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How do I measure the effectiveness of my digital enrollment strategies?

Albert Einstein's definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The only way to be sure digital enrollment strategies are not sending you right into this unproductive spiral is by measuring the effectiveness of the marketing channels you are using.

Although it takes a bit of setup, there are effective ways to track your digital marketing performance, and that data is crucial for you to optimize your marketing strategy, make the most of your budget and increase enrollment.

What is your current marketing strategy, and which digital marketing metrics are you measuring?

Before you can measure efficacy, you must first identify which marketing strategies are being used and what the goal of that marketing is. This includes establishing key performance indicators (marketing KPIs) to compare to in order to measure success.

Marketing Channels

Your marketing strategy likely includes a combination of paid media (ie - Facebook and Google Ads), in-person events such as college fairs, organic/SEO-driven website traffic, and hopefully email.

Are you evaluating the success of those marketing strategies? Do you know how to? If you are measuring performance, do you know what to do with the analytics?

Most higher education enrollment teams fall into three categories of measurement.

Three levels of measuring marketing performance?

Level 1- No measurement

The lowest level of measurement is no measurement. At this level, you are not learning anything about the results of your marketing efforts. At this level, you may have an initial strategy, but everything after that is more of a hope and a prayer. The benefit of this approach is that you won’t spend any time setting up analytics, but you also won’t learn anything about your campaign performance other than impressions and clicks. Ultimately, you may be able to observe general trends in enrollment, but you won’t know what is driving that increase or decrease and how to take action.

In case it is unclear, we do not recommend that you judge the efficacy of your digital strategies in this way. Impressions and clicks ≠ definite success.


Level 2- Some measurement

This can be the sweet spot when it comes to measuring your marketing success if you are measuring the right channels. You will need to dedicate some time to setting up and utilizing analytics, and with those analytics in place, you can collect directionally accurate information. The key here is making sure the data you’re collecting is actionable. For many higher education enrollment managers, this level of measurement is going to be enough to give you the right information if you know what to do with it.

(Keep reading to see our thoughts on what to measure and why)


Level 3- Measuring All The Things!

If you are measuring everything, you’ll likely have too much information to digest and most of it will end up being noise. This much information can be overwhelming and may actually hinder your ability to utilize the information to make impactful decisions about your marketing campaigns if you are trying to assess it without supporting technology. There’s nothing wrong with measuring everything, if you know which metrics truly matter. But the truth is that most high-performance marketing teams, establish a north star metric, one that’s the main focus of all their other marketing efforts.


How do you accurately measure the impact of digital enrollment marketing?

In order to get the most accurate and useful feedback when it comes to measuring your digital marketing campaigns, there are a few steps you (or your marketing agency) should take.

First of all, you will want to make sure analytics is set up and that you are tracking website visitors. If you are not already doing this, you can get started by following our step-by-step plan including how to set up a free account with Google Analytics. This will be the foundation of your information gathering process and it allows you to start collecting information about how many visitors are visiting each page on your website.


What should you be measuring?

Let's start with something you should not measure: CPM. Cost Per Thousand Impressions (CPM) tells you how many people are being shown an ad, but it doesn’t really mean anything when it comes to the success of your marketing campaign. Remember earlier when we talked about measuring too many things and basically ending up with a bunch of noise? This is a great example of noise. Here is some more information to convince you why measuring CPM is not a good use of your time. It’s okay if this is being measured automatically by Google or Facebook campaigns, it should be, but it should not be your focus.


Instead, you will get a lot more useful information by measuring cost per action, where action equals either cost per click, cost per inquiry, or cost per enrollment. These three metrics, measured for each stage of each marketing channel, will provide much more actionable information, and give you a more meaningful measurement of the efficacy of different marketing channels, ad groups, campaigns, etc.


Cost Per Click (aka Website Visit)

When it comes to measuring your cost per click, we are referring to tracking which of your marketing channels is leading traffic to your website divided by the total amount spent on a particular ad, ad group, campaign, or platform. 


UTM parameters can significantly improve the detail with which you can track very granular performance, like a/b testing headlines on paid ads. Most paid ad platforms are going to track this information by automatically appending UTM parameters to linked ad campaigns. Put simply, by employing special URLs you are able to track traffic sources, how they are getting there and why.

