Three Ways to Understand, Interpret, and Take Action on Google’s Latest Report on EDU Search Trends

Spring 2019 data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center shows U.S. college enrollment is still trending downward, for the eighth year in a row. Year over year, enrollments declined by 1.7 percent, or around 300,000 students – just slightly smaller than the 2017-2018 decline of 1.8 percent.

The Center’s research is inclusive, encompassing 97 percent of enrollments at institutions that grant degrees and are eligible to receive financial aid. So the chances your institution is also experiencing a decline in enrollment are high. However, the future of higher education isn’t necessarily as dire as these statistics suggest.

There are other statistics at play that represent a glimmer of hope, a changing tide in higher education that it’s up to institutions to harness. Our partnership with Google means we get exclusive access to its analysis of higher education search trends and data, including a recent Education Insights Quarterly report from Q2 of 2019, which measures and analyzes higher ed-related search queries.

“While previous evaluations of the education industry showed consistent downward trends, with an updated query set, there are clear signs of growth and areas of opportunity,” the report states.

It appears that although enrollment is still down, interest in higher education is actually trending in the opposite direction. The first and second quarters of 2019 marked the periods of largest growth in Edu searches since the first quarter of 2017.

To our experts, some of the most significant aspects of Google’s findings were these:

– Overall, higher ed search queries are up three percent year-over-year, which is the largest YoY growth since Q1, 2017.

– Unbranded search queries (those referencing higher education more generally) are up four percent year-over-year. The largest YoY growth since 2017.

– Branded search queries (those that include the name of an institution) are up three percent year-over-year.

– Unbranded searches about program types and degree types were both up six percent year-over-year. Searches for certificate programs grew 7% YoY, while bachelor’s and master’s search volume grew at 5% and 3% respectively.

– Search queries for CNA/LPN grew 9%, while searches related to RN grew 6% year-over-year.

– Searches for “online masters programs grew 6% year-over-year.

– New York, California, Texas, and Florida were four states with the highest YoY growth at 6.36 %, 4.44%, 4%, and 3.09% respectively.

Google search trends

Taken comprehensively, these findings led our team to three overarching insights:

1. Your search marketing strategy must be up-to-date in order to be effective.

Google discovered many of the fastest-growing higher education search terms only after updating its query set for this most recent quarter. This is an important reminder for institutions to pay close attention to the terminology prospects are using when searching for programs and degrees. Prospects may be interested in exactly what you have to offer, but use different words to describe what they’re looking for. Bridge the gap with a combination of technology and old-fashioned connection. When you comb through Google Analytics’ traffic acquisition reports, what search terms are prospects using to find you? When you’re talking to prospects during the enrollment process, what language are they using? Pay attention to this data and use it to inform strategic digital enrollment marketing.

2. Students have access to data as well, and they use it.

Your prospects aren’t just choosing their educational paths on a whim. They know which fields are growing, what it takes to start an entry-level career in their careers of interest, and how much they’ll pay for a degree compared to what their salary might be. “As seen in prior EIQs, interest in Cosmetology and Medicine & Health continue to grow; Social Sciences, Computer Sciences & Applied Sciences also show healthy growth,” the Google report says.

3. It is crucial to capture this renewed interest with an informed end-to-end marketing and enrollment strategy.

The largest search growth was seen in unbranded queries, which means people are once again considering continuing education – and knowledgeable of which degrees and programs interest them – which represents overall interest. The growth of branded queries, however, followed right behind. To us, this means that it’s crucial to have a strategic approach to digital marketing that follows students through their journey to enrollment. We recently discussed the importance of incorporating both unbranded and branded search terms into your bid strategy, in an article which you should share with your teams if you haven’t already done so.

We can’t stress enough the importance of incorporating both unbranded search terms (like your program and degree offerings) as well as branded search terms (like the name of your institution). Because these unbranded queries are increasing more than branded queries, if you aren’t ranking for unbranded search terms, prospects might not be seeing your branded digital ads at all. 

It’s also worth thinking beyond the digital search journey. If searches for degree programs you offer are increasing, and there’s little drop-off between those searches and those that specify institutions by name, but enrollments are still down … there could be an unrelated barrier to enrollment that would be worth identifying and eliminating. If people are searching but not applying, where is the disconnect and how can you bridge it? If you still aren’t seeing the enrollments you need, we may recommend evaluating your admissions processes to determine where prospective students tend to drop off. 

The Archer team sees the results of this recent Google study as an opportunity for our partners to capture the growing interest in higher education. If you’re interested in learning more, give us a shout. We’re always here to answer questions and discuss opportunities to improve your enrollment marketing efforts and results.

About Archer
Archer Education is a full service marketing and recruitment agency that helps colleges and universities reach further, recruit smarter, and grow faster. Our highly targeted, digital marketing campaigns are developed and implemented by experts with extensive backgrounds in both higher ed and digital marketing. Achieving enrollment growth while reducing marketing costs are our ultimate metrics for client success. Interested in learning more about a partnership with us? We’d love to hear from you. Contact us today.