- Higher Education
- Independent Schools
- International Schools
Businesses strive to convert their top leads into clients, their clients into repeat clients, and their happy clients into brand evangelists. Like businesses, schools want to increase enrollment, retention and fundraising numbers; this funnel makes the inbound marketing philosophy more and more appealing.
Finalsite's Content Marketing Manager Mia Major is an inbound marketing pro herself. She recently hosted the webinar Inbound Marketing: Practical Tips to Fill Your Funnel in a Small Shop, or on a Small Budget to share strategies and practical tips for effectively executing an inbound marketing strategy that works — detailing out the importance of personas, your school's website, content, and more.
Inbound Marketing for Enrollment
Inbound marketing focuses on filling your school's admissions funnel with qualified prospect families, and taking them on a journey from "awareness" to "decision." Inbound marketing for enrollment focuses on the content and strategies required for each stage in the journey.
(If you're new to inbound marketing and this doesn't sound familiar, I recommend reading this inbound marketing strategy overview, first.)
Here's what inbound marketing for enrollment looks like at each stage of the funnel.
The first stage, awareness, is when your prospect is aware that they have a problem or pain point — such as not wanting to attend the local public schools. In order to reach individuals in this "awareness" stage, you need to create content that answers key questions they may be asking, such as, "why choose an independent school?"
In this stage of the journey, you are trying to get qualified prospects to your website and answer a question they may have. This can be accomplished with a variety of blog and website content, as well as PPC ads for particular keywords.
The next stage, consideration, is when your prospect has clearly defined their exact obstacle, and begins to research solutions. For example, this would yield a prospect to conduct some searches like "best private schools near me or best art schools in the Connecticut."
Individuals in the consideration stage need to be nurtured in order to keep them thinking about your school as they decide where to go. You may retarget them with paid ads, social media ads, or direct email communications.
The third stage, decision, is when your prospect has decided on a few schools that they would like to attend — and have most likely already applied to — but are waiting to make a final decision.
Individuals in this stage should be handled with care, as every interaction matters.
During each of these stages, it's important to create different content that resonates with your prospect based on where they are in the process. Your messaging has to be different based on whether they are just beginning their search or have chosen your school.
Four Steps to Building an Effective Inbound Marketing Campaign for Enrollment
Step 1: Set an Attainable Goal
When you're thinking about the amount of content you're going to want to create and the various people you're going to be talking to, start yourself off with one goal.
- If your goal is more inquiries, you'll want to focus on strategies to drive success in the awareness phase.
- If your goal is strictly enrollment, you'll want to focus on the final enrollment number, which may mean focusing on individuals in the consideration and decision phases.
- If your goal is retention, you'll want to focus on keeping your numbers steady.
Regardless of your goal, you will want to ensure it is measurable and trackable.
Step 2: Identify Your Personas
Before you begin marketing, you need to know who you're targeting. At the center of inbound is personalized messaging. You want the content you're sharing to resonate with a specific audience. This has been proven to be successful based on statistics such as:
- The increase in email conversion rate when you use personalize is 60%
- 74% of consumers become frustrated by content not related to their interests
- The average conversion rate when you use personalized content on your website is 20%
This means you'll want to take the time to identify your personas, with a target of four. This will help you determine different messaging to different audience. Remember, no one wants to receive content that is not relevant to them. Always keep your personas in mind as they help you identify how to identify, understand, and engage your ideal student.
What is the difference between target audiences and personas? General target audiences include large groups of individuals, such as current/former parents, prospective students, alumni, and more. On the other hand, personas have desires, or a need or pain they want to address, and they're looking for a solution - which could be found at your school.
Guide + Template: Create Applicant Personas for Your School
Step 3: Create Your Content
Once you know who your ideal personas are, create your content based on the persona's needs. Make sure the content you are writing and sharing make sense based on where the individual is in the funnel.
