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Exercise Caution When Purchasing Student Leads Online

Exercise Caution When Purchasing Student Leads Online

Buying student leads, like the names of SAT test-takers, is a long-established recruitment practice for countless colleges and universities across the United States. A Google search of the phrase purchase student leads surfaces more than 65 million results, many of them from vendors looking to promote their services to schools who want to build their database of prospective students.

There are undeniable advantages to this process. Purchasing leads means you have a built-in audience for your admissions materials, from viewbooks to email invites for campus open houses. But there are also significant reasons to be cautious. It would be misguided to blindly rely on this method of student lead generation without considering its alternatives.

Join us for an exploration of the potential challenges with buying student leads and learn other higher education lead generation alternatives that can mitigate these problems and enhance your enrollment marketing success. 

5 Potential Challenges With Purchased Education Leads

Your student contact list is, without a doubt, your most powerful recruitment tool. It's what admissions advisors use to reach out personally, and the foundation for the success of your admissions materials. Leads in your database are what fuel your enrollment funnel.

At the same time, that doesn't necessarily mean the quickest way to fill your prospective student database is also the best way. Purchasing student leads, or any type of email list, comes with potentially significant problems:

1) Your Engagement Rates Will Be Lower

When you buy lists, the recipients of your digital and print materials haven't said they want to hear from you. As a result, they will take action and respond to your messaging at much lower rates than prospective students who have actively raised their hands through an online or in-person inquiry. 

That's not just a hypothetical statement. Educational institutions might have the highest average email open rate of all industries at nearly 30%, but that number drops to the low teens for purchased lists. 

Your message might be sent to larger numbers, but if they respond or take action at much lower rates, is the increased audience size worth the investment?

2) Other Schools are Buying the Same Leads

Most schools purchase lists of prospective students from the same, few defined sources. College Board ranks number one, selling the names of test takers from its standardized SAT exam. Graduate schools may prefer the Graduate Records Exam (GRE) from ETS, while schools targeting international students tap into the list of TOEFL test takers.

The result is a crowd of schools, all targeting the same students around the same time. Those students will be inundated with admissions materials from countless schools, making it easy for your viewbook, emails, and postcards to get lost in the noise. 

3) Standardized Tests Are Becoming Less Ubiquitous

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools moved away from requiring standardized tests to help their prospective students. As it turns out, that decision is looking to be increasingly permanent. 

According to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, more than 1,800 colleges and universities have eliminated the SAT or ACT from their admissions requirements over the past two years.

That, in turn, brings up a significant quandary for schools relying on these tests to fuel their enrollment funnel. If fewer colleges and universities require tests, fewer students will take them. 

Purchasing that list of SAT test-takers in your state no longer ensures that you can reach a broad cross-section of your target audience with your admissions efforts.

4) Your School's Reputation Might Take a Hit

Add up all of the below, and you have an audience that never requested to hear from you, receiving countless pieces of mail. Is it surprising that "why do I receive so much mail" is among the most common questions high school students have in the admissions process?

That doesn't just mean your materials might be ineffective. At its worst, it could lead to a significant hit on your reputation. As Reddit threads on the topic show, students quickly get annoyed by masses of materials arriving in their inboxes. 

The paradoxical result: sending messaging to purchased lists may make students less likely to apply to your school.

5) You Could Get Into Legal Trouble

The final point comes with an important caveat: Purchasing SAT or other prospective student lists, generally speaking, is legal. But at the same time, it's easy to take a misstep that could get you into potential legal trouble.

Especially when targeting international students, you may be violating consent rules of international data laws like GDPR. Some email providers may also not consider purchased lists to be opt-in lists, meaning that any sent to these lists could violate their terms of service

Working with purchased student leads means walking on eggshells to avoid any potential legal ramifications.

Successful Alternatives to Buying Student Leads

Fortunately, these types of student lists are far from the only option to fuel your enrollment lead generation. The best way to avoid any of the above issues is to create a marketing strategy designed to get active hand-raisers interested enough in your institution to engage with and respond to your messaging.

