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How universities can leverage Sitecore to improve student experiences


A trend has been emerging over the last couple of years in the Higher Education sector. More and more organisations are investing in Customer Experience Technologies and moving away from what has been a traditionally open source or proprietary dominated vertical. 

Why The Investment Trend?

It doesn’t take much research to understand why Universities are putting customer experience at the forefront of their digital strategy and investment in platforms like Sitecore are now more common place. The increase in tuition fees has meant the average student now invests on average £44,000 in their education as opposed to £16,000 for those who graduated 5 years previously (gov.uk, 2015). When this additional influx of cash is combined with the removal of the cap on student intake we are presented with a hugely competitive market and a requirement to stand out from the crowd. It stands to reason that “Customer Experience” will play a key role in this after all, higher education organisations are businesses and as Gartner tells us, “By the end of 2016 it is expected that 89% of businesses will compete primarily on the basis of customer experience.”

The Importance Of A CX Focused Website

There are many ways in which a university can have an impact on a prospective student. The new £55 Million sports centre at Birmingham University will undoubtedly make an impression on returning students. The £1bn building programme being implemented by Cambridge University dwarfs even this in comparison. Whilst these offline investments undoubtedly impress and impact the acquisition of prospective students, you still have to get them there in the first place….


This is where the online world as a huge part to play in the acquisition of new students. Gone are the days of nipping up to the careers library at school to flick through a beautifully crafted university prospectus.  The initial engagement a prospective student has with a brand is likely to be online and it is at this point where customer experience technologies can help tap into the emotional triggers to maximise the impact on that individual at that point in time. And it is not just the student audience that should be considered. The new generation of prospective students have parents who are more digitally savvy and invested in their further education. These two audience types alone will want to consume content in different ways and winning them both over will be key to success.

How To Stand Out From The Crowd

Getting the most out of the platform of choice and providing a strong ROI is a key challenge. Customer Experience Platforms like Sitecore supply the tools to differentiate yourself from the competition and at Ratio we specialise in helping Sitecore customers get the most out of their investment. As such I have pulled together 
3 key considerations for standing out from the crowd.



1.     Maximise Homepage Impact


A common approach in higher education websites is to have, “Book your place at our open day” pride of place in the homepage banner but who is this really targeting? and are we sure that this is the most appropriate message to be displaying at that point in the journey? For example a prospect student visiting the site for the first time may not be at the correct stage or emotionally ready of to commit to an open day, this may be more relevant on their 3rd visit once they have looked at the course available, the lifestyle afforded to them at the University or ordered a prospectus. At this point we can subtly nurture them toward the conversion of signing up to an open day.


Consider mapping out the experience journeys both online and offline to understand the emotional position of the user when engaging with the website. This will help you display the most relevant content increasing the efficacy of the moment of impact.


2.     Profile The Audience in xDB


It sounds obvious but with the points made earlier in this article, the new generation of students aren’t the only ones who will have more than a vested interest in the website. Parents and teachers are huge influencers in the considered process for selecting a Uni and they will demand different content to that of a prospective student.  

The Sitecore Experience platform allows us to place users into “buckets” or “profiles” depending on the type of content they have consumed, from this data we are able to have a very different digital conversation.



“When you get to the point where the data collected in xDB is informing your content strategy you know you are in a really exciting place.”


Sitecore Experience Profile



Consider creating profile cards and matching them with pattern cards against personas (not as confusing as it sounds) to build a view of the user in the xDB (Image Above). Not only will this help you better understand the type of content that is being consumed but who is consuming it. When you get to the point where the data collected in xDB is informing the your content strategy you know you are in a really exciting place. Now we have opened the gates to behavioural personalisation.

3.      Close the loop with Email

Whether using Sitecore EXM or an alternative email provider close the loop between the website and email channel by applying personalisation to the onsite experience driven by the CTA from email campaigns. What I mean by this is if a use completes a enquiry form onsite for course information, nurture them back to the site, perhaps a triggered email containing additional information. When the user engages with the call to action serve them information on the faculty, facilities, social or whatever content has been mapped out in the “experience maps” as the most relevant for that moment of impact.

When applying this at scale consider using the automation plans in Sitecore to take your users on a complete experience journey through email and web, perhaps even pushing to offline for open days….but that’s for another day.