4 Ways to optimize (higher) education conversion rates - and why it matters

February 25, 2022

Most higher education marketers recognize the importance of lead conversion; they focus on driving traffic to their sites and then converting that traffic into qualified leads. This, however, is only the start of the battle!  Conversion rate optimization (CRO) is one of the largest opportunities in higher education digital marketing. This is the process for converting visitors into applicants, and applicants into paying students. 

Setting the stage to get more from existing leads, while obtaining new leads can propel an institution towards reaching its marketing objectives. This is where CRO takes the lead. 

According to Vont, paid search accounts for 1% to 2% of higher education website traffic but generates 20% to 30% of website leads. So it's no surprise that most schools recognize the importance of CRO. 

This blog post will cover everything you need to know about CRO for higher education, as well as how to get started.

What is a conversion rate?

The percentage of visitors who complete the desired action, such as filling out a web form, signing up for a free tutor session, or downloading a free resource, is referred to as the conversion rate. A high conversion rate indicates that your website is well-designed, effectively formatted, and captivating to your target audience. It also shows that your ad copy matches the offering on your website. A low conversion rate could be caused by several factors related to website performance or design, as well as a discrepancy between what the ad offers - and what the website delivers. If your ad talks about a $50k scholarship for everyone who clicks on it, but the website then says 'Nah we were just kidding', you will most likely see an incredibly high click-through rate from the ad to the website, but chances are, no one will sign up to your dodgy scholarship deal. Slow load times, a broken form, or copy and creatives that fail to convey the value of the offer are all common causes of a low conversion rate.  

Here’s a simple thought experiment to set the stage. Imagine that you’re the marketing manager for a new education company. Your team has already established a fairly strong online presence, you average around 4000 website visitors per month, with about 40 of them proceeding to inquire about your program. Say your institution was looking to increase inquiries by 50% in the next quarter, leaving you in the position to somehow attract another 2000 visitors - and get another 20 turned into leads. It sounds like a daunting, heavy task - but this is the challenge that most institutions face daily. More enrollments equate to more leads, which equates to more traffic. While you can always continue to refine your online visibility, it is often easier said than done. 

But what if you simply tried harder to convert more of the visitors you already have? That is the core of CRO. It’s a strategic approach used by digital marketers to maximize the potential of their existing online audience.

Essentially - it’s doing more - with less. 

Calculating the conversion rate 

As with many other aspects of digital marketing, approaching CRO with a clear, measurable goal in mind is beneficial, and a natural place to begin is by looking at your current conversion rate.

Calculating your conversion rate is simple if you know how to define a conversion. Simply enter two values and multiply by 100. (Keep in mind that conversion might differ from institution to institution, and there could be multiple conversions that matter to you. As an example, while a website opt-in might count as a conversion for you, it might mean very little to your competitor) 

This calculation seems simple enough, but defining these numbers can help your team clarify its student recruitment CRO goals while identifying improvement opportunities. For example, if your ultimate goal is to increase your average monthly enrollments from 10 to 20, you could improve your website's conversion rate from 1% to 2% or increase your admissions team's lead-to-student conversion rate from 12.5% to 25%. From there, your team can determine which goal is the most attainable and strategize how to achieve it.

SEO Versus CRO 

While both relate to optimization - there are fundamental differences between SEO and CRO, and it begins with the objective of each. 

  • SEO: Increase the quantity and quality of search engine traffic to your page. 
  • CRO: The art of getting prospects to act once they’ve arrived at your page. 

While these two strategies can be mutually beneficial, the goal of CRO is to fully optimize your pages to boost conversions, with the same amount of traffic. CRO is an ever-evolving art that entails selecting the right conversion action, page layout, copy, compelling creatives, clear CTA, and an easy way for visitors to share basic contact information in exchange for the conversion offer. 

Where to consider a CRO strategy 

In general, a CRO strategy would be implemented on any of the following pages; 

  • Homepage 
  • Sign-up page 
  • Blog 

The importance of CRO for education institutions, however, requires that it be applied to specific landing pages, those designed for a particular purpose.

  • Program sign-up pages 
  • Independent landing pages (for direct response campaigns, i.e. paid search) 
  • Hybrid pages (landing pages optimized for direct response and organic traffic) 

The CRO goal for each page is to optimize page elements based on the desired (primary) conversion action for that page. Simply put, the goal for these pages is to improve and increase the number of visitors who convert to leads, or even students. This is done by making page elements (i.e. headers, creatives, copy, forms, etc.) work for conversion. 

If your website isn't getting any traffic, it's likely due to an SEO issue. However, if visitors to your site aren't completing the intended conversion journey (despite high traffic), you need to consider implementing a CRO strategy.

Here are 4 suggestions for increasing the conversion rate of your school's website.

1 - Leverage the power of the A/B Test. 

Another important aspect of CRO is A/B testing, which removes the uncertainty from conversion optimization.  Ensuring that landing pages (and their associated funnels) are optimized to ensure a valuable user experience is the first step! A/B testing allows you to quickly and easily test different versions of your website copy, offers, creatives, form questions, and web pages to see what your target audience and leads respond to best. Here you will compare the best-performing pages, and optimize elements based on the result. 

2 - Emphasise high-performance pages 

Adding a chatbot, or a live chat service to your highest-performing pages is a simple, and fairly painless way to increase your conversion rate. These are pages that generate the most traffic and would be different from institution to institution. If yours is a Courses page, consider adding a live chat service so that prospects can get answers in real time. 

3 - Focus on the copy 

Given that 80% of readers will read your headline but only 20% will keep reading, your headline must make an excellent first impression. Because headlines are so significant, it is critical to test their CRO. Conversion copywriting is challenging. Your copy must relate to your target audience, identify their motivations, outline their problems, and then present your institution as the ultimate solution.

  • Really know your audience 
  • Leverage the power of emotion to connect 
  • Provide clarity 
  • Keep it simple 

4 - Regularly optimize your landing pages

When it comes to CRO, one of the most important steps is landing page optimization. After all, landing pages are a vital component of any marketing strategy. The landing page is the first point of contact for the majority of your visitors to your institution. Your landing page typically receives the most traffic of any of your web pages, so make the interaction count.

  • Improve the loading speed 
  • Focus on the visual elements and flow 
  • Ensure that the page has a high mobile responsiveness 
  • Use precise CTA’s 

A CRO strategy aims to convert more of your website visitors into students. While each CRO strategy will differ from one another, the general steps remain the same. The bottom line is that even a slight increase in your higher education website's overall conversion rate can significantly contribute to the number of inquiries, applicants, and students your institution receives.

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