John SammonAuthor: John Sammon
Updated on 01/23/2024

Let’s say you have an online MBA program at your university and you want to increase the enrollment numbers for this particular degree. How exactly do you show up more in search engines for people searching things like “online MBA programs” or even “online MBA in 24 months,” which can be a potential selling point for prospective students?

Or perhaps a potential student is searching for a business analytics or data analysis degree. If you have a business analytics degree program at your school, what do you do so that prospective students know you offer exactly what they’re looking for?

That’s where a targeted digital marketing campaign comes in. Through strategic design, digital advertising, and SEO for colleges and universities, you can get the results you desire.

Meet With Our Higher Ed Marketing Experts
“The team at Sixth City Marketing is GREAT! We went through an extensive re-branding process in our college and John and his staff were with us every step of the way. They were readily available for any questions we had. I would recommend Sixth City to any person/company, whether it’s their first-time building a website and online marketing presence or if they are experienced veterans.” – Stephanie Berry, Kent State University

Your Questions on Digital Marketing for Higher Ed, Answered

Table of Contents

What Is Higher Education Digital Marketing?

higher education digital marketingDigital marketing is the use of online channels to promote a product or service to reach a wider range of your target audience – in this case, potential students. Successful digital marketing strategies make it so that your university, college, or trade school can be found on search engines such as Google, Bing, Yahoo, and more. You might think this is a simple process, but contrary to popular belief, there is a strategic, detailed way of implementing these digital marketing tactics that will give you the best results and an edge over the competition.

We all know that the online environment is always evolving, and it’s important that higher education marketing leaders are following the movement of current trends. The answer to increasing interest and enrollment for higher education through digital marketing has shifted to finding ways to get your college, university, or trade school at the top of search engines.

Traditional marketing is not nearly as successful as it used to be, meaning that the focus needs to change to leveraging a new audience through targeted content online. If you’re looking to get started on your higher education digital marketing campaign, we can help!

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How to Prep Your Website for Monitoring Data

Before diving into in any online marketing strategies, you will need to do the following steps to ensure you are able to track the success of your strategies properly:

  1. Set Up Google Analytics
    If you don’t already have Google Analytics on your website, you will need to sign up for GA4, which is a newer analytics platform Google migrated to in 2023. Once you have an account, you will need to install the code in the header of your website to ensure that every back is then tracked. However, things are a little trickier if you also use subdomains for your different colleges or program or third party websites for your courses or catalogs. Talk to your developer to make a plan of action to make sure all your bases are covered.
  2. Complete Your Account and Let it Gather Data
    Once the code is on your site(s), it begins recording data. We suggest waiting around a month to allow it to gather enough data for you to analyze and sort out. Once that is done, you can then start creating reports and customizing your account. Here are a few articles we’ve written that can help:

  3. Set up Google Search Console
    Given college websites are typically very large, another tool we suggest you sign up for, and connect to your analytics account, is GSC. This platform is free and helps you see data pertaining to search queries, website errors, website indexing, and security issues.Through GSC you can monitor critical issues on your site. And the bigger the website you have, the more likely you’re going to have consistent errors due to pages being deleted, page redesigns, and more.

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How to Enhance Organic Traffic Through Optimized SEO Content

The first step to creating unique and optimized SEO content is identifying the keywords you want to target. If you’re unfamiliar with keywords, they are essentially words or phrases that your target market would search to find your college, university, or trade school.

These keywords are going to be crucial when Google is crawling, indexing, and ranking your website’s pages and content. The practice of search engine optimization is to create high-quality and informative content that gives your university authority and provides value to readers.

