Every school wants more inquiries and applicants. Even if you meet your enrollment goals year over year, filling seats with more of the right students (or full-pay students) guarantees long-term success. However, there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to increasing awareness and engagement among prospective families. It takes a strategy that includes a well-designed website that's optimized for search, as well as a well-thought paid ad strategy.
And that's exactly what St. Thomas School in Washington did.
The Role of Search Engine Marketing in Admissions
After partnering with Finalsite for their website, the team at St. Thomas School also entrusted our consulting team with their search engine marketing — a collaboration that resulted in a:
- 40% increase in applications
- 37% increase in inquiries
- 37% increase in new student enrollment
Since launching their new site in 2016 and adopting a new inbound marketing approach, St. Thomas School has been successful in using SEO (Search Engine Optimization), PPC (Pay-Per-Click) ads, and social ads to reach new audiences, share and repurpose engaging content, and grow their admissions funnel.
"St. Thomas School is an innovative place," said Amanda McDevitt, Director of Marketing & Communications at St. Thomas School. "They were open to what I wanted to do, and we quickly adopted an inbound marketing strategy."
After launching their new site in August 2016, and having been with the school for almost a year, Amanda knew it was the perfect time to start implementing a new search engine marketing strategy to reach a wider, more targeted audience. "Schools need to understand the importance of search engine marketing as the new Yellow Pages," said Amanda. "When people go to search for schools online, they need to be able to find you and your website, or your school is missing out on a huge opportunity to reach prospective families."
It's important to remember how search engine marketing can help your school's website get in front of many people searching for schools like yours every day. Many schools, like St. Thomas School, have turned to setting up SEO and PPC campaigns to advertise their website and drive traffic back to it.
SEO drives more qualified traffic by:
- Appearing in the searches that matter to your school
- Appearing at the top of search for unbranded searches
- Serving up relevant interior pages of your website from branded searches
Using SEO, PPC, and Digital Ad Campaigns on a Budget
For many schools, the cost of advertising is a major deciding factor when considering SEO and PPC. If you're unsure on which to use, consider ways you can better understand the tools of the trade and knowing how to use SEO/PPC at the right time.
Once you determine which to use, and when, it's time to consider how you plan to pay for these campaigns. St. Thomas School's success proves you don't need a large budget to successfully create these campaigns. Amanda recommended cutting the school's print advertising budget by half in the first year and then cut that in half again for the current school year. The money saved was redirected towards the new SEO, PPC, and social ads campaigns.
The Result to their SEO/PPC Campaigns
The school first launched their PPC campaign in November 2016, followed by their SEO campaign in February 2017. The following data compares October to December 2017 vs. October to December 2016:
- Clicked Email Link to Contact Admissions
- Paid Search: up 600% year-over-year (7 vs. 1)
- Organic Search: up 29% year-over-year (31 vs. 24)
- Clicked Online Application/Register for Open House (Ravenna Hub – External Link)
- Paid Search: up 1,300% (14 vs. 1)
- Organic Search: up 55% (240 vs. 155)
The school's Google My Business Posts also received over 4,000 views from October to January. According to their SEO/PPC consultant here at Finalsite, since Google My Business posts were a new feature in 2017, the school get a lot of free exposure for the open house events. Their most recent open house event had a 41% increase in attendance.
The Result to their Social Ads
Some of their ads are event focused, but most of them are about the school's hallmarks and what really sets it apart, according to Amanda. Some examples of their best ads that helped drive the most traffic back to their website include ads on merit scholars and parents as partners, as well as ads highlighting their 1-to-1 laptop technology program and Edgework experience.
Amanda's goal for social marketing is to get people to the school website.
"I post quality content and look to the amount of web traffic I'm getting from social channels to measure its effectiveness," Amanda said. "We increased traffic from social media by 619% in our first year of implementing this strategy. Of course, quantity of traffic doesn't matter if it isn't quality traffic, so we also look to goal completions such as time spent on our site, number of pages viewed, etc to make sure we're bringing the right people (people who match our customer personas) to our site."
Ads can be a great way to reshare content with your audiences. St. Thomas School does a great job at repurposing their blogs in ads. "Our top performing blog topics are technology and character/leadership," Amanda said. "These topics are viewed at twice the frequency of all other topics combined."
For example, St. Thomas School reshared this blog on closing the gender gap in STEM and this blog on how the pre-K model benefits middle schoolers as social media ads.
Amanda plans to continue sharing content that has proven to be highly engaging, as well as share some new digital ads that will highlight the school's employment opportunities.