Competition for Students Heats Up Online

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With the recent controversy surrounding online & for-profit universities, one would expect a decline in the number of consumers looking to go down the eLearning path for their education needs.  However, while many argue new government regulations designed to impact online powerhouses like University of Phoenix & ITT Tech are too lenient, online schools continue to attract millions of visitors to their sites every month.

UVs to Online Ed Sites

It looks like business as usual for schools eschewing the old “hallowed halls” in favor of fiber optic cables and an internet connection.  The question is how are these schools maintaining such a large share of education related online activity?  With billion dollar budgets, it’s no surprise publicly traded companies like The Apollo Group, which owns University of Phoenix, have a strangle hold on search in the College & University Category.  University of Phoenix alone spends SEM dollars on more than 300 individual search terms.

Search Referrals to College and  Universities Category

However, is all this search spending really eating into the slice of the online pie owned by traditional brick & mortar universities?  Averaging around 2,000,000 UV’s per month, Harvard University clearly isn’t feeling the pain.  Interestingly, though, Harvard is spending on search for its own eLearning arm, the Harvard Extension School.

Search Referrals to Harvard.edu

But what if your students aren’t wearing cardigans tied over their shoulders, and constantly dropping out to start multi-billion dollar social networks?

A perusal of the search strategies of many schools in the US demonstrates a decided lack in search spending across the category.  Many schools rely on traditional advertising like TV and radio spots, along with their reputations, to drive visitors to their websites.  However, with traditional brick and mortar schools opening eLearning arms all the time, one has to wonder how long this strategy can continue.  Colleges & universities that don’t currently have an online program will increasingly find themselves fighting for share of mind with their neighbors who do.  This may not matter for the Ivy League, who can make their enrollment numbers on name alone.  However, other schools in hyper competitive markets like Boston will increasingly feel the sting, as those schools spending on search for their eLearning programs garner more and more traffic to their websites.