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This post is written by Chris Lucas, Vice President of Marketing at Formstack.

Most higher ed marketers know how important conversion rate optimization (CRO) is to our application rate – and our development efforts. CRO is a revenue driver – and it can have a positive impact on your institution at every point in the university operations funnel.

But we also know that an effective CRO campaign requires an investment of time – and money. And as many universities today face cash-strapped budgets and increasing costs, it’s more challenging than ever to get approval for process or strategy when your Dean doesn’t understand its value.

The good news is, conversion rate optimization is all about dollars and cents – and that’s a language your university leadership speaks well. You know CRO can increase your bottom line – the challenge is to show your decision makers that the end result is worth the resources needed to accomplish the goal.

Bring an implementation plan to the table (complete with a budget) and you’ll probably find it easy to convince your higher ed higher ups that CRO is worth the return on investment.
Here are four tips to help you sell CRO to your Dean – with dollars and sense.

1. Educate yourself about lead value.

Do you know what your average lead is worth? If you’re like 39% of marketers, you might not have a clue. But this is a critical first step in determining how much you should be investing in conversion rate optimization.

In higher ed, a lead is quantified somewhat differently than in sales or retail marketing. In your space, lead value usually refers to the cost of acquiring a new applicant, enrolled student or donor.

Calculating lead value will help your university avoid over- or under-spending on CRO. If you know an average lead is worth $20, you can steer clear of a $40-per- click ad campaign that won’t reap a good return on investment.

Once you determine your lead value, it’s easier to inform purchasing decisions, too – like, deciding whether software is worth the investment. If a new form building platform or page testing tool costs significantly less than the amount of valuable leads it can generate, you can confidently take the plunge. In fact, you may find that CRO increases your average student or donor acquisition value, which in turn will boost your average lead value.

So, why is it so important to quantify the cost of a single lead?

Because as marketers, we want to optimize for revenue – not just conversions. If your average lead value is $4 and you’re generating 1,000 new leads a month, you know you can safely invest $4,000 in CRO infrastructure, tools and talent. When your lead value increases, so can your CRO budget.

You can also take this a step further and calculate your lead value for each key traffic source. That way, you’ll know if certain channels, such as search or social ads, offer the best potential reach.

2. Use your goals to inform your budget.

In marketing as in anything else – the grander your goals, the bigger your budget.
Conversion goals should always circle back to meaningful, profitable returns for your university. In some cases, you may be surprised to discover that a decrease in conversion rates can lead to an increase in student inquiries, applications or donations.

For example, if you’re marketing branded apparel for your online college bookstore, you may choose to test out a price jump on a pay-per-click landing page. If you’re optimizing for a target niche, you’ll know what incentives (like free shipping or bonus gear) to include along with an increase from, say, $40 to $75.

For every 100 people that convert in this example, you’d make $7,500 instead of $4,000. So even if your conversion rate drops from 5% to 3%, you still get greater lead value with a pricing structure optimized to appeal to your target niche. You could then go on to test out additional, highly targeted optimizations to boost the new conversion rate.

3. Put your tests through exams.

Most conversion optimization plans rely heavily on A/B page testing software. Don’t pick one at random. Look into two or three different options to see which is easiest to use and offers the most reliable customer support.

Most vendors offer free trials of anywhere from seven to 30 days. Try out different options, ask for one-on-one demos, and compare features before you start paying for software. This will allow you to budget accordingly.

4. Leverage your department’s existing resources.

Are you using a form builder to collect email opt-ins? Integrate it with your Google Analytics and start A/B testing form fields. Have access to student interns from the journalism department? Get them involved with writing and digital promotion. In your budget, scope out the projected use of tools and talents already at your disposal to show your leadership ways you plan to maximize current resources.

Want to take a deeper dive into budgeting for CRO? Check out our new fill-in-the-blank e-book to learn more!


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  • patmcgraw

    Great post! Thanks for sharing.

    I would add that cost per lead is nice to know but it’s important to also remember that a lead is just an opportunity to spend more resources and the ultimate goal is to generate enrollments at the lowest possible cost while maintaining the highest quality (as measured by retention and graduation rates).

    And I would recommend mapping the recruitment/nurturing process from initial inquiry through to enrollment in their first class/term so you can see when you are contacting people and how and with what messages/offers/calls to action. It’s not uncommon to see large gaps in the process where the individual isn’t contacted at all – by phone or email or direct mail or mental telepathy. 😉 And then there are those messages and calls to action that really don’t make sense – like suggesting the individual start the application now even thought they told you they aren’t looking to start until fall 2018.

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