Digital Marketing Strategies for Colleges & Universities (2019)

April 1, 2019

Higher education is constantly improving in order to accommodate for their students. In order to remain relevant and successful, this also involves improving their online marketing strategies.

Some of the common problems that universities and private colleges run into are:

  • Expanding their student base
  • Managing overhead costs
  • Providing value
  • Course customization
  • Appealing to people with low income
  • Developing an online presence

What if there was one way which you could solve all of these problems for an extremely low cost?

Content Marketing for Higher Education is the solution. In this article, we will explain to you some in depth and unique online marketing strategies that are effective. By deploying these tips we give you, you will be able to take your university’s online marketing ROI to the next level.

Let’s get started.  

online marketing for colleges

What is Content Marketing?

Content marketing is an online marketing strategy that focuses on generating high quality content for your audience in order to:

This can be done through a variety of methods, but the most effective types of  content marketing are:

  • Videos
  • Blogs
  • Webinars
  • Case Studies
  • Email Newsletters
  • Podcasts
  • Infographics
  • Online Courses

There are many other types of content you can use in the education sector. Now that you have a better understanding of what content marketing is and why it is important, let’s go over some effective marketing strategies for education.

12 Online Marketing Strategies for the Education Institutions

Each of these online marketing strategies for colleges and educational facilities are effective by themselves, but if you take the time to learn them all and combine them, you can create the ultimate online education platform. In my opinion, this is still one of the best industries for online marketing opportunities in 2019.  


Well, for years, education has needed a change. Expensive overhead at colleges has caused the cost of college to increase to an estimated $34,740 per year in 2019 in the United States.

As a result, the market is adapting, and a lot of colleges are considering reducing their tuition, or beginning to notice less students attending. This displaced body of students is seeking alternative education. Often times, the best choice is online education because of the lowered cost and convenience of it to students.

content marketing for higher education

1. Host Quality Online Courses

You can have the best online marketing team in the world, but if your product or service is not well orchestrated or is delivered poorly, it will not matter.

For this reason, constructing quality content is our number one online marketing strategy for the education sector.

In order to be successful with your content marketing strategy, you need to offer online courses that are:

  • Well structured
  • Unique
  • Interactive
  • Relevant

Make Well Structured Content

This means, rather than having a 2 hour long lecture, you want to separate them into a few minute segments addressing each small point. You also want to make them highly visual. 61% of people are visual learners, and technically, everyone is to some degree.

Give students additional resources they may need. Explain at the beginning of each section what they will learn, what may be on the test, and outline assignments just like a syllabus. Make this its own video for each section.

Online Education Needs to Be Unique

Online education has become fairly standardized in the modern world. In order to stand out, you need to have a bit of a personality. This means your courses or curriculum may not appeal to everyone, but that is alright. As long as they provide value and are not offensive, this is how you build an online community.

Over time, this community is how you build thousands of shares and mentions, build brand awareness, brand trust, organic search traffic, conversions, and so much more.

Make Your Content Interactive

In a later section, we will talk about the importance of making your content high quality. Another way to offer high value with your online educational courses is to make them interactive. Plenty of online resources allow users to interact with videos, chat bots, etc… in order to make courses more interactive.

In 2019, 75% of marketers plan on spending more on interactive content. This figure is only expected to continue to grow well into 2020, as the internet evolves to fit what people prefer. This will not only make your courses stand out, but make students more engaged, and make them learn more.

Make Relevant Educational Content

How many courses in your curriculum use a book that is 10 years or older? Maybe you are shy to answer that question. Either way, the world is moving so fast right now that by the time students learn about what marketing techniques worked 5 years ago, they have changed 5 times over.

So, it is important that you make sure your online education is relevant. Sure, this will take more effort, screening, resources, etc… but the end result will be students who are far more prepared for the workforce. Over time building this type of reputation can greatly increase the demand for your education.  Combining these strategic marketing plans for schools will help you succeed. 

digital marketing strategies for online education

2. Give Out Free Value

I have actually been to college websites that have tried to charge me just to read an article on their site. Personally, I found it to be offensive.

