Generate leads - student on laptop

Generate stronger leads with prospective students using personalized URLs

by Ben Ruch

"PURLs can be easily pasted into any sharing channel — blogs, instant messages, Facebook and Twitter, etc. — providing a simple and very flexible sharing option for consumers."

Angela Bandlow

Vice President of Marketing


Repeated marketing to prospective students without knowing their user behavior or level of interest in your university can quickly burn through your marketing budget. By using a combined mix of direct marketing and marketing automation, including online marketing tactics, you’ll be able to connect with prospective students and generate stronger leads during recruitment.

Those in marketing know that direct marketing — the act of providing physical marketing materials directly to consumers or customers — comes with the ability to reach consumers or in this case prospective students on a deeper, more personal level than online or TV advertising.

In fact, 33% of digital-savvy millennials, report responding to a direct mail piece within one month while 20% report responding within one week according to a 2016 InfoTrends study.¹

However, marketing automation avenues such as email, social media, or websites are where prospective students are and often one of the best ways to reach them.

So what if you could reach more prospective students and generate stronger leads by combining the emotional and connection capabilities with the technology and avenues students use most? You can with purl (personalized uniform resource locator or URL) marketing or PURLs.

PURLs is an innovative way to get new prospects to respond to a personalized call to action. PURLs can be incorporated into an email marketing campaign or direct marketing campaign and includes a link to a personalized web address or landing page.

PURLs have the ability to bridge the gap between direct marketing and digital, consequently leading to endless marketing possibilities including boosted direct mail campaigns through the use of landing pages, microsites and nurturing techniques, highly personalized and data-driven drip campaigns, and the ability to track the effectiveness of these campaigns like never before.

Let’s look at how PURLs can be used to directly market to prospective students who may be interested in attending your university.

Reach students

Fish where the fish are, or in this case, where the students are, and that’s online. Aided by the convenience and constant access provided by mobile devices, especially smartphones, 92% of teens report going online daily — including 24% who say they go online “almost constantly.”²

According to an article that appeared on, teens are turning to social messaging platforms that allow for personal touch, transparency and one-to-one communication. In fact, the article stated that WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Viber and WeChat together have more users than the big networks: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.³

As brands realize the power of social messaging, they’ll make efforts to have a presence there — something for universities to consider when trying to reach millennials.

“PURLs can be easily pasted into any sharing channel — blogs, instant messages, Facebook and Twitter, etc. — providing a simple and very flexible sharing option for consumers,” said Angela Bandlow, Vice President of Marketing, Extole in a blog post.⁴

Level up using images

What started with content in the form of blogs has migrated to Facebook posts and then to 140-character tweets to now the use of images as a means of communication. The way we communicate and interact online is becoming shorter; almost so short, no words are used at all. In order for your university to give its overall story, you must incorporate relevant images to into the prospective student journey.

Vacation resorts use photos of of white-sand beaches, glistening pools and gourmet meals to help customers picture themselves at these resorts. Follow suit by incorporating high-quality images of your university and surrounding area to communicate who you are as a university to prospective students. New residence hall with awesome amenities? Don’t tell students, show them. State-of-the-art fitness facility on campus? Add a virtual video tour. PURLs allow for custom-built landing pages filled with relevant images as well as content.

Go one step further by helping students see themselves at your university by serving images of similar ethnicity, sex, and race to prospective students. According to a Forbes article, admission trends show Forbes top 100 colleges are becoming more diverse. And according to Dartmouth's website, the class of 2019 had Asian-Americans accounting for 19% of new freshmen and African-Americans 8%.⁵ If you know a prospective student you’re serving a PURL to is a Hispanic female, it may be wise to also include images of females on campus and non-whites.

As demographics on campus change, so should the look of your marketing materials. Using these personalization techniques along with content marketing can provide a deeper, more meaningful user experience for prospective students.

Give the overall picture

This fact may come as somewhat frightening, but students don’t read as much as one may think and neither does the average web user. On average, users only read 20-28% of the words on a web page.⁶

Meaning you only have about a 20% chance of capturing your prospective student’s attention with the right words, messaging and pertinent information.

Don’t miss the opportunity to reach a prospective student by sending them to your general university website where they’ll have to sift through pages of information that may or may not apply to them. If you want to give students the information that is most relevant to them based on what you already know about them, use a PURL. By sending a prospective student straight to a personalized website that incorporates relatable information and images, you’ll be able to better share information about your university, programs or degrees that they are most interested in and entice them to learn more or to apply.

Track visits

PURLs are highly trackable and give you and your admissions team visibility into follow up leads.

By using PURLs you gain insight as to who followed the web links, how interested that prospective student is, and how many and what pages that prospective student visited. By having this information on hand you’ll be able to make informed decisions when it comes to your recruitment process and improve your lead list by following up on those interested or highly interested in your university while not blowing your marketing budget on those less interested.

According to an article that appeared on, Allegheny College is using PURL to better time their messages. “We’re becoming more comfortable with mining the data to know where students are in the application process, tracking their interactions with us and their responses to calls to action,” said Rachel Garza, Associate Vice President of College Relations. The article went on to say that timing of when to reach out to students and how often, is crucial in their decision-making process. The Chegg research found that 62% of students expect to hear from college representatives within 24 hours of requesting information.⁷

The most important factor to remember when using PURLs is to integrate direct marketing with marketing automation when connecting with students on a more personal level and making them feel both important and heard. This can be done using PURL to reach prospective students in order to provide them with information about your university that they may be seeking.

Create a more effective campaign

Grab students’ attention with new mailing trends and techniques and save on postage.

View the solution

Ben Ruch, Senior Region Manager, Higher Education for Ricoh USA, Inc., works with colleges and universities to provide Professional Services, Managed Services and Business Process Outsourcing Solutions that simplify processes, automate paper-based workflow and improve speed of information. Ruch has over 23 years of experience in the industry and expertise in production printing systems solutions and professional services solutions.

  1. 1. Nick Romano. "Think Direct Mail Marketing Is Dead? Think Again..." The Financial Brand. September 14, 2016.
  2. 2. Amanda Lenhart. "Technology Overview 2015 Smartphones facilitate shifts in communication landscape for teens." Pew Research Center (2015): n. pag. Pew Research Center. Web. April 9, 2015.
  3. 3. Jimmy Rohampton. "5 Social Media Trends That Will Dominate 2017." Forbes. January 3, 2017.
  4. 4. Daniel Berstein. "PURL Jam: 6 ways personalized URLS can help increase the virality of your campaigns." Marketing Sherpa Blog. April 12, 2012.
  5. 5. Matt Schifrin. "Diversity At Top Colleges: Here's The Proof." Forbes. December 20, 2015.
  6. 6. Jakob Nielsen. "How Little Do Users Read?" Nielsen Norman Group.
  7. 7. Dawn Papandrea. "Higher ed’s one-on-one admissions approach." March 30, 2015.