8 Higher Education Web Trends to Watch in 2024

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Last Updated: Dec 14, 2023 11:00 AM

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The end of the year is always an excellent opportunity to look ahead and identify the predominant web trends to expect in the upcoming 12+ months. For the purpose of this blog post, we will focus on higher education, as most of our customers are colleges and universities. However, one interesting observation is that there is quite a bit of overlap between higher-ed marketing and the trends outlined in Content Marketing Institute’s 2024 report for B2B.

While years ago, higher-ed still seemed to be a bit uncomfortable even using terms like “lead”, and “conversion rates”, let alone “ROI”, these days, Marketing and Communication teams look at trends even outside of higher education in the pursuit of attracting the best and brightest students, staff, and faculty, as well as generating revenue through donations.

In fact, more institutions are hiring marketing professionals with a corporate background than before. Therefore, the overlap is not too surprising. Let’s look at the top web trends in higher-ed for 2024.

1) Generative AI

One of our most popular events this year was our webinar on ChatGPT, in which experts shared how the technology could be used for marketing. The consensus was that ChatGPT and other tools could speed up the process of generating ideas and even writing drafts of content assets but that nothing can replace the thoughtfulness and creativity of the human mind - at least not now.

A still underutilized use case revolves around analyzing reading levels and adjusting content based on the target audience. As it is now possible to create your own ChatGPT, we can expect marketers to leverage this capability and the tool’s APIs to enhance their sites to allow website visitors to change the complexity of the language based on their needs. Another opportunity is to link to suggested content based on the website visitor’s interest and behavior.

AI was also the most talked about topic at this year’s HighEdWeb conference. Image creation and manipulation using Firefly, Photoshop, and Canva are low-friction ways to get started. We learned that paid-for services like Jasper are getting traction and used to write initial drafts for things like program pages - with the understanding that the generated content will only be used as a first draft.

AI-powered chatbots have seen a meteoric rise over the past year, but it was just the beginning, sd the global chatbot market in education is estimated to reach $994.5 million in 2024. They are a cost-effective way to provide 24/7 support in multiple languages, which is becoming increasingly important as colleges and universities seek to attract more international students.

The most significant challenge to be expected concerning AI appears to be the lack of guidelines, which is not surprising given the newness of the technology. Based on the content marketing report from Content Marketing Institute, other concerns include skepticism about accuracy, lack of training, and lack of understanding. To overcome these obstacles and leverage AI for effective web marketing, higher education, like other institutions, will need to invest in education/training and perhaps even consider carving out a new role.  

2) Personalization

Content personalization has arguably been one of the most important impactful marketing strategies in the past three years.

Since most consumers only consider doing business with organizations that cater content to their individual needs and interests, it makes sense that higher education has started to implement personalization strategies and the tools that support them.

Based on a survey conducted by us during our webinar, the biggest challenge continues to be a lack of resources. That said, colleges and universities understand that a personalized experience has become an expectation. There’s no shortage of studies that show that even a basic personalized web experience achieves higher conversion rates and increased revenue, often around 20%.

Some of our customers have successfully implemented personalization based on geolocation, the digital body language of the visitor, or form submissions and have experienced significantly greater conversion rates.

In 2024 and beyond, we can expect web personalization to become one of the highest priorities for higher education marketers. Use cases include personalized calls to action, content suggestions, and customized digital viewbooks, to name but a few.

3) SEO and Voice Search

While SEO has been of great importance, it will evolve even more with the advance of AI. For one, new, intelligent SEO tools are flooding the market.

They don’t just provide analytics and alert users to areas of improvement and keyword opportunities but also have the capability to fix issues on pages on the fly, including meta tag optimization, internal linking, and in some cases, even content rewrites.

Furthermore, AI algorithms are becoming highly capable of understanding context and user intent. As a result, marketers need to pay attention to semantic search optimization through natural language and content optimization for contextually relevant keywords that are in line with the search behaviors of their target audiences. Addressing common questions and concerns that prospective students have is essential for SEO.

Another critical fact to consider is the rise of voice search, as there are currently 4.2 billion voice assistants. This number is expected to reach over 8 million in 2024. Higher education marketers will need to use AI to analyze voice search patterns and optimize content accordingly. Therefore, it stands to reason that budgets must focus on SEO and AI-driven tools to support it. This aligns with other verticals, as 88% of marketers currently investing in SEO intend to increase their spending.