Some additional aspects of SEO to keep in mind include:

  • Internal linking to other important pages on your site
  • Writing between 500-1,000 words of unique copy on each page and blog post
  • Claiming and verifying Google Business Profile listings where it makes sense
  • Updating program page meta titles and descriptions with keywords
  • Performing competitor research for keyword and backlink insights

Pro-tip: The SEO landscape has shifted a ton over the course of the last two years. This is due to the rise of the Helpful Content Update system from Google. Because of this, we are seeing a rise in importance of the following components on websites:

  1. Content quality  – Google is rewarding websites that include niche, helpful content on webpages. This includes FAQs, detailed information that is unique to your business, and much more. A key way to understand what types of content Google wants on your program pages is to do a manual search of your keywords and browse the search results.
  2. Internal linking – One way that search engines understand what pages are most important on your website is by seeing where else they are linked on your website. Naturally, pages in your navigation and footer are linked everywhere, but given their anchor text is the same, they aren’t valued as much. Find unique places to link to your program pages and vary the text you choose to link from.
  3. Author pages – Another signal Google uses is E-E-A-T which stands for expertise, experience, authority, and trustworthiness. One way they collect data for that signal is by analyzing information on your site and across the web from whoever is the author on your pages. Adding biographies can help direct Google in the right direction.
  4. Structured Data – This is a type of code that is hidden from users on the backend of your website that communicates key information to search engines to help it better understand a webpage called schema. We like to think of schema as giving Google access to the answers to your website like you’d find in back of the textbook.

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Ways to Increase Your Enrollment Numbers Through PPC Campaigns

Pay-per-click advertising is a digital marketing strategy where ads are displayed to your target market and advertisers pay when a specific ad is clicked on. Typically, higher education institutions will utilize this strategy when marketing certain programs, such as a new degree offering or a particular department that needs higher enrollment figures. However given recent changes in the advertising world to people under 18, the best strategies for colleges have shifted. That being said, there are still plenty of opportunities for grad programs, transfer students, trade schools, and community colleges who are interesting recruiting those over 18 years old.

Overall, the goal of PPC is to increase the number of qualified leads coming into your institution. Pay-per-click advertising has proven to be very successful and profitable if done the right way. Here are four things to keep in mind when implementing a PPC campaign for your school:

  • Identify the amount you are willing to invest in your campaign
  • Perform extensive research on your desired targeted keywords
  • Utilize audience targeting to reach a local or national audience
  • Create compelling content for ads, landing pages, and calls to action

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How to Improve Your School Website’s Readability and Usability

A key aspect of digital marketing that is often overlooked is your website. This does not mean you need to implement a total website redesign, but there are a lot of things you can do to enhance the likeliness of a successful digital marketing campaign.

When a prospective student comes to your site, they should be able to easily navigate it and not just apply for a particular degree, but be able to get in touch with you if they have questions. Take some time to do an in-depth analysis while asking yourself the following:

  • Do I have easy-to-read fonts and attractive color schemes?
  • Do I have calls to action on every page?
  • Are my site and internal pages (including blog posts) optimized with keywords?
  • Do I have proper page structure, including optimized H1 and H2 headers?
  • Do I have duplicate content on the site pages?
  • Is there a unique meta title and description for each page?
  • Are there any 404 pages that need to be redirected?

Here are some additional things you can do to improve your user experience across your schools website:

  • Use a structured menu – Many times, we see college site’s have a clunky main navigation where important pages get lost and can’t be found easily. Assess your current structure and find a format that makes sense.
  • Use calls to action – Be sure to sprinkle calls to action within your content to not only break up bulky copy, but create natural paths for users to schedule a tour, call your offices, or apply.
  • Use tailored writing – Tailor your content based on your different offerings. For example, the language and content you’d use to target high school students vs. adults looking for masters degrees will vary. Take this into consideration.
  • Use anchor text – On these pages, be sure you are linking out to pages that have helpful content for your audience, such as “how to apply to FAFSA” or “FAQs for parents.”
  • Use visuals – Another way to break up a page and make it easier for users to read and digest is images. Whether it be infographics, charts, or staff photos, a good landing page utilizes visuals to help users from bouncing off a content-heavy page.

