Dominate This Year’s Clearing

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492,005 students were accepted in 2021, and this year, 610,720 people have applied to university and college so far. The numbers are set to get even bigger – research from UCAS shows that 68% of those registered with UCAS by January but who didn’t apply still intend to start a course with a university this year.

Familiarity is Key, Course Selections Comes First

Reassuringly for those of us involved in marketing in higher education, according to UCAS, only 1 in 20 join a university or college with which they are unfamiliar.

We also know that subject selection comes first. A third of students decide on their degree before they even turn sixteen, whilst another third decide before researching. That means 66% of students decide on their subject before their university. This supports the need for an always-on marketing strategy, throughout the year and in the months leading up to Clearing, not just for those hectic few weeks during August.

Bouncing Bank into a New World

Universities have always relied on reputation and awareness to reach future students. New technologies are revolutionising effective marketing techniques to meet the changes of the constantly evolving media preferences of future learners.

Those universities that are most adaptable to change will be best placed to grow their recruitment number within the upcoming time window. They will generate more enquiries, a stronger impression on future learners, and ultimately build stronger long-term reputations in an evolving market.

5 Steps to Dominate This Year’s Clearing

1. Outline Your Strategy, Build a Plan

We’ve had the greatest success working with HE institutions when we have built a clear strategy from the outset, understanding where you can outperform the competition and assigning accountable owners and targets to achieve each goal set. This has helped dramatically when approaching a hectic, crucial Clearing season, as each team and extended team has their own clear objectives and roles.

Monitoring and reacting to changing behaviours and preferences is also key. It is important to be open to being reactive with changing trends that appear throughout the academic year and tailoring your marketing to be relevant. Relatively small changes to emerging trends can be the difference between you and another institution.

Students have more choices than ever before and the traditional recruitment cycle still exists for undergraduate courses. The spikes in active online search and the application process traditionally runs from June to January with peaks around September and October ahead of the mid-January deadline. This is followed by a later summer ‘Clearing’ period which is particularly heightened from mid-August through to mid-September.

Outline a strategy, build a plan, and execute it. Build familiarity with your institution and imprint why each course stands out through its benefits. Each institution is unique and therefore requires and benefits from a clearly defined strategy that works on an individual basis.

2. Embrace Technology

Given the rapid evolution of technological education over recent years, it has never been as important to select the right platforms to target your selected audiences in higher education marketing. By utilising technological patterns and changes, effective marketing can be targeted at students across a host of platforms.

Personalisation in online marketing is highly effective. 80% of consumers are more likely to make a purchase when brands offer personalised experiences. For higher education institutions, offering personalisation is important in order to encourage potential students who require engaged education. For example, institutions should be using website personalisation through dynamic web content, this can be done based on student type, course interest etc. If a site visitor is interested in engineering courses then provide alternative content in relation to their interest, as well as recognising previous site users to customise the experience.

Viral trends change regularly, and having an awareness of these can be essential; actively engaging with these trends also adds credibility to an institution’s brand, particularly in line with technology, which will be a more desirable asset than ever this Clearing season.

Get your content right. Embracing video, for instance, is key to all emerging technologies. Communicate your key messages in an interesting way, and consider how to optimise them for the channels that will achieve your goals, ideally through professional production. Making interesting, sharable content is the key to going viral on social media platforms, for example, while focusing on a strong call to action builds success through other channels.

If you haven’t embraced new platforms yet, consider piloting an allocated spend in these areas. Channels such as TikTok have grown massively and should be utilised as an opportunity. Research shows that 60% of freshers in 2020 were actively using TikTok, and a further 41% were in 2021. An effective campaign on this platform is going to cut through to new audiences.

3. Data Marketing

One of the perks of higher education institutions, particularly longer-existing ones, is the catalogue of first-party, historical data on record to pull from when managing a marketing strategy; there will already be a pre-existing record of which marketing strategies typically perform best, and these can be used with increasing intensity as students’ decisions are delayed upon Clearing.

By analysing time frames on application conversion and typical conversion rates in response to marketing targets, a more well-rounded plan can be supplied to effectively strategise.

Remarketing is also an essential tool, with retargeted ads being 76% more likely to be clicked than a regular display ad. Programmatic can be a key tool to use in display marketing and remarketing interaction.

Google has reported that general search queries surrounding HE recruitment have generally remained flat over the last three years; however, user behaviour has changed, with less brand search and more generic queries being reported.

The three emerging trends that these prospective learners demonstrate include searches for a particular field of study, queries regarding degree types and specific credentials, and more general queries such as practical information, ranking, and news. Within SEO, Clearing pages on university sites should be live all of the time and continue to drive links to the page to build authority within the category ahead of competitors, who may only create new seasonal pages for Clearing.

4. Content

Being creative is essential to stand out in the saturated HE market. Don’t rely on rollover strategies that have worked in years gone by; fresh content is important to present an up-to-date opportunity that students will relate to and engage with.

Going to university is a major decision, and as such, applicants are likely to engage with a long application process that involves multiple online touch points. Understanding the value of channels and where each channel can support your recruitment activity is massive.

Creating confidence and security for students is a key component within content, as many of the students won’t have had that bridging opportunity from school to college, resulting in a wary set of students who are looking to universities and student unions for this support in bridging what could be a gap from leaving school to starting university.

Clearing campaigns are an opportunity for universities to introduce or reintroduce themselves to students who may not have been aware of them. Content should have a clear focus on what makes the university unique. Utilising user generated content through video and social media posts that really resonate with the audience is key to showing students you understand their needs.

5. Follow Your Future Learners’ Journeys

Be mindful that most students will approach the decision of higher education without a definite idea of what they want to do and are therefore open to suggestions. Using a range of triggers can draw students into the exploration stage of the journey which will allow an institution to showcase itself. This stage is crucial, as the main attraction points of the institution will be considered again at the evaluation stage – a stage which will be even more important with such high competition this year. This overall experience will lead to conversion if successful and ultimately carry out the target of the marketing campaign.

Search still plays a major role in the student journey – Google’s Director of Education, Jennifer Howard, ICEF, highlights the long, drawn-out nature of the average university search: “77% of education seekers will first visit a school’s website at least two weeks – and often two months – before taking action.”

These visits are becoming increasingly easier to do on the fly too. University search queries performed on mobile were up 23% in the second quarter of this year, with Google reporting that students using mobiles were starting their searches earlier than ever. From recent Google data, it is now believed that half of all prospective students use mobile devices to research higher education, often using mobile early on in their search before returning to desktop devices for further information.


Understand your personas, geos, and course, popularity. Aim to own page one on Google through paid, organic, and video results for your key courses. Realise that future learners are searching for courses first and validating your university second. Future learners will vet you on social media, search, and through reviews, as well as being influenced by their parents and their views on your institution.

Mediaworks has successfully accomplished missions for the education sector, including increasing enquiries through a results-driven clearing campaign for Northumbria University and optimising paid campaigns for Newcastle University. Find out more about our previous work for universities here

If you need anymore information and would like to speak to a member of the team today, email or call +44 (0) 330 108 6522.



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