“When you speak to everyone, you speak to no one.” —Meredith Hill
No two students are alike. Each has their own story, needs, and goals. Each is searching for their perfect match: the school that shows up on their path with the right offering in the right way at the right time. That means universities need to tailor their websites and communications to connect with and relate to students seamlessly. To share how to do this effectively, Wes Miller, Director of Content, and Rafael Zorilla, Director of Digital Optimization at Wiley University Services, sat down to discuss the role of content personalization in higher ed marketing strategies.
What is Content Personalization?
Content personalization is a valuable marketing technique in a university’s student recruitment strategy. According to Techopedia, “Content personalization is a method used in digital marketing, as well as web and user experience design, that seeks to tailor a digital product to specific user needs.” Wes Miller simplified this to mean offering “the right content to the right person at the right time.”
When schools target content relevant to the specific stage of a prospective student’s journey, they can begin cultivating a meaningful relationship that helps the student accelerate their progress toward achieving their educational goals. On this topic, Rafael Zorilla said, “We’re seeing a change in customer behavior. We know that the need for self-guidance, or the ability to complete things without having to make a phone call, is the ideal scenario for students.”
If any of this sounds tricky or complicated, Miller said not to worry. “It’s not having entirely different website copy for every user—that is neither realistic nor scalable at an enterprise level,” he said. Instead, it’s about getting a better understanding of where someone currently is in their educational journey and presenting the most useful pathways to help them progress to the next phase. It’s possible to obtain contextual clues and preferences from how prospective students utilize the university website or which digital assets they explore. These insights can then be used to determine what content to serve students at each point of the process.
Examples of Content Personalization
There are numerous ways to streamline the digital experience for prospective students. Here are three ways universities can tailor their website’s content to appeal to students:
Cue Next Steps
Prompting a new action based on a user’s previous visit to the website is an essential way universities can personalize the student experience. Miller gave the example of a prospective student returning to a website after they already filled out a form to request information. This return visit would be the time to repurpose the form’s highly valuable, above-the-website fold real estate to encourage the student to take the next step in their journey. So, instead of prompting the student to request information again, the website would cue them to take a new action like starting an application. Another option is to provide helpful guidance on key steps in the application process, such as how to request a letter of recommendation or a personal statement.
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Personalize Program Selection
Personalization is an art. Miller said, “Personalization is done wrong when it’s very obvious to the user that it’s being done. That’s where a fear that big brother is watching can creep in. When t’s done right it’s not even evident to them. It just feels convenient, like a pleasant surprise.”
This method makes personalization invisible to the visitor because the website appears to intuit their exact program of interest. For instance, if the prospective student browsed MBA programs during a prior visit, they would always see MBA programs first in the dropdown menu when they return to the website. Or, if a user explored nursing programs during a previous visit, the website would display nursing images or provide homepage copy specifically about nursing upon the next visit. In each of these examples, the user’s experience feels so utterly familiar that they’re unconscious to the fact that the content is highly targeted.
Enhance Thank You Pages
The thank you page that a user lands on after completing a form is another excellent place to customize content. Instead of just saying “thank you” for completing the form, the website can direct the user to stay engaged by taking another action. For example, the thank you page for a new student inquiring about an MBA program could include buttons that allow them to take another step in their journey by reading MBA FAQs, learning about the MBA admissions process, or touring the campus.
Zorilla has seen evidence of the potential return on investment (ROI) of a more engaging thank you page. In one instance, he said that there was previously next to zero re-engagement after the site visitor reached the thank you page. However, he said, “Once we tweaked the messaging, we saw roughly two of three users re-engage, or come back to learn more after they completed their inquiry. We believe this leads to a better outcome for both the students and the university.” No matter the method, it’s vital for schools to put themselves in the prospective student’s shoes and anticipate what they will want to do next. That’s content personalization magic.
