Whereas you may have considered your college digital marketing strategy to be separate from website design or redesign, current information tells us that the two are joined at the hip. Effectively, a well-designed website becomes its own campaign; it supports your brand and other marketing strategies. 

This article delves into various objectives related to website design and digital marketing in 2019. You'll understand why and how to continuously measure your outcomes, find out what's not working, and make the changes you need. You'll also learn the importance of a unified strategy to get ahead of your competition and offer the best user experience.

Where to Begin: General Objectives

As stated, you can no longer get away with utilitarian website design in this era of technological advancements and e-learning. Generally, your website must have the following characteristics:

  • User-friendliness
  • Offering value to your audiences – prospective students, professors, alumni, donors
  • Aesthetically pleasing
  • Intuitive and engaging

If you're not doing within your school's website in 2019, the chances are that you're turning away many of your prospects before they even get in the door. To start with, it helps to look outward and find out what other institutions are doing right with their website.

Once you have a performance-driven and aesthetically appealing website in place, it’s time to evaluate how it works into your digital marketing strategy. Your college processes may not have changed much, but the way that prospects find you definitely has. 

You want to be the answer to their questions online; talk to them effectively about what they want to hear. Then, slowly turn them from anonymous searchers to qualified applicants using marketing automation.

It all sounds so easy when we say it like that, but it's not really as straightforward. Don't worry; this article will show you how to achieve both objectives with a single strategy.

Prioritize voice search

Research shows that the number of smart speakers (People using Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and Okay Google) will increase at a compound rate of 47.9%. By 2020, 76.5 million people should be using voice search. This means website design and digital marketing should look into responsiveness to voice queries.

School webmasters must investigate phrases users are using on searches for college-related queries and structure content to answer these questions.

Remember that Google now picks the best website and offers it as a single result – be that result. 

Both existing content and new templates should be tested to find out how they respond to voice search queries. It means understanding how voice search differs from typed searches in format, keywords, and length. Finally, can users come from voice search and use voice commands to do things on your site?

Increase Conversions

Of course, your top priority is to increase enrollment by converting leads or prospects into students. Your digital marketing objectives determine your conversions – perhaps you want X new applicants or Y new students per period. Or you want Z people taking your e-learning course per semester. 

Conversions can either be in terms of lead generation (subscribing to a newsletter, downloading an e-book or filling an inquiry form) or making a purchase (applying for a course). For websites, Google Analytics tracks essential metrics that can shed light on conversions from various parts of your college website or digital campaign. 

The first step is to set up your goals from the Admin>>View>>Goals menu on the GA dashboard. Choose an easy and intuitive goal, such as “Newsletter Subscription”. Second, set the Destination as the “Thank You for Subscribing” URL and set Value > On and Funnel > On. The funnel name is your contact form URL. Set Required > Yes and Click Create Goal.

Once you’ve set up the goal, you can find your Conversion reports in the GA dashboard. Here are the summary metrics and what they mean:

  • Goal Value – the total value of conversions according to the amount you set per conversion
  • Goal Completions – total number of conversions
  • Goal Conversion Rate – the sum of all goal conversion rates
  • Total Abandonment rate – the percentage of abandoned goals

Using this information, you can also carry out A/B testing to find out which website elements lead to the highest conversions. Leverage tools to help you assess what your audiences respond to so that you can focus on strategies which add value.

Master your Higher Ed CRM

Colleges and universities slowly understand now the value of customer relationship management (CRM) software to their business. Just like a regular business customer, tracking prospects' journeys can help you to learn where you're dropping the ball and how you should improve it.  

These insights can be used to increase engagement while providing meaningful information that moves prospects further down the funnel. If you master your CRM, you'll eventually be able to predict your prospects' journey and create an easy path to enrollment.

Tracking student recruitment isn't easy. You have a large target demographic from different regions, speaking different languages and with access to various kinds of technology. CRM automation tools can help you to gather and store prospects' data, send follow-up messages, distribute content, and even communicate on social media.

A lot of higher ed institutions barely scratch the surface of the capabilities of CRMs they use. CRM reports can make sense of different digital marketing practices, website design elements, and how they affect conversions.

They can also track students’ lifecycles from information-seeking to graduation (it doesn’t stop at enrollment). This is useful because you need to provide value to ensure retention from admission to graduation – anywhere between two and ten years. 

Your CRM can also help you manage student communications such as university events, new courses, career fairs, and other student services. You can set up reminders to inform students about up-coming exam schedules, deadlines, and other information resources. 

Creating Personalized Experiences

Web personalization has been around for a few years, but the uptake in companies and institutions is still dismal. In 2017, 52 percent of companies were using web personalization, and yet a Salesforce report showed that only 30 percent of digital marketers leveraged customer data to craft more individualized user experiences. 

Personalization goes beyond admissions marketing; right now, you can personalize a student or web visitor’s entire interaction with your site. Personalization no longer exceeds expectations in web design and digital marketing; it has become a certain expectation. This means that higher ed institutions using generic messaging are missing out on significant opportunities to increase engagement.

Web and digital marketing personalization can help drive conversions by showing prospects that their journey matters. Often, during the buyer journey, people experience feelings of marginality, and personalization can help to replace it with belonging. 

There are five dimensions of mattering, according to Nancy Schlossberg. Tapping into them before a prospective student enrolls could help you beat the competition and drive meaningful engagement. These dimensions are: 

  • Attention – Personalization helps gear the message or communications in such a way as to make a prospect feel personally noticed and acknowledged
  • Importance – Follow-up calls/emails after inquiries, prompt response to queries or checking in to see how the prospect's search is going
  • Ego extension – Find ways to involve family in the acceptance process e.g., including a personal note from a family member with the acceptance letter
  • Dependence – Nothing makes prospects feel like numbers like the college search process. You have tons of generic communications that don't answer a prospect's unique needs. You can use data collected about a prospect to tailor a message that highlights the value they would add to your community
  • Appreciation – Once they have chosen to enroll with you, rather than bombard them with paperwork, show your appreciation for their decision. Offer someone to walk them through the rest of the admission’s process, and avail their contact information. Contact them to explain details and answer any questions they have. 

In this era of machine learning, there's no excuse for not building one-to-one marketing campaigns. Audience segmentation and targeted messaging will serve personalized content that will increase lead generation and conversion. Also, you'll have a better understanding of the behaviors and interests of visitors, which can inform future strategy.


Website design and digital marketing are now two sides of the same coin – one needs the other for the entire campaign to succeed. Web design creates the technical aspects that make navigation easy and intuitive design to enrich user experience. Digital marketing provides insights into user behavior that can be used to increase conversion rates.

Insights from digital marketing can influence web design choices and vice versa. As such, there is a need for constant communication between the teams. Where these services have been outsourced, having one provider handle both aspects is the best way to create a consistent message and experience. 

Regardless of whether you’re using in-house or external resources, the digital landscape is dynamic, which means you must always be measuring and analyzing. User behaviors, needs, and interactions are ever-changing, and an effective strategy a year ago could be less effective today.

Only by doing this can you hope to build a rewarding experience for you, your prospects and even students once they have enrolled.