By Kyle Hanzas | Director, Business Development
Over the past three years online education inquiry generation has undergone a major shift in responsibility. Previously, it was about a 50/50 partnership between schools and marketers. Marketers used creative messaging and various online advertising channels to attract prospective students while the schools utilized strong recruitment and CRM practices to gain new enrollment.
As new legal and regulatory guidelines emerged around marketing messaging and recruitment practices, the responsibility of enrolling a quality student has shifted more toward the marketer. The quality and intent of the prospect needs to be well defined before she is passed to an admissions counselor. A university’s ability to develop the prospect’s enrollment intent is more limited than ever.
Schools are left to consolidate efforts to their highest-quality partners and online channels. The aggregate traffic model and an inquiry driven to multiple schools are no longer of great value; rather they are considered more of a “volume filler.” Admissions counselors can’t get into a sales competition for inquiries who express interest in multiple colleges. An admission representative should not be a salesperson, but rather a guide that aids in the process and helps the prospect make an informed decision about attending their college of choice.
As colleges and universities continue to focus on users who have a strong intent on furthering their education, they also hope to grab prospects that have shown interest in their school. We have seen a shift back to SEO and SEM channels. Schools are paying higher cost-per-leads for top placement of their logo on prominent websites. At the same time click costs are continuing to trend upward. Email remains a consistent driver of high-quality traffic but is underutilized.
Five years ago email was a major part of the quality mix of the major aggregators in education marketing; a quality compliment to internal SEM-SEO traffic that generated quality inquiries for schools. Then came call center traffic — a much cheaper, low-maintenance channel that enabled aggregators to fill high volumes in short time but relied too heavily on job data and pestering phone calls to potential inquiries. Email fell to the back burner with aggregators. Unfamiliarity with CAN-SPAM laws, and the desire to avoid spam problems, caused many schools to stay away from emailing direct information about their institutions. In reality call center traffic has become more of a spam problem, education opt-in users can receive up to 5-10 phone calls a day once their data is passed around.
As CAN-SPAM laws and processes streamline for opt-in users, email has become a higher-quality source. You can take the same user that opted-in for information about your school, send them an email presenting your school and let them choose to open and request information exclusively for your institution. The enrollment rates of those inquiries remain steady between 3%-5% and are comparable with PPC inquiries, but at a 25% lower CPL on average.
So why isn’t everyone running email traffic? Non-compliant spam is no longer a major concern, with mailers and email providers completely honed into maintaining legal practices. Besides, consumers’ opt-in to so much stuff, they end up creating their own spam. They are more or less used to email traffic as a staple of life now.
The real reason why everyone isn’t running email traffic is because email marketing isn’t easy. Traffic can be unpredictable with email providers like Yahoo and Hotmail changing their inbox algorithms and creating shifts in traffic similar to Google Penguin, a search engine algorithm update from Google. Also, maintaining data and keeping a fresh look with new data and messaging is difficult. Quarterly updates and constant landing page testing are part of the process which some agencies and institutions are not set up to handle.
All of these factors, combined with the fact that there are limited email players that cater to education, make running an education campaign for email traffic very tedious. However, as CPCs continue to rise on SEM traffic and education marketers look for new quality sources that are less tapped and competitive.
Email will become a stronger source for direct schools, and it will make a comeback with aggregate advertisers that moved away from the traffic for cheaper alternatives.
How has email marketing played a role in your education marketing strategy? Let us know in the comments below on Twitter @MediaWhizInc