Higher Education Marketing: 25 Tips for an effective higher education marketing strategy

The higher education landscape is more competitive than ever. We don’t need to tell you that. If you work as a higher education marketer, you know your institution faces greater competition from your peers. However, tightening budgets, saturated communications and emerging channels mean institutions must achieve more with less.

Universities, colleges, and sixth forms once relied on open days and brochures to do the bulk of their marketing. Some may run a local advertising campaign to spark interest and engagement. That no longer works – everything has moved online. The marketing of higher education is now all about content. From long-form blog articles to social media content and search engine optimisation (SEO), the market is changing in education, and so are the strategy and tactics.

Rethinking your higher education marketing efforts doesn’t have to be daunting, however. With a few ingenious tips (or 25, to be precise), you can expand your reach, skyrocket student engagement, and communicate your institution’s advantages. 

Here are 25 proven strategies for the marketing of higher education:

Data data data. It should drive higher education marketing strategies 

Measuring your success is fundamental to getting results. The more information you learn about what students like and want, the better you can tailor your digital marketing strategies to boost their engagement and overall satisfaction.

1. The Importance of Measurement

The first step for any successful marketing of higher education is to determine your key performance indicators (KPIs). These metrics will assess the effectiveness of your marketing strategies. Otherwise, there is no barometer to determine success. 

Set measurable goals like increasing application numbers, boosting website traffic, or enhancing social engagement. Evaluate these metrics at regular intervals to quantify success, identify areas for improvement, and demonstrate a return on investment (ROI) to internal stakeholders. You should also determine the threshold for success, giving you a clear target for which to aim.

2. Utilise A/B Testing

A/B testing involves creating two versions of the same content – be it a webpage, ad, or email. The two versions have slightly different elements, including headlines, calls-to-action (CTA), or images. Sometimes, just changing the colour of a CTA button can result in much higher click rates. Test variations of this content to see which performs the best. Based on the results, select the best-performing marketing content and use it going forward.

You can continually refine your marketing strategy for higher education using this approach, ensuring your message resonates with your target audience. Doing so can lead to consistent improvements in engagement and conversion rates. 

3. Use Existing Data

Leverage data from past marketing activities to improve current strategies. The best resources most higher education institutions have at their disposal are the opinions and interactions of previous students. Using these datasets, you can analyse engagement rates, conversion data, and user feedback to identify what works. 

Taken together, you can tailor your content and communications, optimising future efforts. Just like A/B testing measures the difference between two versions of content, this approach compares your present results to past strategies. Marketing for universities doesn’t have to be complicated and nine times out of ten, traditional marketing techniques with an online twist will help you create a marketing strategy that’ll work.

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Strategy and Market Insight for higher ed marketing

In college or university marketing, there are two key factors to understand: your audience and your competition. Knowing these elements inside out helps guide your messaging and strategy, it also ensures you create a distinct appeal to prospective students. 

4. Know Your Target Audience

Who is applying to your institution? What are their educational goals? Why would they consider your institution over your competitors? Answering these questions is key to crafting more personalised and effective marketing strategies.

Utilise demographic data, surveys, and social media analytics to create detailed student personas. You can then tailor your marketing messaging to address the specific needs and aspirations of these personas. 

For example, if a sizeable portion of potential students are interested in sustainability and environmental sciences, highlight your institution’s efforts in these areas, including relevant clubs, research opportunities, and green initiatives on campus. 

5. Put Your Team Front and Centre

Your team are the backbone of your institution’s success. Rather than being a bland, faceless organisation, use your team to humanise your brand. After all, the lecturers, teachers, lab assistants, and front-of-house staff are the people your students will work with day-to-day. Showcase their expertise and build trust in your organisation. 

Use videos, interviews, and testimonials to introduce team members and their passion for education. Hearing their future educators talk about the course or institution helps prospective students connect with your institution. That makes it more likely they’ll choose to study with you.  You’ll see that the theme is great content across digital marketing channels. 

