According to Unesco, in 2019, there were 6 million international students globally. More than one in six of these students came from just one country: China. The country’s huge population, decades of rising economic prosperity, and the cultural importance with which education is endowed, make the ‘Middle Kingdom’ by far the largest market for overseas schools looking to attract international students. With the communications and digital landscape in China being so different to that of other countries, some insider info on how to go about promoting schools in China is absolutely necessary to success. This article introduces first the lay of the land – the who, where, what and why of the sector – and then a practical overview of how to get started promoting.
The International Education Market in China
The first thing that overseas schools should note is that when promoting in China, they are not just promoting to students, but also to their parents. There is a rich history of parents taking a keen interest and high level of control in their children’s lives. This stems in part from echoes of Confucianism, wherein it’s held that elders know best, and in part from the fact that education in children is seen as a necessary and practical investment. The family unit in China traditionally abides by a system whereby children, once they’re grown up, are responsible for taking care of their parents’ financial needs. It is therefore vital to prove to parents, and students, that going to a given school will boost the child’s chances of economic success.
There is no publicly accessible data on exactly from where in China most students look to study overseas, but it is generally understood that the number is highest in ‘first tier’ cities such as Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou. These areas have the highest densities of international schools, and are known to have more internationally-minded cultures. Thanks to virtually everyone in the country being online now, however, and with huge gains in household income nationwide, achieving market penetration in other areas of the country is easier than ever.
City tiers. Source: scmp.com
Chinese students choose to go abroad primarily for secondary and tertiary education. At the secondary level, overseas education offers an alternative to the standardized curriculum that leads up to the Chinese university entrance exam, the ‘gaokao’. At the tertiary level, STEM subjects, finance, accounting, business management and marketing are particularly popular subjects.
Proportion of majors studied by Chinese students. Source: Youth-time.eu
Chinese students choose to study abroad for a variety of reasons. According to Statista, the two primary motivations are expanding international horizons, and enriching personal experiences. Close behind are practical considerations such as gaining new knowledge and language skills, and improving job perspectives. It should be noted that these are responses from students, not their parents. It might be imagined that parents weigh the decision with more practical considerations in mind.
Methods, means and media: how to promote
Understanding the above, now comes the vital question: how to promote overseas schools in China? Time to get down to the nuts and bolts of the topic.
Chinese Website Localization
The overall goal in promoting anything in China is to create a whole digital ecosystem. The school’s website lies at the heart of this ecosystem. It is the core to which all points of contact direct, the place where students and parents alike will form their assessments of the school, and decide whether to get in touch or even apply. Simply translating the original school website will not suffice. Chinese audiences expect a different style of user experience, and user interface, to those found internationally. They value the ability to access high volumes of information about a school: its history, its faculties, its specialisms and snapshots of student experience. This is only possible with dedicated and consistent localization efforts.
Increasing school’s ranking in Baidu searches
When designing and maintaining the school’s website, it’s vital that considerations are made as to how it will rank in the results returned by China’s most popular search engine, Baidu. There are a few ways to go about this.
- Keyword research. Baidu, more so than Google, places a high value on finding particular keywords in a website, and matching them with search terms. Fortunately, they provide a tool, ‘Baidu Keyword Planner’ which can be used to check average daily search volumes, popular keywords, and competition levels.
- Hosting inside China. Having a .cn domain, and hosting website data in China, is vital to ranking highly on Baidu. It also lends the website a degree of trust in the Chinese market. For this, it will be necessary to procure an ICP license, more details on which can be found in our guide here.
- Responsive Design. This means optimizing your website for those viewing it on mobile devices. With the vast majority of Chinese netizens accessing the web via their smartphones, this is a must.
Additional tools such as pay-per-click advertising and search engine management can be very useful, although appearing in organic search results usually yields the best results. You can view our guide to Baidu and its advertising models here.
Grow the school’s online reputation
Harness external channels by issuing press releases, and engaging on local education forums. Having a steady stream of stories about your school can prove incredibly valuable, as with so many overseas schools to choose from, it can be hard for Chinese students to bear them all in mind. The first step in brand recognition is awareness.
More and more overseas schools are operating WeChat accounts, in order to create communities around their brand. This usually involves publishing articles, hosting WeChat groups, organizing online events, propagating interactive and visually appealing H5 brochures, and having on-hand sales support or customer service. Other platforms such as Weibo can also prove beneficial, but for truly building a community, WeChat is unparalleled.
Sekkei Digital Group has been helping schools in Europe and North America with their Students acquisition and brand reputation in China for the past 13 years. Reach out to us to discuss the opportunity for your school in China or to take your Online presence in China to the next level.