How Website Personalization Can Increase Undergraduate Enrollment

November 02, 2018
a row of grey apples with one red apple in the middle

Diverse. Connected. Early-adopters. Image-driven. Fiscally conservative.

Numerous lists across the internet — like this one and this one — simplify prospective Gen Z undergraduates into pithy attributes. Identifying these qualities might be helpful when thinking about how to shape messages for this audience, but they do little to help understand what Gen Z wants and expects from their online interactions.

We need to dig beyond the monikers to understand their desires. Increasingly, prospective Gen Z students want a personalized experience. Consider these data points:

And it’s not just Gen Z that expects an adaptive experience from websites:

The personalized experience driven into the market by Amazon, Netflix, Apple, and Google has changed our the experience and expectation of users across the web.

3 Reasons to Include Website Personalization in Your School Enrollment Marketing Efforts

If changing attitudes and expectations aren’t enough reason to include personalization in your enrollment strategy, let’s look at three specific reasons to include personalization in your higher education digital marketing mix.

1. The website is the center of the prospective student journey

According to our research results, prospective students report that a college or university website is the top place they turn to find answers. Our aggregate data from eight years of student surveys reveals that 85% of students rank the website as the number one research tool. Noel Levitz E-expectations report ranks the website as the “most influential information resource.” In both sets of data, we see that prospective students rely on the website more than email, chat, guidance counselors, or talking to admission counselors. As one admission client put it, “all paths to admission lead through the website.”

However, for all schools, the website is usually a passive marketing tool not much different than a viewbook — it presents well-designed content for consumption. Personalization offers the opportunity for the website to become proactive. With personalization, the website can remember user preferences — such as desired major — and present more relevant content. In addition, by mining tracking data and customer journeys, a personalized website can determine a prospect’s point in the customer journey and recommend an appropriate next step.

If the website is where prospects are congregating, the website is the place we should invest to personalize and influence the greatest number of prospects.

2. Website personalization is the only way to engage a stealth applicant

Stealth applicants or stealth prospects are potential students that do not reveal their identities to a school before applying. These applicants create headaches for admission offices because the school cannot nurture these prospects or accurately report on activity in the admission funnel.

A recent survey shows that 33% of prospects fail to identify themselves before applying. Clark University recently reported that 50% of their undergraduate applications were stealth. And, stealth applications are even higher for sophomore transfers with schools reporting that 62% of transfer prospects are stealth.

Since schools have no contact information for these stealth prospects, there is no way for them to reach out and influence them — except with website personalization. Personalization on the website can adapt the website and influence these prospects by:

  • Presenting more relevant content based on browsing history
  • Showing your school’s local recruitment events based on geo-targeting
  • Suggesting a next step — inquire or campus tour — based on multiple visits to the site
  • Using IP and geo-tagging to identify traffic from other colleges and universities and targeting potential transfer students
  • Suggesting related programs or alternative delivery methods for a particular area of study
  • ​Determining a geographic region and promoting the appropriate regional admissions counselor to make a personalized appeal to inquire

These personalization strategies can be used in both lead generation and yield campaigns to engage and call out lurking prospects and admitted students.

3. Personalization is the natural extension of your content strategy

When we redesign a website, we think about the prospective student’s user needs. We arrange the navigation, page layouts, and the storytelling strategy to engage these prospects. However, that’s as far as we can go in terms of actively engaging the prospect on the website.

Like an architect or designer laying out a house, we can have a site make sense, improve the flow, and make it beautiful, but we can’t anticipate the user’s every need. However, by introducing website personalization, we can understand more precisely the needs of the user and select the most relevant story, fact, or call to action from the inventory of content on the site.

We’ve already set up the site and the content to meet the needs. Personalization allows us to present the perfect piece of content at the perfect moment.

Website personalization leverages and reuses a site’s content to nudge and influence your prospects at the right moment.

The Secret Big Companies Know about Website Personalization

There’s actually one big secret that the big internet companies have learned — personalization drives revenue.

And it’s not just the internet giants that see the impact of personalization: “89% of U.S. marketers reported that personalization on their websites or apps resulted in an increase in revenue.”

With the website as the center of the prospective student journey and a need to increase student enrollment, it’s time for higher education to embrace insights from other industries and give website personalization serious consideration.

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