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8 Takeaways from the SMX Conference for Higher Education Marketers

Nov. 1, 2018
4 months, 3 weeks ago

Last week a few of our team members had the opportunity to attend the SMX Conference in New York City, which was jam-packed with insightful sessions and cutting-edge learning opportunities. Even though higher ed wasn’t the focus of the event, there were some game-changing takeaways for universities and colleges (and all of us at Carnegie Dartlet!) to incorporate into digital marketing and SEO strategies. We’ve put together the most actionable lessons from the conference and applied them to the higher education realm.

Segment your audience

This is a fundamental yet crucial reminder: segmenting your audience is a must. Your prospective students aren’t all the same, so don’t treat your digital campaigns as “one size fits all.” Rather than feeding varying students the same run-of-the-mill messaging, segment your audiences into uniquely identified personas so you can reach them with highly targeted, appropriate messaging.

Apply messaging to site content

Once you’ve segmented your audiences (tip: consider using Google Analytics Audience Reports to do this) and their goals, map everything out clearly in an intuitive path so you can match your site content to prospective students’ needs. One of the biggest missed opportunities within higher ed is the development of “evergreen” content: content that grows in value (and performance) over time and is a sustainable resource for site visitors. Evergreen content typically helps address questions or concerns your site visitors may have at large—for example, content for an MBA program page that helps outline the types of careers you can pursue with an MBA degree.

“New” doesn’t equal “better”

Let’s face it: there have been innumerable updates recently to the Google Ads interface and ad formats—but new doesn’t always mean better. Instead of updating your ads to follow the latest features while immediately turning off your current ads, take the time to test new tactics before fully diving into a new approach. If you’re concerned about straying from tried-and-true strategies, try this tip to budget for new tests: spend 70% of your budget on proven tactics, followed by 20% for “old tactics with a new style” (think expanded text ads with increased character counts). Then spend the remaining 10% on entirely new testing (like a new platform or a dramatically different ad format like LinkedIn Dynamic ads).

Machine learning is the future

Like it or not, machine learning is the future of digital marketing. Google has made it clear that their machine learning can bid on and optimize toward far more signals and factors than any human can in real-time bidding situations, so it’s time to start giving up a little bit of control. Google has also recommended that when optimizing toward machine learning in your search campaigns, you should first refine your strategy. In other words, eliminate what isn’t working about your current approach (i.e., removing poorly performing devices from targeting and honing in on best-performing geographic markets) and then let the machine learning do the dirty work to make what’s already working work better.

Improve site speed for better rankings

The results of an ongoing study on the impact of site speed on ranking were shared at the conference, with the core focus on whether Optimization score or Page Speed score from Google’s PageSpeed Insights Tool showed a strong correlation to ranking performance. It was found that Optimization Score holds a strong correlation (0.97) to ranking performance, meaning the higher your Optimization Score, the higher your rankings are likely to be. Meanwhile, the PageSpeed score of a site showed no correlation to ranking. So when optimizing for site speed, pay closer attention to issues with Optimization score and the recommended fixes.

Search engine penalties demystified

There’s no such thing as an “algorithmic penalty.” Yes, search engines update their ranking algorithms on a daily basis, but these updates do not apply a penalty to your school’s site. The fluctuations in site performance you may experience after an algorithm update are only natural, as search results are being updated broadly for all users.

A crawl budget as told by Bing

Bing described a “crawl budget” as how much the crawler (i.e., Bingbot) thinks it can crawl your site without negatively impacting performance for your regular site visitors. At the end of the day, Bing would ideally like to re-crawl your site every two weeks, and your site’s technical infrastructure should accommodate that.

What’s coming next

Even with the rollout of a new Google interface and Bing’s recent announcement about LinkedIn targeting capabilities being used in Bing advertising, there’s still plenty to come. Later this year, Google will be introducing four new reporting metrics to help advertisers pinpoint exactly where they stand in search engine results and empower them to improve their standings.

Also, though Google’s mobile-first indexing has arrived, it will likely take a long time to reach the higher education market, as Google appears to be focusing on migrating small sites (in terms of number of pages) to the mobile-first indexation process, low volume, and a poor mobile experience site. The sheer size and general mobile friendliness of college and university websites are likely the main reasons we aren’t seeing many cases of mobile-first indexing, but it’s certainly on the horizon. Stay tuned for more updates!

Wondering what else is new in higher education digital marketing? Feel free to contact us.

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