Let's say you publish a blog post highlighting your new residence halls and create an ad campaign with a call to action to schedule a campus tour. The ultimate measure of success for that post might be how many campus tours were scheduled as a result of the new content. However, you might not have great data on scheduled campus tours until a few months from now. So a great leading indicator of which marketing channels to prioritize might be the cost per click to the new blog post.

If you’re using a UTM URL, you can compare cost-per-click for any traffic source, including social media, email, SEO, postcards, etc. The benefit of this approach is that you can allocate additional marketing dollars to the channel that’s the least expensive, or just the one that converts the best. Rather than waiting until the end of a marketing campaign, you can optimize mid-campaign for much better overall results.

All paid media platforms will measure this. This information will help you determine how each of your digital marketing efforts generate traffic and allows you to compare apples to apples based on the cost per action (click).


Cost Per Inquiry

Similarly to cost per click, you can determine your cost per inquiry by dividing the cost of the marketing campaign by the number of inquiries that effort generates. By tracking cost per inquiry, you can get a picture of which marketing campaigns are generating leads and student interest. This captures those students who are further into the journey toward choosing your university.

If you discover your email marketing campaigns are generating more inquiries than social media platforms, you have real information to make decisions about how to adjust your efforts to gain more leads while optimizing your budget. Most paid media platforms will measure this, but you will have to set up a tracking pixel. The UTM codes we discussed earlier can be paired with google analytics to track which inquiries originate from where. Instead of only looking at where clicks lead, you can see where inquiries such as completed request information forms originated from.


Google Analytics guide to building UTM URLs


IMPORTANT NOTE: One of the best ways to improve your cost per inquiry actually has nothing to do with your ad campaign itself. We have seen teams spend countless hours devising ad copy, placement, and tracking all while completely ignoring the page they are driving traffic to.

If the page you drive traffic to (or your “Landing Page”) doesn’t have a meaningful offer of value, you are not likely to convert very much of your traffic into inquiries. A student that just clicked on an ad is probably not ready to “Apply Now.”

Please put as much time and energy into considering what you are offering on your landing page. Consider the moment a student is in and what resources you have that would be really helpful to that student at that time. HALDA’s Smart Forms make this really easy and have increased conversion rates by 300%-500% for institutions time and time again.


Cost Per Enrollment

The end-all-be-all of your KPIs is enrollment. Since enrollment is your ultimate goal, being able to track this will provide the most clarity when it comes to measuring the success of your digital marketing strategies. Clicks and inquiries are important because we want to know how students move through the process and how our marketing funnel guides them toward enrollment.

Cost per enrollment can be measured, but it will likely require some customization on your site and in your CRM as well as testing the implementation of tracking pixels in order to be successful.

If you want an outside team to help with this tracking we recommend working with a group like Net Natives. Their software, Akero, is specially built to ensure that every campaign is tracked from impression all the way through to enrollment in an automated way.


How effective are your digital enrollment strategies?

Now that you have identified your marketing channels, implemented measurement based on cost per click, cost per inquiry, and cost per enrollment you can start to accurately evaluate your digital marketing success. 


Interpreting your results

While you might notice some variation in your results, likely you will find that organic traffic and email are going to be the most effective and least expensive forms of digital marketing.

But rather than go all-in on a single approach, it’s recommended to use multiple marketing channels in conjunction with each other to form a marketing mix. All marketing channels have their pros and cons. For example, although organic traffic usually converts well it can take months or even years of optimization and content before seeing any results. Email marketing is another reliable source of new leads, but even though it has above average conversion rates, it is very expensive to build a large enough email list of the right students to generate enough leads for annual enrollments. 

Paid media works instantly and is easy to scale, but in the end, it’s going to be one of the most expensive ways to drive enrollments.


This brings us to conversion rate optimization.

Conversion rate optimization is a bit like a fairy godmother floating down, waving her wand, and transforming your website into the best version of itself. Rather than focusing on attracting more traffic, conversion rate optimization focuses on putting your best foot forward for the traffic you already have so that more of the existing clicks turn into enrollments. By focusing on existing traffic, CRO has the ability to decrease your overall cost per click, inquiry, and enrollment across all of your marketing strategies without demanding additional marketing budget.

If you find that a large part of your marketing budget is being spent on activities that are not driving enrollment, it’s time to shift your focus. When you measure digital marketing metrics, you can make smart and focused marketing decisions that drive your overall success.

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