For starters, it goes against just about everything that education is supposed to stand for. On top of that, how can I pay for something I know nothing about?

The reason why content marketing is able to generate three times more leads at just 62% of the cost of traditional marketing is because it focuses on permission marketing and not intrusive marketing.

This means rather than trying to sell someone something II that they arrived on your site, instead you provide them with value that helps answer their questions.  

This serves two main purposes:

  • Ranking on Google
  • Helping Ideal Customers find you

Let’s be honest, universities have a wealth of information at their disposal. Not only do they have massive libraries of knowledge, they also have access to thousands of databases full of information.

I’m not suggesting you give it all away for free, but what I am suggesting is that you offer just a small bit of what you know as a collective Institution in order to attract qualified leads to your website.

Taking a small portion of your online marketing budget and focusing on providing free value to your prospective audience is one of the best return on investment for your marketing dollar you can get, especially in the education sector. This is especially effective for private schools looking for marketing ideas. 

online marketing strategies for colleges

3. Buy Online Education Tools and Upgrade Them

Neil Patel, arguably the most successful online marketer of our generation, in 2018 said that his number one growth hack for the year was purchasing online tools and then optimizing them in order to bring in much more traffic in order to monetize this traffic.

Think of it as purchasing online real estate. Some great places to start are:

  • Calculators
  • Encyclopedias
  • Studies
  • Infographics
  • Videos
  • Etc…

These will generate hundreds of thousands of visitors every single month. Chances are, a lot of these sites are simply monetizing this traffic by selling banner ads. However if you were to purchase this site, optimize the tool, and add it in as part of your online education program, it could be highly effective at lead generation.

On top of that, developing your tools even further could be used to help your staff, and also be sold in professional versions. Not to mention they could also be used as resources for students.

It is important to assess each tool carefully, to make sure that the incoming traffic will partially be made up of your target audience. From here, you will want to develop unique content based around the tool, and in order to guide qualified leads from that page into your marketing funnel.  Purchasing and upgrading tools is one of the most effective digital marketing strategies for schools. 

digital marketing for universities

4. Have Live Mentors On Your Site

The education sector has a very unique set of online marketing opportunities. Online mentors definitely qualify as one of these opportunities.

This could easily be marketed to a lot of people who find it difficult to get help with their online classes.

On top of that it is a great online marketing strategy for educational institutions because it:

  • Builds a good brand image
  • Encourages positive online reviews and testimonials
  • Provides more value
  • Makes it more convenient for all parties
  • Is very effective

The same system of having teachers assistants and mentors could still exist, however you could have students interact through either and online portal or on their own terms.

Here, students could easily sign in online see their scheduled appointments join a video chat and speak right with the student who needs their help from the comfort of their homes.

content marketing services for online universities

5. Communicate and Partner With Companies

While this may not be specifically and online marketing strategy for educational institutions, it is still extremely.

The entire purpose of college for most individuals is to get the amount of Education needed in order to get a good job afterwards.

You can argue that this is the responsibility of the individual, But ultimately if this is how the market feels, you need to listen to them.

Partnering with companies will help your institution to:

  • Create a stronger curriculum
  • Land more students jobs after school
  • Build brand awareness
  • Generate more leads
  • Build future partnerships

You can very easily take this success of landing more students jobs right out of college in your program, and turn it into an effective online marketing strategy.

The beauty is, you are generating value from the value you are giving your students. In this world you have to give to get. This sales strategy for educational institutes doesn’t just help you, but also your students. 

content marketing strategies for colleges

6. Engage Your Audience From A Young Age   

A majority of people who attend public education do so with the understanding that one day they will graduate and attend college or a Higher Learning Institution.

As a result, a large portion of your target audience is consistently moving through the public school system. While some parents pay for their child’s college education, the student still often has the final say in which college they attend.

This means that you have to build brand awareness of your University at a young age in order to stand the beat chance off building your online audience.

