When we talk about inbound marketing for schools, the room always falls silent.
There's a bit of confusion, a partial fear, a slight resistance, and those who want to learn more pipe down and are ready to listen.
While some schools are totally on board and ready to embrace it, other schools are still getting sucked into spending thousands on print ads that provide no ROI, sending mass emails without any personalization, and directing social media followers to an un-responsive website.
Of course, dropping all your traditional forms of outbound marketing and making a switch to inbound can actually be pretty horrifying.
What if it doesn't work? What if we don't have the resources to keep it going? What if we run out of things to talk about?
But as I like to say: if you always do what you've always done then you'll always get what you've always gotten. (And trust me, you will never run out of things to talk about.)
But for those of you hesitant to go all-in for inbound marketing, there is one critical component of an inbound marketing strategy that you already have: your school's website.
Now whether or not it is working in your favor is another question.
Your website is the very core of your inbound marketing strategy. If you're optimizing your website for search, investing in PPC, writing a blog, and sharing everything on social, you need have a website that sets you apart.
Otherwise, you're sending prospective (and current) families on a journey that quickly fizzles out.
Here are four things you need to know about your website's role in your inbound marketing strategy:
On-Demand Webinar: Content Marketing Using The Finalsite Platform
Your website should make applicants and current families want to interact with your school and brand.
Did you know 94% of first impressions are design related? A pretty intimidating statistic if your school's website isn't in its Sunday best, 24-7. And in 2016, your website plays a bigger role in brand awareness and management than ever before.
Your website is increasingly becoming the first place prospective families go to learn about your school. If they heard about you from a friend or though word of mouth marketing, they'll go to your website. If they're looking for the best schools near them, they'll end up on your website.
And if it doesn't meet their expectations in terms of design, user experience, navigation or functionality, they will head right on over to your competitor's site.
Here are a few tips to ensure that your website provides an enjoyable brand experience:
Be engaging: Use infographics, photos, videos, and interactive elements to tell the story of your campus. Your goal is to make learning about your school online just as fun as it is to in person. Here is one of our favorite infographics from Westtown School in PA.
Be mobile-friendly: 85% of adults expect a website's mobile experience to be just as good — if not better — than the desktop experience. As more prospective and current families access your school's website from a link on social media, from search, or simply from their mobile device, being responsive is absolutely essential.
Need more convincing? Here are five more undeniable reasons why your school website needs to be responsive.
Focus on your own brand and messaging: It is very easy to get caught up in what the competition is doing, and how to beat them. Rather than focusing on what you can do to beat the competition, focus on what sets you apart — also known as your value proposition. This will help you recruit more of the right students, than just more students. (Quality over quantity, folks.)
Remember: Your website works to sell your school 24-7 so that you don't have to. So ask yourself, is our website a valuable or replaceable member of our marketing team?
Your website should bring in inquiries and applicants.
Eighty-percent of education search query sessions don't end with a conversion; and 72% of those don't convert until more than two weeks later.
Maybe they're busy. Maybe they're just searching. Or Maybe, they were looking for something better because your website wasn't impressive.
The goal of your website should be to get information from as many prospective families as possible — without, of course, exhausting all of your resources.
How exactly do you do this?
First, create a short online inquiry form that allows you to collect just enough information on a prospect. Avoid those lengthy SIS forms for the best turnout.
Ask for First name, last name, email, entrance grade — or whatever information you want to collect to be able to send targeted email. Maybe ask them to select an area of interest: athletics, academics, etc.
Then, create an auto-reply email that automatically sends some additional information about your school. While most schools tend to send a PDF brochure, try linking them back to a page on your website to make everything come full circle. That way, they can make the next step on your website, whatever that may be.
Your website should be a roadmap that leads them from entry point to conversion.
While your school's success hinges on enrollment and retention, your website's goal is to drive all sorts of website visitors to exactly where they want to go. Focus on crafting a sitemap that has a logical navigation, and use relative calls to action on top hit pages.
If you want to have calls to action as the footer on every page, focus on the different audiences who are visiting your site: prospective families, current families, and alumni. Your calls to action should appeal to each of these groups, as The Winsor School does in their site-wide footer.
For example, your tuition page should have calls to action related to tuition; the athletics page should have calls to action related to athletics; your giving page should have calls to action related to giving; and so on.
Someone entering your site through an athletics page is clearly interested in athletics. Now is not the time to badger them about attending an open house. Rather, use some enticing content. Discuss featured athletes, promote your championship win, link to a list of scores and schedules.
Remember: right content, right place, right time.
Your website should be the home of all that amazing inbound content.
Think of your school's website and content as attracting magnets. No matter where you post a video, a blog, a new story, a photo — it should always lead (or, ahem, attract) them back to your website.
Worried about a content strategy? Content marketing doesn't mean you have to write lengthy e-books or 5 blogs per week. Content marketing simply means that you have a way to engage prospective and current families with your school and brand with informational or fun content.
Inbound marketing content on your website includes: blogs, photos, videos, news, testimonials, alumni spotlights, faculty and student profiles, and infographics — just to name a few.
Think this seems unattainable? You only need to post two blogs per week to make an improvement in website traffic.
At your school you have hundreds of content writers and contributors. Your students, faculty and even parents can play a role in sharing stories and media — just as La Salle College High School in PA does.
Your School's Website + Inbound Marketing
Your school's website plays a critical role in attracting, recruiting, and retaining students. So how do you prepare it to broaden the admissions funnel, increase donations, and cultivate a happier community? Download our "Inbound Marketing Website Checklist" to see which website updates are necessary to prepare your site for inbound.