Since its launch in 2007, Postgraduatesearch.com (PGS) has positioned itself as a trusted website for prospective students researching postgraduate study options in the UK.
“There’s a wrongly-held assumption that postgraduate students don’t need the same level of support as undergraduates,” says Eleni Cashell, Editor of Postgraduatesearch. “We wanted PGS to offer prospective postgrads that vital support and make it easy to find suitable courses, universities and relevant advice,” she explains. The site was initially bringing in around 90,000 users a month, but from March 2017 monthly averages rose to 117, 000 with a high of 150, 000 users in January 2018.
So, the big question is: how did the PGS team achieve such healthy growth? They put it down to a number of contributing factors.
Marcella Collins, Managing Director of Hotcourses Group (UK), says, “The first step was conducting surveys and hosting in-person focus groups with PGS users to understand the needs of our market. It soon became clear that the vast number of study options on the site was confusing and that users wanted more clarity on funding choices.” Equipped with a fresh perspective on the site, the PGS team began implementing a number of changes.
Key qualifications areas were identified and built into the site as dedicated sections, funding options were made easier to research and content became more personalised. First-time visitors now saw popular searches, subjects and articles, with return visitors seeing suggested content based on recent searches. The user experience was further enhanced by the implementation of more visual content and making both university profiles and subjects easier to find.
All of these changes went live in March 2017 and within weeks, the team saw an increase in web visits and engagement. Tristan Conoley, Hotcourses Group Web Analyst, looked at the stats – when comparing 1 April to 31 December 2016 to the same period one year later, visitors to PGS increased from 782,000 to over 1,000,000, a 32% rise in traffic! As for source destinations, London is responsible for 20% of overall site growth and saw an even sharper rise with a 45% increase in traffic.
Unique Content Strategy
Another vital factor that contributed to the site’s growing traffic was the removal of duplicated content, hundreds of thousands of words of it. “We had loads of duplicated content on the site, particularly on university profiles where copy had been provided to us by third parties. We realised that both the user experience and the search engine rankings were being affected by duplicated content, so we decided to remove and update it as soon as possible,” explains Eleni.
It took several months of hard work to implement this new content strategy and replace all the duplicated work with unique content. But by the time the site was relaunched in March 2017, all content was completely unique.
“It was a mammoth undertaking, but well worth it. Our users really appreciate the fact that our content is authentic and independently written by our team. This project has boosted our SEO to such a degree that entries to our profile pages are now up by 107%. We also continue to update profile content every year in order to provide the most relevant and up-to-date information to students,” says Eleni.
Click here (47: 56 min) to see Eleni’s presentation at Brighton SEO (2018) on why we should all be using unique content.
As vital as a user-friendly website is to business success, it’s only half the job done. The next step for the team was to get it out to market through B2B and B2C communications.
Student bloggers and social media campaigns were utilised to spread the word of PGS. “Facebook is our most engaged platform – we use a mix of article promotion and light-hearted content to create brand awareness and drive traffic back to the main site,” Eleni explains.
“We also work with a guest blogger studying a postgraduate at Swansea University who writes content for us throughout the year – prospective students love reading about on-the-ground study experiences. We’ve seen particularly high levels of engagement by pushing this type of content out on social media.”
Changes to Postgraduate Funding
Another likely push factor for prospective students landing on PGS was the introduction of new postgraduate loan schemes in the UK in 2016.
Leading up to this point, postgraduate students were mainly getting funding through scholarships, bursaries, career development loans and similar grants which had to be repaid upon graduation.
The introduction of maintenance loans for part-time students, and crucially, postgraduate loans which had similar repayment rules to the undergraduate loans (salary-dependent repayment, rather than graduation date), was a vital development for the sector.
“The new loans have made postgraduate study more accessible than ever before, and we’re really excited about the future of the sector as a result of this,” says Eleni. The new funding schemes have led to increased interest in postgraduate studies, which is likely to have boosted PGS traffic too.
Eleni concludes, “We are extremely proud of where PGS is today – our aim was to make it as innovative, user-friendly and stress-free as possible and I feel we’ve achieved it.”