One of the easiest and most effective ways to do this, is to offer free online educational resources for young children. These could be in the form of:

  • Ebooks
  • How to Videos
  • Online Courses
  • Educational Games
  • Music
  • Tools
  • Etc…

This allows you to build brand awareness in your target audience from a young age, expose yourself to a wider audience, also market your brand to parents, make plenty of touch points before ever selling, and upsell/downsell many times throughout your customer life cycle, creating more LTV.  This is a great marketing plan for school admissions in the future. 

digital marketing strategies for universities

7. Develop a Brand

The education sector, much like retail, insurance, healthcare, and many other necessary services in our culture has become mundane and jaded.

This has led to a bit of an alienated feeling between students and their university. Students are beginning to feel as if they are just cogs in the educational system, there to pay bills, get a piece of paper, and leave.

This is not what education is about, and it is not the type of feeling people should be leaving your campus or online school with.

When it comes to developing a brand as a university, there are a few quick tips you can use to stand out from the crowd:

  • Offer online students class chatrooms
  • Show success stories on social media
  • Interview past students
  • Work with companies to help students land jobs
  • Offer incentives to students that excel
  • Provide free samples of your education
  • Maintain consistency between your channels
  • Offer more customization to curriculum
  • Keep courses open year round

By applying just a few of these quick techniques to your online education marketing campaigns, you will be able to differentiate your school, and begin to build a sense of community and commitment, despite the distance separating students.  Branding is one of the best ideas to promote schools, because it is so overlooked, and underestimated.

Pro Tip: To learn more about the importance of building a brand and how to tell the story of your brand, check out this guide.

online marketing tips for colleges

8. Become a Media Company

Bill Gates coined the phrase, “Content is King”. He said this far before content marketing was a commonly heard term. He has also recently declared that in the near future, every company will be considered a media company.

With the average American spending about four to six hours on the internet every day, this comes as no surprise. Companies who do not adapt to the change in tide when it comes to digital marketing will quickly as the marketing expenditure on content marketing is set to double by 2020.

Start on a few platforms that make the most sense for your audience, and slowly continue adding to the amount of channels that your brand is on. Over time, you will slowly be able to build a social media marketing strategy, that expands across many platforms.

For education organizations, the best social media channels to market on are:

  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • YouTube

Education based marketing is particularly YouTube, which is now the second largest search engine on Earth, behind its owner Google. The reason this is one of the best school advertisement ideas is because it is the future of online marketing.

Pro Tip: To find out which social media platforms are best for your university or organization, check out this guide.

With over 80% of global search traffic being video related, it is almost necessary to have a video content strategy in order to succeed at your online marketing goals.

On top of this, video has other benefits to it, such as improving your conversion rates, click through rates, SERPs rankings, search traffic, and more…

Lastly, video is important because it is the most interactive form of content. People need education that is hands on, that gives them the information they need quickly and in a well structured format.

Pro Tip: To learn more about how your can build a winning video strategy on YouTube, check out this comprehensive guide.

content marketing tips for universities

9. Focus on Education First

Sounds simple right? Well, to be honest, I think this is the one place that the present day universities (with the exception of a few) absolutely miss on.

With room and board, and huge stadiums, and statues, and all the most expensive tech, lots of time and energy get spent on improving the campus, but the overall quality of college education has been on the decline for more than a decade. In fact, according to a survey by Gallup, only 42% of college graduates felt challenge by their curriculum.  

In the same survey, Gallup also found that just 11% of business leaders reported that college graduates were effectively prepared for the workforce.

Imagine that? Could you fathom spending thousands of dollars per year on an education that not only did not challenge you, but failed to prepare you for the single thing it should? Is it any wonder that college students are looking for alternative education?

As a matter of fact, in 2018, it is estimated that 28.1% of all college students took at least one course online. This number is expected to nearly double by 2020.

With all of the new competition in the online education space, universities will have no choice but to provide the best education, or lose credibility quickly.

By focusing on education, you may have more failures from your online school, but those that do pass and graduate will go on to do great things. They will be the future spokespeople for your education.  

