How Coronavirus is affecting traffic to college websites

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Student using a laptop

We’ve been hearing that website traffic has been down at school sites, so our analysts took a look at partner website data to see exactly what is going on. For comparison, we looked at traffic to college and graduate school pages on Niche to see if the same trends held true. Data is scaled to the highest median weekly sessions and pageviews per session in February, before many precautions were put in place.

Traffic to individual colleges is indeed down, sessions dropped all the way to 40% below the pre-coronavirus volume the week of April 5. The median pageviews per session had been consistent prior and dropped as well, so the people who were coming to college sites were viewing fewer pages each time. In real numbers, the median sessions per week dropped from a high of 2,989 to 1,789. Current students had less reason to visit the site, but there were also fewer visits to applications and key admissions pages.

There has been talk of students taking time off from searching for colleges, so we looked at our own college search traffic to see how students are behaving. While they are not looking at individual college sites as often, they’re coming to Niche in larger numbers and looking at more schools while here. We certainly saw a drop to 39% below pre-coronavirus volume, but unlike individual school sites we saw a bounce back immediately. In fact, the traffic volume is even higher than before.

In real numbers, we were seeing 919,193 sessions in a week to over 940,000 sessions in a week. Users also differed from individual sites in that they started viewing more pages than before. This plays out in student responses to our Impact of Coronavirus on Students’ Academic Progress and College Plans survey where 69% of high school students reported relying even more heavily on college search platforms for their research.

Make the most of the traffic you have

  • Interested in comparing your site to your peers’? Check out our 2019 Education Website Benchmarks for help getting started.
  • Make sure that your inquiry form and key goals are embedded or easily found on every page of your site. Your home page isn’t the only entry point to your site, and your admissions pages aren’t the only places that prospective students and families will go.
  • Make sure that your Google Analytics is set up correctly and that you have goals set up so you can quickly identify issues and key pages to prioritize updating. We have a guide to help you thrive.
  • Set up remarketing campaigns on admissions pages. If someone comes to those pages and doesn’t take action immediately you can stay in front of them to remind them why you might be a good fit for them.
  • Make sure your inquiry form has as few fields as possible so you have as few barriers as possible. If you want to collect more information (as long as you will actually use it) you can do so in a follow-up form in your autoresponder.
  • Swap lengthy text blocks for bullets, videos, and graphics to tell student and family stories.
  • Claim your school on Niche for free, if you haven’t already, so that families can get a better view of you. It’s important to be where the students are, it’s the same reason you’re recruiting on social media. The major difference is that students on Niche are actively looking for colleges.
  • It can be useful to have someone else take a look and provide feedback. Because we know that having a better website will help you better serve students we provide free audits. You can learn more and request one today and we’ll have results in 1-2 weeks.

Will Patch

Will Patch is the Enrollment Marketing Leader at Niche and helps clients with their enrollment strategies and digital outreach. He also shares insights and research on the Enrollment Insights blog and through webinars and a monthly newsletter. Prior to coming to Niche in the summer of 2019, he served Manchester University for 9 years in roles including Digital Strategist, Social Media Coordinator, and Associate Director for Admissions Operations. Outside of Niche, Will also coordinates the #EMChat community on Twitter, with weekly chats Thursdays at 9:00 PM Eastern.
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