6. Monitor Competitors

Marketing for higher education is inherently competitive. You’re all fighting for a limited pool of students every year. So, if one competitor launches a particularly successful social media campaign or generates tons of traffic thanks to their informative blog articles, it’s your loss.

That’s why you should keep a close eye on your competitors’ marketing strategies. Look at their social media, websites, and advertising campaigns to understand their tactics, messaging, and innovations.

Ask yourself: What do they do well? And how can we improve upon their success? In SEO it’s often known as the skyscraper technique, see what works and then improve upon it. You don’t been to reinvent the wheel. Marketing channels change enough already, simple key strategies will always work but the method of delivering them may change based on the latest marketing methods.

Branding and Reputation Across Digital Marketing

Jeff Bezos once said, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” Your branding isn’t the pleasant things students say to your face; it’s the comments online, your reputation, and your overall success rates.

7. Develop a Strong Brand Identify

Your brand is more than just a logo or slogan; it represents the values and culture of your institution. You want to develop a cohesive brand that identifies your academic strengths and highlights what makes your institution unique.

Oxford University prides itself on being a world-class institution, boasting the best research and opportunities for academic excellence. In contrast, the Confetti Institute of Creative Technologies – a part of Nottingham Trent University – is all about creativity and passion. Where Oxford University’s social media broadcasts their recent discoveries, Confetti shows off gigs, concerts, and passion projects from their students. 

8. Showcase Faculty Expertise

The quality of the faculty is a significant draw for students. Highlight the accomplishments and expertise of your instructors through dedicated profiles, news articles, and features on your website and social media. 

Sharing their research, awards, and involvement in the industry positions your institution as a leader in education and research, attracting students who seek top-tier educational experiences. An in-depth conversation with a faculty member about their educational experience, passion for students, and current interests can also work wonders.

9. Monitor Online Reputation

Your online reputation can have a profound impact on whether or not students choose your institution. Once, your reputation was beyond your control. However, with the advent of social media, you can control the narrative, helping shape how students view your college or university.

Monitor what is being said about your institution on social media, online forums, and review sites. Don’t just dismiss concerns out of hand – that only exacerbates the matter. Listen to what students say and take action if necessary. But if a rumour is harming public perception, set the record straight. Taking a proactive approach can enhance your institution’s image and mitigate any negative impacts. 

10. Promote Success Rates

Why do students come to your institution? In part, it could be a passion for a particular subject. But, usually, it’s about what comes next – students want successful careers and fantastic job opportunities. Demonstrating the success of your alumni is, therefore, a potent marketing tool. 

Share statistics on graduate employment rates, notable alumni achievements, and real-life success stories. Such “social proof” can skyrocket trust in your institution, providing a tangible sense of what students can achieve through your programs. 

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Digital Presence and Content Marketing Strategy

Let’s be honest: young people are glued to their phones. If you want to reach a modern audience, a highly effective digital marketing strategy is critical. Your marketing for higher education should include blogs, social media posts, and video marketing. 

11. Leverage SEO

Search engine optimisation is the art of boosting your website’s (or a particular webpage) ranking in the search engine results page (SERP) – usually Google. The higher your rank, the more authoritative your institution becomes and the more website traffic you receive. 

Optimise your website’s content with relevant keywords that potential students are likely to search for. This includes courses, campus facilities, and student life. Add informative content using these keywords to become an industry authority.

You should also factor in your site’s load speed, backlinks, and other aspects of SEO to achieve the best results. 

We believe that this SEO is one of the most under-utilised methods in the marketing of higher education and it’ll be one of the biggest higher education marketing trends of the next few years and that’s why we’ve dedicated a whole section to it in this post. Yes, content is crucial, and yes, video is essential, but where is this content going to live? If it lives on your website, you’re building one of the best assets you can ever have.

12. Engage with Social Media Wisely

Social media is a double-edged sword. If used wisely, it can boost your outreach efforts. However, any social media faux pas can harm your institution’s reputation.