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Why Higher Education Institutions Need Digital Marketing

There are thousands of educational institutions across the United States marketing their individual degrees, programs, and departments. Because of that, it is becoming increasingly difficult to show why you are the top choice. The question is, how do you make your school stand out from the competition?

In order to differentiate yourself and find the ideal students for your school, you’re going to have to focus on providing answers to your target audience’s questions through your website content. This can be done through various digital marketing techniques which we’ll get into, but first, let’s take a look at why digital marketing is necessary for higher education.

Below are some statistics that can help you decide to invest in digital marketing for your school and its programs:

higher ed seo stats

  • Over 80% of students have accessed a college website on a mobile device, with 37% of students scheduling campus tours after visiting their website (Chegg)
  • 67% of internet users use search engines as their first source of information for colleges and 64.6% of those clicks are on paid ads (tSunela)
  • 2% of teens and younger persons are more likely to abandon slow-loading sites (Nielsen Norman Group)
  • 50% of younger applicants use 5+ more social sites for college research (Inside HigherEd)
  • 84% of school marketing departments see SEO as a core part of their marketing strategy, but only 47% have a set strategy in place (Search Influence)

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Four Ways We Can Enhance Your Higher Education Digital Marketing Efforts

The Targeting Is Specific

When deciding to invest in our digital marketing services, especially PPC, we have the ability to narrow down who your ads are shown to based on aspects such as age, location, income, interests, and more. All of these factors help you get more qualified leads and make the most of your budget.

We Improve Your School’s Online Presence

The online world is continuously growing and not stopping anytime soon, and with that in mind, having a good online presence can be a deciding factor for prospective students. There are variety of marketing tactics such as content optimization, technical web improvements, and more that can all increase your current rankings to help students find your university, college, or trade school.

Digital Marketing Boosts Brand Reputation

We have certain strategies aimed at helping your business gain more reviews online, through messaging on your website, email newsletters, social media posts, and more. Getting more testimonials for potential students to read creates great leverage and encourages clicks and leads. We want to ensure each of our clients and customers are listened to and their feedback is valuable in making our team even stronger.

We Expand Your Current Market

Along with implementing traditional marketing methods over the years, search engines and social media sites can help you reach more potential customers your other tactics could not. It’s important to first review your current market and think about the goals you want to achieve in the long run. This can help open the doors to new ways for marketing higher education online.

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How We Show Results

Whether you are trying to improve undergraduate or graduate enrollment figures at your, Sixth City Marketing can help you surpass your goals.

When you choose Sixth City to be your higher education digital marketing partner, we will have monthly meetings to review campaign results and make any adjustments. Additionally, you will receive a detailed monthly report with important data and metrics. We show our results through:

  1. Increases in overall leads (both online and phone) which are tracked through Google Analytics
  2. Traffic improvement (overall, from search engines and from paid channels) in Google Analytics
  3. Boosting of keyword positions (in SEO campaigns)
  4. Decreases in cost-per-lead metrics (in paid campaigns)
  5. Matching leads we obtains through PPC and SEO to enrollments in your programs

The synergy of these factors combined is critical in gauging the effectiveness of an overall campaign. We evaluate each metric using industry-standard platforms.

Do you just work with schools?
Nope! We can help you if you own a software company that targets colleges, and are in need of experts who are experienced in advertising to that particular niche. Or even manufacture products used on campus.

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Digital Marketing Channels We Utilize

We specialize in helping higher education institutions and schools increase enrollment through digital marketing channels such as:

  • Search Engine Optimization– Strategic content creation, link building, keyword analysis, competitor research, and additional technical website optimization for targeting high-volume and regionally focused terms to attract potential students.
  • Pay-Per-Click Campaigns– Targeted paid ads via Google Ads, Bing, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms that have the ability to target students based on age, location, interests, and more.
  • Social Media– Content creation, scheduling, monitoring, and response on all of your social media platforms to show students you are active and involved.
  • Website Design and Development– Redesigning your site with changes to improve your conversion rate and encourage website visitors to contact your departments for information, visits, and application requirements.
  • Email Marketing– Writing, designing, and scheduling emails for your target audience to help reach out to new student inquires, nurture the process for students who have already requested information, and more.
  • Auditing/Consulting– Diagnosing areas of improvement for website content, site structure, technical issues, and various suggestions to improve your Google Analytics data.

