How Aarhus University increased Chinese student applications by 35%

Aarhus University in Denmark has been achieving academic excellence since 1928 and is ranked number 45 among The Times Higher Education Most International Universities in the World. Recruiting international students from outside of the EU to their Masters’ degree programs is a key pillar of Aarhus’ diversity-driven internationalisation strategy – and China has been a focus market for the institution for several years.

After having travelled to recruitment events in China on multiple occasions, the Aarhus University team decided that it was time to build a digital presence to help them to increase brand awareness in the market. 

They initially enlisted the help of an agency to build their Chinese website and setup a WeChat official account. The problem was that their Chinese website still was not visible behind the Great Firewall, meaning internet users in China could not load it at all. Another issue was that they couldn’t make any updates to the existing pages – let alone add any new content – without the help of the agency which would incur an additional fee each time they wanted to make a change. 

Re-building Aarhus University's digital marketing foundations in China

“We realised that the setup of our digital marketing presence in China was not only not optimised for the local digital ecosystem, it also was limiting us in our ability to effectively grow in this market,” says Aarhus University International Communications and Student Recruitment Manager, Gitte Bindzus Foldager. “Within our model, we’re not recruiting international students for profit, so being able to manage as much of our China digital marketing activity in-house became critical for us to maximise our budget and ROI.” 

Sinorbis’ China digital marketing platform turned out to be a great fit for Aarhus University. Sinorbis helped the team to build a new Chinese website that loads fast within the constraints of Chinese internet regulation. The analytics tools built into the Sinorbis platform provide Aarhus University now with full transparency over their Chinese website traffic, giving them confidence in the website’s performance behind the Great Firewall and full visibility over what channels are driving results. 

What’s more, the user-friendly content management system (CMS) allows the two Chinese student assistants who help Ms. Bindzus Foldager with the management of the institution’s marketing presence to easily add new website pages as required.

“We love the feature that allows you to publish a WeChat post as a web page within the same content management workflow,” says Ms. Bindzus Foldager. “It makes it so much easier and efficient to update the website and to keep building our domain authority with Chinese search engines.” Like search engines in the West, Chinese search engines consider new and updated website content as a key ranking factor in their algorithm.

Gitte Bindzus Foldager

“It makes it so much easier and efficient to update the website and to keep building our domain authority with Chinese search engines.”

- Ms. Bindzus Foldager, Aarhus University

Using WeChat paid advertising to increase Chinese student applications

With the new Chinese digital presence launched, Aarhus University had the foundations in place to further step up their digital marketing efforts in China. They decided to partner with Sinorbis to run a paid media campaign on WeChat at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The messaging of the campaign focused on Aarhus University’s international ranking credentials which remains an important decision-making factor for Chinese students. The two-week campaign yielded impressive results. Firstly, it increased the institution’s number of WeChat official account followers fourfold. Secondly, it contributed to a multichannel campaign which grew their number of Chinese student applications by 35% when compared with 2019 numbers. This was achieved with the average cost per lead at nearly half of the education sector benchmark. A great success during a particularly difficult time for the international education sector!

With their Chinese digital marketing foundations now firmly established, the Aarhus University team is starting to explore other digital channels such as Zhihu to continue to expand the reach of their brand in China in an organic way and build on their success.  

campaign results

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