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The Importance of Digital Marketing in International Student Recruitment

Meeting the needs of education institutions by providing expertise, comprehensive resources, scale, and reach. 

Having a digital presence and the expertise to create the content that students want and need is crucial for Gen Z engagement and promoting your institution. IDP’s suite of websites for students provides content and functionality that prospective students can easily compare, filter, and engage with and creates the leads and interactions that provide return on investment. Between March 2022 and February 2023, the IDP Live app was downloaded 875,000 times across the globe and our education websites received almost 131 million visits (sessions). IDP’s suite of websites generated more than 2.7 million leads and enquiries either to our counsellors on the ground or direct to institutions. These statistics highlight that students begin their journey into international education online. 

So, if you’re still asking yourself whether digital is important for international student recruitment or how digital marketing can help your institution reach its diversity goals, this article will provide further proof and explain how IDP can help.

Why is digital crucial in attracting international students?

According to Datareportal.com’s Digital 2023: Global Overview Report 2023*:   

  • The total global population is now 8.01 billion (+ 67 million YOY change) 

  • 68% of the population (5.44 billion) are unique mobile phone users (+168 million YOY change) 

  • 64.4% of the population (5.16 billion) are internet users (+98 million YOY change) 

  • 59.4% of the population (4.76 billion) are active social media users. (+137 million YOY change) 

We’re pretty sure you’re familiar with sets of statistics like these and aware that your target market of zoomers (Generation Z, colloquially) are digital natives. We probably don’t need to tell you that the internet is everything, everywhere, all at once – it’s a shop front, a prospectus, an application form – it is a flexible way to reach your target market.   

So, why is digital marketing still seen as: (a) difficult to get right, (b) difficult to target, (c) prone to wastage, (d) expensive, (e) low ROI, (f) all of the above. 

The fact is, digital marketing can be all of the above when you don’t understand it and don’t have the resources or expertise to get it right. However, in today’s market, and with Generation Alpha (the truest digital natives ever) firmly on the higher education horizon, it is genuinely the best-fit marketing channel for your next cohort. Digital fits seamlessly into zoomers’ lives and affects their behaviour. It is the perfect marketing tool. 

Ed Kelly, IDP Connect’s Director of Client Success and Operations, says, “Possibly the biggest barrier to effective use of digital by institutions is the ability to track meaningful return on investment. Lots of partners want our support to better understand how earlier student touchpoints, such as email leads, are indicators of their ultimate enrolment goal.  

“It’s important to take a holistic view of return on investment, because no two student journeys are exactly alike. Many international students who use our platform are connected directly to our counselling team for conversion, while others enquire directly to institutions or engage in other valuable ways, such as shortlisting.  

“Our focus has therefore been on helping institutions understand these different user-journeys and how they relate to international strategy.” 

Why digital marketing is the way forward

When was the last time you reached for a recipe book to make a new dish? If you want to make muffins, chances are, you grab your phone or tablet and type “muffins recipe” or “how to make muffins” into your browser. You will probably click on a website appearing on page one of the search returns, and, most importantly, you’ll be ready to bake muffins in no time at all.  

And this is how students at the top of the funnel start their international education journey; they search online – from their bedrooms, on the school bus, from everywhere and anywhere. It’s an established behaviour among Gen Z that emerging, established, and even some heritage brands have recognised and are taking advantage of.   

Generation Z’s totally-immersed digital natives don’t collect paper prospectuses in a canvas tote bag, (which is a bit like picking up every product in the supermarket when you only want the ingredients for muffins) they find a digital platform or information source they like interacting with, they find out if they can trust it (that’s a big thing for Gen Z), and they’ll quickly narrow their focus to the information that’s important to them – if they are interested in the prospectus, they’ll access it digitally.  

Gen-Z will download an education courses app, create an online account, and do their research there. They might join a higher education forum or go to a particular university’s social media page, and they will find honest reviews from alumni to help them decide whether an institution might be the right fit. They will do all this on their smart phone or tablet, and this is why digital marketing should be one of your go-to channels right now. 

Accessing the expertise you need for successful digital marketing

IDP’s expertise and success lies in our scale and reach. We are experts in student digital marketing and our websites reach students wherever they are, connecting effortlessly with them 24/7 whenever they search for information. Once they start their journey on an IDP website, they will be able to compare, filter and track their options and applications as they progress down the funnel. 

Neil Pearson, Chief Digital Officer at IDP Connect, says, “We have worked with students and institutions to develop, build, and deliver the services required in today’s digital-dependent culture. 

“Presenting personalised information and real-time, transparent feedback on a student’s choices and processes means IDP apps and websites provide high-quality and trusted routes to finding the best possible courses for each student’s requirements. And, as the IDP platform is omni-channel, our online offerings are backed by our teams on-the-ground who can help students turn initial digital research into realistic opportunities, applications, and enrolments.” 

We know what students are looking at on our websites and the content they are interacting with. We know where they are geographically, and we utilise this data to help our partners get the most from their digital marketing and support their overarching recruitment strategies.

Diversification and digital marketing

Most institutions recognise the need to diversify away from the two main student markets of India and China.  

