The higher education sector is more competitive than ever, and with an increasing range of courses to study and institutions to attend, students are turning to the internet to assist them in the decision making process.

Students know that they can find out information regarding universities and courses on the internet, and as young people are embracing online, so search marketing is ever more important for higher education providers.

But in order to effectively use the different digital marketing channels available, specific media should be optimised for each stage of the purchase funnel, starting right from the outset when a potential student is beginning to research courses or institutions.


Display campaigns work well at the awareness stage of the purchase process, when students are initially searching for the right institution for them. At this point, paid campaigns are ideal for reaching a wide audience

From an organic side of things, an institution must ensure that it ranks highly for degree-specific keywords in Google – if an institution receives good business from the intake on a particular degree programme, then it must ensure that it invests in SEO to rank organically for that degree specific keywords.  For instance, if a potential student is looking for a degree but they don’t know where to study and an institution ranks number 1 in Google, then this will raise awareness.

At this stage institutions should also start bidding on these generic keywords via Paid Search and Social Advertising for student acquisition.

Key Channels at this stage are – Display advertising, Paid Advertising (search and social) and Organic Search


Moving further down the purchase funnel to the consideration stage of student acquisition is when social media marketing and Digital PR can make a big impact. Students know that on the internet they can find forums, league tables and honest reviews of different courses and institutions. It is important, therefore, that Higher Education providers are signed up for ratings tables and Digital PR campaigns are implemented.

Social advertising could also be utilised at this stage for more targeted campaigns. Social media platforms are great for targeting your advertising towards specific groups of people that share common interests. For example, targeted advertising of physics degrees to the followers of respected nuclear scientists.

Universities can also be more targeted with Google Search during the consideration stage, by looking at long-tail keywords where students have already identified a specific set course. This is important so that you are optimised to rank for these long-tail keywords.


At the stage where we want our audience to take that first action, interactivity is vital.

The institution’s website should be interactive and user-friendly.  It should not be bland, but instead should include interesting features like 360 degree views of the campus, video interviews with current students, free prospectus downloads specific to each different department or subject area.

Once at the stage where we want our audience to make an action, creative, interactive campaigns on social media should be used to promote specific courses, events and open days.

Eventually when someone lands on the website, this also needs to be optimised in terms of conversions. Application forms for courses should be easy to fill out with lots of drop-downs and fewer fields. It should be easy for people to sign-up, and forms should be flexible so that applicants can return to them, rather than having to fill them out in one go.

4Ps isn’t just another SEO agency. To discuss how SEO and technology are evolving together in order to keep pace with new developments in user interaction and analytics, give us a call on +44 (0)207 607 5650 for a no-obligation coffee and chat about data, marketing and user behaviour across all inbound channels.