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How to Eliminate ‘Dead Ends’ for Prospective Students

Tatiana Quiroga

Picture this. You send an email to your prospect list announcing a virtual graduate open house event. One of your prospects, Paula, RSVPs for the event, a step which shows a huge interest on her part in your graduate program. She hits “Submit” on the RSVP form weeks prior to the event and there are no other links on the page where the form lives. Paula doesn’t receive an email from the admissions team until two days before the event reminding her of the details. 

Dead end.

Imagine a different scenario — shortly after Paula registers, she receives a thank you email confirming that her spot is reserved for the event. This thank you email has no links to anything else, i.e. zero conversion opportunities and no more value for Paula.

Dead end.

Keep the conversation going — it’s a common sales tactic, and one that marketers would be wise to follow. The golden nugget of inbound marketing strategy is to attract, engage, and delight prospects and leads, and the engagement piece keeps the conversation going.

In other words, make the connection, deliver value, and keep providing opportunities for conversion. Meanwhile, we need to watch out for dead ends which kill engagement and add friction to the applicant journey. What’s a dead end?

A dead end is when prospects complete an action, like subscribing to a blog, downloading an eBook, or signing up for an event, and are then faced with no intentional pathways to click on — no relevant links to continue along their applicant journey stages, just a closed door. 

The key here is relevancy!

Now instead of the two scenarios described above, there’s a third option. Paula registers, and is taken to a landing page with links to a graduate blog and premium content resources. She receives an email confirming her reservation, which also contains links to content, such as a guide to financing graduate school or a blog post about the admissions process. In this scenario, Paula has other helpful information to consume, in both the awareness and consideration phases of the applicant journey. 

She isn’t being bombarded with messaging — on the contrary, she’s given opportunities to raise her hand for information or continue reading about your program for as long as she wants (awareness and consideration stage options!). You’re just delivering those opportunities to her, meeting her wherever she is on her journey. 

And that’s exactly the type of inbound enrollment marketing you should strive for. 

Learn how to craft a custom content strategy for graduate student recruitment  in an 8-week cohort. Read more about the curriculum and sign up today!

Why dead ends kill your education marketing game plan

Maybe you’re doing everything right in the marketing playbook: providing high quality content that is relevant, compelling, and even personalized. Your team puts on amazing webinars and virtual open house events that answer frequently asked questions while delivering rich experiences that reflect your school’s culture and community. You’re crafting amazing blog posts, in-depth premium content pieces and value-stuffed emails. You even have an impressive social team running popular social media campaigns.

But it’s not enough. The applicant journey is not linear but fluid and cyclical. Prospects jump from one phase of the journey to another, skip some phases entirely, and they may even pause due to life circumstances before coming back. And since universities interact with prospects from the very beginning of the awareness stage, it’s absolutely crucial to develop a strong foundation of content pathways and conversions that together become a dynamic matrix.

If you’re attracting and delighting, but you're not offering content pathways that make sense to keep your prospects engaged, your website and content assets are probably full of dead ends. That makes your marketing strategy like a bus running out of gas, sputtering to a stop on the highway before reaching its destination. It’s your job to regularly add fuel to that bus.

Otherwise, Paula, and prospective students like her, will be left with nowhere to go. You’ll lose their focus and energy, instead of capitalizing on their curiosity. They won’t be nurtured when they’ve clearly expressed interest in your school or program. Instead, they’ll be left without the resources they’re seeking, making them more likely to drop off your bus and find opportunities with another school.

Now, let’s dive into how you can identify and fix the dead ends across your content foundation.

How to play the ‘Dead Ends Challenge’ and insert conversion opportunities for prospects

You can turn this crucial auditing exercise into a game. Here’s how this works…

STEP 1: Start clicking through your own content

Challenge everyone on your team to click on social posts, RSVP to events, subscribe to blogs, etc. and track in a document what happens next and what options they have to click into. Have them take screenshots of every point along the way. Every time they hit a dead end, your team should write down each step they took and paste their screenshots chronologically.

Make sure you comb through the following:

    1. Website pages
    2. Email comm flows and trigger emails 
      • Pro tip: Post-transaction emails are often the biggest offenders, so check your RSVP confirmation and blog subscription thank you emails!
    3. Blogs/news articles/press releases
    4. Landing pages
      • Pro tip: If you have a program guide gated behind a form, what do people see after they submit? If they see a simple one line of text thanking them with a link, make a thank you page to redirect to instead that drives them to other relevant content offers.

STEP 2: Create a network of conversion opportunities

Then, come up with ways to layer conversion opportunities throughout all of these points so you continually bring prospects deeper into the applicant journey. Of course, you can only work with the content in your arsenal. So, first, fix what you can with what you have.

STEP 3: Add more content offers to your foundation

Generate more content across all stages (awareness, consideration, and decision) so you can build a strong, powerful foundation to use for your pathways. While there will be some repetition in your content linking, just make sure that the sequencing is logical (for example, don’t send an inquiry to the inquiry form or promote an event to someone who already registered).

Here’s a great example from one of our clients, West Virginia University Graduate Admissions, of how to continually nurture prospects through secondary conversion opportunities.

Let’s say that through organic search, prospect Walter finds the WVU Resource Library page.

Walter has been worried about having to take a standardized test to apply for a graduate program, so he’s intrigued by “The GRE Cheat Sheet” guide and clicks on it. On the next page, he submits the form to download the guide. 

After Walter submits the guide, he lands on this thank you page. He clicks on the button to download the guide, which opens in a new tab. Before switching tabs, he glances down to see additional guides that peak his interest.

First, he dives into “The GRE Cheat Sheet” guide. The guide is loaded up with links to pages that have additional information, like a program search page to see if the program he’s interested in requires the GRE. He confirms that it does and keeps reading. As he approaches the end of the eBook, he finds this page, which links back to:

1) The resource library (where Walter first landed on the WVU website) where he can peruse other guides that catch his eye

2) A blog listing page where he can read a few posts

3) A blog subscription page where he can quickly subscribe if he’s already interested

4) A page with a Request More Information form

Let’s say Walter subscribes to the blog.

He’s then invited to visit the RMI page, which links to a page about virtual admissions events and the application page (some prospects do skip the inquiry phase entirely!).

When he checks his email inbox that evening, Walter finds two emails. The first is a follow-up from downloading "The GRE Cheat Sheet" guide, which points to other resources specifically about the GRE.

The second is a follow-up from subscribing to the blog, which links to the blog listing page, the RMI form, and the resource library again.

And so on and so on. This is an excellent example of how to unceasingly offer conversion opportunities to your prospects and leads. 

Stay on top of dead ends for effective enrollment marketing

To be a successful inbound enrollment marketer, attract prospects with compelling content, build a conversion-centric game plan, and track prospect behavior with marketing automation tools. 

Keep the momentum going for everyone on the applicant journey and audit your content assets for dead ends regularly. Remember: the more time a prospect spends navigating through your website, the more intrigued they are by your brand proposition.

To maximize engagement, eliminate your dead ends and replace them with compelling, relevant resources that reinforce the unique value of your school or program.

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Topics: Inbound Marketing, Content Strategy

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