You might say, “if we’re not among the first, they won’t find us.” But it’s not necessarily true.
If you offer something superior to an audience that’s receptive to it and make people happy, they’re going to spread the word. What separates top-tier institutions from those on the lower rung is approach and preparation. They’re not afraid to spend in a manner that will benefit them later and they don’t always take the conventional path to success.
Eventually though, institutions become successful, get big and change their entire approach. They forget what got them to the top and start to discover the competition that you once lapped starts to catch up.
Does it matter if you’re first if what you’re getting is a lot of noise? For everyone conversion you make on an application or a potential student, there’s ten more who have no interest who’ll get in touch anyway in an effort to extend their options. This is great for them, but bad for you and the overstretched people on your team.
If you’re not attracting the right kinds of people to your site, is showing up first really all that important? Being first to the people who are looking for you, matters more than anything. But finding those people might require different things than what you’re currently investing your resources into.