However, institutions are being asked to reach and enrol a diverse student cohort with little or no additional resources. Digital marketing can be a key tool in diversification and, unlike some other types of campaigns, digital can react quickly when political and cultural landscapes change. Whatever the event and subsequent data trend shift, digital marketing can be altered almost immediately to target the market and address any changes in demand. 

The share of global internet users in January 2023, according to Datareportal.com*, reveals some interesting statistics about users and potential markets for international education institutions targeting digital interactions:  

  • Asia has 57.9% of all internet users across the globe 

  • The Americas, including the Caribbean, have 16.7%  

  • Europe has 13%  

  • Africa has 11.4% 

  • Oceania has 0.7%  

Southern America, with 6.8% share of global internet users, has the third highest single region share after Eastern Asia and Southern Asian which have 24% and 18.5% respectively. Northern America has 6.7%. 

Between March 2022 and February 2023, IDP’s suite of education search and information websites received 130,892,315 visits. Traffic into Hotcourses Brazil and Hotcourses Latin America accounted for 5,738,454 sessions recorded across the ten HC country/regional sites – more than all other individual country/regional HC sites, including India, Indonesia, and Thailand.   

IDP demand data shows that Brazil currently sits fourth in the source market demand standings, with 5.25% demand across all IDP websites, while Mexico sits in thirteenth place out of all source markets, with 1.99% (as at 17-04-23). Institutions looking to diversify their cohorts can use such data to understand where their digital campaigns should be targeted.

IDP data can also show what subjects are being searched for. For example, from March 2022 to February 2023, the four top subject searches from Brazil were for Health and Medicine (26.07%), Business and Administration Studies (12.19%), Applied and Pure Sciences (11.84%), and Creative Arts and Design (11.07%).  

The importance of SEO expertise

Digital marketing helps build brand awareness across a wider audience. Strong SEO (search engine optimisation) is crucial if you want to achieve high visibility in online search and IDP’s SEO leaders make sure our websites are doing the heavy lifting for you in this area.  

When a student searches for “engineering courses USA”, chances are, one of IDP’s websites will be at the top of the search returns. If your institution’s engineering courses in the USA are included on our websites, students are going to be far more likely to see them there than seeing your institution’s stand-alone website – its’s as simple as that. Your institution is competing with every other university in the US and for many institutions, it’s challenging to feature highly on the ranking pages. In contrast, IDP consistently achieves high rankings, providing a valuable platform to promote your institution. 

Translated content increases reach and visibility

The content on IDP websites will always appear translated into the same language that the search term has been made in. This has several benefits:   

  • Translated content is attractive, welcoming, approachable, and accessible  

  • It can reach students at the top of the funnel as they are taking their very first steps on their international education journey 

  • Key decision-making stakeholders (parents, etc.) may not be English speakers or have the same language skills as their children, so ensuring the content is accessible is important 

  • It will reach students who might be considering non-English speaking destinations 

  • Translated and well-optimised content in source market languages increases its visibility and reach (it’s a huge plus for SEO)

More than just leads 

Leads are crucial; however, when done well, digital marketing can be about so much more – it can support students as they commence their international education journeys and help to ensure the best matches for students and institutions.  

Prospective students are carrying out a filtering process as they search, they are sorting through information before making an enquiry. IDP sites are built to carry out a certain amount of initial triage and filtering, and, because our services are always ‘student-first’, they provide each prospective student with the information that is best for their needs, not to suit ourselves. 

However, more often than not, our partners are the best fit and provide the best content, because when institutions work with us, we are able to build them a content hub with the narrative we know will work best for them and the students they wish to attract. 

Stuart Smith, Director of Product and Marketing at IDP Connect, says, “IDP’s development and implementation of market-leading products and services supports the needs of our students and clients. We turn our web and app-based interactions with students into a unique understanding of their behaviour and needs, and this means we can develop and build the innovative digital services students want and will use to start their education journey. 

“Our team works closely with stakeholders and collaborates with our development teams to design, build and deliver the digital the marketing products that will provide excellence for clients.”   

Importance of content and narrative

International students are unlikely to have pre-conceived thoughts about what your university is like, so the first impression you make on them, and their parents, is crucial. To appeal to today’s digital-savvy cohort, you will need to build your brand online and create an institution narrative.  

We know that Gen Z consumers are attracted to content created by influencers and are interested in brand information that makes sense; they want to understand what they are looking at and feel the authenticity. It’s no longer enough to write in your prospectus or on your website about the state-of-the-art engineering equipment in your brand-new Tech wing – you will need bolder, more vibrant ways of connecting to prospective students and telling them what your institution has to offer.  

The IDP app features helpful tips, advice, personal stories and videos from international students and institutions around the world to help students get a flavour of what their own education adventure might look like. When prospective students view this content, they begin to picture themselves at your institution.  

Reach more students on digital with IDP 

So, as you can see, digital is essential for international education recruitment. IDP can help you leverage your brand effectively across the largest network of prospective students in the world. We have the digital marketing expertise to help you create the content and narrative that will help prospective students find you, connect with you, and, ultimately, choose your institution.  

Contact our sales team for more information about Core Partnership with IDP.   

*      https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2023-global-overview-report (in association with We Are Social and Meltwater): 


Jane Venn
Jane Venn22 May 2023