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How to Increase Your Website's Conversion Rate in 2017

Kelsey Whitehouse

In today’s society, there is an abundance of information everywhere we look. A recent study found that Facebook alone receives around 4 million likes in the first minute of an individual’s day. And that’s only one platform of communication. We are constantly consuming information from a variety of different platforms — from social media to television to online publications and everything in between.

With so much content out there, how do you make yourself stand out? How does your institution rise above the noise? How do you make your resources more valuable to prospective students than the thousands of others out there? This is not an easy task for anyone, especially in higher education.

At the close of this academic year, you might have noticed that your website was generating a good amount of traffic and that your current content offers were bringing in views. But then you take a closer look at your conversions and applications generated and find they were less than you were expecting. Don’t worry...you’re not alone.

If your enrollment marketing efforts are generating increases in website traffic but not leading to valuable conversions, you need to strongly consider adjusting your approach to ensure that your website conversion rate is growing along with your web traffic.

Here are some tried-and-true tactics that will increase conversion rates this year:

Increase your use of calls-to-action (CTAs) throughout your website.

By incorporating more CTAs throughout your website (and a variety of them), you’re providing more opportunities for your visitors to convert and move a step closer to becoming an applicant. This does not mean putting a CTA on every page. You need a solid strategy that is based on logic and marketing best practices. When you’re deciding where to distribute these CTAs, keep this important tip in mind: The CTA needs to grab the attention of the visitor, but it should not be overwhelming. Your CTA should inform the visitor about what they will receive and what the advantages are of them clicking through to the offer.

For instance, if you have CTAs that only say “Submit,” “Download,” or “Apply” you should adjust the wording to be more informative or intriguing.

Here is an example of a CTA that is informative, eye catching, and actionable:

example CTA.png

Be careful not to use the same CTAs for everything. Ideally, CTAs should be different based on what stage the prospect is in the applicant journey and should be contextually relevant. You would not ask someone who is reading a blog post, and more than likely in the beginning stages of awareness, to “APPLY TODAY.” Instead, you would invite them to subscribe to the blog with a CTA that says “Subscribe Here” or invite them to download a relevant resource in eBook format with “Download the Guide.”

Alternatively, if a prospect is clicking through to program-specific landing pages (consideration stage), this would be a great place to put a “Request More Information” form with a CTA that says “Learn More.” And when the prospect starts looking at admissions requirements and checking out financial aid options, this would be an appropriate place to include an “Apply Today” CTA.

Here are some examples of CTAs used effectively:

effective CTA 1.png effective CTA 2.png

A common question we get asked is “How many CTAs is too many?” The answer can really depend on the specific layout and visual style of your institution’s website, but the short answer is this: You don’t want to overuse CTAs, because too many will definitely turn visitors off.

Generally, it’s best to have no more than two per page — one primary and one secondary. Your primary CTA could be a graphic inviting readers to subscribe to the blog, while your secondary CTA could be a stand-alone line of text that invites them to download a guide (e.g., an anchor text CTA).

You also may be asking yourself this question: What type of CTA is better — text or graphic CTAs? This is a much-debated topic and has data to support both types. According to a recent study by Campaign Monitor, graphic CTAs outperform text, because they grab attention faster visually.

However, another in-depth article by HubSpot shows how they have found anchor text CTAs to be more effective, because they are shown earlier in the blog post and thus, catch the attention of the reader quicker. The best way to determine which style works for your institution is to test out both options and compare the results.

What’s our personal experience with the use of anchor text CTAs?

Here at DD, we’ve found that the use of anchor text CTAs for our higher ed clients supports HubSpot’s assertions regarding anchor text CTAs: Anchor text CTAs are an effective and efficient way of attracting the attention of the reader early on, resulting in more click throughs and more engagement with the overall content vs. graphic CTAs placed at the bottom of a blog post.

For instance, when we publish a blog post containing a CTA at the end of the text inviting the reader to an event, we see some engagement. But when we include an offer with the same invitation to the same event early on in the blog  — within an anchor text-style CTA  — our data shows that it receives more engagement.

What’s the bottom line? You need to make sure your website has multiple pathways so that prospects do not come to a dead end and move on. Providing more opportunities for visitors to convert will help develop better overall conversion rates and thus, more prospective students.