The best part about focusing on education with your online courses is that it will allow your university to attract a totally new type of student to your school. People who do not have the time to attend a traditional college, but are still seeking education want something that makes them feel their hard earned dollars are going towards something that will benefit them in the future.

25% of full time students are full time workers. Imagine if you could give this audience a less expensive and more convenient alternative for education?

Everyone wants to know how to promote school admissions, but no one wants to address what fuels admissions – QUALITY EDUCATION.

how to market your online university

10. Niche Down

One of the best things about the internet is that while it makes more competition, it also allows entirely new industries to exist that never could before. Think about it, if your university focuses on medical studies, but a majority of your students specifically study chiropractic medicine, you want to develop an online marketing strategy that focuses on your strength.

This will yield a much higher return on investment than trying to switch your entire curriculum to online content. On top of that, it is better to be the best at one thing than to be alright at a few things. This is especially true while we are in the beginning of the transition to online education.

The first universities that can master niching down their educational offerings will forever be known as the best resource for education in their field. With the difference between the first result and second result on Google being about 25% of the total search traffic for that given term, you can see just how important becoming the go to resource in your industry is to a company’s bottom line.

The best part about taking this approach is that your university can still maintain all of the other curriculum, and transfer it to online once you have mastered your top priority. From all the skills your team has learned, this task will be as easy as running the other courses through the machine you have created.

This is a great way to take your private school marketing strategy to the next level – be the best in the world at what you do, and build out from there.

best online marketing strategies for higher education

11. Give Your Professors the Resources to Succeed

Okay, so the absolute worst experience I had in college was an online course. Every other week, the teacher could not make it to the university, and instead, he would have us attend class online.

Now this was not the problem. All being born with the internet at our fingertips, we had no problem with staying home in our sweatpants to attend class. What we all had a problem with was the way that our professor ran the class.

For 3 hours straight, he would talk into his webcam from about 3 feet away, constantly putting his pen and paper up to the screen, and pointing things out, trying to answer 50 people’s questions at once.

If you are going to offer online education, GIVE YOUR PROFESSORS THE TOOLS TO SUCCEED.

Take this example into consideration: We’ve all heard of AirBnB. But did you know one of the largest problems they had starting out was that people were taking poor quality images of their home, and it was causing people to associate the site with sketchy and poor quality living spaces. Their solution: AirBnB began sending professional photographers to each house in order to make it look perfect.

Take pride in your staff. At the end of the day, being a professor doesn’t pay very well, and most people with that level of knowledge in a subject matter could easily find a higher paying career in their field. So, most of them are teaching because they love it.

Some professors are too old to understand the internet. Some just don’t have time to organize everything. Others struggle setting up presentations. Take the time to give each of your professors what they need. Whether it is a standardized recorder, program, editing, etc… Give them the resources needed to have high quality sound and video every single time.

Also, allow them to record their courses in advance. If they know they will have to talk about 12 lessons in their curriculum, and cover 38 key subjects, why not let them record it and edit it all in a few sessions, and then release the course? Then, students can learn at their own pace, and the professor can spend more time answering questions and helping students.

Using a format like this will also make distribution of class materials easier, decrease the amount of staff you need, make online courses more enjoyable for all, and harbor high quality reviews and testimonials for your brand.

online education marketing guide

12. Drive Video Traffic to Your Site

A vast majority of educational traffic comes from YouTube videos. While this will be the primary platform your content marketing strategy will aim to target, over time, it is essential to convince students to head to the university website in order to consume your educational content.

This is important for a few reasons:

  • Creating brand awareness
  • Build organic traffic
  • Improve your search rankings
  • Rank for more keywords
  • Become a thought leader in your sector

Over time, implementing this online education marketing strategy will take your site to thousands of monthly visitors. This search traffic can be directly linked to actual marketing dollars. Depending on the conversion rates of your marketing funnel, and the pricing of your courses, chances are that each person coming to your site will be worth multiple dollars.

By creating content that drives people to your site, you can be sure that both Google and users will understand what your site is about, and this will improve the quality of your visitors, causing higher conversions and better rankings.

