UK Online Learning Providers - Digital Marketing Benchmark Report, Q3 2023

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The Q3 2023 benchmarking report for UK online learning providers has just been published. Learn how the top 11 UK online learning providers perform across the digital space.

The Q3 2023 benchmarking report for UK online learning providers has just been published. It covers the largest 11 national online learning providers, including Open Study College, Oxbridge, Online Learning College, ICS Learn, Learndirect, Udemy, FutureLearn, Stonebridge College, NCC, Avado, and LearnPac - it highlights year-on-year digital performance, plus winner and loser comparisons in 20+ online performance metrics.

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The research gives an inside track on who is winning the biggest share of voice online, and quantifies the gaps, risks and missed opportunities for other online learning providers to win brand exposure locally, drive online enquiries, and win course sign ups. The report highlights quick wins that will improve enquiries from your online strategy and identifies the barriers that may be reducing your site’s ability to optimise digital performance.

To see a preview and contents page of the Q3 report, click here. To get a copy of the full report and the key take-aways, please complete the enquiry form or schedule a call.

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Q3 2023 Winners LEaderboard

For a glance into just 6 of the metrics we evaluated these top 11 online learning providers on, check out our quick-look table below; 

Online Learning W&L Oct23

Continue reading for further detail on this quarter's top and poorest-performing online learning providers, or request a copy of the report for the full review.

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What The Industry Research Report Covers

The 70+ pages of research benchmarks each brand based on 50+ metrics and indicators of successful digital strategy, including organic visibility, domain authority, paid media ads, conversion performance, technical performance, site speed, universal search, content, social ads, accessibility, and mobile performance.  

Driving Optimal ROAS from Paid Media Channels

Some of the leading players in the space are high spenders on paid media channels such as Google, Bing & Facebook - but have a poor or sub-optimal conversion improvement strategy. Without an optimised, sophisticated conversion strategy that maximises the conversion rate, the return on investment is unsustainable or will under-perform. Scaling spend on paid media is not achievable unless the conversion rate delivers optimal performance in the sector. Some in the space have paid media spend levels from 30k+ per month but dedicate minimal resources and budgets to conversion testing.  Given the cost per clicks on ad networks will continue to rise, we recommend spending at least 10% of your paid media budget on ongoing conversion optimisation testing schedules to ensure your paid media ROI maintains long term viability, competitive advantage, and sustainability.

Technical Website Compliance

Savvy digital marketers know that having a technically sound website is an essential component of a successful fully integrated digital strategy - plus a site capable of maximising conversion performance. For online learning providers, especially ones which host a large variety of courses at different levels, they'll need to ensure the site is easily navigable in order to provide users with the right information, as quickly as possible.

Most online leearning providers have well-maintained sites, and low levels of errors, with eight sites recording fewer than 100 4xx error codes. However, Both FutureLearn and Stonebridge College are proving exceptions to the rule, with 2,165 and 1,640 4xx errors, respectively. This is a concerningly large amount, for each site, indicating many digital dead ends.

Site Speed & Conversion Rate Performance

When 62% of consumers are less likely to convert if they have a negative mobile site experience, ensuring that your site is quick and easy to load makes a significant improvement on your overall conversion rates. A fast site is essential for winning a positive first impression on a user, particularly for online learning providers, who's service itself will be hosted online.

Learndirect and LearnPac have both surpassed the 'okay' benchmark of 50, for mobile page speed. This will give potential students a great initial impression of their brand, and reassure them that their machines will be up to the task of handling the site. Conversely, Open Study College has recorded a mobile page speed score of 1, indicating a slow and difficult site to use.

Building Competitive Advantage with Domain Authority

Domain authority is an essential metric for measuring the effectiveness of SEO performance, and helps create a reliable overall gauge of how effective your site is at achieving organic traffic, ie. ‘free’ traffic that isn’t gained through sponsored ads. Online learning providers have the opportunity to win exceptionally high value links if they seek partnerships with government agencies or higher education institutions.

Domain authority is considered average between 40 and 50, good between 50 and 60, and excellent above 60. However, a ‘good’ DA really comes down to how your competitors are performing. The stand-out winner for online learning is Udemy, which has a hard-to-beat Domain Authority of 91. Though this is a challenging figure to match, providers at the other end of the scale, such as LearnPac, which has a score of 26, should be identifying link-building opportunities with valuable websites in order to boost DA scores.

