Let me guess — education marketing and admissions are a real source of stress and anxiety for you? Perhaps you are not a marketing expert and making important decisions about how to spend your education organization’s limited marketing budget can be difficult and even frustrating.
Let’s not pretend that this article will transform you into an education marketing guru. It won’t. What it will do is point out some major considerations and give you a sense of direction.
My digital marketing agency, Kreative Webworks has been helping schools with their enrollment marketing strategies and execution for years. We typically organize our education marketing strategies into three “buckets”:
- Site: The school’s website. The hub of all marketing activities.
- Search: In one word – Google.
- Social: Getting your message in front of prospects who weren’t searching for a school.
There are a lot of moving parts to an effective school enrollment strategy. For a full overview of how a website, email marketing, social media, search, and more work together to effectively promote your school, check out our free online marketing guide The Download: Making Sense of Online Marketing for Education.
For now, let’s focus just on the basics of three buckets: Site, search, and social. In this article, I’ll outline my top three recommendations for each and give you some tips you can start implementing into your education marketing strategy today.
Site: Optimizing your website, the hub of your online marketing
All roads lead to your school’s website. Regardless of where that parent or student is introduced to your school, sooner or later they will visit your website. More than likely before they ever talk to an enrolment specialist. Your website is your school’s brand ambassador. If it isn’t currently the hub of all your marketing activities, you’re probably working too hard.
Stay connected to students, families, and staff with expert marketing advice and all the tools you need, all in one place.
When you build your school’s website, keep this in mind — A school website needs to be more than a source of information, it needs to be a source of inspiration, confidence, and comfort. Selecting the right educational opportunity is a life-altering decision for a young person, and by extension, for their family.
We work almost exclusively with schools; charter schools, private schools, higher ed, and even trade schools. One thing they all have in common is that visitors to a school’s website will visit many pages in an effort to get a feel for the school’s culture.
My top 3 recommendations for a high-performing school website
1. Plan before your build (or optimize) your website
You wouldn’t build a house without a blueprint, so why would you launch your school’s most precious marketing asset without one?
Many school websites are rich with information, but much like living in an unplanned community, they just sort of grow and lose touch with the user experience. There is no discernible pattern to them, no strategy to lead the prospective parent or student down the path to enrolment. We call this path “the buyer’s journey.”
Many schools attempt to reorganize their website themselves, either by assigning the task to someone whose sole qualification is that they have some time to do it, or by trying to tackle the job by committee.
Schools are administered by smart, educated people, but usually not by marketing professionals. My strong recommendation is to seek the guidance and services of education marketing professionals. My marketing agency offers an affordable Digital Marketing Blueprint for Schools service that is guaranteed, but there are also many individual consultants that can help you plan your website and marketing strategies. Just be sure to read their reviews first. And if you’re a Constant Contact customer looking for guidance, you can start by chatting with a marketing advisor.
2. Choose a quality website builder or CMS platform
CMS is short for “Content Management System”. This is the software that allows even non-technical people to make routine updates to the school’s website. It is not an add-on to an existing website; it is the actual platform that the website is built on.
At my agency, we typically handle most of the content and design for our school clients, however, every school has some day-to-day updates where it just makes more sense for them to be able to quickly make the changes themselves. Building your school website on a CMS platform will allow your team to take control of the day-to-day content needs.
Some CMS platforms come with high-quality templates where you can build the website from the ground up. The better ones also allow for custom designs.
CMS platforms come in a variety of price ranges. Some platforms allow you to try for free to make sure that you are comfortable with the features, and that it meets your school’s needs.
3. Be mobile-responsive
Students and parents of students are on their phones more than their desktops computers, so it is essential that your school website is designed for a great mobile experience.
Mobile-responsive design means the website is coded in a way that the elements on a page reformat themselves to fit on to the screen size of the device they are being viewed on. This is a must.
Google is now heavily factoring in the mobile version of your school’s website when deciding how to rank your site in their search results. Although you still need to offer a great experience on the full-size version of your website, it’s now essential that you take a mobile-first approach when designing your schools’ site. Whatever website builder or CMS you choose, make sure that creating a truly mobile-responsive website experience is a top priority.
Search: Optimizing your website and content to be found on Google
Students and parents of students who locate your school via a Google search are somewhat pre-qualified by virtue of the fact that they initiated the search. They were looking for a school like yours, the school wasn’t looking for them.
Even an award-winning website is of minimal use to your enrollment program if only enrolled families visit it. Showing up for your school’s name (a “branded” search) is essential. Showing up for a competitive search term (like “private school in Pennsylvania”) is a huge competitive advantage.