4) Video: Short-form Content and Live Streaming

Video marketing experienced a massive surge in 2023, with 93% of businesses using video to promote their products and services, and colleges and universities have embraced it at a similar pace.

In 2024, the rise of video for marketing in the higher education space will be even more impressive and span a wide array of both short-form content and live streaming.

Popular short-form videos include virtual tours, testimonials, campus life highlights, not to mention TikTok videos, and Instagram Reels. Note that 61% of Gen Z prefer videos under a minute long, so short-form videos tend to be an effective way to engage this particular demographic.

That said, especially now that colleges and universities are expanding their target audiences due to the upcoming demographic enrollment cliff, longer-form video, such as live streaming of lectures, Q&A sessions, and events such as concerts and other performances, may become an increasingly effective way to engage with different types of prospective students.

5) Podcasts

Speaking of long-form content, expect to see more colleges and universities producing and promoting podcasts. Not only are they a great way to show prospective students how to prepare for college, such as the one created by Georgia Tech, but they are also an effective way to promote the thought leadership of the organization, such as the series hosted by the University of Chicago, which features an impressive spectrum of topics.

Bucknell University’s podcast series deserves a special shout-out, as it is actually geared towards helping prospective students with things like application essays and highlighting specific programs. As more colleges have started to offer courses on podcasting, we can expect them to put the knowledge and equipment to good use for their marketing and recruitment efforts.

6) Public Relations and Thought Leadership

Sharing thought leadership on your website through podcasts can enhance institutions’ visibility and reputation and can be a very effective public relations tool to drive donations, engage alumni, and help boost enrollment.

But the benefits don’t stop there. It also enables them to establish credibility, foster strategic relationships, and educate and serve their communities. It’s one of the reasons why media and expert search features have become such a high-value component on higher education websites.

The more colleges and universities can get their highly skilled subject matter experts in front of the press and the public, the more exposure and meaningful discussions they can foster, even indirectly, via backlinks. Here are a few examples of expert finders: Northwestern University, University of Rochester,  and Indiana University.

7) Micro-Influencer Involvement

As thought leadership will become an increasingly viable and even vital part of higher-ed web strategies, marketers need to identify faculty members who are qualified, willing, and able to share their expertise and insights through articles, webinars, podcasts, videos, and other channels. Faculty members can, indeed, be leveraged as micro-influencers - another strongly emerging trend.

Of course, nobody has more credibility with prospective students than current and alumni. Empowering students to share their stories in an authentic way and within the mediums with which they feel most comfortable allows universities to attract the right audience and reach niche audiences in an effective way.

Chapman University has implemented a very clever and effective way to connect prospective students with student ambassadors and staff via chat based on their interests and questions that they would like to ask.

8) Content Re-Use

In the abovementioned content marketing report, Regina Lynn Preciado, senior director of content strategy solutions at Content Rules Inc., stated, “Content reuse is the only way to deliver content at scale. There’s just no other way [...].Even if you’re not trying to provide the most personalized experience ever or dominate the metaverse with your omnichannel presence, you absolutely must reuse content if you are going to deliver content effectively,”

To engage and retain students as part of their marketing initiatives, higher education institutions need to find ways to create new content and effectively reuse and repurpose it. The best way to do this is to manage content in structured, modular blocks instead of in a monolithic WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) Editor.

Modular content (smart chunks instead of dumb blocks, as content guru Karen McGrane would say) allows for much more flexibility and personalization, which lets higher-ed websites address the diverse needs of different personas. For those reasons, Hannon Hill has always supported and promoted breaking web content into smaller, reusable chunks.

Expect an increased demand from higher education organizations to move to a more structured content management model that allows for better content reuse and selective and strategic cross-site and cross-channel syndication.

Conclusion

With the avalanche of new AI-driven technologies and tools for analytics, SEO, and even content creation and editing, it will become imperative for colleges and universities to provide guidelines to their content contributors and educate them on proper and effective use.

As personalization has become less of a nice-to-have and more of an expectation, higher-ed marketers must invest more resources in delivering customized content to a more diverse audience and a wider array of personas. This will require creating and sharing more diverse content, so having a documented content marketing strategy in place will become a mandate.

We’d love to hear from you. What other trends are worth keeping an eye on in 2024?