Conversion Rate Optimization at Bethany Global University

You’ve probably heard about conversion rate optimization. But what exactly is it? And how might it fit in with your higher education marketing strategy?

Dan Sanchez, Marketing Director at Bethany Global University joined a recent episode of the Enrollment Growth University podcast to talk about the tools, techniques and massive enrollment growth successes they’ve had with conversion rate optimization (CRO) strategies.

CRO is Essential for a Niche University

Bethany Global is probably one of the most niche institutions out there.

They only have 3 undergraduate majors and a few master’s degrees, all focused primarily on the training and sending of Christian missionaries. 

As the Marketing Director at Bethany Global University, Dan oversees all of the marketing initiatives — from marketing automation, to directing the technology of the call center, to the websites. They’re very digital-heavy in their marketing strategy.

And because they’re such a niche institution, they’ve been very focused on the type of students they recruit, and how they recruit them.

And that’s where conversion rate optimization has been helpful.

What is Conversion Rate Optimization?

About 10 years ago, Dan transitioned from web design to marketing. And he started to find that he would disagree a lot with his marketing peers about what should be put on a postcard, a landing page, or the homepage of the website. 

Should there be text above the fold on the website? Or should there be a carousel slider with different messaging on it? 

Everyone had a different opinion, and no one really knew what would work best. That’s how Dan discovered conversion rate optimization, which is really just a method of testing how people are going to respond to these different elements, whether it’s marketing collateral, advertising, or a webpage.

With conversion rate optimization, you’re often running a split test, or an A/B test. So, you make two different versions of a marketing piece. Or, if it’s a website, you send half the traffic to one piece and half the traffic to the other piece. Then, you look at the data to see which piece actually performed better. 

So, conversion rate optimization allows you to not just wonder what works, but actually have proof, evidence, and statistics to tell you what works.

Prioritize Your CRO Efforts

Even if you only consider testing just your website, there are so many different variants you could test — from fonts to headlines to imagery.

So, where do you start?

Dan says to start with your high-priority pages, the ones getting the most traffic. These might be your homepage, your landing page, or that page where you’re people send in a request for information.

Another great place to start would be your value proposition. Why? 

Well, for one, it’s high value in that it can make a huge difference in your conversion rate. But it’s also easy to test, because it’s usually just text. You don’t need a graphic designer to change it out for you, and you don’t have to write any special code. 

Plus, your value proposition provides the reason why someone visiting your site should take that next step, whatever that might be for that page.

Free and Nearly-Free CRO Tools for Higher Education

There are a lot of conversion rate tools out there, and Dan has used a number of them. 

There are some tools that have a monthly service fee, but Dan’s team prefers using tools like Google Optimize that are either free or very inexpensive. 

They also use a tool called OptinMonster, a very inexpensive lead form tool. But you could also install a lead form on multiple pages and then split test just the lead form rather than a whole page. That way you can test a lot of little assumptions that you might have about responses.

And for people using WordPress, Nelio AB Testing is a great WordPress plugin. It makes conversion optimization the easiest, because it can quickly duplicate WordPress pages for you.

Conversion Rate Optimization Results at Bethany Global University

Dan’s team has been able to move their core landing page from a 6% conversion rate to a 14% conversion rate. 

When you’re multiplying that lead cost decrease over month and months, that cost savings ends up being pretty extraordinary.

Conversion rate optimization is a big reason why they’ve been able to triple the enrollment of Bethany Global University over the last five years.

Next-Steps CRO Advice for Higher Ed

According to Dan, the most under-tested page, and most underutilized page of all universities, is the page that appears after someone requests information. 

Prospects are typically the most excited after submitting that form. But usually the following page simply says something like, “Thanks for requesting information. We’ll be getting back to you.” 

There’s an opportunity at that point to really take that student’s excitement and run with it. 

Maybe you just throw the whole application up and prompt them to fill it out. Or, maybe you provide information on how they can attend a sample class.

However you do it, just testing that one page would probably yield some great results.


This post is based on a podcast interview with Dan Sanchez from Bethany Global University. To hear this episode, subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

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Eric Olsen

Eric brings more than a decade of award-winning creative brand development, marketing analytics and higher education experience to Helix Education. Eric is a graduate of Bradley University and earned his MBA at Lewis University.