Yext for Other Solutions Case Study

Wilkes University Gives Prospective Students the Search They Need With Yext

Using Yext, Wilkes was able to answer 95% of questions about tuition costs right from its site search experience.


site search CTR

FAQs launched in 25 days


of tuition questions answered in site search results

Choosing which college to attend is an important decision for anyone pursuing higher education — one that can be quite stressful and overwhelming for prospective students and their families. There are so many factors to consider: Do you want to go to a big school or a smaller school? Would you like to venture far from home or explore a new part of the city you grew up in? What's the student culture like? And how much is your education going to cost?

Wilkes University, a private college in northeastern Pennsylvania, offers world-class undergraduate and graduate level coursework with all the benefits of a close-knit, smaller university. The campus boasts an average class size of just 18 students, and has a student to faculty ratio of 12:1.

"Wilkes offers a really personalized mentoring approach to its students while also providing the educational opportunities of a large research institution," explains Mandy Pennington, Director of Digital Marketing at Wilkes University. "As a university, we're really focused on providing an exceptional education to our students, giving them opportunities to get hands-on learning experiences, and build relationships with their professors and classmates."

This approach extends to the prospective student's entire decision-making journey. The university's website plays a crucial role as its biggest channel for engagement with potential students. For prospective undergraduates, the journey to enrollment begins with college-bound high schoolers evaluating which schools they want to apply to — a process which involves plenty of online research about everything from tuition, to college rankings, to the academic and athletic programs available. Then, once admissions decisions arrive, accepted students begin the task of reviewing financial aid offers and researching student life. (For prospective graduate students, the road to enrollment is generally shorter, but they ask plenty of questions online while making final decisions.)

Although Wilkes did provide answers to some Frequently Asked Questions on its website, those FAQs could not address the more nuanced questions that prospective students were asking. So when the Marketing Communications department began the process of a comprehensive website redesign, Pennington knew adding a good site search tool was critical.

Wilkes University improves the prospective student experience by adding Yext to its website.

Yext makes it easy for prospective students and their families to find detailed answers to their questions about Wilkes. "Yext has really helped us better understand what students are searching for — and what their expectations are," saying Pennington. "By providing them with good answers, we're creating a better experience for them. That's ultimately what we want to do."

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, enrolled students are also asking more questions than ever on the university's website. "They want to know how COVID-19 is affecting our campus," says Pennington. "So in addition to email and virtual campus-wide town hall events, Yext gives us another touch point to communicate those important updates to our students."

Pennington is currently using search intelligence from Yext to inform the ongoing website redesign — helping Wilkes get the most out of its investment.

"We've seen the need to revamp our program page experiences and other web pages to better deliver answers to key questions," she explains. "As part of our redesign, we're looking at a new layout for landing and program pages that can quickly serve up information to users. We're also examining our site architecture and looking for more direct pathways for visitors to get to key information."

Because university websites are built to cater to so many different types of users (e.g., current students, current faculty, prospective students, alumni, grad students, parents of prospective students, and more) designing a system of dropdown menus and header links that cater to each is very difficult. With the search intelligence from Yext, Pennington was able to identify that the majority of Wilkes' website visitors were prospective students, current students, and faculty. She was then able to prioritize providing these visitors with a smooth interface for quick access to essential tools — without burying important resources for other types of website visitors. The information that an alumnus might need, for example, is only a search away.

Yext has really helped us better understand what students are searching for — and what their expectations are. By providing them with good answers, we're creating a better experience for them.

Mandy Pennington

Director of Digital Marketing, Wilkes University

Wilkes uses Yext to engage more deeply with prospective students.

For current students and faculty, Wilkes launched 176 FAQs and added 80 academic programs into its CMS, to serve them on the Yext site search experience. It took the Wilkes team just 20 days to load up the academic programs, and 25 days for the FAQs to reach critical mass (from the time of the Yext kick-off).

Just two months after implementing Yext (August 2020 – September 2020), Wilkes University had experienced a 54% click-through rate on site search results.

Surfacing events in search was the next priority, to give current students and faculty access to important dates and academic calendars. Teams at Wilkes and Yext are keeping a close eye on when searches for the term "academic calendar" spike, to better serve students and faculty as they look to plan out their years.

Wilkes recognized early on that the process for prospective students was going to be completely different in 2020. So the university launched a virtual tour to give these prospective students the ability to "visit" their campus, without ever stepping foot on it in person. Yext helped drive traffic to this virtual tour without a costly or time-consuming website overhaul to point toward it. Questions containing "covid" and "virtual tour" are among the most popular searches on Wilkes' site search experience, generating hundreds of searches within just a few months (August 2020 – December 2020).

Also among the most popular questions — if not THE most popular question among prospective students — is "how much does wilkes cost" or similar queries around "tuition." This question is not only an essential step in any college enrollment process, but also a question that admissions counselors spend a lot of time answering. Wilkes was able to use its site search experience to answer 95% of these questions in the form of a knowledge card — the same way Google might return a direct answer or knowledge card for some queries.

"The insights we've discovered through Yext have helped us better understand our audience and what questions they have that we can answer," Pennington says. "As a result, we've made optimizations to our digital ad copy and web pages to better serve user intent and make sure we're getting those messages to prospective students and their families earlier. For example, we've focused more on scholarship messaging throughout the fall after seeing that it was one of the most popular search topics within our website."

Pennington's guiding principle throughout the website redesign process has been to always put herself in the student's shoes.

"I think sometimes as professional communicators, we can lose sight of what the experience is actually like for the other person," she says. "When we're able to take a step back and see their actual experience, it becomes easier for us to find ways to solve any challenges that may happen in those moments."

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