Court Campion October 28th, 2020

How to Optimize your Higher Education Content Strategy

If you work in higher education marketing, you understand just how integral your content strategy is for reaching your target audience.

Your content strategy includes any marketing material that you create, including your website, email communications, and more. It’s what promotes your school to prospective students, delivers relevant updates, presents campus opportunities to current students and employees, and provides resources to alumni.

With coronavirus still disrupting universities during this school year and pushing many to remote learning, it’s a good idea to take a look at your current content strategy to ensure you’re doing all you can to maximize opportunities and serve your constituents. 

After all, societal norms seem to be changing daily, with some schools having to pivot to remote learning at a moment’s notice. Without on-campus resources informing students of university opportunities or in-person tours to show prospects what your school offers, it can be difficult to connect with your various audiences and provide necessary resources. 

This is why your higher education content strategy is more important than ever— it ensures that everyone stays informed and educated. 

Here at OmniUpdate, we understand how critical your school’s website is— and how essential it has become to marketing and recruitment. To help universities better engage their communities, we’ve compiled the following tactics to boost your higher education content strategy:

  1. Understand the needs of your audience.
  2. Utilize multiple communication channels.
  3. Prioritize accessibility and compliance.

A great content strategy should accurately represent your school while providing value to your college or university’s audience. Ready to learn more? Let’s begin.

1. Understand the needs of your audience.

As you already know, your higher education institution serves many different people. The school’s achievements and progress act as a thought leader for other university professionals, provide resources for those who are interested in your school, and aim to educate students through classes and other opportunities. 

With people turning to your school for different reasons, your university content strategy has to reflect these differences. How can you create a content strategy that provides genuine value to your entire audience?

To answer this question, let’s explore the common types of people who engage with your university, what their needs might be, and how your content can serve them:

  • Potential students. Without the opportunity to offer on-campus tours, your university is likely limited to mailing brochures, updating website content, and emailing prospective students more than ever. Your higher education content strategy should keep this in mind and offer additional ways for interested students to connect with your school. For instance, you could post a virtual campus tour on your website with interviews of current students to help prospects better familiarize themselves with your institution.
  • Current students. Whether you decide to continue remote learning or offer a hybrid of in-person and live classes, there will be a greater emphasis on your university’s online community. Who knows whether in-person events and engagements will be possible at all, so prioritizing digital marketing is crucial. Form your content strategy with this in mind. Advertise ways for students to get engaged virtually through social media or include online articles with top tips on how to make the best of the college experience from home within email newsletters.
  • Alumni. Alumni often reach out to their alma mater in order to connect with others, give back, and explore alumni events. Make sure your content strategy reflects that, especially on your website and email communications. Create dedicated web pages for alumni networking, online donations, and event registration. Within your communications, advertise these resources clearly, linking to the appropriate page within the content.

Each group (and any others your university serves) should have a personalized content strategy. This is especially important for prospective students. Even if they applied to your school and were accepted, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll attend. Presenting your school’s strengths in a compelling way online can be the deciding factor.

One of the best ways to reach your entire audience at once is with your website. Your university website is the central hub of your online presence. Organize content targeting your audience segments within the navigation menu and include dropdowns for different audiences such as students, alumni, and parents. The better you understand your audience, the easier it is to create your higher education content strategy. 

2. Utilize multiple communication channels.

For any organization, a dedicated and comprehensive marketing strategy will utilize multiple channels to engage the appropriate audiences. The same ideology applies to your higher education content. 

Universities exist to serve several purposes for a variety of audiences. In the last section, we discussed how each audience deserves their own targeted content strategy in order to provide optimal value and meet their needs. However, the way you share that content with your audience is important too.

You likely depend on your university website as the hub of your content strategy. But,  depending solely on your website to deliver your content isn’t the most efficient method, especially if you want to reach constituents quickly or leave room for feedback. Consider the additional marketing channels:

  • Email. Email reaches a wide number of people. To ensure your email content stays personal, segment your recipients by notable traits, for example, whether they’re prospective students or alumni. After all, these different groups shouldn’t be receiving the same content. Use email to send monthly newsletters, update constituents on upcoming events, remind students of certain deadlines, and announce other mass communications.
  • Social media. Some surveys say that 90% of teens ages 13-17 use social media, with about 51% checking their accounts daily. Maximize these popular media channels, and you could even consider asking a team of current students to run it. For instance, you may use Instagram to generate excitement for an upcoming football game with pictures of players or the mascot.
  • Text message. Text messages reach people in a quick and efficient manner. Research shows that text message open rates are as high as 98%, compared to just 20% of all emails. However, not everyone will want to receive text messages from your university. A good idea is to create text subscription lists that users can opt into. This way, people can choose whether or not to receive texts. It’s a good idea to still instill campus-wide alerts though, like for urgent weather warnings.
  • Direct mail. Direct mail is one of the most traditional marketing channels for university content. It’s a great way to reach prospective students as well as keep alumni updated on events and engagement opportunities. However, direct mail can be costly and detrimental to the environment, so be judicious with the content you send via mail. Ask your audience what they would prefer, and if they would rather not receive direct mail, make sure to note that. 

Now that you know the benefits of different marketing channels, which ones are best for which targeted content strategy?

For starters, take a look at the users who are already active. Within your university database, refer to reports and data trends to pinpoint which audiences frequent which marketing channel. According to Accudata, data-based marketing is one of the best ways to create targeted content that effectively reaches your audience. You may find that parents tend to check email and your website more often while current students engage with your school’s Instagram posts for pertinent events.

3. Prioritize web accessibility and ADA compliance.

As you’re taking steps to optimize your current higher education content strategy, you’ll likely be creating more digital content and making plans to increase your online presence. The last thing you don’t want to forget during this time is your content’s accessibility and ADA compliance:

  1. Web accessibility ensures there are no barriers to accessing content for people with physical disabilities, situational disabilities, and even socio-economic restrictions like bandwidth limitations. 
  2. ADA compliance refers to how compliant your website is with Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This act declares websites as “places of public accommodation” to ensure that websites uphold their accessibility standards. Failure to comply with- ADA standards on your website could result in legal action.

It’s crucial that you create an accessible strategy for all higher education content. Maintaining accessibility throughout all possible content, including your remote learning resources, is highly beneficial and ensures that you engage with your audience.

Prioritizing accessibility and ADA compliance is even more important now, with your digital engagements likely currently acting as the core method through which you reach your audience. You don’t want to inadvertently turn a prospective student away simply because the content you created is hard to access.

Consider these quick ways to increase accessibility for your higher education content:

  • Don’t overuse text.
  • Avoid graphics with flashing lights.
  • Include alternative text or captions for images and video.
  • Compress large images to reduce load speed.
  • Take advantage of multimedia.
  • Ensure content is mobile-optimized.

While these are good tips to generally keep your content more accessible, it makes sense to conduct full audits or input your website into an accessibility checker like this one. For more guidance, check out Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0.


As the spring semester approaches, there is still a lot to consider in terms of how students experience campus life. That’s why your higher education content strategy is more important than ever. Make sure to create targeted content based on your specific audience. This way, you can better provide valuable information and engage with constituents in genuine, productive ways. 

Use a well-designed content strategy to motivate prospective students to attend your school, keep current students updated with upcoming events and opportunities, and provide alumni with the resources they need. Good luck!

Court Campion

Court Campion is director of marketing at OmniUpdate, creator of award-winning OU Campus®, the most popular commercial content management system (CMS) for higher education professionals. Check out the Omniupdate blog for more information about university and college website redesign, accessibility, student engagement, and other topics of interest to higher ed marketers, developers, and administrators.

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