So far in this series, we’ve discussed how your school can boost enrollment and visibility by integrating online marketing, and how to build your online presence by claiming your profiles on social media and review sites.
In Part 3 of Effective Marketing for Schools, we’ll look at more advanced methods your school can use to reach a wider audience, including inbound online marketing and paid online ads. But first, if these subjects fall outside of comfort zone, we recommend speaking to a professional.
Hire an Expert
Marketing can be a full-time job, but if you don’t have the budget for a full-time staff person, bringing in a marketing consultant is an effective way to evaluate and develop your marketing strategy.
As Private School Review notes, “having an expert review your marketing strategy is like going to the doctor. It will cost you some money, perhaps even a lot of money. In return, you will receive the benefit of years of professional experience and expertise when the consultant makes her recommendations.”
Even if you would prefer to handle everything in-house, hiring a marketing consultant can help you narrow your school’s marketing focus and make it more efficient. Duct Tape Marketing says that a good consultant will demand that you build a firm strategy, hone in on objectives that have the highest payoff, and drive conversions, not just search engine traffic or social “likes.”
An ideal consultant will have previous experience with schools or nonprofits and a knowledge of online marketing. Your expert should be able to explain in advance what services she is providing, how they will help your school, and what the cost will be.
Hubspot, a leading online marketing agency, defines inbound marketing for private schools as “creating content that is going to be found by your target parents and/or students on Google and in social media.”
Inbound marketing, or content marketing, is all about bringing in new prospective families through their online searches. This means that your content should answer common questions and provide information that prospective families are looking for, and include a call to action, or an instruction that provokes the audience to respond, like “call now” or “schedule a visit.”
Inbound marketing content often takes the form of landing pages (web pages with specifically targeted content), blogs, downloadable e-books, and social media posts. This content should be regularly updated and be provide useful information to your audience while highlighting the strengths of your school.
Keywords & Personas
Inbound marketing strategies are built around keywords – words or phrases related to your school that families are searching for. The best way to develop a keyword strategy is with marketing personas, which are fictional profiles of your ideal prospects. Personas are created with market research and data about your existing enrollees, including demographic information, behavior patterns, motivations, and goals.
Thinking about your ideal prospect is an important step in the inbound marketing process. A common misconception in building online marketing content is to write about yourself. For schools, this can result in content that is only interesting to your existing audience, or those that already know about your school.
To borrow the HubSpot example linked above, if you have a private school in the Cambridge area, you should build content around keywords like “private schools in Cambridge.” This might seem too broad, but turning general searches into specific leads for your school is what online marketing is all about.
Blog posts, as we've mentioned, are a useful inbound marketing tool for creating targeted, searchable content.
By applying your marketing personas and keyword strategies to blog posts, you can create interesting, valuable posts that engage prospects and turn them into leads.
Creating content that is valuable to your audience is the key. The masterminds at Google have said that the best way to rank highly in search engine results is “by creating high-quality sites that users will want to use and share.” If your blog provides compelling and useful information, not only will you gain leads, you’ll build a higher ranking on Google over time.
Inbound marketing is designed to build your online authority over time and bring new leads in organically as you rise through the search engine ranks. If you would prefer a more immediate impact from your marketing dollar, paid advertisements might be a better choice.
Pay per click and cost per impression ad campaigns on sites like Google, Yelp, and Facebook provide measurable, detailed results for each keyword or ad. These metrics make it possible to track the return on investment for your marketing activities by relating online conversions to real life leads, applications, and enrollees. Also, online ads can be combined with your inbound marketing efforts by linking directly to a targeted landing page instead of your school’s homepage.
Using some combination of these tools – expert advice, keyword- and persona-driven inbound marketing, and paid advertisements – will maximize your reach and increase your visibility among prospective leads.
As we mentioned at the top of this post, marketing can be a full-time job. If you can’t afford a dedicated marketing staff, it’s still important to develop a strategy that fits your needs, budget, and capabilities. Your marketing efforts need to be curated regularly and often – an outdated website or three-year-old Facebook posts won’t present your school in the best light.
Other schools are increasing enrollment through marketing efforts, and your school needs to do the same to stay competitive. Create a marketing plan and build your school's online presence with all of the tools at your disposal to expand your audience and reach the prospective families you’re looking for.