Perception or reality? It’s time to know the answers for your institution.
There’s a current reality in higher education involving market compression, increased competition, and hundreds of other factors that impact how marketing your institution to students needs to occur. And while there are more and more options and technologies to play a role in marketing execution, it’s imperative to know as much as possible about the personality and perceptions of your institution, the competitive landscape and alternatives for your audiences, and the current realities of your foundational resources like your website.
With that in mind, here are three enormously impactful (yet simple and quick) studies and audits to consider so you know as much as possible as you develop any marketing strategy for your college or university.
A competitive audit explores the positioning of your institution against your direct competitors—those schools with whom you most highly compete for applications. At Carnegie Dartlet, we place ourselves in the position of a student, absorbing all available communications one might find through search engines, websites, advertisements, and relevant print publications. Each profile—yours and your competitors’—examines narrative positioning, messaging, and storytelling tactics. Audits can also include a set of aspirational competitors—industry front-runners—to provide insight about successful positioning strategies and communication tactics.
In less than two months’ time, you can have a fully informed sense of virtually every aspect of your competitive landscape. This can be one of the most critical tools for developing marketing strategies based on market opportunity, differentiation possibilities, and owning an authentic and distinct personality that separates you from the crowd and connects you with the right students in the right way.
Are your internal stakeholders of the same mind as your external audiences? This understanding is critical for your reputational playbook. To get a true and unbiased sense of what the market believes about your institution, you need to conduct focused quantitative consumer research utilizing high-impact and targeted opt-in methodologies. Effective external perception studies should be segmented by region using DMAs and allow you to understand levels of awareness, reputation scoring, and personality-driven perceptions of your institution by specific market area.
One of the biggest risks for “misses” in marketing strategy is not understanding what your audience believes or is looking to hear and see from you. Too often assumptions are made or internal beliefs about what the market should hear from you are used. The result is a disconnect and an immediate and significant loss of opportunity. A perception study offers real-world data to help those internal discussions and planning go the way they need to.
It’s often said that the most important recruitment tool you have is your website. And if your website isn’t serving the role it needs to in search, content, and user experience, then you’ll soon be miles behind your competition.
There are many back-end technical components to your website that could be inhibiting your ability to show up in search engines, like missing or duplicate title tags and meta descriptions, 404 errors, and broken links. Additionally, content is the biggest ranking factor in Google's algorithm. Not only does optimizing content ensure that your web pages are visible in search engines, but it also provides a good user experience to prospective students. An audit and cleanup of any technical problems will clear any back-end roadblocks so your content optimization reaches its full potential and isn't weighed down by technical errors.
In today’s world of online search, if you don’t show up, you essentially don’t exist. And if your site doesn’t offer a fast and friendly user experience, your visitors will immediately let you know by going elsewhere. An SEO audit gives you the instant checklist of what’s broken, what needs fixing, and what’s actually looking good on your website and for search performance.
While they certainly aren’t the only elements needed in the equation, these three components are critical pieces to building a foundation and developing informed marketing strategies. Fortunately, none of them are daunting or massive undertakings and can be accomplished within a matter of weeks. As perception and reality merge more and more, it can be game changing to know where you and your institution stands competitively, in the eyes of your audiences and in the world of search and experience.
Want to learn more about competitive audits, perception studies, or SEO? Contact Carnegie Dartlet today—we’re here to help.
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