That being said, it’s a fundamental pillar of marketing for higher education. Focus on platforms where your target audience is most active, whether it’s Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, or TikTok. Create compelling content, such as campus life highlights, student achievements, and event updates.

You might consider creating several different channels if your institution is big enough – for example, a channel per department or one specifically for open days. But be careful not to dilute your messaging too much.

13. Invest in Quality Content

High-quality, informative content can establish your institution as a thought leader and attract more prospective students. Invest in well-researched articles, infographics, and white papers that provide value to your audience. 

Topics could range from tips on choosing the right course to insights into different career paths to updates on academic research. Quality content not only engages readers but also encourages them to share it, expanding your reach.

14. Create a Blog

Blogs are the simplest way to enhance your SEO efforts. It serves as a hub to educate prospective and current students about your college or university. You could cover campus news stories or highlight upcoming events. 

You should also provide information about applying for higher education, creating detailed guides on preparing an application and what to expect once they’re successful. These topics see a lot of traction, and students will expect helpful resources. Think about the kind of information your students want to learn about – for example, local events, living away from home, and career opportunities. 

15. Video Content Is No Longer A Nice To Have

Young people prefer video to other forms of content. That’s a fact. The average person, in 2023, was watching 17 hours of online videos per week

Whether you’re posting on your website or on YouTube, building an audience is one of the best ways to market your institution. You could provide a virtual tour of the campus, conduct interviews with faculty and current students, or explain complex academic concepts. You could even launch a podcast if you think you’ve got a big enough audience. 

Video content is highly shareable and can be used across multiple platforms. It’s the best way to provide a real-life feel of what it’s like to study at your institution.

Engagement and Interaction With Your Higher Education Institutions

Marketing for higher education isn’t a one-way street. It’s as much about putting out content as it is about generating student engagement. Create bottom-of-the-funnel content to translate student interest into genuine enrolment. 

16. Offer Virtual Tours

With more students than ever coming from overseas, institutions need to cater for this growing market. While most students will visit your college or university for an open day, those who can’t make it can still take a look around virtually.

Offer comprehensive virtual tours that showcase your facilities, classrooms, and student life area. These tours can be self-guided through your website or hosted live with a guide answering questions in real time. The simplest approach is to stream the virtual tour on YouTube, as students can post their questions in the chat. 

17. Use Testimonials and Success Stories

Personal stories resonate deeply with prospective students. It’s a chance for them to hear what life at your institution is really like. Also, similar to introducing your team members, it helps humanise your college or university, shining a spotlight on the people behind the brand. 

Include testimonials and success stories from alumni and current students on your website, social media, and marketing materials. Highlighting these experiences not only builds credibility but also provides prospective students with relatable outcomes and insights into the real-world value of your educational offerings.

18. Host Webinars and Online Open Days

Your educational content and website can only get you so far. Sooner or later, students want something more interactive. That’s where webinars and virtual open days come in.

These events allow you to present your programs, discuss admission processes, and answer live questions. It’s a platform for interaction that mimics the engagement of in-person events. Considering many students may struggle to attend in-person open day or even get to visit the campus, it’s a critical opportunity.

Launching such events can radially expand your institution’s reach, broadening your pool of potential applicants. 

19. Create Interactive Course Previews

Give prospective students a taste of what it’s like to study at your institution with interactive course previews. These can include sample lectures, quizzes, and engaging multimedia content related to the course material.

For example, for a Digital Media program, you could create an interactive preview that includes a short video lecture on digital marketing trends, followed by a mini-quiz on the material covered. If you’ve got a popular lecturer, you might also post their lectures on YouTube. It’s a common way to generate traction while highlighting your institution’s expertise. 

20. Participate in Educational Fairs

If you’re not there, students won’t care about you. It’s that simple. Attending and participating in educational fairs is one of the best ways to talk to potential students one-on-one. You can answer any questions, provide promotional materials, and ensure students know how and when to apply.

Equip your booth with engaging materials, interactive displays, and knowledgeable staff who can answer questions and provide detailed information about what your institution has to offer.

