Website personalization in higher ed is curating a web experience that delivers the right content to the right students at the right time—in a way that makes them feel that your college or university is “right for me.”
To stand out in the increasingly challenging environment of higher ed, colleges and universities must capitalize on website personalization to build emotional connections with students.
By delivering relevant content with expediency, website personalization will help your higher ed institution lay the foundation for lifelong relationships that start with recruitment and continue to graduation and beyond.
In this guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about website personalization by answering several pressing questions:
- What is website personalization for higher ed?
- Why does my college or university need to offer a personalized online experience for students?
- What are students looking for when it comes to website personalization?
- How does website personalization for higher ed boost recruitment and enrollment?
- How does website personalization for higher ed boost student retention and alumni engagement?
- How do I use website data to craft a website personalization plan?
Website personalization in higher ed:
- Provides a customized experience for everyone who visits your website.
- Delivers unique content that’s tailored to specific searches.
- Is interactive and engaging.
In an online world shaped by Amazon and Netflix, customers have come to expect a digital engagement experience that gives them “what they want when they want it.” The modern learner experience should be no different.
There are several ways to use website personalization. You can personalize content based on repeat visits to your website, by tracking specific pages visited and by geolocation. This dynamic content can be implemented by swapping out entire content blocks, substituting text and page forwarding.
You can leverage artificial intelligence (AI) to recommend content using like-user recommendations, where calls to action are suggested based upon similar users, or add personalization at different stages of the enrollment funnel. Visitor personalization provides even more targeted content to a known or named website visitor by linking visitors to information in existing campus systems and external data sources such as demographic data.
When done right, website personalization sparks the beginnings of a relationship between students and your institution much like a conversation, not a quick, one-sided transaction. And it creates digital connections that are relational, immediate, accurate and go the extra mile. It’s natural to then see a boost in engagement and enrollment growth.
Think of website personalization for higher ed as a conversation that delivers the right content to the right students at the right time.
There are many reasons to implement personalization on your higher ed website, but these three top the list:
- Your prospective students have grown up online, and they expect and demand a personalized website experience. 95% of teens have a smartphone or access to one. If you’re not providing dynamic, relevant content on your college or university website—and if it’s not mobile-responsive—you are completely ignoring the needs and expectations of your target market.
- Website personalization, especially in higher ed, makes students feel like more than just a number or website visitor. 89% of prospective students say that they like to see their name in marketing materials and appreciate it when websites allow them to personalize content to meet their interests.
- Personalization keeps students on your website for longer periods of time. Visitors who view three pages of personalized content have a conversion rate of 3.4%—double the rate (1.7%) of those exposed to two pages with personalized elements. And when visitors view 10 or more pages, the increase is eighteen times higher.
A personalized online experience is the most effective way to create and develop relationships that transform prospective students into enrolled students and later, to engaged alumni and donors.
Make no mistake: website personalization for higher ed is the wave of the future and will be the prime driver of marketing success over the next five years.
#1 What Students Want from Website Personalization in Higher Ed: Expediency
Let’s tackle the first characteristic of website personalization in higher ed: Expediency. The average human attention span is eight seconds, an all-time low. Even more alarming: The latest research has found that half of mobile users will leave a webpage if it takes more than three seconds to load. Guess who uses cell phones for all-things digital? Your target audience: students. It’s not enough for your website to be fast: It has to be fast and informative.
#2 What Students Want from Website Personalization in Higher Ed: Relevant Information about Careers and Job Outlook
A student comes to your website to learn about the possibilities that await through education. This is true for an 18-year-old with no idea about which majors lead to which careers as well as a 41-year-old looking to upskills through a continuing education program.
When your website features a dynamic career and program explorer in your academic and program pages, students can easily lay out a well-defined career pathway that clearly connects their education to their career goals.
#3 What Students Want from Website Personalization in Higher Ed: Seeing Their Name and Interests Reflected in Marketing Materials
Students want and expect an experience that’s deeply, massively personalized—so much so that they don’t even realize it. They want to arrive on your school’s website and find easy-to-navigate pathways, calls-to-action and opportunities to engage that are completely relevant to them. And they want to feel special. Communication from your college that’s personalized and relevant is familiar and reassuring during one of the most overwhelming times of their lives.
No matter where students are in the recruitment process, they want a fast, friendly and informative interaction with your school’s digital presence. For this reason, website personalization for higher ed is a powerful way for schools to connect directly with students.
What Students Don’t Want from Website Personalization in Higher Ed
Before we move on, let’s talk about what website personalization in higher ed is not: It’s not creepy. What students don’t want is to experience repetitive ads that follow them around the internet. They don’t want false friendliness or constant, unyielding, flashing banners. Worse still, they don’t want to see ads constantly trying to convince them to enroll in a class or college that they already attend! They want to engage with colleges and universities that leverage data meaningfully and responsibly, that use machine learning to recognize and anticipate their needs and then deliver on those needs through digital channels.
