How universities can use content marketing to recruit international students
How to increase your international student prospect pool by implementing a digital marketing strategy: Part 6
When trying to attract prospective students to your university, the best way to sell your institution is to limit your sales message altogether.
Content marketing is not simply another opportunity to pitch your university. Rather, it is about creating relevant, valuable content that will educate prospective students and position your institution as a known and respected source of information – persuading prospective students, parents and careers advisors to trust you enough to enrol at your university.
In our last blog post, which advised institutions to connect earlier with prospective international students and make sure you stay connected, we unveiled research which found that international students are thinking about studying abroad up to 5 years in advance – with almost two thirds of people beginning their research over a year prior to application.
A solid content marketing strategy will seek to genuinely engage early prospects, making your institution visible, personable and authoritative with content tailored to interact with prospects at all phases prior to application.
So where should you start?
By establishing a clear and defined content marketing strategy, you will be able to reach prospective students during their exploration, inspire them as they begin their decision making and convert them into enrolled students.
Creating the Content
When creating content, don’t lose track of who you are writing for. The purpose is to add value to the reader and as such the focus should remain on the reader - not you as an institution. Content should meet the audience’s needs through useful insights, pertinent tips, best practice guides and relevant news.
Readers are much more likely to revisit and interact positively with your site if the content is relevant to them. For example, an A-Level student looking for arts courses will require very different information from a mature student considering an engineering degree. Consider what the student wants to know, rather than what you want the student to know.
It doesn’t matter how impressive and informative your content is if it is obscured by a messy website that makes prospects work to find your content. Great content needs a simple, clear website that is easy to navigate and prioritises visitor usability. Think about how prospects are reaching your content, and how you can make it easier for them to explore your website and find other relevant collateral.
This process should be ongoing, and every article should include clear calls-to-action – guiding readers to content or services relevant to the topic your content is addressing.
An important part of your presentation is ensuring that both your website and content is effective in its search engine optimisation (SEO). Consider the keywords that prospects, parents and careers advisors would use to find you and your content, and make sure to include them both within the article, and during SEO tagging.
Publishing Your Content
While relevant, engaging and well presented content is essential, it is only half the battle. Equally important is making sure your content gets seen. With a plethora of platforms to share content on, it is vital that you understand your content ecosystem, and can distinguish which channels are most appropriate to deliver your message. 
When planning which channels to use, try to think less about the time and resources you have invested into your content and more about how your readership interacts with it. For example, 55% of all page views get less than 15 seconds of attention . By producing a combination of visual, audio and written content, you can ensure that your message is tailored to people’s varied consumption habits and remove any possible barriers to the intake of your content.
Taking it a step further, institutions can get more leverage out of content by publishing it on a third party website. If the website or publication is regarded as a trustworthy and credible source by your audience (or an audience you are trying to reach out to) then you are essentially creating a new discovery mechanism for your university. Do ensure that the content is slightly tweaked however - duplicated content could hurt your SEO ranking and ultimately defeat the purpose.
Distributing the content
While it is easy to view social media as a customer service tool or a sales platform, it is an important part of maximising the visibility of your article, and can even be the best place to post short form written and visual content.
However, it is important to avoid a one-size-fits-all approach to social media. For example, while the immediacy of twitter will help your content appear in a timely fashion and enable your company to be seen as a contributor to an ever-evolving content landscape, the constraints of the short form would make it an inappropriate platform for long-form content and messages that require detailed explanation. In this case, LinkedIn might be more suitable because of its publishing tool and partnership with SlideShare.
Email is a proven push tactic that institutions should adopt to deliver content to potentially interested parties. In our previous blog posts, we revealed that students and parents both cite the communication channel as their most preferred method to be contacted by universities.
When used strategically, email promotion can be a great tool to help reach applicants that are not yet aware of your institution. However, an overuse of email marketing will be seen as invasive and may risk undermining the trust of your prospects.
A final point to think about
You might have written the perfect blog post and even embedded an eye-catching call-to-action button, but without an effective CRM tool, all of the above is basically pointless! Having a CRM tool in place is vital in order to measure the effectiveness of your content marketing strategy. This, in turn, allows admission teams to be more analytical in their approach to international student recruitment and ensure that prospective students are properly looked after as they’re led through the student funnel.