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Let’s face it: understanding your students has become harder and harder. Students today are dramatically different from students ten years ago. However, understanding how they interact with your website to ultimately increase enrollment doesn’t have to be hard.

With today’s analytic tools for higher education, it’s possible to narrow in on the campaigns that are working and improve the ones that aren’t working. The first step is to double down on your student profiles to understand them better and then generate highly-targeted campaigns.

Understanding Your Target Student

One of the biggest mistakes marketers make is being too general with their marketing messaging. It’s easy to do. You don’t want to leave out potential students, so you keep your message broad. However, by keeping your message broad, you essentially speak to no one.

Consider the Flaw of Averages, a concept created by famed Stanford economist Sam Savage. Savage states that “plans based on average assumptions are wrong, on average”!

Here’s an example. You’ve heard of the man who drowned walking across the river that had an average depth of 3 feet. That river was 6 inches deep near the banks and 8 feet deep in the center. The “average depth” of 3 feet had absolutely no meaning in reality.

It’s the same concept with your marketing. If you continue to market to the “average student” you wind up nowhere. You need to use data to understand the individual student, create target student profiles, and map out a buyer’s journey for each student profile.

Once you have established target student profiles, you can create targeted campaigns that not only reach your potential students, but also get them to take action.

It’s entirely possible that your college has a different student profile for every degree you offer.

Yikes! That means you could be looking at dozens of target student profiles and all this time you have been lumping them into just a few groups.

I know what I am asking you to do is hard work. But before you give up and stop reading, remember the Flaw of Averages. Todd Rose, high school dropout turned Harvard professor, adds to the theory “the science of the individual” and the “tyranny of the average” in his work. He states by ignoring the individual and focusing on the average you miss your mark completely and often make it worse. You can watch his TEDx Talk here where he elaborates on this theory as it relates to 1952 fighter jets in life or death scenarios.

Narrowing in on your target student does take more time, but you will get better results.
Using your data to determine your student profiles will also make it easier. In order to get this done in a timely manner, consider using a tiered approach. Let’s look at a practical example of how this could work for your college.

Student Profiles Tier Approach

  • Tier 1: General Demographics (age, gender, location, household income)
  • Tier 2: College of Business, College of Design, College of Engineering
  • Tier 3: College of Business / Major
  • Tier 4: Marketing Students
  • Tier 5: Analytics Students

The good news is you probably already have Tiers 1, 2, and maybe 3 done. Ideally, you could get all your student profiles to Tier 5, but in the meantime, this gives you direction and more focus than what you currently have been doing. You are going to make these changes in phases.

The trick here is to make a goal of defining (X) number of student profiles per quarter and implementing (X) number of campaigns to those profiles per quarter.

What Data Should I Pull?

You are probably using a number of resources in your MarTech stack. We help colleges with a variety of data tools, but let’s look at Google Analytics to start.

Google Analytics has come a long way and is still the number one analytics tool used today.

Your Goal: Determine WHO is on your site and WHAT they are doing while on your site.

Here are some helpful high-level reports to pull in Google Analytics to get you started.

Who | Audience & Acquisition

Use the audience report to find out general information about your site visitors like location, age, gender, technology, interests, and mobile use. Next, use the acquisition report to learn how your visitors found your site. You can see information on organic, direct, paid, referral, display, social, offline, and email sources.

Pro Tip: If you have already collected high-level data for Tier 1,2, and 3, then dig into this data further by using Google Search Console. You can learn more about your students by segmenting by landing page.

What | Bounce Rate, Exit Rate, Behavior Flow

Bounce rate represents the percentage of visitors who enter the site and then leave (“bounce”) from that initial page rather than continuing to view other pages within the same site. As a rule of thumb, a bounce rate in the range of 51% is average for higher education, college, and university websites. So, if your bounce rate is higher than 52%, keep an eye on it.

If it consistently creeps above 60%, that may be a red flag, and you have a problem. Visitors coming to your site aren’t getting what they want. Dig into your source report and figure out where those visitors are coming from and make adjustments accordingly. If your bounce rate is exceptionally low (for instance, around 5%), this may seem like a good thing, but it can actually be an indicator of a problem with your data.

Exit rate is the percentage of people who left your site from a particular page. Like bounce rates, high exit rates can often reveal problem areas on your site, especially on pages where you would expect visitors to navigate further. On the reverse, pages with low exit rates can mean a few things. One, the pages do a good job of directing visitors to additional pages on your site, or two, they can detect problem areas with your data.

The Behavior Flow report visualizes the path users traveled from one page or event to the next. This report can help you discover what content keeps users engaged with your site. The Behavior Flow report can also help identify potential content issues.

Pro Tip: If you’re not using Google Tag Manager it is a great resource to clarify your traffic funnel in order to connect your goals to the actions taken on your site.


Using data, you can gain extremely valuable and detailed insights into your students’ behavior and help guide them to your ultimate goal of enrollment. If you would like to learn more about how Zirous can help your college with their marketing analytics click here.

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