That starts with a fundamental value proposition, telling your target audience why they should engage with you, and ultimately applying to your institution. But just as importantly, you need to find the right channels to turn that value proposition into a marketing strategy specifically designed to find the hand-raisers and generate high-quality education leads.

Some of these channels include:

  • Search engine marketing, creating high-value ads on relevant search terms that target the intent of prospective students.
  • Social media advertising, including lead ads, reaches your audience organically where they spend time online.
  • Programmatic and connected TV, focuses on the channels and streaming services prospective students are likely to watch.
  • Retargeting campaigns, prompting students who have already visited your website to become leads for more information.
  • Content distribution services, allow you to share both long-form and short-form content like blog posts on the websites and channels most relevant to your audience.

When organized the right way, each of these channels can be oriented towards generating inquiries from students, who will now be much more receptive to your emails, counselor outreach, and mailed admissions materials than students from purchased lists ever could be.

Building a Sustainable Education Lead Generation Strategy

Buying student names and contact information is not necessarily a bad thing. It should not, however, be your main and only source of prospective students in your admissions database. 

Diversifying your lead generation through other, more active channels is a part of building a sustainable recruitment strategy to reach, engage, and convert your audience and grow your enrollment.

That might sound complicated. Fortunately, you don't have to be on your own. Finding a reliable partner can go a long way toward creating that sustainable, multichannel strategy to capture leads.

That's where we come in. Sonority Group has extensive experience not just in all of the above lead generation channels, but in working with institutions that have traditionally relied on name purchases and are looking to add to or diversify their strategy. Ready to take that same step? Let's chat!

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FAQ Recap:


Why is purchasing student leads a common practice for colleges and universities?

Purchasing student leads is a long-established recruitment practice as it provides colleges and universities with a ready-made audience for their admissions materials. This includes viewbooks, email invitations for campus open houses, and other recruitment materials.


What are the potential challenges with purchasing student leads?

There are several challenges associated with purchasing student leads, including lower engagement rates, increased competition from other schools targeting the same leads, a shift away from standardized tests, potential damage to the school's reputation, and the risk of legal issues related to data privacy and consent.


How does purchasing student leads affect engagement rates?

Engagement rates tend to be lower when leads are purchased because recipients haven't actively expressed interest in hearing from the institution. While the audience size may increase, the response rates are often lower compared to prospects who have actively inquired about the institution.


Why is competition high among schools purchasing the same leads?

Many schools buy lists of prospective students from similar sources, such as College Board or ETS. This results in multiple institutions targeting the same students simultaneously, leading to increased competition for attention. Students may receive numerous admissions materials, making it challenging for any one institution to stand out.


How has the decline in standardized test requirements impacted lead generation through purchasing lists?

The decline in standardized test requirements, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, poses a challenge for schools relying on these tests for lead generation. With fewer institutions requiring tests, the pool of test-takers decreases, affecting the efficacy of purchasing lists to reach a broad cross-section of the target audience.


Can purchasing student leads harm a school's reputation?

Sending materials to an audience that hasn't requested them may result in annoyance, potentially harming the school's reputation. Masses of unsolicited materials can be perceived negatively by students, making them less likely to apply to the institution.


Is purchasing student leads always legal?

While purchasing student leads is generally legal, there are potential legal pitfalls. Violating international data laws like GDPR, especially when targeting international students, or breaching email providers' terms of service can lead to legal troubles. It's essential to navigate this process carefully.


What are the successful alternatives to buying student leads?

Successful alternatives include creating a marketing strategy focused on generating active inquiries from prospective students. Channels such as search engine marketing, social media advertising, programmatic and connected TV, retargeting campaigns, and content distribution services can help engage and convert high-quality education leads.


How can institutions build a sustainable education lead-generation strategy?

Building a sustainable strategy involves diversifying lead generation through active channels that engage the target audience. These channels should focus on creating inquiries from students genuinely interested in the institution, making them more receptive to subsequent communications.


How can Sonority Group assist in developing a sustainable lead generation strategy?

Sonority Group offers extensive experience in various lead generation channels and works with institutions looking to diversify their strategies. Partnering with Sonority Group can help institutions create a sustainable, multichannel strategy to capture leads effectively.


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