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Digital marketing and international student recruitment

Having a digital presence and the expertise to create the content that students want and need is crucial for Gen Z engagement and promoting your institution. IDP’s suite of student-facing websites allow prospective students to easily compare, filter, and engage with institutions, capturing quality leads and interactions that provide return on investment.

Between March 22 - Feb. 23, the IDP Live app was downloaded 875,000 times across the globe and our education websites received almost 131 million visits (sessions). IDP’s suite of websites generated more than 2.7 million leads and inquiries either to our counselors on the ground or directly to institutions. These statistics demonstrate that students begin their journey into international education online.

So, if you’re still asking yourself whether digital strategies are important for international student recruitment or how digital marketing can help your institution reach its diversification goals, read on.

Gen Z: Digital Natives

According to Datareportal.com’s Digital 2023: Global Overview Report:

  • The total global population is now 8.01 billion (+ 67 million YOY change)

  • 68% of the population (5.44 billion) are unique mobile phone users (+168 million YOY change)

  • 64.4% of the population (5.16 billion) are internet users (+98 million YOY change)

  • 59.4% of the population (4.76 billion) are active social media users. (+137 million YOY change)

International Education practitioners are familiar statistics like these and are aware that our target market, Gen Z, are digital natives. We don’t need to tell you that the internet is everything, everywhere, all at once – it’s a campus tour, a prospectus, an application form – a flexible way to reach your target market.

So, why is digital marketing sometimes still seen as: (a) difficult to get right, (b) prone to wastage, (c) expensive, (d) low ROI, or (e) all of the above?

The fact is, digital marketing can be all of the above when you don’t understand it and don’t have the resources or expertise to get it right. However, in today’s market, and with Generation Alpha (the truest digital natives ever) firmly on the higher education horizon, it is genuinely the best-fit marketing channel for your next cohort. Digital fits seamlessly into Gen Z students’ lives and affects their behavior. It is the perfect marketing tool.

Ed Kelly, IDP Connect’s Director of Client Success and Operations, says, “Possibly the biggest barrier to effective use of digital by institutions is the ability to track meaningful return on investment. Lots of partners want our support to better understand how earlier student touchpoints, such as email leads, are indicators of their ultimate enrollment goal.

“It’s important to take a holistic view of return on investment, because no two student journeys are exactly alike. Many international students who use our platform are connected directly to our counseling team for conversion, while others reach out directly to institutions or engage in other valuable ways, such as shortlisting.

“Our focus has therefore been on helping institutions understand these different user-journeys and how they relate to international strategy.”

Why digital marketing is the way forward

When was the last time you reached for a cook book to make a new dish? If you want to make muffins, chances are, you grab your phone or tablet and search online for a recipe. You will probably click on a one of the top search results, and be ready to bake muffins in no time at all.

And this is how students at the top-of-the-funnel start their international education journey; they search online – from their bedrooms, on the school bus, from everywhere and anywhere. It’s an established behavior among Gen Z that emerging, established, and even some heritage brands have recognized and are taking advantage of.

Generation Z’s totally-immersed digital natives don’t collect paper prospectuses in a canvas tote bag, (which is a bit like picking up every product in the supermarket when you only want the ingredients for muffins). Instead, they find a digital platform or information source they like interacting with, evaluate if they can trust it (crucial for Gen Z), and quickly narrow their focus to the information that’s important to them. If they are interested in getting more information, they’ll access it digitally.

Gen-Z will download an education search app, create an online account, and do their research there. They might join a higher education forum or go to a particular institution’s social media page, and they will find honest reviews from alumni to help them decide whether an institution is the right fit. They will do all this on their smartphone or tablet. If your institution does not have a strong online presence, prospective students might miss the opportunity to learn about it.

The importance of SEO and translated content

Digital marketing helps build brand awareness across a wider audience. Strong SEO (search engine optimization) is crucial if you want to achieve high visibility in online search. IDP’s team of SEO experts can do the heavy lifting for you in this area.

When a student searches for “engineering programs in North America,” chances are, one of IDP’s websites will be at the top of the results. Students are far more likely to find your programs if they are listed on an optimized search site like IDP.com or Hotcourses Abroad than on your institution’s stand-alone website – it’s as simple as that. Your institution is competing with every other college and university in the country and for many institutions, it’s difficult to manage SEO across multiple target markets. In contrast, IDP websites consistently achieve high search rankings, providing a valuable platform to promote your institution.

The content on IDP websites will always appear translated into the same language that the search term has been made in. Translated content has many benefits:

  • It’s attractive, welcoming, approachable, and accessible

  • It captures the attention of students at the top-of-the-funnel taking their very first steps on their international education journey

  • Key decision-making stakeholders (parents, etc.) may not be English speakers or have the same language skills as their children

  • Translated content improves visibility and reach on search engines

More than just leads

Leads are crucial; however, when done well, digital marketing can be about so much more – it can support students as they commence their international education journeys and help to ensure the best matches for students and institutions.

Prospective students are carrying out a filtering process as they search, they are sorting through information before making an inquiry. IDP sites are built to allow students to filter for the programs that meet their needs, helping them to find the best fit. Our digital marketing experts help institutions to build Content Hubs that are attractive to prospective students and contain the most relevant information.

Stuart Smith, Director of Product and Marketing at IDP Connect, says, “IDP’s development and implementation of market-leading products and services supports the needs of our students and clients. We turn our web and app-based interactions with students into a unique understanding of their behavior and needs, and this means we can develop and build the innovative digital services students want and will use to start their education journey.

“Our team works closely with stakeholders and collaborates with our development teams to design, build, and deliver the digital the marketing products that will provide excellence for clients.”

Accessing the expertise you need for successful digital marketing

IDP’s expertise and success lies in our scale and reach. We are experts in digital marketing and our websites reach students wherever they are, connecting effortlessly with them 24/7. Once they start their journey on an IDP or Hotcourses Abroad website, they will be able to compare, filter, and track their options and applications as they progress down the funnel.

Neil Pearson, Chief Digital Officer at IDP Connect, says, “We have worked with students and institutions to develop, build, and deliver the services required in today’s digital-dependent culture.

“Presenting personalized information and real-time, transparent feedback on a student’s choices and processes means IDP apps and websites provide high-quality and trusted routes to finding the best possible programs for each student’s requirements. And, as the IDP platform is omni-channel, our online offerings are backed by our teams on-the-ground who can help students turn initial digital research into realistic opportunities, applications, and enrollments.”

We know what students are looking at on our websites and the content they are interacting with. We know where they are geographically, and we utilize this data to help our partners get the most from their digital marketing and support their overarching recruitment strategies.

Clearly, digital marketing is an essential tool for international student recruitment. IDP can help you leverage your brand effectively across the largest network of prospective students in the world. We have the digital marketing expertise to help you create the content that will help prospective students discover and connect with your institution.

Learn more about IDP's Digital Marketing Solutions

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Jane Venn20 November 2023