Our Approach to Higher Education Digital Marketing

  • We create a unique strategy to match your campaign priorities. No cookie-cutter approaches here.
  • We have the luxury of offering high-quality service and attention to detail that larger, more detached agencies cannot.
  • We don’t take shady shortcuts that could improve rank superficially but harm your long-term success.
  • We have an in-house staff of writers and strategists.
  • We offer a varied portfolio of services to help your site’s conversion rate (design for conversion, video, social media) that we can work into a retainer agreement.
“I am extremely pleased with Sixth City Marketing. The college’s website traffic has increased substantially along with a significant increase in the quality of our admission leads. Plus, within a short period of time Sixth City’s SEO efforts have catapulted our Google rankings taking us from a buried page to top listings on Google. Sixth City has made a significant difference in the business college’s rankings and admissions.” – Michelle Parrish Manning, Kent State University College of Business Administration, Director Marketing and Communications

Get to Know Sixth City Marketing

Headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, and with offices in Columbus, Indianapolis, Chicago, Nashville, and Pittsburgh, Sixth City Marketing helps clients across a wide variety of education institutions to achieve their online goals through proven digital marketing tactics, and one of our specialties is higher education marketing campaigns.

We have more than 25+ years of combined online marketing experience, and we are eager to help your school not just meet but exceed its enrollment goals.

We want to work together with you to achieve your marketing goals. These could include:

  • Gaining  more qualified leads from prospective students
  • Boosting relevant traffic to your website
  • Improving your online presence within a specific targeted area
  • Return on investment from leads that turn into students
  • Increasing overall website strength for years to come

Why You Should Choose Us for Higher Education Marketing

As mentioned above, since we’re a small firm, our team of digital marketing experts strive to offer a specialized approach for each of our clients. We are focused on providing the highest-quality campaigns, always paying attention to the finest details of your school.

We first discuss different goals, target audiences, and locations you want to market in for your school. Throughout our campaigns, we keep in contact with you and your company to discuss what’s been working and what’s not through ongoing meetings. And before we start, we will discuss the ideal strategy for your school so we can adapt our campaign to your desired goals.

We know there are many digital marketing agencies out there and it’s important for you and your business to find the best agency that meets your goals and needs. At Sixth City, our full-service digital agency not only offers an array of fundamental services, but also all the benefits of a smaller, personalized agency. We are more than happy to help digitally market your school’s programs exactly how you want!

Who We’ve Helped Through Higher Education Marketing


Higher Education Marketing Success Stories

Kent State University – College of Business Administration

We worked with Kent State on their EMBA program, and compared to the year before we were able to produce the following results through our specialized higher education SEO, website optimization, and pay-per-click services:

  • Leads from organic search increased by 38%
  • Leads from paid search increased by 148%
  • Overall leads increased by 135%
“Sixth City Marketing has been instrumental to the success of our online MA in Translation program’s marketing/advertising initiatives. Their expertise in search engine optimization and web design have helped us tremendously in reaching our target audiences and in enhancing our visibility. Their ideas are fresh and innovative. It’s a sincere pleasure working with such a dedicated team!” -Erik Angelone, Kent State University Department of Modern & Classical Language Studies

Invest in Our Higher Education Marketing Agency Today

Are you ready to see how our higher education experts can assist you in bringing in more students to your school? We have a dedicated team of experts who will put together a strategic and successful digital marketing campaign to help you achieve your goals.

Not only do we offer a wide variety of higher education digital marketing services, but we are dedicated to giving you a return on your investment and showing you the results of our efforts. If you have questions on our services, reach out today to learn how we can help!

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