Website personalization helps your school stand out in a crowded playing field by:
- Building Urgency through relevant calls-to-action. Personalization can detect the number of visits a student makes then then show the
appropriate targeted messages. For example, first-time visitors see a general message
such as “You belong here,” but on subsequent visits, are presented with content that has more urgency such as deadlines and scheduling advisor appointments.
A personalized website recognizes the student’s prior visitor behavior and triggers alternate calls to action.
- Driving Relevancy with tailored content from previous visits. A personalized website in higher ed will automatically display updated content with relevant dates, facts and statistics based on previous activity so that students have accurate information to help them make informed choices about their education pathway. For example, if a prospective student shows interest in your nursing program, they’ll be shown relevant content such as “#1 nursing program in the state” on subsequent visits.
- Leveraging Geolocation by highlighting relevant material. A personalized website in higher ed uses location to hone in on a student’s preferences to deliver relevant content such as in-state tuition or continuing education programs.
- Capitalizing on AI to recommend content based on like-user recommendations where calls to action are suggested based on similar users.
- Accelerating Interest with personalization that recognizes where the student is in the enrollment funnel. By linking information with existing campus systems, you’ll know where the student
is in the enrollment funnel and can display targest messages.
88% of marketers report measurable improvements in engagement after implementing personalization and 75% of internet users say that personally relevant content increases their purchase intent. With consistent enrollment drops over the last few years, website personalization keeps your institution’s website from getting lost in the admissions shuffle.
Website personalization in higher ed is ideal for nurturing prospective students through the enrollment process, but it’s just as effective in supporting student retention and alumni engagement.
But first, your school must move away from the ineffective one-size-fits-all model of information delivery and toward a “right for me” personalized website experience. There are many ways to do this:
- Present a call to action for a student to join a club—or even recommend a club to a student—after analyzing previous visits to a webpage. Student involvement is key to academic success and an indicator of career readiness. Website personalization engages students in a way that keeps them excited about their enrollment and on track for degree completion.
- Suggest a continuing education program or micro-credential opportunity based on an alumnus’ location and interests. Lifelong learning is the new way to think of higher education, and website personalization creates a foundation for building these types of relationships.
- Prompt students about to graduate or alumni who have frequented the website to engage
with the campus career development center. It’s expected that your college or university deliver on
its promise of an education that yields lifelong career benefits. Yet only 7% of students rate their career center as excellent. Website personalization bridges the gap by introducing students and alumni to services
that they didn’t even know existed.
- Display program-specific information complete with job outlook data that’s based on prior visitor behavior. Website personalization offers up “right for me” content that shows students how they can go from learner to earner.
This type of evolved engagement delivers personalization at every touchpoint, whether it is through the application of technologies such as AI or by providing a frustration-free digital experience between the modern learner and your college or university.
To use data to create a website personalization plan, you’ll need to pull reports with crucial website data. This is facilitated by a content management system (CMS) with a personalization engine that’s purpose-built for higher ed. You’ll want to identify:
- The number of unique visitors to your website and where they came from (source).
- Return visitors and the pages they visit.
- Referrals, or how many of your visitors come from social media, a partner site, or advertisements.
- Your site’s bounce rate, which is the percentage of visitors that visit only one page before leaving your website.
- Top exit pages, which are the pages where visitors leave your website.
- How long visitors stay on a page.
- The average number of pages viewed per session by each visitor.
- Audience demographics so that you can attract similar visitors to your site.
- On-site search queries so that you know what content your visitors prefer.
- Your page conversion rate, which is the percentage of visitors who complete the next thing you want them to do on your website, such as filling out a form.
- Your website’s most popular pages.
- SIS, CRM and third-party data sources to help you create a more comprehensive plan.
Data from your college or university website is the backbone of your website personalization plan. When you understand what students are looking for when they access your higher ed website, you’ll be better equipped to deliver a personalized website experience.
Your website is the shop window and front door of your college or university, so you want every interaction to be as welcoming as possible. By making it personal, your higher ed website will be relevant, engaging, informative and best of all, supportive. Website personalization is key to building relationships with modern learners at every phase of their academic and career journeys. And when you find the right partners, the right tools and adopt the right mindset, you can offer a deeply personal website experience that generates real (19%+) impact on college decisions and engagement from modern learners.
About Modern Campus
Modern Campus, the innovator driving Omni CMS and Destiny One, empowers higher education institutions to thrive when radical change is required to successfully respond to lower student enrollments and revenue, rising costs, crushing student debt and even school closures.
Powered by the industry’s leading “student first” modern learner engagement platform, presidents and provosts can create pathways for lifelong learning, while marketing and IT leaders can deliver Amazon-like personalization and instant fulfillment. Award-winning products and average annual revenue growth of 19% for its 550+ higher education customers have earned. Modern Campus a 98% retention rate and a reputation for customer obsession.
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