3 Pillars of Digital Marketing for Higher Education Programs

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Chad G. Peterson
May 3, 2024

Enrollments in higher education programs are trending down. Colleges are feeling the impact of falling birth rates, increasing tuition costs, and concerns about inflation or loans. Amid declining enrollment rates, the competition for attention for higher education programs continues to rise.

It’s more crucial than ever before for schools to have a comprehensive digital marketing plan. This article explores the three pillars of digital marketing for higher education programs (PPC, SEO, and Content).

Pillar 1: Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising

PPC is the most popular pillar of digital marketing for higher education programs. It’s the fastest way to get your school program to show up on the first page of Google. Ads make programs stand out from the competition and help viewers reach school websites effortlessly.

When prospective students see the same ad enough times, they are more likely to remember the school. The mere explosion effect is a psychological phenomenon that plays a role in making an ad successful.

Ad copy for higher education ad campaigns

Copy for higher education programs should make the benefits to the viewer obvious.

While every ad campaign will include school and program names, it’s important to highlight unique details like flexible scheduling with day, night, weekend, or summer classes. Differentiating between in-person and online courses helps, too.

Every program should have individual campaigns tailored to a unique target audience. For instance, the majority of undergraduates in college classes are Generation Z, and the assets for new students in bachelor’s programs should be tailored specifically to them. Meanwhile, ads for students looking for a PhD need language that relates to people with more relevant training and experience.

While it’s tempting to create a one-size-fits-all ad and call it a day, we want our viewers to feel like the ad was written specifically for them. In some cases, referencing awards and affiliations adds prestige, but it’s important to communicate how this benefits students. 

Higher education program landing pages

Your landing pages are the beacon of information future students are searching for. Landing pages should include the following details:

  • A request for information (RFI) form and confirmation page or message
  • Data about career goals students entering the career have
  • Social proof (i.e., testimonials)
  • Deadlines for applying
  • A course outline
  • One clear CTA

Images for higher education ad campaigns

The goal of the images is to paint a picture of their ideal future. For some school ads, this looks like a student wearing a college jacket. For others, it’s a snapshot of what it looks like to be a professional in the field. 

Consistency is critical for higher education ads and landing pages. Ad images should correspond to the website’s creative. They should also be high resolution, load quickly, and be relevant to the program. Fonts and colorways should be consistent to inspire a sense of familiarity from the ad to the landing page.

Pillar 2: Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Higher education SEO is an awareness play. It helps schools ensure future learners see their programs every time someone searches for information in their field.

SEO plays a massive role in increasing organic traffic to any website. Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health increased organic traffic by 82 percent increase and applications by 24 percent in only four months with technical and on-page SEO

A fast-loading, mobile-compatible, and technically sound site improves traffic, click-through rates, and converting behaviors like requests for information and enrollments. Alt text is crucial to avoiding website accessibility lawsuits. Metadata, site structure, and internal linking are also essential for large education brand sites. 

The size and complexity of sites in higher education with hundreds of degree programs, ongoing updates to search algorithms, and increasing competition make ongoing keyword research, competitor analysis, technical SEO auditing, and performance reporting fundamental to success.

Pillar 3: Content creation

Schools must demonstrate E-E-A-T (expertise, experience, authority, and trust) to perform well in the search engine result pages (SERPs). Publishing helpful and relevant content is one of the best ways to signal to search engines about the quality and value of your site.

What types of content should schools produce?

Articles, photos, videos, newsletters, infographics, and user-generated content strongly influence an education brand’s marketing success. 

The rising competition in higher education and a new generation of learners are transforming marketing higher education, and more education brands are turning to social media than ever before.

The most successful content marketing campaigns in higher education repurpose top-performing assets into short text, picture, and video posts across all channels.

The primary objective is to share different versions of the same message on all platforms simultaneously to multiply the performance of the original asset.

Which platforms will you use?

Prioritizing the channels your target audience uses helps get the right attention to your content. Higher education brands should focus on the platforms Gen Z uses most often. Statista reports YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook are among the most popular channels for this generation.

With the surge in popularity of short-form videos, YouTube Shorts and Instagram Reels are low-hanging fruit for higher education programs.

What determines content quality?

A variety of factors influence the quality of content. In higher education, professionalism, relevancy, and accuracy are vital.

Even though longer isn’t always better, there is a risk of content being too thin. Content should have one clear target audience and be complete enough to cover the subject on the page (at least 300 words). 

Generally, quality content uses a heading hierarchy (H1s, H2s, H3s), is easy to view on a mobile device, has relevant internal links, and features original external sources. Google also stresses the importance of using active voice. Clear, concise, scannable, and skimmable content wins. 

Quality content conveys an understanding of the viewers’ challenges and guides them to the information or actionable advice they need.


Enrollment declines are pushing colleges to double down on digital marketing.

Paid search ads are the fastest way to position education brands at the top of the search results and enhance awareness with potential students. Meanwhile, SEO increases organic traffic by optimizing website performance, improving keyword portfolios, and influencing rankings. Multi-channel content creation fosters E-E-A-T, increases awareness, and stimulates requests for more information and enrollments—gold for higher education brands.

Whether looking to increase enrollment, engagement, or awareness—digital marketing for higher education programs is obligatory for success.  

Contact Perfect Search Media to build an out-of-this-world digital marketing strategy for your higher education program! 

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