10 Steps to Attract the Right Students to Your Online Programs

Whether your institution has offered online courses and programs for years or is just stepping onto the eLearning platform, you want students. You need students. And hopefully, they need you too. ESM Digital suggests these 10 steps to attract the right students to your online programs, but we’re sure you have some of your own. Care to share with us and your fellow educators?

  1. Choose the right programs. Determine the programs which will serve your school and students best. Consider labor and market trends, area competition, and your own good reputation. If you’re located in the heart of high tech, and your brick and mortar institution has always been known for an excellent IT education, expand upon what you already do well. Reconfigure degrees and programs you already offer to an online format. Or create new programs that fit what you do best and what students are looking for.


  1. Partner with business. Find out what employers are looking for in their new hires and provide your students with the skills that will make them more employable. That may mean tweaking the curriculum in particular courses or reevaluating your Career Services department. Or it could mean taking a look at top employers in your area and customizing an online degree to fit their needs.


  1. Build a brand within a brand. You probably already have a great school brand. And while some institutions are reluctant to create an online brand they feel might compete with what they offer on campus, it’s important to remember that you’re likely targeting a different demographic. Online students are often older, and may be juggling the demands of family and career. Your online brand needs to appeal directly to those unique students, without alienating your existing brand.


  1. Know your audience. Is your future student a business professional ready to take on an intensive leadership role? Or is she a teacher looking for a more convenient way to keep up with continuing education requirements? You can’t find new students unless you take a serious look at who your current students are and what motivates them. Create student personas that include demographic and psychographic factors and build campaigns that speak directly to them.


  1. Target Effectively. Once you know who you want to populate your online programs, target them with a message they’ll understand. It’s not just what you say to them. It’s also where you say it. Being the number one answer to a student’s search query about a future career is awesome. But it’s not enough! Most of the time your future students spend online, they are not in search mode. How are you going to show them what you have when they’re not looking?

[Tweet “It may be necessary to shift your marketing budget to new platforms to get the best return on your investment.”]

  1. Make the investment. Determine the right marketing mix to reach your students with the right message wherever they happen to be in their decision-making process. Use a consistent brand voice and spend across channels with a variety of messages that target your student personas in a way that answers their questions, while helping them to move closer to a decision in your direction. It may be necessary to shift your marketing budget to new platforms to get the best return on your investment. You need to go where your students are, even if it means abandoning old school marketing methods for newer digital strategies.


  1. Provide useful content. As you build your online brand and individual marketing campaigns, it’s imperative that you create a variety of useful and visually compelling content. A blog with regularly updated posts. Emails that target segmented populations. Digital ads that appear on the sites your prospective students frequent most. Whitepapers that address their concerns about the industry they work in. EBooks that serve as how-to directions for school and career. Don’t just scratch the surface. Dig deeply.


  1. Be prompt, frequent, and consistent. Once a prospective student has expressed an interest in what you have to offer, you need to get in touch quickly—and stay in touch. If they’ve visited your website, send them an email. If they’ve filled out a form, make sure to call. Stay on their radar, while carefully straddling the line between nurture and nuisance. Nurture the lead that could become a student without becoming so much of a nuisance that you turn them away.


  1. Assist them every step of the way. That prompt response needs to be attentive and useful. Answer your prospects’ questions, and also consider those they don’t ask. Maybe they know they want to stay in an IT field but don’t realize all the options available. Educate them. Or perhaps they think they can’t afford that MBA. Explain about tuition reimbursement that many companies offer, or introduce them to the financial aid options available at your school. Your prospective students may have questions about how to finance their education, enroll in your program, and even sign up for classes. Provide them with answers.


  1. Use data. You can’t know for sure if your efforts to attract students work unless you have clearly defined and measurable goals. Data will help you hone in on the right demographic for your online programs. They will also help you determine how well your marketing efforts are working. How many inquiries did that popular blog post yield? Did any of those possible students turn into actual students? What about that email campaign? Did it have an open rate that led to conversions that led to enrollments? What works? What needs to be improved upon?

If you offer online degrees and programs that you want to promote online, turn to a digital marketing agency that specializes in higher education. At ESM Digital, we have a track record of helping our clients find students who not only inquire about a school’s program; they enroll, stay, and succeed. Contact us today for more information. Or share your own tips on how to attract students to your online offerings.

~Linda Emma