Gone are the days of prospective students looking at potential colleges to attend on library computers or in physical guidebooks. Today, mobile devices dominate the college search. Is your online presence prepared for that process?

The answer to this question is not optional. Given Gen Z’s increasing reliance on mobile devices, all your channels need to account for the usability and immersion abilities of smartphones and tablets. Get it wrong, and they’ll look to your competition instead. Get it right, and the ease of use for your online experience may just be what makes them decide to attend your school.

Getting there, of course, is complex. Without a doubt, mobile has already been part of your consideration set in building marketing, admissions, and recruitment communications. Now, it’s time to get strategic. Let’s discuss the statistics behind the increasingly urgent need for mobile before walking through ten steps you can take to build a mobile-first marketing strategy for higher education.

The Increasingly Urgent Need for a Mobile-First Marketing Strategy for Higher Education

Make no mistake: for members of Gen Z, smartphones are about as inextricable from daily life as friends or food. They are true digital natives and likely can’t remember a time at which a smartphone (and, by extension, the internet) wasn’t at their fingertips at all times. 

Plenty of studies back up that assertion:

It’s no surprise, then, that these preferences also bleed into the college search. One recent study found mobile devices to be by far the most prevalent device of choice for high school students browsing for colleges. Another survey backed up those findings while also adding that students will actively turn away from institutions whose online presence is not optimized for mobile experiences.

The takeaway is clear. Your digital strategy cannot succeed without at least accounting for users on mobile devices. A truly mobile-optimized strategy is increasingly essential to meet prospective students where they are and exceed their expectations in the process.

7 Steps to Build a Mobile-First Marketing Strategy for Higher Education

With the why out of the way, let’s talk about the how. These seven steps can help you build a mobile-first marketing strategy for higher education that successfully attracts, engages, and converts your prospective students into enrollments.

1. Test Your Website’s Mobile Usability

Any mobile-first marketing strategy for higher education has to begin with your website. After all, it’s the hub of all the information you want prospective students and their families to know about you. That makes your first step clear: test your website for how usable it is on mobile devices. 

Fortunately, this step is pretty simple. Google has built a “Mobile-Friendly Test” you can use for any website. Simply enter your URL, and check the score of the results. If it’s not as good as expected, Google offers an entire database of resources about mobile-friendliness to take the technical steps you need.

2. Check for More Nuanced Mobile Usability Issues 

An initial check is great. But always keep in mind that an automated test can only discover a portion of the answer. That’s why your next step should focus on checking your website on a more custom level.

You can do this first step yourself. Look through your website on your mobile phone. Take the usual steps a prospective student would take to learn more about campus, find their major, register for a campus visit, or apply. Take notes of any areas that feel out of place or seem difficult to navigate on the smaller screen. These should become action items for your digital team or website vendor to fix.

Ideally, this step goes more in-depth. Consider some usability testing in which your audience of high school students goes through your website to take those same actions. Platforms like Hotjar and Maze can structuralize this process for you. They even offer some screen recording capabilities to help you understand how mobile users navigate around your website.

3. Adjust Your Content for Mobile Devices

Prospective applicants consuming more content from a mobile-first marketing strategy for higher education

So far, we’ve focused largely on the structure of your website. But, of course, the content your audience will consume matters just as much. That content needs to be as usable and engaging for mobile users as it is for desktop devices. 

A few rules can help you ensure that your website content is mobile-friendly:

  • Chunk content into short paragraphs for easy reading.
  • Use bullet and numbered lists wherever possible.
  • Break up your content with visuals. (But make sure those visuals don’t overwhelm small mobile screens.)
  • Write short titles and headlines.
  • Keep sentences shorter, ideally below 15-20 words.

These general rules apply to all types of your website content, from your home page all the way to individual student blogs. Always stick to this general rule: the more digestible your content is, the more easily your audience will be able to consume it on mobile.

4. Check Your Conversion Steps for Mobile Compatibility

A mobile-first marketing strategy for higher education is difficult to achieve in part because so many components play into the admissions process. Think about it:

  • Your audience may visit your website to learn more about you. But they’ll likely use a sign-up form that’s not native to the website to submit an official inquiry or register for a campus visit.
  • The application is typically handled through a third-party platform that connects directly to your admissions team’s CRM platform.
  • Most higher education CRM platforms can’t handle payments, so students will need to submit their tuition deposit on yet another platform handled by your student billing office.
  • Once they move toward orientation, your online student portal may be yet another piece of the puzzle.

Every one of these steps and platforms still needs to be optimized for mobile devices. Check them to be sure they are just as usable and intuitive on smartphones to find potential improvement opportunities.

5. Test Your Admissions Emails on Mobile Devices

Email continues to be a massive driver of student interest, inquiries, and applications, even as other modes of communication have entered the fray. But increasingly, your audience will consume those emails on their smartphones, where they tend to look significantly different.

Regardless of the email software you use to send admissions messages, you likely use templates to make your emails look as engaging as possible. Platforms like MailChimp, ConstantContact, and most admissions CRM systems all offer these templates to higher education marketers.

But once you take a closer look at the templates, you realize just how desktop-optimized they tend to be. Large hero images and multi-column text approaches are particularly difficult to transition to a mobile audience.

However, building a truly mobile-first marketing strategy for higher education is impossible without taking email into account. For every message you send, consider testing it on mobile devices. This ensures that the template dynamically adjusts to the smaller screens and allows you to make tweaks that make it just as engaging as it would be on a desktop. 

6. Consider Mobile-First Communications Channels

Almost every study connected to high school students’ communication preferences will agree: channels like email still matter, but gone are the days when they took the sole primary role. Instead, mobile-first communication channels, especially texting and messaging apps, are vital when creating a mobile-first marketing strategy for higher education.

Texting is especially beneficial for quick and functional notices, like an event or deposit payment confirmation. Meanwhile, messaging apps like Facebook Messenger are designed to help students get quick and thorough answers. Both play a vital role in the modern communications structure. They’re each designed to truly reach your audience where they spend their time.

7. Optimize Your Interactive Campus Map for Mobile Devices

You won’t be shocked to hear that in today’s environment, an interactive digital campus map has become a core part of communicating with your prospective students and their families. It:

  • Provides an easy overview of the campus
  • Helps them find their way to events and move-in
  • Offers some opportunities to highlight the ways in which your university is unique

But don’t underestimate the campus map’s ability to play nice on mobile devices, either. Directions to the right check-in building or parking space become much more usable if families can follow them on their smartphones. Then, if prospective students visit your website from their phone, the transition to a mobile-optimized campus map will be much smoother.

They might not be the centerpiece of a mobile-first marketing strategy for higher education. But campus maps and other tools that are truly optimized for small screens are still an invaluable part of your digital experience. 

That’s where we can help. Concept3D offers a truly mobile-optimized experience, helping you build and present interactive campus maps that are a perfect match for the preferences of today’s higher education audiences. Ready to learn more? Then contact us to start the conversation.

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