Posted on 20 Jul '23

Understanding Postgraduate Audiences – Pulse and Share of Search

We know postgraduate at FindAUniversity and our unique insights help marketers and recruiters understand the diverse audiences considering a Masters or PhD, what they’re looking for and how they’re feeling.

Here’s a quick rundown of where our data comes from, how it works and how you can use it.

I’ve also explained a couple of changes we’re making from summer 2023.

Postgraduate Pulse

Our flagship Postgraduate Pulse insights are powered by a longitudinal survey that’s been running for over two years on FindAMasters and FindAPhD. The popularity of these platforms lets us ask a vast audience of prospective postgraduates how they’re feeling about further study, what they’re considering (and why) as well as what they’re planning to do next.

Pulse has three unique strengths:

  • Tracking – Pulse collects thousands of responses a month and compares key variables over time, revealing how interest builds for different entry points or study options and providing a barometer for how audiences are feeling
  • Scale - With over 150,000(!) total responses so far, there’s simply nothing else with the same scope for segmentation as Pulse: we can drill down to explore specific variables for specific audiences and still be dealing with sample sizes in the hundreds (if not thousands).
  • Agility – We can add new questions to Pulse at any time, measuring the impact of policy changes or other factors, or asking for the exact information our clients are seeking

Share of Search

Pulse lets us ask our audience what they’re thinking and feeling, but the popularity of FindAMasters and FindAPhD means we can learn even more by exploring what prospective postgraduates are doing on our platforms.

We don’t simply measure traffic to our websites; instead we measure searches taking place on FindAMasters and FindAPhD and work these out as a proportion of all searches – the ‘Share of Search’ for a particular audience segment.

That means we’re reporting relative changes in audience behavior and not just fluctuations in our website traffic or in the coverage of our listings.

If we use this to examine the percentage of UK users searching for a Masters in Engineering (for example) we reveal the relative popularity of Engineering with domestic PGT audiences, regardless of how many UK users or Engineering Masters we have on FindAMasters.

We can also use this data to measure changes over time: if 40% of UK users searched for Engineering Masters in one year and 50% did so in the next year then the Share of Search for Engineering amongst UK audiences has increased by 25%.

Share of Search has its own strengths:

  • Audience measurement and comparison – understanding the relative size of different audiences (and their subject preferences) can help inform marketing and recruitment strategy
  • Benchmarking and sense-checking – by comparing overall trends in search and discovery to previous cycles we can offer timely context for individual universities’ enquiry and application data
  • Portfolio review – Share of Search can help spot where audience interests are shifting between different subjects (or specialisms within a subject) highlighting the areas to potentially focus on when developing programmes or research areas

Where to find this insight

We publish a new Postgraduate Pulse report (including Share of Search) each month. You can find it in our insights section, or pick up our monthly newsletter and we’ll let you know there’s an update. You’ll also get a range of other content specifically for postgraduate marketing and recruitment, including case studies, relevant policy news and advice from experts around the sector.

If you want to dig deeper into our postgraduate insight then, honestly, we’d love to chat to you.

The best thing to do is to get in touch with your FindAUniversity Account Manager. They’ll be able to dive into the specific trends that matter most to you and, what’s more, they’ll be able to look at how your projects and programmes compare to overall trends and to the performance of your competitors (including some you may not know about).

If you’ve got more general questions about our insights or just want to know if something is possible, you can always email me directly.

What's changed

We try to keep our data fairly consistent (that’s the point, after all) but we have made some changes to improve our insights.

Changes to Pulse – July 2023

When we first launched Pulse in January 2021 we wanted the survey to be as lightweight as possible, so we identified audiences based on the location of their IP address. This isn’t ideal as, most obviously, an international undergraduate already within the UK would appear as a prospective UK postgraduate.

We subsequently added an extra nationality question and saw that, thankfully, there weren’t that many people being misidentified and, in any case, the trends were pretty similar. We’ve now got enough historical data to identify audiences based on nationality instead of country of residence.

This change does mean that you might spot some slight differences between our new and old charts, but these are minor and follow the same patterns. Going forward the data is just more accurate. It’s also richer as we can still segment based on country of residence (e.g. to compare trends for international audiences who are or aren’t already in the UK).

Changes to Share of Search – July 2023

The majority of our Share of Search data has always been based on users searching on our websites: a data point is created each time someone generates a new search filter (which tells us what someone is searching for and where).

However, a small amount of the data was also based on people navigating to and between individual programmes. This is fine in principle as it still tells us that someone is looking for a specific subject and / or interested in opportunities within a specific country.

A problem arose when with programmes associated with more than one subject which could ‘cross-pollinate’ their subjects into the ‘wrong’ disciplines. So, a programme in Healthcare Management brings Management Studies into the list of subjects within our Clinical and Health discipline. It’s not a problem when we’re comparing disciplines (or audiences) but it distorts the data when we try and find the relative popularity of potentially incongruous subjects within a discipline.

It meant we couldn’t drill down properly within disciplines, basically.

So we’ve decided to restrict our discipline and subject data to active searches, excluding programme views, this gets rid of the problem above and makes Share of Search a bit more accurate as a bonus (it’s meant to show you how audiences are searching, after all).

Again, there are some differences between our new and old data, but they’re minor and I think the trade-off is worth it to improve quality.

You may also like...

Understanding what audiences want from physical and virtual open days

Virtual and physical open days are very popular with prospective postgraduates, but different audiences want different things.

How is the cost of living crisis impacting postgraduate study?

We've updated some of our survey data on prospective students' attitudes to Masters and PhD study.