Direct Student Recruitment Schools versus Agents?
There have always been issues with schools and universities promoting and recruiting directly, whether on direct online or via a recruitment event, and clear analysis of how students found an institution (often more personal preferences vs corporate objectives). Further, there is the other question, why are not others finding you?
Why do most international marketing managers focus upon the ever decreasing physical empirical field for international student recruitment via ‘distribution of marketing materials’, and ignore the increasing, now 90%+ that are online, job preservation or complacency?
In international education recruitment and marketing, schools and their agent partners can be in competition with each other or top down exemplified by ‘agent management’, yet the relationship is much more important, but why has it not been recognised? In addition to schools and agents, students and related communities need to connect, not just to inform good marketing and quality, but to drive good SEO including linked up websites and social media, to attract the right candidates, all year round (9/10 doing generic searches).
While schools, agents and students must interact for feedback and multilingual marketing content to inform good SEO and keyword search, there is a solution to the direct booking issue. Schools and universities can simply use an affiliate system with their contracted agents through affiliate buttons on agent websites that allow direct enquiry and booking, with a reduced commission.
From ICEF Monitor:
‘Keyword research: Matching intent with results. Somebody types a few words into a search box somewhere in the world and the process begins.
A prospective student is searching online, trying to find the right university or school, but how is he searching? What information is most important to him? What terms does he use and how can you find your way through the staggering volumes of search activity, advertising, and user behaviour to find and engage with this prospective student? More to the point, how can he find you?
It is well established that student search and information gathering is moving online, a shift that has become more pronounced in even just the past two or three years. The BBC recently quoted Harry Walker, education industry head at Google, who said, “The Internet is playing an ever increasing role in the decision making. Students are online searching and consuming content in all forms when they are deciding whether or not to go to university and deciding which universities to apply for.”
Education-related search activity continues to go up every year, and it remains reliably true that “non-branded search queries” account for a large proportion of overall search volumes. Google reports that 9 in 10 prospective students don’t know which school they want to attend at the onset of the search process and they reflect this non-brand orientation in their search behaviour, relying instead on queries for specific programmes or fields of study, specific levels of study or credentials, geographic queries, or other broadly structured search requests.
The implication of this is that while some students may be asking for your university or school by name, many others will not. And that is where serious reflection, research, and strategy around the terms that students use when searching becomes so important…’
From Study Travel Magazine:
Direct Bookings. Direct bookings are a contentious issue for many agents and have resulted in some refusing to work with schools that aggressively pursue such recruitment stategies in their markets. Bethan Norris investigates.
The issue of direct bookings is an important one for many agencies, who can find that their hard work in counselling a student goes to waste when the student books directly with the school. Since the growth of the internet and the ease of online booking systems, this problem has become more acute than it was in the past. Silvia Stocker, Managing Director of Australia & New Zealand Travel in Paraguay, explains, “I have had my agency now for over 30 years, when the internet did not exist we [could make a] good profit. Since internet selling has existed, some months it is really hard to earn the money we need to continue our business.”
In a survey conducted by Study Travel Magazine of 28 education providers around the world, 93 per cent of them said that they do accept direct bookings from students. And it is certainly hard to suggest a blanket ban on the practice in an age when any student can conduct their own internet research on where to study without the help of a third party.
As in most business dealings between agents and schools in the study abroad industry, communication and personal relationships are key. Most schools recognise that actively courting direct bookings in markets where they have active agents is likely to cause bad feelings and deter future agency business, while most agencies recognise that schools are unlikely to turn down the occasional direct booking that comes their way.
Serious problems, therefore mainly seem to arise when schools forget their dependence on the work of agents and actively start marketing their courses directly in the source country. In these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that in some cases, business relationships get terminated for good….‘
Suggestions or recommendation on how to drive sustainable and long term international education marketing, communications and recruitment strategy could include:
- Asking direct enquirers how they found the school e.g. which websites?
- Refer enquirers to local partner agent who have higher probability of closing application, and assisting with visa, accommodation etc., in their language, and can vet candidates.
- For newly enrolled students ask for feedback on their welfare both study and social, then which online and other channels they used to inform their decision. Feedback in their language can be used for blogs and other social media as ‘branded marketing content’ for use of the school and agent partners in SEO.
- Schools can see clearly from Google Analytics country/city traffic, but more enlightening is the language traffic and search words used which attracts relevant speakers to their website, from all over the world to include the target youth and students already abroad.
- Those agent partners can also use affiliate system buttons on their websites etc., if a student chooses to go direct (system will register directs).
- Google Analytics will also show referrers e.g. agent websites, social media, directories etc.
As job descriptions for marketing and or international managers have not kept up with technology and especially SEO, they may not realise how dependent they are upon the ‘digital juice’ for better SEO, provided by their agent partners through back links.
If a school does not cooperate with agents, e.g. preference for investing in one off recruitment events at great expense (nor analysed for outcomes), while ignoring the effective SEO supporting web searches provided by agents, while accepting direct enquiries or bookings, there is a simple solution for agents.
Each school has a degree of online visibility if they are being found direct, or via agent websites, however, if an agent partner removes all links and social media re. the school, the aforementioned school can slip from view…… then no longer attract direct enquiries or bookings….
If schools do not have the systems to analyse the above, then the message is they view their own partners agents as competition?
For more resources and information about digital SEO marketing for international education student recruitment click through to AIEC website.