There is a new frontier in international student recruitment and you won’t find it on a map. For years the industry has speculated about emerging geographical markets of economic growth and student mobility – but rarely has it focused its attention on recruiting online. However, since the pandemic began, a digital land grab has been taking place with websites and marketplaces competing for online audiences of students seeking to study abroad.
The metrics for recruitment services vary depending on what part they play in the recruitment process, and are often hard to independently verify. Conversion data connected to recruitment agents is not widely available, nor are metrics relating to lead generation or conversion tools from technology providers. However one key metric is publicly available – website traffic.
This digital footprint quantifies the volume of potential customers visiting a website either through organic or paid searches. Just like footfall at a trade exhibition, it is at the very least a basic measure of brand reach, consumer demand and competition. The PIE editorial team has been using the website analysis tools at similarweb.com to take a look at traffic in the period between December 2021 and February 2022 as part of our International Student Recruitment 4.0 series.
Here are some of the trends in website traffic we found.
Comparison 1: Mass audiences
|Visitors (Dec-Feb)||Visitors (monthly average)||Average Duration (mins)||Bounce rate %|
Our research found five websites that were attracting mass audiences of between 2-7 million monthly users through their websites. Leverage Edu ranked number 1 in our list as the most visited student recruitment website between December 2021 and February 2022 with over 20.7 million visitors. However the average amount of time that users spent on the website was the lowest of the big audiences at just 1:19 minutes and a bounceback rate of 76.28% meaning that three quarters of visitors leave the website after viewing just one page. A high bounce rate is common with rapid growth in brand reputation and advertising spend.
Two global university ranking sites – QS World University Rankings 2022 and THE World University Rankings 2022 both featured in our Top 5 as they attracted huge organic traffic with students researching the reputation of global institutions. Organic search represented over 75% of traffic for these platforms. Both sites have recently partnered with a range of commercial university application services (THE with ApplyBoard, AECC Global, Studyportals and SIUK; QS with StudentApply) to funnel this high quality traffic into an ‘apply now’ call-to-action for conversion.
Global agent IDP Education, which owns and operates the IELTS business in India makes the list, with clear evidence this huge area of demand is driving traffic. Mastersportal.com, the flagship site for Studyportals, reached a whopping 3.4 million monthly users. The top traffic referrals for the site actually come from the wider portfolio of websites operated by Studyportals including distancelearning.com, bachelorsportal.com, studyportals.com and phdportal.com – which if grouped together would constitute the highest single traffic source.
Comparison 2: Digital application marketplaces (inc. agent aggregation)
|Visitors (Dec-Feb)||Visitors (monthly average)||Average Duration (mins)||Bounce rate %|
Another area of interest is digital marketplaces that support applications from agents. There are many companies in this space but we have selected five of the most well-known brands that are actively promoting this business model. It should be noted that Adventus.io is disadvantaged in this comparison as its focus is solely as an agent management tool, while all of the others websites are channeling both direct student applications (B2C) as well as agent-led applications (B2B).
What is noticeable with this type of digital marketplace is that the average duration spent on the website is relatively high and the bounce rate low (website bounce rates of between 26% to 40% are considered excellent by any industry standard). This is consistent with the fact that thousands of agents worldwide are using or considering using these application tools rather than just browsing information. These are actively engaged business users and the portals have a direct business benefit to them.
Unsurprisingly edtech unicorn ApplyBoard ranked number 1 in this list as the most visited recruitment website that agents can use, between December 2021 and February 2022 with over 1.5 million visitors. The next biggest in this category is Studylink Connect which works as an admissions tool for a majority of Australian universities and TAFEs. The platform is reportedly also used by 15,000 agents and received 1.1 million visitors in our three-month sample period.
Edvoy the digital arm of agent IEC Abroad that also supports sub-agent use as ‘introducers’ isn’t far behind with 1 million visitors in the same period, albeit with higher bounce rates and lower duration on the site due to its stronger B2C focus. Another big factor over this period is that many of these businesses have experienced rapid growth, with frequent advertising, hiring and PR activity – all evidenced by the fact that The PIE itself appears as one of the main referral sites for several of these providers over this period.
Comparison 3: India spotlight – traditional agents v digital agents
|Traditional Indian Agent||Visitors (Dec-Feb)||Visitors (monthly average)||Average Duration (mins)||Bounce rate %|
|Digital Indian Agent||Visitors (Dec-Feb)||Visitors (monthly average)||Average Duration (mins)||Bounce rate %|
India is by far the biggest source of website traffic outside of China for study abroad audiences and features in the Top 5 source countries for every website we checked. It seems logical to focus our next comparison specifically on Indian businesses rather than global websites. Many legacy agents in India have had office operations disrupted during the pandemic and have had to invest rapidly in new online content to stay relevant.
Similarly newer online agents who have gained traction with a younger generation during the pandemic, have had to invest in physical application centres to cope with demand and validate their services with parents and teachers. In many ways there has been a race to the middle ground of hybrid online/offline operations between the new and the old.
Some of the biggest traditional master agents such as SI-UK, TC Global, Edwise International and KC Overseas have all introduced enhanced websites with course matching tools, agent portals and mobile apps to support the customer experience. Their average monthly visitors, varying between 50,000 and 140,000, is a very strong number and higher performing than many of the SME edtech websites we analysed.
However, by comparison, the visitor numbers for these traditional agent websites in India are just a fraction of the traffic being attracted by some of the larger digital agencies that have been specifically designed for increased SEO, online communities and share-ability in a digital world. As we’ve already noted Leverage Edu experiences nearly 7 million monthly visitors, followed by Yocket receiving nearly 1 million monthly visitors and ForeignAdmits gaining an average of 260,000 visitors per month, a figure that is greater than Edwise International total traffic in the three month period.
Comparison 4: K-12 international school platforms
|Digital Indian Agent||Visitors (Dec-Feb)||Visitors (monthly average)||Average Duration (mins)||
Careers and university counselling platforms used by international schools is actually a relatively narrow competitive field for edtech companies considering the size and quality of this global audience. Unifrog is a red herring in this comparison as it has a huge domestic majority market share in the UK with just a fraction of its traffic coming from schools based overseas. BridgeU and Cialfo battle it out as the other two major contenders seeking international school partnerships.
Things to take into context
December to February probably represents the quietest time in international student recruitment enquiries in the Northern Hemisphere. January session intakes are likely to be confirmed so there aren’t as many new enquiries at this time of year. The period also falls in the middle of the academic year and roughly nine to 10 months before the traditional fall intake. It will be fascinating to do this comparison again at a peak time of interest for prospective students as visitor numbers are likely to be far, far higher.
As outlined in the Digital Student Recruitment Digest January 2022 the numbers of online agents and marketplaces are growing at an exponential rate, often backed by external investment. In some cases it is hard to distinguish between a strong company website and a genuine edtech recruitment solution and where to draw those comparisons. Brands like Studee tracked at 315,000 monthly visitors, Keystone Academic with 265,000 monthly visitors and Intake Education with 170,000 monthly visitors all deserve a mention for traffic volume, however there are simply too many websites to list individually here. As always we would recommend using this research as a starting point for your own analysis.
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