Education ‘Players’ in China such as private businesses, online services, and formal academic institutions are often burdened by the costs of commission when it comes to student recruitment. Chinese ‘agents’ who are recruited to work on behalf of education schemes take a high percentage in terms of commission, it is a highly competitive environment whereby ‘sales’ teams will often be outsourced to other players, all working for a slice of the commission for generating student prospects.
Indeed a Montreal School board had to defend paying nearly $4.5M in commissions in three years to recruit Chinese students, in 2016 almost $500 000 was spent on kickbacks to agents. There is certainly a more cost-effective way.
Online reputation and visibility is the answer to student recruitment
The problem is that the commission rates are high (as high as 40%) whilst results from agents can be varied, there is also always an element of risk as you are not working directly to generate student prospects, rather relying on local firms who are not connected to the institution. There can also be a ‘race to the bottom’ type philosophy with agents cutting costs and ruthlessly trying to ‘sell’ to generate results.
Indeed a Montreal School board had to defend paying nearly $4.5M in commissions in three years to recruit Chinese students, in 2016 almost $500 000 was spent on kickbacks to agents by this institution. There is certainly a more cost-effective way.
Education services develop their own Chinese customer services as the solution
The answer is to develop your own marketing strategy and generate student prospects directly through intelligent online recruitment and your own Chinese team. 350 million middle-class citizens are prioritizing education like never before and research extensively online (even if recommended by an agency to your school and courses) The digital eco-system for attracting students is very powerful in China and you need to tap into this.
Additionally, by improving your ‘brand’ image online you are more likely to generate better quality connections in China to represent your offering. Your internet reputation is King regardless.
It is therefore pivotal to develop a strategy in order to build your own recruitment service in a more cost-effective way (by avoiding high commission structures) and also to support agency contacts working for you in terms of your online reputation and visibility. This assists with their promotions.
Agents do not market your services online
The truth is that by not developing a direct recruitment strategy you are missing out on the largest market segment. Agents very rarely market online, it’s an offline process through their networks which simply cannot drive the same numbers of leads when compared to qualified search traffic from Baidu (China’s Google) for example.
Here we’ll explore the key techniques for attracting students directly:
A Quality Website Optimized for Baidu (China’s Google)
You need to develop a quality Chinese site that is optimized for Mandarin Chinese characters. This is integral for building your visibility, a simple Chinese version of your current site will likely not suffice. For optimal performance, sites need to be hosted on a Chinese server with a .cn domain. The site can still connect with the English version but needs to be audited with Character searches in mind so that it will be visible on Baidu.
Example Wellington College Shanghai
Increasing your Visibility on Baidu
Baidu is your portal for Chinese students and parents, indeed 75% of all online research happens here, prospects will be very discerning and look into your institution extensively, even if suggested by an agent. This is a huge and life-changing decision to make.
To improve visibility on Baidu in the natural search results you must create quality, fresh content and generate links and references to your site. Being featured in forums and other e-media sources is also a powerful way to increase your ranking.
Example MBA on Baidu
The most qualified prospects are always driven by ranking highly in the natural search results, this is the most important way of accessing the quality of your offering for many netizens, how highly you rank and being on the first page over time is a necessity.
With over 250 000 education-related searches per day, you can imagine the potential traffic that can be driven to your Chinese site.
Ensure you develop a contact form for prospective enquirers to leave their details and receive a callback or a WeChat message (the lifeblood of communication in China).
Alumni Network Management
You need existing student success stories to push for media content, on social media, in forums, and in articles. Manage your network in China of existing students and utilize their testimonials for promotions. WeChat groups, forums, QQ, and dedicated web chats can all be used to gather alumni together and collate great content for cross-promotion.
Education Forums are Vital
In China education forums are very important, sites such as Baidu Tieba, Zhidao, Zhihu, Tianya, and Douban all rank highly in the natural search results. It is here that you can create threads and post testimonials and kick-start user to user conversations about your institution.
The other important point is that SEO rankings are high, they are a powerful way of raising your ranking in the organic results, elevating visibility (as they appear often above an official website!), and building e-reputation.
Students (and particularly parents) research extensively online before making any decision, education is one of the most important priorities for the modern Chinese family, if they can afford it a foreign education is most highly prized.
Exposure in the Chinese Media
Being featured in the media is a great way of building a reputation. Remember, English content outside of the Mainland is often blocked, it will also not be picked up on a Mandarin keyword search. Websites such as Eduxin,Sina, News 163 and Sohu all have education threads where the discerning user will research and also find news content on your school through searching on Baidu. This is an important part of the decision-making progress. You need to be newsworthy.
The key here is to curate high-quality mandarin content and share it via the best portals to a quality database of journalists. Content needs to be re-adapted and tailored with a quality team of local copywriters conveying your message in the best way.
WeChat, Great for Communication & Content Sharing
WeChat has just hit 877 million active daily users, it’s undoubtedly a powerful platform to tap into.
The majority of students come initially to you via Baidu searches, you can cleverly drive traffic directly to your WeChat page by embedding QR codes on site, ensuring you provide an incentive to scan and follow your account. As you build up followers via an official service account you can push notifications to followers which appear in their feeds directly, this increases engagement levels.
Also via WeChat you can curate high-quality content by building pages using the HTML5 format, this allows for a smooth experience and also appears very professional, parents will turn to WeChat to research and spend time browsing through university, school, or college official accounts.
A Chinese Student Service
A Chinese language student and customer service are evidently vital. Ensure you have a quality native speaker who can deal with enquires over WeChat and over the telephone. Running customer services in-house has a host of advantages:
- You control the style and quality of communication
- A direct line of communication with prospects is always preferable
- Providing a personalized service directly is a strong USP where agents may fail to offer such quality customer service.
So there you have it, a host of ways to directly attract students without paying large sums in commission. Once you set up a marketing campaign and achieve results it is easier to maintain a positive status and position online, it offers the best ROI in the long term and can certainly drive the highest numbers of prospective students.
GMA: Your Education Marketing Agency in China
Please contact our Education expert “Benji”, for more information on online student recruitment and how it can help you grow exponentially in China.