Why Higher Ed Website Micro Conversions Matter For Your Recruiting Goals

Higher education enrollment is shrinking. The value of a college degree is being openly questioned in public forums. As a result, higher ed recruitment is increasingly becoming a game of winners and losers (the haves and have-nots). More and more public colleges and universities are seeing enrollment figures head in the wrong direction — and stay there.

It is still advantageous for long-term career prospects and earning potential to invest in a college degree — especially for students from lower and middle class families. But making the case is no longer a slam dunk.


Relying just on the strength of your school brand to be the differentiator in your targets’ decision-making process is risky. Schools that prioritize identifying and understanding the needs of their distinct target audiences stand a better chance of staying relevant through their prospects’ decision-making process.

Your school’s website remains a critical resource for higher education marketing teams. The ability to track and shape your prospects’ experiences on your flagship digital asset is vital to your school’s recruitment goals.

Shifting Narrative Around College Degrees: Who, What and Why?

Demographic changes are responsible for some of the decrease in higher ed enrollment. There are simply less high school seniors graduating today than there were 10 years ago. But demographics alone don’t explain the enormity of the enrollment cliff. What does?

According to The Hechinger Report, an organization dedicated to exploring innovation and inequality in education, causes of the dramatic downward trend include:

  • Widespread and fast-growing skepticism about the value of [a college] degree
  • Impatience with the time it takes to get one, and
  • Costs that have finally exceeded many people’s ability or willingness to pay

The COVID pandemic appears to have accelerated the shift away from postsecondary education, with colleges and universities seeing a 1.3 million fewer students on their digital and physical campuses since the spring of 2020 (a 7.4% decline).

It seems the meteoric rise in the financial value of higher education has finally outpaced its perceived value. Where is the impact felt most? And by whom?

Public Universities and Community Colleges Feel the Most Enrollment Pain

According to higher education enrollment expert, David Krauss, in-state public universities and community colleges are bearing the brunt of the enrollment cliff. However, while public university systems and community colleges continue to face an uphill struggle, demand at elite private schools — Harvard, Princeton, Stanford — continues to grow.

This disparity makes sense when taking into account the differences between student bodies at elite academic institutions and the public university system. Exclusive private schools admit a small number of top-performing high school students. They will always receive more applications than available seats. As such, these schools are more insulated from the changing landscape of higher ed recruiting.

Public universities, on the other hand, serve the educational needs of a wider, more diverse population. They must pay closer attention to demographic changes and how the needs of high school graduates are evolving. To keep up, higher ed marketing teams will have to hone their abilities to recognize and cater to new and unique audience groups.

Managing a More Diverse Pool of Prospective Higher Education Students

Before you can cater to distinct audiences, you have to identify and get to know them. If you want to understand your prospective students better, start with better data. This means your school website should be configured and optimized to track users across the breadth of your digital ecosystem.

We discussed previously the advantages of deploying Google Analytics 4 on your higher education website. The enhanced ability to track user behavior and (more importantly) actions is one of the key benefits of the platform.

With the right user data, you can evaluate exactly how your prospects engage and interact with your website content. These insights help you to segment your audiences, tailor user experiences to the distinct needs of each audience and increase the chance users in this audience group will choose your program. Here’s how.

Understanding Higher Ed Macro vs. Micro Conversions

There are four major stages in the prospective student buying process:

  • Awareness (Research)
  • Consideration (Evaluation)
  • Decision (Purchase)
  • Loyalty (Retention)

Prospects progress to the next stage by taking specific actions. These important actions are called macro conversion points. For higher education recruitment, there are four important macro conversions:

  • Request information
  • Take tour
  • Submit application
  • Enrollment (register for classes, apply for housing, buy books, etc)

The path to each macro conversion point is lined with micro conversions — minor actions users took leading up to conversion. Before a prospective student requests information about your program or school, for example, they are likely to visit a degree page or explore other areas of your site. Micro conversions are any interactions users have with content on your website (or other digital properties), including:

  • Watching a video
  • Mentioning or engaging with your school/program on social media
  • Exploring a degree page
  • Browsing a high volume of pages
  • Creating an account
  • Downloading files (i.e. enrollment application)
  • Button clicks
  • Site searches
  • Help chat sessions

University marketing teams pay a great deal of attention to macro conversions. But experienced marketers know that higher ed micro conversions are just as important — if not more so.

Importance of Micro Conversions in Higher Ed Marketing

You want to track as many micro conversions on your higher ed website as possible. Capturing and evaluating this data helps you better understand how your prospective students arrive at those all-important macro conversion points. Micro conversions also provide invaluable insight into the various pathways users take on your website, the content they find interesting or useful, and how, when and why they choose to engage with your school.

This information helps you gain a better, more granular understanding of your website visitors and more accurately segment prospective students into distinct groups of users. Armed with this micro conversion knowledge, higher ed marketers are better able to optimize content, tailor their approach for each group and keep users engaged through a long buy cycle.

Micro Conversions Fuel Higher Ed Recruiting Goals

Competition for students in higher education is getting fiercer, and your school’s brand is only going to take you so far. Higher ed marketers have to be able to create impactful recruitment and marketing strategies at the program level. And this requires a more granular understanding of your prospective students.

Identifying and tracking key micro conversion points is essential to higher ed marketing success. By visualizing the entire prospective student decision-making journey, you can establish flexible content pathways that resonate with real prospective student needs and make a sizable impact on your recruiting goals.

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