Research conducted by UPCEA, the leading association for professional, continuing and online (PCO) education, in collaboration with Search Influence, a higher education digital marketing agency, shows that higher education institutions targeting non-traditional students do not reach and recruit prospective students to their full potential. The results of the newly released study reveal that the majority of schools lack search engine optimization (SEO) skills, knowledge, strategy, and effective reporting to leadership.
- Schools say SEO is important but aren’t executing it strategically.
- Institutional leadership is not informed of SEO performance metrics.
- Most institutions do not have a comprehensive SEO strategy.
The study surveyed 70 UPCEA institutional leaders and 68 UPCEA marketing leaders to understand higher education institutions' current SEO marketing practices that target non-traditional students. The study compares answers against best digital marketing practices, specifically SEO, to determine the key findings. In addition to this, the research includes an assessment of the SEO readiness of 100 member institutions.
The study finds a gap between what institutional and marketing leaders believe are best practices for SEO and the actual SEO readiness of their institution, indicating that SEO is an area of opportunity for many schools. According to survey data, although marketing and institutional leaders value SEO as a tactic, 51% of respondents said that their unit does not have an established search engine optimization plan or strategy.
“Innovative marketing practices are important to carry higher education through its current crossroads,” said Jim Fong, Chief Research Officer at UPCEA. “The adult learner is more savvy than previous generations, and institutions need to meet students where they are in order to have a competitive advantage in an evolving and complex economy.”
“The higher education institutions surveyed know SEO is important. And many think they're doing SEO. This study shows that most lack an outcomes-focused strategy. Even if they did have a strategy, they, themselves, indicate they lack the skills to execute or the reporting structure to hold their teams accountable,” says Will Scott, Search Influence Co-Owner and Chief Executive Officer. “Given the dollars they're spending and the proven returns from search engine optimization, it's clear that a focus on SEO would have a big impact on schools' student funnel.”
The study suggests that current SEO strategies are lacking because PCO units do not have the skills, staff, or resources to develop one. A second contributing factor is the lack of leadership awareness of SEO-related metrics that would provide a deeper case for support to inform decisions such as budget, department staffing and employee skill development.
The research was conducted as part of a two-year partnership between Search Influence and UPCEA. This partnership provides UPCEA members with custom Search Influence resources that help improve student recruitment through SEO and paid ad strategies.
The full report can be viewed online: Higher Education SEO Research Study.
Search Influence is a women-owned, ROI-focused digital marketing agency that helps institutions drive prospects into and through the recruitment funnel with analytics-backed strategies, including search engine optimization and paid digital advertising. Founded in 2006, Search Influence’s core purpose is to optimize potential. Search Influence collaborates with well-regarded institutions both nationally and locally in New Orleans, including Tulane University School of Professional Advancement, University of Maryland School of Public Policy, and Palo Alto University.
UPCEA is the leading association for online and professional continuing education. Founded in 1915, UPCEA now serves the leading public and private colleges and universities in North America. The association supports its members with innovative conferences and specialty seminars, research and benchmarking information, professional networking opportunities, and timely publications. Based in Washington, D.C., UPCEA builds greater awareness of the vital link between adult learners and public policy issues.