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Traditional institutions are the most common subject of scrutiny for education marketers. But let’s be honest: online learning platforms aren’t perfect, either. There is a ton of room for improvement when it comes to their digital marketing efforts as well as the overall experience they provide to new students. Until these improvements are made, online learning platforms will continue their struggles with matching the brand awareness of traditional institutions.

In today’s episode, we’ll cover:

  • What online learning platforms get wrong about SEM and SEO
  • The science of effective CRO
  • How online learning platforms can improve retention

This week, I spoke to Alex Atkins, who is the Head of Growth at the CXL Institute. Online learning platforms are all about teaching relevant skills for today’s workforce, including digital marketing. That’s where the CXL Institute is king. They recruit digital marketing experts to teach courses on various disciplines of digital marketing, like SEM, SEO, and CRO. Alex’s career has showed him the stark differences between what works for a traditional institution and what works for his peers. As “evolved” as online learning platforms claim to be, many are still stuck in the past in regards to the three aforementioned disciplines.

What Online Platforms Get Wrong About SEM and SEO

One of the biggest SEM mistakes Alex sees with online learning platforms is investing in location-based search queries. “It seems like a no-brainer,” he said, but it happens all the time. If a student wants to attend school online, then that student is probably going to include words like “online” or “digital degree” in their search. These are the kind of queries online platforms should be investing in, as opposed to those that feature specific locations or “near me.”

Another extremely common mistake for all types of institutions is failing to understand the value of SEO. Alex has personally seen more success with SEO than SEM, largely because he caters to an educated audience. Such individuals tend to trust genuine content over advertisements. Yes, it usually takes 2-4 months for an SEO strategy to gain traction. But once your content attains a high rank, you won’t lose that position anytime soon, Alex added. In this sense, SEO is like a steam engine: It takes time to get moving but once it starts, it never stops.

What is CRO and How Do You Master It?

By definition, CRO stands for conversion rate optimization. What this broad term really refers to, however, is the science of increasing conversions from website visitors. In order to master CRO, marketers must understand their website’s chief objective (i.e. purchasing subscriptions, filling out lead forms) and the actions visitors can take to move closer to this objective (i.e. watching a video, downloading content).

One popular CRO tactic that proved successful for Alex was simplifying the checkout process. The CXL Institute saw a 15% increase in conversions once it became much easier for students to send over the information required for signing up. Even the smallest tweaks in web copy or the layout of an institution’s payment policy can make a huge difference, Alex added.

How Can Online Platforms Improve Retention?

Thanks to orientations, faculty advisors, and on-campus activities, traditional institutions don’t have to worry too much about retaining new students. Online learning platforms, on the other hand, have to go the extra mile to keep new students from questioning their decision. To avoid this scenario, make sure new students can see the value of their purchase immediately after signing up. The benefits of choosing your school cannot be limited to what students have already seen on your website.

Students also favor schools that provide a human touch and genuinely value their enrollment. Alex accomplishes this by segmenting his audiences, instead of sending the same email to every lead. He also contacts prospective students through their preferred channels, like social media or messaging platforms like WhatsApp. Before crafting their messages, schools must take the time to find out what their ideal student’s preferred channel is in the first place.

Traditional vs. Online: Not So Different After All

Despite their many differences, online learning platforms can learn a lot from traditional institutions. Rather than dismissing their entire approach, online learning platforms should take note of how certain traditional institutions convey that they are indeed the best choice for their ideal student. The average teenager perceives college as an incredibly fun, life-changing experience. Online learning platforms should strive to replicate this perception if they intend to change the education space for good.

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