Building dynamic website experiences are important to help students navigate their journey, but they are just one aspect of customization. A key tenet of effective content personalization is receptivity to how students want to communicate. Ideal forms of communication for some may not be suitable for others. Here are some other ways universities can build relationships with students through customized marketing:
When it comes to email communications, it’s important to determine what stage a student has reached in their education journey. Have they submitted their application yet? Are they still browsing programs? Based on the phase of the student’s journey and their market segmentation, universities should send prospective students the version of the email that fits best.
Many students prefer to receive text messages instead of phone calls, even when interacting with faculty. As in email marketing, universities first need to determine which phase the student has reached in their journey. With this in mind, the university can send conversational messages relevant to the student’s interests and needs. Utilizing this stream of communication via automation can be particularly helpful because it maintains a continuous flow of engagement and builds relationships with students through artificial intelligence (AI) software.
Personalization doesn’t have to be completely tech-centric. Sometimes the right approach to customizing a student’s experience is by way of an old-fashioned phone call. Miller said, “This method can help you confirm which audience or segment a prospective student is in. Once you verify this, you can focus the conversation on the motivations, barriers, and triggers that prospective students in their segment tend to encounter.” Accordingly, a phone call can dive into more in-depth topics, such as the extent to which the student is driven by earning potential, whether they are more motivated by making a difference in society, or how interested they are in campus culture and activities, among others.
Remarketing is an essential component of content customization and involves re-engaging individuals who initially visited a university’s website. This re-engagement occurs on other platforms via digital ads, and it prompts the prospective student to interact with the university again. This is a valuable tool because it puts the university in front of people who have already expressed interest in the school. Miller said that higher ed institutions can make the most of this marketing tactic by leveraging the data they have collected about the prospective student when they engaged previously. This data can help universities create a hypothesis about what value proposition, messaging, or imagery the student might want in the next ad. From there, schools can determine if their hypothesis was correct by examining how much the prospect re-engaged or clicked through again. Repeating this process can ultimately help universities understand which assets and messaging deliver the best results.
As there are many modes and means of personalizing content, universities will have to determine the most appropriate place to start experimenting. However they begin, they should consider how they currently use their website and digital assets and then tailor those to be more versatile, targeted, and impactful.
There are numerous ways a university can start, but Miller said the first step should be small and focus on one thing: “Think about which changes will entail the fewest barriers to implement successfully and yield the highest ROI. Experiment with personalizing that one thing to start, observe what changes, and further build out your content customization roadmap from there.”
Additionally, as higher ed institutions track and monitor each prospective student’s journey, they’ll need to ensure their insights and data are accurate. For instance, sending an email reminder to a prospective student to complete their application would be strange and jarring if they haven’t yet started to apply.
Once schools begin implementing their content personalization strategies, they need to assess the results of those strategies. They can analyze engagement metrics by:
- Observing how long it now takes a prospective student to convert from initially requesting information to submitting an application. If personalization tactics are effective, this period will become shorter than the average time it previously took students to convert.
- Monitoring how long users spend on a university webpage after it has been personalized. Schools will want to measure whether prospective students are scrolling through and actively engaging with the page. They can also determine whether the amount of time a visitor spends getting from one page to the next is shorter.
- Determining whether the university’s various online platforms are getting more engagement or clicks. Some other places to watch for heightened activity include remarketing via social media, email, and sponsored ads.
If a prospective student doesn’t engage after a school customizes their user experience, the school might infer that this specific personalization method or message wasn’t relevant. For instance, if a university sends a targeted email about admissions requirements and it doesn’t motivate the student to act, the school could conclude that was not the subject the student wanted to learn about next. With this information in mind, the school could conduct a semantic content analysis to close the loop. Or they could go back and experiment with other ways to personalize content and then test the effectiveness again.
Take the Next Step
A successful content personalization strategy can be beneficial in attracting and growing relationships with prospective students. Our team at Wiley University Services has re-engineered the application and enrollment process to be more streamlined, meeting students where they are. Learn more about how our innovative marketing and brand management team can attract new students to your university.