That meant no checking campaigns until midnight. No getting up at 5 am to make sure everything is delivering. And not watching Google Ads like a hawk all day and pouncing on opportunities for optimisation. Instead, I was running an audit that analysed the Clearing landing pages of 131 UK universities, looking at the factors influencing their conversion rate.
Conversion rates for universities
A conversion rate is the percentage of website visits that turn into a desirable action. For universities, this might be open day registrations, prospectus orders, live chats, enquiries submitted, or in this case; calls to the clearing hotline.The audit examined a range of factors that influence conversion rates including page load speed and where the clearing telephone hotline number was placed on the page.
Put simply, it focused on how effective university landing pages were at generating enquiries. As we know, this is the key objective of a university clearing marketing campaign.
Clearing: The Black Friday of the University Marketing World
So why is clearing so important to universities?
Clearing campaigns are all about generating enquiries in a ferociously competitive marketplace. If someone doesn’t get the A-level results they needed for their first choice university, they can apply to a different one via clearing. This is the key moment for another university to reach them with an alternative option.
Millions of pounds are spent in one day on Google Ads alone. Some universities rely on clearing for 80% of their new undergraduate intake each year. And according to UCAS more students than ever before had obtained places through its clearing process this year.
Figures from UCAS (as of 27/8/2019) showed that 44,000 out of the 476,000 UK students who gained places went through clearing. That’s 4,500 more than the same point last year. This shows how crucial it is for universities to get the most of their marketing spend during clearing and convert more website visitors into clearing enquiries and offers to new students. And they need to do this in the face of fierce competition.
That’s why we liken clearing to being the Black Friday of university marketing.
CRO: More Students, No Extra Ad Spend
The results of this audit show that this budget would work so much harder if there was more focus on efficiencies.
One way to do this is by leveraging existing web traffic via conversion rate optimisation (CRO).
CRO is a scientific approach to design, optimising and testing for improved results. It turns more of your website visitors into leads or sales. Small changes can make a huge difference to the number of prospective students visiting a university’s website and those actually doing something as a result e.g. calling the clearing hotline.
And universities are in a unique position for CRO – they stand to gain a lot. Because 95 per cent of universities get over 100,000 monthly website visitors.
But the audit shows how inefficient many university website landing pages are at converting prospective student web visitors into taking action (e.g. calling the clearing telephone hotline).
At 100,000 monthly website visits, a tiny extra 0.1% on a conversion rate would mean an extra 1,200 conversions over 12 months.
Let’s say a student’s average lifetime value to a university is an estimated £27,000.
Imagine just ten per cent more of the prospective students who visited a university’s website on clearing day called the clearing hotline, then accepted a place at that university.
It would deliver hundreds of thousands of pounds in extra revenue, if not millions.
The Audit Results
Missed opportunities cost universities hundreds of thousands of pounds every year. Let’s explore this by looking at the results of the audit in detail.
58 per cent (71) of all clearing hotlines were not clickable on a mobile. These would either have to be copied and pasted or remembered by potential applicants.
49 per cent (60) of universities did not show their clearing hotline above the fold on their landing page when the website was accessed via a mobile device.
Above the fold is the content that displays on a website without needing to scroll up or down.
Because many website visitors don’t typically scroll beyond the fold, this means these universities are missing out on converting visitors to take action e.g. calling the clearing hotline.
88 per cent (115) of landing pages take longer than three seconds to load, and the average load time of a clearing landing page was over six seconds.
Research shows 40 percent of people will leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load). 12 university websites are not secure (http not https).
This means visitors are likely to get an off-putting security warning notice and the website is susceptible to being targeted by hackers. Overall, the results show UK universities are missing out on hundreds of new students during clearing because their websites perform poorly. In Wales, Bangor University, which had the fastest landing page load speed (3.1 seconds), was the top-ranked of four Welsh universities that passed the website audit.
It was followed by Aberystwyth University, University of South Wales and Swansea University. Bangor University (#1) and Aberystwyth University (#2) were also the top two ranked universities in the UK.
University League Table: Clearing 2019
Our research also shows how inefficient some Welsh university websites are at converting prospective student web visitors into taking action, as four failed the audit. There was good news overall for Wales as the top-performing region in the UK, with 50 per cent of Welsh universities passing the audit, compared to a UK average of 39 per cent.
As a Welsh-based company, we are thrilled to see Wales performing well compared to other UK regions and two Welsh universities coming top of the pile.
Once we’d finished collating information for our audit, we’d collected over 3,600 pieces of data to analyse.
As a result, this is the most comprehensive CRO audit for university clearing campaigns ever carried out.
The Top 3
It was great to see two Welsh universities taking up the number one and number 2 spots.
Bangor University, Aberystwyth University and SOAS University of London all passed every aspect of our audit and there was very little difference in their scores.
- Bangor University
- Aberystwyth University
- SOAS University of London
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