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Email and Retargeting Techniques – An Untapped Opportunity To Capture Prospective Students

Email and retargeting campaigns work so effectively because they only target people already interested in your institution. You’ve filtered out all the noise. Little surprise, it has the highest ROI of any digital marketing medium – an impressive $36 for every $1 spent. It should form a key part of all marketing for higher education. 

21. Implement Email Marketing Campaigns

Use email marketing to maintain communication with prospective students who have shown interest. But don’t just send the same stock email to everyone on your mailing list. Personalisation and segmentation are critical factors.

Craft emails tailored to the recipient’s interests, academic goals, and previous interactions with your institution. By segmenting your list based on these criteria, you can ensure that each message is relevant, engaging, and more likely to convert leads into applications.

22. Set Automated Emails

Your marketing team doesn’t have time to send a new email every time. That’s why most email marketers create automated emails that get sent in response to specific triggers. Common examples include welcome emails, newsletters, or follow-ups post-events.

Set automated emails for key events – for example, reminders for application deadlines or advertising upcoming events. Doing so streamlines your communication process, maximising your ROI and keeping your audience engaged. 

Email chains also work well. These are a series of emails set to go off at set points in time after an initial trigger. So, if a potential student begins their application, these emails will detail what to do next. 

23. Use Open Days as a Way to Capture Details

Open days aren’t just a chance to chat with potential students; it’s an opportunity to gather contact details from attendees. Marketing for higher education is a long-term process. Students don’t impulse buy their education – it takes several interactions with an institution before they settle on their favourite. 

Encouraging registration at these events helps build a database of leads. You can then send targeted follow-up communications that can convert interest into applications. That could include help resources, deadline reminders, and other information about your institution or a particular course. 

24. Leverage Retargeting

What’s retargeting? It involves targeting users who have previously interacted with your website or mobile app but did not complete a desired action, aka enrolling in your institution. Retargeting filters out everyone who isn’t interested in your brand. As such, it has an exceptionally high ROI.

Use targeted ads to remind them of your programs and any upcoming application deadlines. This can spark action and ensure you get as many applications as possible. Oh, and the more interactions an individual has with your institution, the more retargeting ads you want to run. Just don’t bombard them – setting specific times between ads ensures optimal engagement levels. 

SEO A Hidden Gem For Successful Marketing In Higher Education

SEO isn’t just about ranking nationally or internationally for the best keywords. Even local colleges and universities can generate large volumes of organic traffic from local SEO strategies.

25. Optimise for Local SEO

Local SEO covers all the strategies for ranking high in your local area. There are two broad aspects: (1) target local keywords, such as “best college in [city name]” or “creative college in [city name]”, and (2) optimising your Google Business profile.Β 

This latter option ensures you appear on Google Maps and provides ready-to-go information about your institution (including contact details). 

Alongside these two strategies, local reviews also help boost your institution’s reputation and search ranking. Together, local SEO ensures you become the go-to educational establishment in your region.Β 

Boost Your Marketing for Higher Education

Feel a little overwhelmed? We know it’s a lot to take in. But you don’t have to rethink your higher education marketing strategies alone. 

Our team is a highly experienced digital marketing agency specialising in SEO, web design, and PPC advertising. We’ve helped numerous educational institutions, including Central Bedfordshire College and City of Portsmouth College, expand their reach and boost their online presence. We can do the same for you!

Whether you’re just starting out or want to take your marketing campaign to the next level, we’re ready to advise, guide, and help you every step of the way. Book a FREE consultation to learn more about our services. 

Speak with our team by booking a free consultation.

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Carl Darnell
Founder and Director

My passion lies in helping growing businesses achieve their goals by leveraging the power of digital channels. I strive to bring a fresh perspective and innovative strategies to the table to help brands reach new heights.

Carl Darnell
Founder and Director

My passion lies in helping growing businesses achieve their goals by leveraging the power of digital channels. I strive to bring a fresh perspective and innovative strategies to the table to help brands reach new heights.

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