7 Ways to Improve Digital Marketing ROI in Post-Pandemic International Student Recruitment

Key takeaways:


  • The 2020 QS International Student Survey reported that 61% of students used general online research when conducting higher education research.
  • Investing in customer relationship management (CRM) systems is a good start to measure digital marketing ROI.
  • Institutions can gather and analyze data by using tools such as Google Analytics, Cyfe, and Hootsuite.

As the world slowly returns to a semblance of pre-pandemic normalcy, international education leaders try to adapt and transition to new ways of doing things. From the physical conferences, school tours, and other offline recruitment activities that they used to do before, higher education institutions now rely heavily on digital marketing to reach more aspiring international students worldwide.


Digital Marketing is a blend of an institution’s branding and marketing efforts across all digital channels, including its website, email, social media, SMS text message marketing, and more. Since the pandemic paused traditional recruitment activities, many institutions have had to rely entirely on digital strategies.


The value of amplifying our digital marketing activities was evident in the 2020 QS International Student Survey (ISS). The survey reported that 77% of the 78,000 students worldwide used the official website when conducting their higher education research; 61% used general online research; rankings took 47%; 38% used course-finder websites; 35% preferred browsing on social media channels. 


These were the top sources of information for prospective international students which were followed by offline activities such as institution information sessions, discussion with admissions staff, university prospectus, and some recommendations from family and friends.


But how can we assess the impact of our online marketing efforts and assure that they help us achieve our goal? 


In the recent 2022 NAFSA Annual Conference and Expo, I assisted in moderating an open meeting for the International Enrollment Management (IEM) Knowledge Community (KC) and developed a resource on measuring the return-on-investment of digital marketing activities.


In this NAFSA IEM KC resource, we build upon model practices and add new tools and strategies that have evolved during this period. With these tools in mind, in-person and virtual engagement can co-exist in a post-COVID recruitment strategy. 


Understanding measuring ROI


When it comes to digital marketing, it is a common misconception that “viral content” means an effective campaign. While it raises the green signals for your brand, this measurement cannot show the time, money, and sources you implemented in your digital efforts. Thus, it is necessary to understand and measure digital marketing ROI.  


The first thing to consider is to identify which campaigns and initiatives are working. From there, we have to make an effort in unfolding how to improve the campaigns that are not effectively contributing to your online activities.


Another crucial aspect is to identify the obstacles that hinder turning leads to successful enrollment and other setbacks in the marketing funnel. And lastly, it is necessary to break down big goals into manageable micro-campaigns for each digital marketing initiative.

Infographic sep 6.2-01

1. Invest in CRM


In measuring the ROI of your digital marketing efforts, it is a good start for the institutions to invest in a good and customizable customer relationship management (CRM) system that can track student journey from new lead to alum and brand advocate.


2. State your ROI goals


Your digital marketing campaign will have different ROI goals. It is important to be specific about the return you want to achieve. For quantifiable goals, you have to be clear on factors such as the number of impressions or views, the number of (qualified) leads collected, a positive change in lead scoring (engagement), the number of applications accepted, and a market’s admissions or yield rate.


Meanwhile, some digital campaigns’ success should be measured with brand awareness in a new market, the applicant’s experience, alumni advocacy, and other metric factors.


3. Be value-data driven


When it comes to student recruitment, we have to be obsessed with data that can be collected and analyzed. If valuable data is not being collected, consider investing in the resources needed to prioritize this vital step.


Tools like Google Analytics, Cyfe, and Hootsuite can help institutions gather and analyze data. In addition, we have to familiarize ourselves with the average cost-per-lead and cost-per-enrollment so we can assess the value of our data and ROI goals.


4. Establish unique landing pages


When capturing leads, build unique landing pages by utilizing Urchin Traffic Monitor (UTM) codes. It is specifically designed to provide the most accurate measurements of unique website visitors. This will also help in measuring the ROI of specific digital campaigns.


5. Don’t forget to follow up


Automation is the game today. We have to ensure that we have to communicate with newly-generated leads in real-time, as much as possible. Thus, use automation where possible, leaving the most personalized attention to the “bottom of the funnel,” those you know are the most interested, engaged, and admissible.


6. Experiment again and again


When setting up digital advertisements and campaigns, we must pay attention to our ROI which will give us the feedback needed to create a more effective campaign. It is recommended to use A/B testing, which means using two (or more) different approaches with your pool of leads to see which is more successful. By A/B testing, you can better determine which combination of activities and engagement best improves your yield.


7. Aim for a 5:1 ratio


Lastly, make it your goal to achieve a 5:1 ratio in your campaign. Typically, digital marketers consider a 5:1 ratio to be a positive ROI. For every $1 spent on marketing and recruitment, the tuition revenue should be $5.


Recovery is now underway for some destination countries after the slump in enrollment the international education sector has faced for the past two years. As leaders of international education in today’s new normal, we must strategize in incorporating our offline and online marketing efforts into student recruitment and monitor its results. (MAY ARTHUR)

MSM GMO US Vice President May Arthur

Vice President, Global Partnerships

May is a seasoned international education business executive with almost 30 years of experience. She has held several leadership roles dedicated to growing and retaining the international student population at partner universities. 


Her broad areas of expertise include business development, organizational leadership, strategic planning, and global operations. She excels at developing and supporting partnerships with universities and managing global recruitment initiatives.

She has also been an active member of several renowned industry organizations including NAFSA: Association of International Educators, English USA, American International Recruitment Council (AIRC), and the Association of International Education Administrators (AIEA).


MSM Insights: 7 Ways to Improve Digital Marketing ROI in Post-Pandemic International Student Recruitment

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