When trying to attract international students to your university, it’s impossible to underestimate the power of a clear and informative website. In fact, university websites have the biggest influence on international students’ application decisions (Uniquest, 2019).
Although Gen-Z are often assumed to gather most of their higher education information from social media, this simply isn’t the case. University websites continue to reign supreme as the most frequently used channel by prospective international students, with over 75% of respondents in a recent study citing it as their number-one influence (Uniquest, 2019). Meanwhile, only 2% of international students credited Facebook as their strongest application influence (Uniquest, 2019).
Your university website is the most powerful weapon in your digital marketing armory. Unfortunately, too many institutions get it wrong. By failing to create an informative, easy, and enjoyable user-experience, you could miss out on hundreds of international enrolments.
As a tech-focused company working in the higher education sector, we’re experts at driving international students to our website. In November 2020, Studee’s VP of University Services, Lucy Wigginton, Digital Marketing Lead Ewan Taylor-Gibson, and UX/UI designer, Tom Baker, shared some tips to help universities update, optimize, and increase international traffic to their websites.
The higher education sector is facing a challenge unlike any other: Covid-19. Despite the unprecedented disruption, many international students are willing to delay their study abroad plans if in-person classes remain a future possibility.
An ICEF report released in May 2020 found that 40% of students would wait three to six months to begin on-campus classes, while 50% were prepared to postpone their plans for up to 12 months. The fact that students haven’t completely written off their study abroad plans offers hope, and reinforces the need to create university websites that provide clarity and up-to-date content.
Addressing the Covid-related concerns on your website gives you the chance to reassure prospective international students, build their trust, and keep them coming back for more information. This is likely to result in increased student inquiries, applications, and enrolments. Uploading case studies to show how you’ve supported international pupils throughout the pandemic is a surefire way to garner student confidence too.
Using Google Ads
With more universities, courses, and corporate pathway providers than ever before, international student recruitment is a fiercely competitive arena. Although a strong website should form the backbone of your digital marketing strategy, turning to paid advertising can help you appeal to a larger audience.
With over 75% of the search market share, Google is a titan of the search-engine world. Thousands of international students use Google to conduct their study abroad research, so investing in paid Google Ads could help your university get noticed. Whenever someone searches for the keywords included in your advert, your university could appear in the top four search results.
Your competitors may also want to serve advertisements to students searching for the same terms, so you’ll have to outbid them first. One way of doing so is to offer a higher pay-per-click sum at the Google Ads auction. However, the highest bid isn’t always enough. You’ll need to score an impressive ‘ad rank’ too. This metric determines if, and where, your advertisement features. It’s based on factors including landing page experience, ad relevance, and click-through rate (CTR).
Unlike other forms of marketing, you only pay Google when someone clicks through to your website. That said, the costs can quickly add up, so it’s only worth investing if you’re confident that you’ll make a return. It can also be relatively complex to set-up and monitor too, so you might need help from an expert.
Perfecting your landing pages
When a student clicks through to your site from a search query or advertisement, they need to land on a page that meets their needs. Website users are impatient; you only have between 8-10 seconds to grab their attention and serve them the content they require. Don’t waste this window of opportunity by making them dig around for information.
As Mogaji (2016) states, “prospective students check the websites to get quick information and insight into life at universities”. If international students can’t find what they’re looking for almost immediately, they won’t try to fill in the gaps themselves. They’ll bounce off your site and find a competitor that offers what they need.
Working out what students need
International students will be on the hunt for different pieces of information depending on what stage they’re at in their study abroad adventure. Breaking down the prospective student population into different categories will help you serve landing-page content that’s relevant to their needs, queries, and ambitions.
Following the categories we use at Studee could help you:
Explorers: These students are researching their program, university, and country options. They want to learn about student life, available courses, tuition fees, and reasons to study at your institution.
Deciders: These students have selected their location and subject area, but are looking into the finer details between programs and universities. They’ll want to know about entry, language, and visa requirements, as well as accommodation and course content.
Appliers: These students know exactly where and what they want to study and are ready to apply. They’re looking for detailed information on your university’s application and admissions processes.
Website style and design
Populating your website with bright, vibrant colors can help to convey the excitement of university life and express the personality of your institution. To ensure a positive user experience, opt for authentic images depicting real students and faculty, select a font that’s easy to read, and leave plenty of white space to prevent cluttering.
Poor website design can detract from the message you’re sending, and deter international students from exploring further. Here are some common errors to avoid:
Splitting content: Think about the user journey and try to arrange content logically. Splitting similar pieces of information over several different pages will cause confusion.
Lack of signposting: Signposts are obvious cues that direct a visitor to their chosen page and help them to navigate the site. Without them, international students could fall between the cracks.
Too much text: Long paragraphs and text-heavy pages are difficult to read and digest, so students are less likely to be engaged and interested.
Other website features to consider
Not only does incorporating a live chat feature into your website give students real-time access to your admissions team, but it also makes them feel more connected to your university. They can have their questions answered on their own terms and reach out for more information when it’s most convenient for them.
In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s even harder for international students to visit foreign universities before they submit their application. However, as (Armstrong & Lumsden, 2000) attest, “the internet offers geographically remote students a means to access the universities and information on their courses”.
By adding a virtual tour feature on your website, students can immerse themselves in the university campus without having to leave their home country.
It’s an opportunity to showcase your university’s facilities, services, and culture, and catch the attention of yet more international students. You can show exactly what’s on offer, and build a trusting relationship.
If you want to capture the essence of the international student experience offered at your institution, consider incorporating the stories and testimonials of current and former pupils on your website.
Choosing a university is one of the biggest decisions of student life, and it can take a lot to convince an international pupil to study somewhere. By having students and alumni advocate on your behalf, you’ll boost your chances of securing international enrolments.
If you’ve recently made changes to your website, it’s essential to evaluate their effectiveness. Measuring performance indicators like bounce rate, the amount of time spent on pages, and the click-through rate will help your university find a recipe for success.
Try out different combinations of text, color, images, content, and more until you find the best-performing combination.