Full Service Marketing for Higher Education, Health Care & B2B Marketing


Maximize Your Enrollment Initiatives with Website Personalization Strategy

Sandra Fancher

Sandra Fancher

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With the decline in college enrollment subsiding, it’s more important than ever for higher ed institutions to ensure best-fit students apply and enroll. So, what’s the secret to engage with prospective students and set yourself apart from the competition? You’ve got to deliver a personalized content experience.

Your institution’s most powerful marketing tool is your website, but chances are even the best static webpages don’t capture the attention of all the students you’d like to apply. Our best-performing clients build and implement personalization strategies so their target audience sees the content they need when they need it.

For example, our clients who operate in the Cascade CMS by Hannon Hill can opt-in to Clive, a web personalization tool that displays targeted content to a web audience. With personalization, each visitor is served content that is most relevant to their journey—when done right, the impacts can be significant.

In February 2023, I joined Jose Rodriguez, marketing manager for the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center College of Pharmacy, at the Cascade CMS User Conference to discuss how we implemented personalization and plans for the future. Building personalized content to engage outstanding enrollees relies on knowing your audience, building a plan, executing in Clive, and staying dedicated to monitoring your progress.

Segment Your Audience

Personalization isn’t bells and whistles—it’s an expectation of students who are digital natives. In fact, one study found that 74% of customers express feeling frustrated when a website doesn’t display personalized content.

Appealing to these expectant prospects requires a strong strategy, long before content creation can begin.

The first step toward building a personalization strategy is to assess which segment of your audience is most likely to have the greatest impact on your enrollment funnel. For example, business majors or prospective PharmD trainees, as was the case for Jose’s College of Pharmacy strategy.

Then, it’s important to segment the audience further by what we already know about them: some come from inside New Mexico, some from outside; some take a traditional path, others not so much.

The goal of building your strategy is to structure an experience that feels tailored and al-a-carte instead of a firehose of information. To do that, your personalization strategy should answer these basic questions:

  • Who needs to see your content?
  • What content do they need to see?
  • Where and when do they need to see it?

There are two primary types of data that can inform your personalization efforts: explicit and implicit. Explicit includes information the user has given to your institution, such as:

  • Form fills
  • Polls
  • Positive identification

According to tech publication ZDNet, 81% of website consumers are happy to share this kind of information if it helps them get personalized recommendations. Implicit user data points are learned about web users through methods like cookies that store information without user input. These can include:

  • Geolocation
  • Device
  • Anonymous identifiers

My co-host, Jose, incorporated focus groups of recent applicants to best understand what content and messages resonated. From this feedback channel, he identified actionable items for personalization, such as providing financial aid information sooner in the process.

With this information in hand, identify your most important analytics goals and metrics. Use what you’ve learned about your target audience’s preferences to chart a plan for personalized content on your enrollment pages using a tool like Clive. You’ll also need to account for the time and personnel necessary to track and assess your metrics as you build this journey.

Create If/Then Statements to Structure Content

The structure of the connected user journey will be a series of “If/Then” statements that parallel the user’s path. As an example, consider the steps that show personalized content through Clive to people who visit UNM HSC’s PharmD page:

  • First visit: Users see video and program statistics, along with a call-to-action encouraging them to request information.
  • Second visit (same page, same user): Different content is presented that stresses the excellence of the program and encourages visitors to submit their contact information. An alternative video is offered, along with new statistics that drive home the value.
  • Third visit: The user is prompted to apply and primed with statistics demonstrating the competitiveness of the program, application deadlines, and other motivating copy.

While personalization tools like Clive are powerful, they are not a “set it and forget it” solution. To give your audience the best experience—and get the best results—you must plan for the necessary resources to monitor users’ progress through the journey you’ve built for them.

Keep an eye on your most important KPIs, and leverage tools such as CrazyEgg heatmaps to track the user journey and eliminate points of friction and frustration. Use what you learn to make ongoing updates to help guide users toward that all-important conversion point: the application.

Tips to Make the Most of Personalization

Our team builds a lot of higher ed and healthcare websites, and we’re experts in using website data to help guide customer journeys. So, here are a few tips we’ve learned along the way:

  • If you’re using Cascade, enable Clive early: And read the help section thoroughly. This might seem like common sense, but taking the time to lay this foundation will make your journey easier.
  • Use clear naming conventions. Statuses and workflows can get confusing fast with labels like “Step 1” and “Step 2.” Instead, try names such as “After First Visit: CTA Block” to help keep your ducks in a row.
  • Build your logic in reverse order: You can plan it out in logical order but when it comes to building in Clive, start with the condition of the page at the end.
  • Mind your codes. Clive relies on embed codes, so conflicts can arise when using it on complex pages with multiple embeds, especially JavaScript.

The final tip is really more of a requirement: If you can’t commit the resources to actively monitor your personalization program, don’t start. A poor personalization plan in which users are presented with wrong or ineffective content can hurt the user experience. Analytics helps show where the plan needs adjustment and makes sure the investment you made is paying off.

UNM HSC College of Pharmacy is working toward an intentional, personalized approach to its enrollment funnel, building larger classes each year during a time when higher education enrollments have been down across the board. They’ve achieved this success by gaining a deep understanding of their target audience and speaking directly to website visitors through data-driven user experiences.

Presenting an evolving array of targeted messaging encourages visitors to take conversion steps, moving from a first-time site visitor to an applicant. That’s the power of personalization.

Ready to dive into personalization? Email me today to discuss where you are in your planning, your goals, and the custom experiences you’d like to give your audience.

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