December 10, 2019

Higher Education Marketing Trends to Watch in 2020

Higher education marketing trends are constantly bringing new opportunities to colleges and universities. As in life, the only constant is change. And student acquisition trends sometimes feel like they’re shifting from one day to the next. 

As we approach a new year (and a new decade altogether!), your digital strategies to drive enrollments that are working today could be obsolete by the time the New Year’s ball drops. Want to make sure you’re future-proofing your digital ads plan now before it’s too late? Make sure your school’s campaigns account for these higher education marketing trends shaping student acquisition in 2020.

Diversify Across Digital Platforms

Google isn’t going anywhere. For that matter, we don’t expect Bing or Facebook Ads to fade away either. But the behaviors of prospective students are shifting, and with that shift comes a new focus on different digital mediums. 

Instagram isn’t a revolutionary new app. Chances are it’s been a part of your school’s marketing mix for some time. But we find many schools still use it secondarily to Facebook (or just copy the same Facebook posts and images over to Instagram), especially when it comes to ad dollars. So it may surprise you to learn just how impactful this platform could be moving forward. A recent student insights report found that 50% of high school juniors and seniors want to see information about potential schools on Instagram. That beat out every other platform by double-digits. So if your school isn’t making Instagram a top digital priority, you’re missing out on a large group of rising graduates who are turning it before anything else.

And don’t count out older platforms like Pinterest. When it comes to higher ed marketing, Pinterest has long been seen as second-fiddle to many other social networks, thanks to an older user base and more e-commerce approach to ads. But 12% of high schoolers said they would like to see information about colleges on there. Don’t go into 2020 moving all your ad dollars to Pinterest. But do carve out a place in your marketing and content plan for occasional updates and messaging there.

Embrace TikTok

As for a lesser-known but rapidly growing platform, TikTok is poised to become a go-to marketing channel for higher ed marketing in 2020. This social app is focused on short videos, similar to Vine, and has become one of the most downloaded apps in the world. Most importantly, its largest user base is 18-24 year-olds

Many universities are already cultivating large followings with TikTok-specific content, similar to what they’ve done in the past with YouTube and then Instagram. Getting in on the ground floor with this new platform in 2020 could help reach millions of engaged users who will soon be starting their own college search.

Organic Matters, Too

It’s not just paid traffic that’s going to help you hit enrollment goals and fill seats start after start. As competition in the key platforms gets tougher, the importance of a strong organic presence increases. Especially in paid search, ad space is limited. Google’s latest study found that for education queries, ads that showed per query were up 5% year-over-year. There are more schools competing for every search, and sometimes your budget may not keep you on top each and every time.

A strong search engine optimization (SEO) plan can help offset competition creep when it comes to paid search. This goes far beyond just keyword content on blog posts and meta tags, too. Successful student acquisition marketing in 2020 demands a focus on site architecture and page speed, localization tactics, content for the Knowledge Graph, and more. And pairing SEO with a strong paid search approach can help deliver overall student gains far better than either tactic could individually. Since competition in the higher ed PPC space isn’t going anywhere, it’s best to head into the new year ready and willing to make SEO a key focus and stay ahead of the competition when prospects start searching.


Want to know more about which higher education marketing trends can help you drive more, and more efficient inquiries? Let’s talk.

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