Since early 2020 , charter schools have been forced to rethink marketing strategy and shift their focus to recruiting students largely online. The most successful charter schools have taken large chunks of those budget dollars that were previously being spent on print materials, door-to-door campaigns and face-to-face engagements, and invested them in digital marketing strategies. In order to take that approach, where do you begin?
In this post, we're focusing on digital marketing efforts for charter schools that can help you with student recruitment and engagement. Specifically, we’ll share five innovative strategies to help get your marketing campaign off the ground.
Marketing in the Competitive School Landscape
Whether it is obvious or not, charter schools are always competing for enrollment. Most of the time you may think of competition as the local district, private, or competing charter schools fighting over the same pool of students, but there is also the challenge of public policy putting caps on growth.
Marketing your charter school is becoming increasingly necessary for both immediate and sustained success and, more specifically, digital marketing is a better alternative to outmoded traditional ads. According to the Charter School Growth Fund’s Enrollment Playbook, “Digital advertising is the single most effective way to generate leads from prospective families.”
With digital marketing, you benefit from:
- Better insights: traditional advertisements can often be very difficult to quantify exactly what you are getting in return for your investment, including how many new students are inquiring from your efforts. With digital marketing you can use tools like Google Analytics to track key performance indicators for your website as well as how your ads are performing. The smartest schools use data to continuously inform and improve their marketing strategies. Finalsite's CMS, Composer, seamlessly integrates with Google Analytics to give you better insight into your site's web traffic.
- Better control: the emergence of social media and online profiles offers digital marketers more refined targeting options and control over when ads are viewed. From being able to handpick target audiences based on factors like age, income, gender, interests and location to specifying the days and times you want your ads to be visible, digital marketing provides more control over ad effectiveness in a way that traditional advertising cannot.
- Better exposure: It is no secret that people are spending more time connected and online, utilizing video streaming services, internet radio, and social media more than ever before. If you want to reach prospective families where they’re spending most of their time, the answer is to focus on the Internet. Social media, in particular, is a great avenue for gaining exposure online.
Now, let's focus on five strategies you can use to market your charter school online.
1. Google My Business
Have you ever noticed that when you type a business or school name into Google, there will often be a side panel that shows up next to your search results with more details about the business?
This panel of information is called Google My Business and it is one of the easiest and most important marketing strategies for any charter school to take advantage of. You have the ability to claim your charter school through Google, and once verified, actively manage your charter school’s Google My Business information and what you want to appear here.
Google My Business listings can also help you get found easier since the information is used when someone conducts a search like "schools near me" or "high schools in [city name]." These local searches will typically bring up a map along with Google My Business listings. Optimizing your Google my Business listing can help your school ranking in these results.
Not only is Google My Business free for you to use, it won't take you long to optimize your profile. Once you’ve claimed your charter school, make sure the basics like school name, address and phone number are all correct. Next, add a brief, but enthusiastic description about your charter school along with a few photos of your buildings, student life, and a virtual tour video if you have one. This is a fantastic opportunity to show that you care for your families and provide a great education.
Additionally, Google My Business has an option for you to include posts, which are excellent for sharing weekly school updates and promoting enrollment events. Most of your posts will stay up for a week, but event-related posts will stay live until the event date so you don't have to worry about reposting them. This feature provides an excellent marketing opportunity that costs you nothing.
Google My Business exists with or without your input, so we highly recommend using it to its full potential.
2. Your Website
At the heart of every digital marketing campaign is your charter school’s website, and as such, it should be your top priority. Everything else you do online including social media posts, sending emails, writing blogs, and even updating your Google My Business profile, is all leading families back to your website. If your website fails to meet expectations, the data suggests there is a good chance visitors won’t be coming back.
In addition to your direct efforts to get people to your website, it is also often the first place families will go unprompted to learn more about your charter school and find up-to-date information. Your website is your digital campus, and as such, it should tell your story and celebrate your community, while making it easy for prospective and current families to find whatever they need, on any device, in just a couple of clicks. Your goal should be to have a website that is not only visually appealing, but also designed with the user in mind, whether it be stearing a prospective parent through the enrollment process while learning about your charter school along the way, or quickly guiding current families to find the information they need fast.
Recent data suggests that you have an extremely limited amount of time to make an impression on a website visitor (.05 seconds!), so if your website looks older or out of date, isn’t mobile friendly, or is hard to navigate, it may instantly begin to shape a negative perception of your charter school.
