Here’s the point. International language schools and others involved in international education over many years were used to tracing enquiries to advertisements, to entries in brochures (often with coupons which were very clearly branded), to mailshots and to particular events. They could, by using a code or name or stamp or some other device in the contact details identify the source of the enquiry and thus evaluate whether a particular advertisement or activity had been a good, or indifferent, or bad investment. That’s putting things a little simplistically, but for many I think quite fairly. Why (unless there is a perception of “profile”) advertise if it doesn’t produce enquiries? Well, the answer is that that particular model has lost much of its validity.
How so? The short answer is because the Internet works differently. Services such as English in Britain (and there are plenty of others competing for a position here, but we’ll let them look after themselves) undertake to attract high quality visitors in significant quantity through so-called “portals”, and then deliver the visitors intelligently to appropriate course providers. The process works like this: students (and others) find the site easily on the net (e.g. by searching for “English courses” on Google™), the site offers a good, quality selection of possible providers, and this makes for a rich environment for quality contacts, a fertile marketplace, leading to contact and eventually to commercial transactions. However, if the portal is doing its job properly, the students will make contact with the course providers not via an obviously traceable enquiry system, but having been passed from one site to the other within the course providers’ own environment (i.e. within their web site), and so enquiries, when and if they come, will not normally be traceable to the portal that delivered them.
Unless of course the institution has taken a sophisticated view of the Internet, understands that key point about referrals from portals, and has perhaps even invested in software which traces such things with reasonable reliability. But this is an education market, and only a small minority have made the adjustment, and most have not yet really looked at the questions, much less the answers. Brought up on a model which traces enquiries in the old-fashioned way, most institutions know rather little about what goes on in the Internet environment, how a given enquiry came to them, and where quality is to be found. So here are some key points:
1. The crucial, central, and absolute requirement in Internet marketing is to ensure that your web site is a productive recruitment device. By communicating honestly, attractively, effectively what it is that is on offer, it must bring in potential customers, much as a brochure would do, only better.
2. Converting potential customers into actual customers is the business of the course provider, and is not the responsibility of the portal. Naturally there will always be a percentage of wastage in any source, but if the enquiry comes from a quality site, it is probably worth pursuing.
3. Site intelligence is more vital than advertisement tracking ever was. Since a web site can be accessed at any time from anywhere by any number, all institutions involved in international education need to make the effort to ensure that they know what is happening on their site in order to secure their business.
4. Having got the above in order (and only having got the above in order) the requirement must then be to find the best ways of driving appropriate, targeted, quality traffic to the site in a way that is professional, and likely to generate business. Get that together and success is all but guaranteed.
Why “horseless carriage”? Because people and institutions get locked into old paradigms. The first powered vehicles had the driver in the same place as the coachman, sitting aloft but with no horses below. Web sites have “pages” and “forms”, and frequently are little more than virtual brochures anyway. But it’s not enough. The important thing is to understand how potential clients found your web site, what they did when they got to it, and how you reeled them in (or why you didn’t). Take responsibility, make the effort to understand, and adapt to a new marketing world. Get it right, and reap the very considerable rewards.