The process of making your website more likely to show up in Google search results is called search engine optimization. Google considers hundreds of factors into their search algorithms. Some are technical and best left to professionals, but many others you can do yourself.
My top 3 recommendations for search engine optimization
1. Conduct a website audit
Google tries to emulate human behavior, and human beings have no patience for slow-loading web pages, broken links, error pages, and well…anything that doesn’t work. Therefore, neither does Google.
Whether you are planning on designing a new website for your school, or just fine-tuning your current site, a comprehensive website audit can get you off to a great start.
There are many decent free audit tools available, and Constant Contact customers can enjoy SEO tools that help to audit your site, and boost your search performance. To really jumpstart your SEO however, you might want to consider professional assistance. Each month, my team donates four comprehensive website audits for schools. This offer is exclusively for schools.
2. Start thinking content-first
The only way that Google knows what keywords to rank you for is by the content on your site. If you expect to show up when a prospective student searches for “online high school,” you better be writing about the topic of online high schools.
Google search results don’t show entire websites, but rather they rank the pages on your website individually. Each page is a new opportunity to show up in the search results for the topic that is covered on that particular page. Remember, when it comes to SEO, the quality of your pages is more important than quantity, and topics are more important than keywords.
3. Make sure you’re present on listings and review directories
Search engines like Google rely heavily on top-tier and local directories to verify your information and assign authority to a website. Making sure that your site is listed on local and important directories will make your school website that much more discoverable.
Don’t devote hundreds of hours to getting listed on every possible directory, index, or app, just because they exist. Instead, hit the major ones (Google My Business, Facebook, Yelp, and the Yellow Pages for example) and then hand-select other platforms that are highly relevant to your school and by geography. There are also some school-specific directories such as Niche.com and GreatSchools.com where you will want to claim your free listings.
Finally, make sure that your name, address, and phone (NAP) are consistent on each and every directory, and that each directory is filled out to completion.
Interested in what else Google considers? Take a look at Google’s 200 Ranking factors.
Social: Meeting people where they are
There is a reason why Facebook and Google are among the wealthiest companies in the world, and it’s not because they give their product away for free. Over the years Facebook (who owns Instagram) has systematically throttled back organic visibility. If you are a business (and a school is a business) you now have to pay to play to be effective.
Just posting on the school’s Facebook page is not marketing. The only people who will see your posts are a limited percentage of the people who are already following the school, and if they share, a small percentage of their friends.
That doesn’t mean that regular posting on Facebook and Instagram is a waste of time. On the contrary.
My top 3 recommendations for social media marketing
1. Post for culture
If you are just posting on your school’s Facebook page, your primary audience will most likely be students and/or parents of already-enrolled students. To a lesser (but important) extent, it might be people who visited the school website through other means and decided to voyeuristically check out the school’s social pages to get a feel for the school’s culture.
Having a robust social presence will help you retain existing enrollments by keeping the parents and students engaged with the school. At the same time, you are showcasing the school’s culture to prospective enrollees who are doing their homework by investigating your social presence.
2. Advertise for enrollments
Facebook knows everything about everyone, so their targeting is terrific. For example, you could put your sponsored posts (ads) in front of females between the age of 24-37 who are verified parents interested in yoga if you want.
Yes, you have to pay-to-play, and Facebook isn’t going to give you your money back if you do a poor job. So make sure that your social media strategy is addressed in your Digital Marketing Blueprint.
3. Use Facebook retargeting:
When a parent or student visits your website from Facebook (for any reason) you can “tag” them. This allows for you to continuously re-target them with your content, knowing they’ve expressed some interest in your school by visiting your website. Then, as they go about their business on Facebook or Instagram over the following hours, days or weeks, they are repeatedly exposed to your message and encouraged to click through to your website again.
Your most valuable prospects are the ones that have already sought you out. If a parent already visited your website, she must have an interest in your school. She just wasn’t ready to engage with you yet. Retargeting reminds her of why she sought you out in the first place.
Wrapping it up… for now
Education marketing is a big topic with a lot of moving parts. This article just scratches the surface with a few concepts and recommendations. I pointed out a few of the big “buckets” as I call them, but a comprehensive school marketing plan is the culmination of a lot of little things that work in concert with each other. My number one piece of advice? Invest in a solid digital marketing strategy before frivolously spending time or money on anything else.
To learn more about how your website, email, SEO, and social media marketing come together to drive enrollment to your school, dive into The Download, our free online marketing guide for education.