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5 Rules of Effective CTAs in Higher Ed Marketing

The kind of content your university produces should align with the curiosity and needs of your ideal students. For this reason, it’s important to consider how well your calls-to-action (CTAs) perform in attracting and converting that target audience.

Note: This article was originally published on the Pepperland Marketing Blog, and has been republished here with permission.

So far, you’ve been providing the right content at the right place and time through social media marketing and SEO. Now that the right prospective students are attracted to your university website, you’re challenged to convert these leads by obtaining their contact information—usually through a form on a landing page. Forms allow your higher ed institution to convert anonymous visitors into leads to nurture. But, they’ve got to walk before they run.

Warming up to the application process is a sensitive place for your prospective student to be. You want to make sure your CTAs are attractive, honest, and effective enough to push them forward.

So, here are five rules to follow for effective CTAs in higher ed marketing.

1. Placement

CTAs can come in many forms and can be placed literally anywhere on a page, but that doesn’t mean that you should just drop yours at the first open spot.

For example, you most likely wouldn’t place a CTA at the top of a blog post—the reader hasn’t had a chance to read the information yet, so a call-to-action before the content comes across as presumptuous. In this example, your CTA would probably be more effective at the bottom of the post, or at least after the first few paragraphs. This will encourage the consumer to read the post, which hopefully contains links to other areas on your website—which can improve session time and views on your pages.

CTAs also appear on social media. Since social media posts are generally more concise, the CTA can be anywhere within that content. You can use the same CTA from your website or blog on your social channels—or you can create a social media specific CTA like asking people to reply directly on Facebook, hashtag a certain word or phrase on Instagram, or retweet something from the school’s Twitter account. These are all appropriate, traceable actions that encourage conversion.

2. Traceability

Speaking of traceable actions, being able to measure the success of your CTAs is important. Your CTAs should be quantifiable and allow you to gather insight into how many people are clicking, how those people arrived there, and the helpfulness of your offer. If you’re not collecting this information, it’s difficult to learn from your successes and mistakes.

An advantage to using social media, SEO, and content in your approach is that you control everything about your CTA. Because these are not paid ads, there’s no pressure to get it exactly right the first time. The traceability allows your higher ed marketing team to see what is working, and tweak accordingly for the best possible response over an extended period of time.

3. Beware of Clutter

Cluttering your CTA can be a huge turn off to interested leads. Using jargon, complicated wording, or multiple hashtags and links can make your well-meaning CTA seem ‘spammy’ and, therefore, easy to ignore.

Being too wordy or philosophical can also compromise your message and cause prospective students to tune out before they opt in. Keep it simple, keep it accessible.

This is a good practice for all of your content creation efforts. Social media posts, blog entries, CTAs, and downloadable resources should be written as simply as possible so that you don’t alienate or bore your audience.

4. Actionable Language

When a prospective student clicks a button, it’s because they have an exact idea of the benefit they’ll be receiving because your presentation is clear and the effort required is minimal.

For example, if a prospective student interested in criminal justice finds himself on a page about careers in corrections, the phrase “learn more” would be vague and non-enticing. But, if your college or university can offer that student access to a newsletter about the criminal justice department’s various connections with state institutions, program outings, and internships, the CTA button might say “explore internships and opportunities.”

Words and phrases like “explore,” “discover,” and “find out” are actionable. They give the prospective student agency in the interaction. Similarly, using active voice rather than passive voice brings personality to your CTAs and reminds the person that, though they are opting in electronically, there are real people on the other side of that screen.

Rather than a button that says “download this offer,” you may want to say something like “get your free Ebook now.” Using words like “you,” “your,” and “my” improves the intimacy and trustworthiness of the interaction.

Simple tweaks like these that seem unimportant can have a big impact on how your audience reacts to your content. Language matters!

5. CTA, Landing Page, and Content Alignment

When a link or button for an offer brings a prospective student to a landing page, you want the copy to be relevant to the offer. Irrelevant or awkward landing page copy can damage trust between your brand and the prospective student.

In Higher Education, inbound marketing is about trust, helpfulness, and the desire to see prospective students turn into successful students. It is imperative that the content is relevant—beyond that, stylistic consistency is key.

For example, clicking a CTA with a blue background, orange lettering, and Arial font that brings you to a white page with red lettering in Times New Roman can be confusing. The person’s first thought will likely be “did I click the wrong link?” By keeping the look and feel of your CTAs, landing pages, and content consistent, you are subtly reassuring your audience that they are, indeed, following the steps of the process correctly.

You want to make the experience as streamlined as possible. Being sure that the CTA aligns with the style, voice, and content of the offer is the “putting your money where your mouth is” portion of this successful interaction.

Moving Forward

Once you’ve thoroughly built out the attract stage of the enrollment process with a focus on SEO, branding, social media style, and building/optimizing your student personas, it’s important to make sure that your CTAs are eliciting the appropriate response from your prospective students.

Using principles of conversion to transform these attracted students into qualified leads is the prequel to gaining your contrived persona as a real student. Follow these tips to polish your CTAs and do your content justice.