EDU Digital Trends to Consider for Fiscal Year 2015

Most business officers at colleges and universities are wading through budgeting and compliance discussions for next year’s incoming class. If marketing budgets are top of mind at your higher-ed institution, review the big trends featured in our 2014 EDU Standard for the latest industry updates.

Hummingbirds, Pandas and Penguins

According to Google, there were 15% more searches for higher-education-related queries than in the previous year. While it’s no surprise that more of the college selection process is happening on digital channels, what is surprising is how much the nature of the search experience has changed in the last 12 months.

According to Danny Sullivan, Founding Editor of Search Engine Land, on Google’s latest algorithm update dubbed “Hummingbird” by Google Engineers, “Google struggled to recall when any type of major change like this last happened….Google search Chief Amit Singhal told me that perhaps 2001, when he first joined the company, was the last time the algorithm was so dramatically rewritten.”

The Hummingbird release happens on the heels of three other significant changes, the so-called “Panda,” “Penguin” and “Secure Search” updates – resulting in a series of changes that have flipped many universities’ Web marketing strategies upside down. Nathan Safran , Director of Research at Conductor, offers, “With the recent launch of Hummingbird, now is a good time for search marketers to revisit whether they’re sufficiently in sync with the way Google evaluates search results.”

What does this mean for business officers? Expect budget requests for search engine optimization (SEO) and Web presence management tools and services. Higher-education consulting services and tools can help navigate the change in this increasingly important channel. While it’s too early to assess the impact of these changes on student recruitment, universities who start budgeting for SEO now will be the ones putting together case studies next spring.

Online Advertising Investment Increasing

Karine Joly, contributor at, explains the way many universities think about Online Advertising:

“In the minds of some non-profit marketers in higher education, online advertising has been perceived for a very long time as a piece of the ‘for-profit’ exclusive branding territory—for better or for worse. Fortunately, perceptions about online advertising have finally shifted in many not-for-profit circles…”

Karine’s comments are consistent with last year’s trends amongst Fathom’s higher-education clients, who saw as many as 50% of students expressing interest in a university through online paid search advertisements.

The increase in advertising budgets for online advertising tie directly to the easily quantifiable ROI of the channel, in addition to some exciting, you guessed it, updates from major search engines, including Google and Bing. Google unveiled enhanced campaigns which features an improved search interface and a new approach for placing ads to mobile/tablet users, while Bing gained incremental market share, continuing to slowly eat into Google’s dominant market position.

Aggressive institutions are testing and expanding strategic online advertising efforts. Due to the ease of tracking success, building a business case for investing in this rapidly growing channel has never been easier.

Budgeting and Web Governance Considerations

Search engines play an increasingly important role in the decision making process for prospective students – making it an increasingly important channel for higher education. The dramatic changes driven by search engines should give universities cause to revisit marketing budget allocation in this critical area. Even more importantly than proper budgeting, is ensuring congruency of the process and policies the institution uses to govern the Web strategy, optimization and creation of Web assets.

To get the full scoop on this past quarter’s digital trends, register for our free webinar the State of the EDUnion.


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