of students applied to seven or more colleges — a number that continues to rise. Make sure you’re standing out from the crowd of options and consider all aspects of the student’s life in your marketing messaging. Maybe your residence life programming is a huge selling point or your athletic program is unmatched in the area. Chances are, at this point, applicants already get the big picture — they just need that last bit of persuasion to finalize their application.

During this stage of application and last-minute research, don’t forget to highlight your facilities and student life. In the decision making stage,

67% of students use videos to understand specific features of a school, including housing.

With today’s technology and the use of drones for making quality videos, you have the opportunity to wow students without having to recruit an entire production team on campus.

Although chances are students have already researched your school, at least marginally, this is not a time to slack on your SEO strategy. The last few weeks prior to application deadlines see an increase in branded search terms — up to twice as much when compared to 120 days out.

Keep an eye out for our next post, where we discuss how residents narrow down their options and commit to one school.


Posts in this series:

Intro to 4-Part Series: The University Marketer’s Guide to a Student Life Cycle
Part 1: When to Begin Marketing to Prospective Students
Part 2: How to Convince Accepted Students to Commit to Your University or College
Part 3: Win the Competition Against Off Campus Housing
Part 4: Turning Sophomores and Juniors into Brand Ambassadors for your School
White Paper: The University Marketer’s Guide to a Student Lifecycle

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Review our flipbook infographic for a complete guide to marketing tactics throughout the student life cycle.