Driving qualified traffic to your site is the #1 marketing strategy for school admissions. By doing it organically, your marketing costs go down, and your conversions go up.

Examples of Successful Online Education Marketing

Now that you are drowning in information about how to implement a content marketing strategy for your online education program, let’s take a second to review 3 companies that are doing an amazing job in the education sector that are great to model after.

online education marketing examples

1. Khan Academy

Started in 2008, Khan Academy has quickly become one of the largest online education websites in the world. It all started with Salman Khan, who sent over tutoring lessons for his cousin. They were so effective that his cousin began sharing it with his friends, and eventually Salman began uploading them publicly to YouTube for people to reference as needed.

Since then, Khan Academy has gone on to revolutionize the way education is administered across the world. But, it all started with a lot of the principles and strategies we addressed in this guide:

  • Focus on quality
  • Interactive content
  • Video content
  • High quality video
  • Tutoring on the side
  • Passion for education

The craziest part about Khan’s story is that over the total life of the company, they only received $5 million of funding, which to a lot of large universities is about half of a football stadium.

higher education content marketing examples

2. Udemy

Udemy started in early 2010. While they have a much larger selection of online education courses, much like Khan Academy, there are still quite a few things that we can learn from their marketing strategies.

A few things that Udemy does well are:

  • User experience
  • Amazing pricing
  • Fair split of tuition with teachers
  • Online review system
  • Messaging

The biggest thing that Udemy succeeded at was that they understood and approached their audience effectively. By offering courses to people who are looking for cheap alternatives to college courses with high value, Udemy was able develop a strong brand.

Another thing they did very well was allowing their teachers to make their money based a percentage of the course’s cost. This turns your teachers into your very own sales team, they are motivated to sell more and brand their own content. For the most part, the teachers with the best selling courses already have large followings on other platforms. As a result, they turn their channel into a free advertising platform for your site each time they make a new lesson plan.

online education digital marketing examples

3. TEDx

TEDx has become one of the largest online education platforms in the world, with their well known Ted Talks generating over 3 million views per day.

TEDx succeeds particularly well at these aspects of their online educational marketing strategy:

  • Working with outside organizations
  • Collaborating with field experts
  • Offering free content
  • Focus on consistency

While TEDx is not the ideal way to promote your online courses as a university, there are a lot of things to learn from their success.

First, TEDx has been able to generate such a wide viewing by collaborating with field experts and then offering video content on key topics for free to their audience. While this may seem like a waste of value, the amount of traffic and brand awareness it generates are beyond worth it in the long run.

On top of that, this turns each of the organizations they work with, and the subject matter experts they work with their own personal marketing team, much like Udemy.

Lastly, there is something to be said about offering free content to your audience. It’s becoming the standard for online marketing. And in an industry like online education, it is becoming more important than ever.
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How to Learn More About Content Marketing

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Each day, we produce video and blog content to help you become better content marketers, through learning skills like:

We also have a Content Marketing Master Class that we designed specifically for the purpose of taking someone who is a beginner at online marketing to being a complete expert. This is designed for business owners, students, and people looking to improve their skill set in order to find better opportunities in their industry.

Be sure to check out our blog and content marketing school pages for daily content that offers actionable and insightful tips and tricks from our team at PoofNewSales.

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Working With A Content Marketing Agency

Perhaps this all seems too overwhelming, and you are looking to find out more about how working with a content marketing agency can help your organization.

This guide has everything you need to know on that subject.

If you understand the importance of content marketing, and how an agency can help, but are not sure how to qualify the agencies you are speaking with, check out this guide.

At PoofNewSales, we help our clients produce high quality content for their websites in order to:

  • Increase organic search traffic
  • Improve lead quality
  • Build brand awareness
  • Develop trust
  • Drive conversions
  • Improve digital marketing ROI
  • Combine their marketing channels

We understand that there are a lot of questions going through your mind, that is why we offer free content marketing consultations. Give our experienced content marketing team a call today to speak with an expert, and learn more about how to develop an effective online marketing strategy for your education organization.  

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