Organic Performance – Mobile & Desktop

A strong organic performance is strategically important as it ensures your site ranks above competitors for key, transactional keywords. When 93% of your customers won’t go past the first page of Google, your absence or lack of targeting for essential keywords will cost you conversions. The Covid-19 pandemic, along with the year following nationwide lockdowns, saw many of us reassessing our skills and career paths, leading to a boom in traffic for online learning providers. Since this boom, we'd expect online learning providers to see a slight fall in traffic (on average), as a reflection of this fall in interest.

Only two online learning providers have seen an increase in organic traffic year on year. ICS Learn has seen the biggest increase in digital footfall, scoring 22% more organic visitors since 2022. The biggest drop in traffic has come from FutureLearn, which has lost 43% of its traffic year on year.

Universal Search Opportunity

Google Universal Search Results is an evolving opportunity to make your pages visible on a SERP (Search Engine Results Page). Universal results often appear before traditional listings and are eye-catching for users. Universal search results refer to rankings on a SERP that are not the traditional ‘blue line’ Google link, and a brand can appear for universal search results without being strong in standard rankings. 'Reviews' will be an excllent way for online learning providers to build trust with potential students, directly from the SERP.

FutureLearn has secured the most 'reviews', with 7,600 appearing on SERPs. 'People also ask' is also popular, with each provider securing some appearances for this result type. Brands which secure a strong performance for 'people also ask' results can generally expect a good level of longtail keyword rankings.

The Longtail Keyword Opportunity

Longtail keywords are often considered high intent and potentially more likely to convert as a searcher is being more specific. Optimising for longtail keywords also puts your content strategy in a strong position to rank for brand new search terms as they enter Google’s index. Online learning providers will want to ensure they are appearing for terms that include high-intent phrases, such as 'industry recognised', 'tuition fees', or 'job prospects'.

Though Udemy has secured nearly as many total top 100 longtail keyword appearances as FutureLearn, FutureLearn is in the top three positions for nearly three times as many search terms, in addition to over 2,000 more appearances in positions 4-10. Though Future Learn has seen a decrease in traffic year on year, appearing for high-conversion intent phrases will ensure the site is making the most of the traffic it is gaining.

Facebook Adverts

With the number of Facebook users in the United Kingdom (UK) forecast to hit over 42 million users by 2022, it is not surprising that companies have jumped at the opportunity to advertise on the social media platform. Facebook’s UK digital advertising revenue has been estimated to have breached 2.6b GB pounds in 2019. For any online learning provider, Facebook ads are an opportunity to drive traffic to specific courses. If they haven’t already done so, they should be identifying under-subscribed courses to promote to improve numbers or using organic search term volumes as a guide for where general consumer interest lies.

We've included examples of Open Study College's Facebook ads below. Open Study College has used both video and carousel formats in their ad campaigns, two highly-engaging ad types that will land well with its audience.

Open Study College Facebook Ads October 2023

Top Social Shares & Content

When it comes to social media and on-site content strategies, it is important to release content that has a longer shelf life. An article is considered 'Evergreen' if it has maintained its relevancy to an audience for longer. It's great for your brand engagement, but great for Google too, who will recognise content which achieves traffic over a long period of time. The content opportunities for online learning providers are significant. Each online learning provider has the opportunity to create content specifically related to online learning, in addition to content relating to any of the courses they offer.

Meta is the preferred platform suite for nearly all eleven online learning providers. Udemy has, by far, secured the largest audience here, with 7,900,000 Facebook likes and 2,900,000 Instagram followers.

Website Readability & Accessibility

20% of people in the UK have a disability – 2 million of which are people living with sight loss. In addition, 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women have some degree of colour vision deficiency. When websites are not designed to meet these needs, brands lose customer interest as they turn elsewhere. Any place of education should be accessible to all potential students, including online. Even if course materials are accessible, if the site itself is difficult for users with low vision to navigate, this will see them search elsewhere.

Udemy is the only online learning provider nearly free of all accessibility barriers, returning only 2 alerts in our crawls. Oxbridge and FutureLearn have the most concerning levels of accessibility barriers, with Oxbridge returning 144 contrast errors and FutureLearn showing 106 alerts.

Get the full 79-page Q3 2023 Report

To get a copy of the full report, please complete the enquiry form. If you want to talk to us about accelerating your digital performance, please call us on 01543 410014 or schedule a call with Mike Movassaghi.

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

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