Some types of content you can share include
- News stories
- Help Guides
Stuart Country Day School, for example, sets a great example of sharing different content for different audiences. The screenshot below is an example of a landing page with a viewbook that exemplifies how successful students can be if they attend the school. The viewbook would most likely be downloaded by prospective families in the awareness and/or consideration phases.
On this landing page, Stuart promotes an eBook they wrote to help parents encourage their daughters to become leaders: relevant to the school's mission but not all about the school itself. This piece of content is relevant to individuals very early on in the awareness stage clearly looking to solve a particular problem, and is also valuable for retention.
If you're in a small shop and may not have all the resources to compile a viewbook or eBook like this, consider the resources you may already have at your school, including the students and parents that can help.
Blogs are another great example of the type of content you can be sharing behind your inbound marketing strategy. Anyone can start one. Consider the fact that at your school, you have many people who can contribute to the blog. Writing blogs and sharing them on your website is also beneficial for SEO performance and thought-leadership.
Avon Old Farms, for example, has proven strategies behind the success of its school blog. It was built on a collaborative team effort and shares a variety of topics that can relate to each of its subscribers.
Testimonials are a third type of content for your inbound marketing. You don't need to be fancy and have a video testimonial - a text testimonial, as seen below, is just as impactful.
Step 4: Get Your Website Ready, First
Once you've established your goal, written about personas and created content, it's time to get your website ready for your inbound initiatives. A few minor changes to your homepage, landing pages, and more can really go a long way with your inbound marketing campaign.
In general, you'll have two types of visitors coming to your website:
High Commitment visitors: These are ready to apply/inquire, and most likely searched for your school with its name. They don't need any real convincing at this point. Your school is already at the top of their list. These types of visitors are more patient and forgiving with site look, feel, experience. Keep in mind, they are also willing to fill out longer forms.
Low Commitment visitors: These are known as the shoppers looking for schools through unbranded searches. They are just poking around, deciding on what they want to do, and may need help making a decision. Your school is one of many things they're looking at. On the contrary, they are NOT willing to fill out longer forms - if your goal is to build awareness and fill your funnel, short forms will make this difference (or you will only attract the high commitment visitors on your site).
These types of visitors will come to your website one of the following ways:
- From social media: At least 1/3 of all referral traffic comes from social media
- From mobile: Finalsite schools see an average of 50% of all traffic from mobile devices (go to your top hit pages and see what they look like on a mobile device.)
This means your website and content needs to be optimized for each of these channels.
Considering the above, you need to implement the following:
- A Search Engine Optimization Strategy: Optimize your homepage, landing pages and interior pages for keywords you want to rank for like "all boys school in Boston."
- A variety of Calls-to-Action (CTA): These guide visitors to the most important pages of your website — and in most cases are a page on which they would convert, such as an inquiry form. Be sure that your call-to-action buttons appeal to both high and low commitment visitors.
- A PPC Strategy: Invest ad dollars in pay-per-click and social media ads that drive website visitors to targeted landing pages.
- Different lead qualifying forms: Having one, long form for all leads to fill out is a quick way to see your numbers drop. Consider where individuals are in the funnel, and how much information they may be willing to give you. If you're trying to fill your funnel and get the most conversion, 3-4 form fields is optimal to see these kinds of results. Make forms easy to find and fill out for an improved user experience. Your forms should be different for inquiring, applying, scheduling a visit, or downloading a viewbook.
Building an effective inbound marketing enrollment strategy doesn't happen overnight - but you can start now. Once you determine your goal and your personas, you can begin creating and distributing content to engage visitors at all stages of the funnel.
Get started with your inbound marketing strategy with this free toolkit - specifically designed for your schools needs.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As Finalsite's Events Marketing Manager, Stephanie is passionate about sharing what's happening at Finalsite with all school professionals. She is a co-producer for the FinalsiteFM podcast network and brings a fresh perspetive for marketing with her background in social media, communications, and radio broadcasting. Stephanie enjoys helping schools stay ahead of their marketing goals by tracking new trends and developments.
- Inbound Marketing