Test your CTA styles regularly to determine which type works best for your specific personas!

Ensure that your program-specific landing pages are fully optimized.

Nothing turns off a prospective student more than a busy, confusing, and poorly-designed landing page. For some visitors, this is their first impression of your university and the program that they are interested in — and we all know that first impressions have a huge impact on our overall view.

The first step towards optimizing landing pages is to create an intriguing yet clear headline that draws your prospect in. It’s common today for people to scroll through a newsfeed or flip through pages of a magazine until they find a title that captivates their interest. The same habits are happening on your site pages.

Here is an example of a multi-tier landing page with captivating headlines:

good LP.png

As you can see, these headlines draw people in and entice them to read on to the next tier and learn more about the upcoming event.

An important thing to include in the headline is keywords. You need to make sure you know your audience so that you are using keywords that they will be searching for. Incorporating these into your title, image alt-text, meta description, and throughout the copy will help prospects find you and increase the likelihood of them clicking through and converting.

Next, you need to make sure that your information is well organized and easy to read, this may require you to add bullet points, numbers, or images. If your information is in one big paragraph with nothing visually pleasing, prospects are more likely to leave your page, because they don’t want to invest the time. Images are a nice touch to a landing page because they help break up text and visually convey what you’re talking about.

Lastly, make sure that your pages are compatible on both mobile devices and desktop systems. Just because something looks good on your desktop does not mean it will look good on a visitor’s smartphone. According to a recent marketing report on mobile usage, around 70 percent of individuals are consuming content strictly on their mobile device. Optimizing for mobile requires you to use simplicity, be concise, and test, test, test!

Evaluate and revise the lead forms you’re currently using.

A lead form is the last hurdle that stands between your admissions team and a potential applicant. Without contact forms, you would not be able to speak with or nurture your prospects. By filling out this form, a visitor is giving you essential information that allows you permission to communicate with them.

Keep in mind that it is not necessary to gather all the information you possibly can about the prospect in one form. Do not focus all of your energy on the amount of questions you need to feed your CRM. Rather, focus on quality, simplicity, customization, and accessibility.

Here is an example of a traditional, long-style inquiry form:

inquiry form.png

A well-structured form is concise, engaging, and easy to complete. Most well-optimized forms have four to six fields and ask for first name, last name, email address, something related to program or education level, and maybe a phone number.

Here is an example of a shorter, less-intimidating RMI form:

RMI form.png

If you have a powerful marketing automation platform powering your CRM, you should be able to use “Smart Forms.” Smart Forms are custom-made forms that automatically adjust based on the individual. Their job is to ask the right questions at the right times. This means that these forms will pre-populate known fields for a pre-existing prospect that is already in your marketing automation platform or CRM. They will also generate variable fields on the form to match where the prospect is in their lifecycle. This gives the form customization, convenience, and personalization.

Here is an example of how this process works:

Based on a prospect’s recent activity, you can see she is quite interested in your M.S.N. program. She goes to the program-specific landing page and fills out the RMI form. This form asks for first name, last name, and email address. After filling out the form, she is redirected to a “thank you” page that thanks her and invites her to download your informational M.S.N. guide. After clicking on the CTA, she goes to the landing page for the guide and starts filling out the form to download it. The form has already autogenerated her name and email address, but it also adds in two additional questions: it asks for her phone number and a drop down asking when she is interested in starting the program.

These two options would normally not be offered to a first-time lead, but since this prospect has already been tracked in the marketing automation database, she is served a tailor-made form that helps your school learn more about her.

While this tool is a great advantage for your institution, keep in mind this is only something you can do if you have a powerful marketing automation platform — like HubSpot — powering your landing pages and forms. A smart strategy would be to evaluate all of your website’s forms to make sure they are structured properly. If not, it’s worth the investment to make the necessary revisions in order to please your prospects and increase your conversions.

I hope these tips have been helpful and will give you a firm starting point in increasing your website conversion rates for the next academic cycle.

Interested in learning more? Our webinar summarizes how the inbound methodology works for graduate enrollment marketing. It includes four case studies that each use advanced inbound marketing tactics successfully.


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Topics: Higher Ed Marketing, Inbound Marketing, Conversion Rate Optimization

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