In this example from Granada Hills Charter in California, the strong branding, video and messaging on the homepage captivates prospective families while the “MyGHC” dropdown provides a unique customized area specifically for current parents, students, faculty and alumni to find everything they need in one place.
The Pandemic’s Lasting Impact on School Web Design
5 Secrets of Successful School Websites
3. Content Creation
One way to help your website get found easier is through content creation. Content is one of the top three factors that determine how you rank in Google, so creating solid blog content is an excellent strategy to drive traffic to your site. In a competitive school market, having a blog can help you stand out and build trust within the community.
Unlike ads, blog posts shouldn't focus on your school. Instead, they should share information, opinions or advice that would be relevant to your prospective families. Blogs should also consider the different phases of your inbound marketing funnel, and the content should match the current phase, like you see below. (For your blog, the phases of attract and engage, recruit and convert, and nurture and enroll can be joined together for simplicity.)
Here are some suggested blog ideas for each phase of the marketing funnel:
Attract & Engage
- Why Attend a Charter School?
- 10 Questions to Ask When Choosing the Right School for Your Child
- Top Considerations for Choosing Between Charter Schools and other Public Schools
Recruit & Convert
- 5 Benefits of a Charter School Education
- STEAM vs. STEM: Which is Right for My Child? (or similar for your charter school’s curriculum)
- What is Project Based Learning, & How Can it Benefit My Child?
Nurture & Enroll
- What After School Activities are Right for My Child?
- Student, Alumni and Faculty Spotlight Articles
- Event Recap Stories
- How to Prepare for Back-to-School
- How to Help Your Child Study at Home
- 6 Science-Backed Ways to Help Students Cope with Stress
In this example by American Leadership Academy in Arizona, we can see them use Finalsite’s blog feature, Finalsite Posts, to automate blog publishing, organize blog posts, and allow users to opt in to alerts and subscribe!
You can also look at your frequently asked questions at every stage of the enrollment process and create content around the questions and answers that makes their process, and your job, easier.
The quality of your content should always be your primary focus when blogging, but another one of the keys to your blog's success is how frequently you post. At a minimum, you should be blogging at least once a month, but once per week is ideal.
4. SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
Google and other search engines use complicated algorithms to determine which websites best match a user’s search request and appear on the first page of results. If you want your website to rank well organically in these results, you should focus on your site's search engine optimization (SEO). If you don’t think it is important to rank well in these searches, you should. Sites that show up on the first Google search results page get 91.5% of traffic share. If you aren’t on the first results page, you’re losing a lot of prospective families to other schools.
Everything we already talked about - Google My Business, content creation, and maintaining your website are all ways to market your school that also improve your SEO, but there are additional ways you can use SEO to help your website rank better:
- Researching keywords: You'll want to do research to find out what keywords parents are using to find schools you compete with or that are similar to you. You’ll want to incorporate these keywords into your SEO strategy, including blog posts, title tags, and meta descriptions. Learn more about title tags and meta descriptions with Ten Best Practices for On-Page SEO.
- Correcting 404 errors: One of the simplest ways to improve your SEO is to make sure you clean up broken links on your site, known as 404 errors. Landing on a page that no longer exists is frustrating for users, and when they quickly bounce back to Google, it tells the algorithm that the searcher did not find what they were looking for.
- Improving internal linking structure: internal links are the links that point to other pages on your website, like a contact page or a blog post. For SEO, internal links help search engines understand your site’s architecture and how all the pages on your website relate to one another. Without optimal link structure, Google may not see the wonderful content or recognize the excellent keyword targeting you worked so hard to produce.
- Enhancing user experience: Website design and user experience is another major consideration for SEO. Page load speed, page views, time on page, average time spent on your site and other factors will impact how your charter school will rank in search results. Pay attention to trends in Google Analytics to evaluate how you're doing.
Web design can be overwhelming if you don't have the right tools, and great web design that improves your SEO is possible with a best-in-class marketing and communications platform. That's why Finalsite's Composer, a content management system (CMS), is specifically designed to empower charter schools to build a professional, engaging website and maintain it with ease.
5. Facebook Ads
Facebook isn’t just for posting school updates and sharing content with your followers; it is also a fantastic ad platform for charter schools. With nearly 3 billion active users, all of whom supply a ton of information about themselves, Facebook offers the potential to reach a wide, but carefully targeted and very specific audience.
To help with budget flexibility throughout the year, Facebook ads can be run year round, or just temporarily before an enrollment period to drive up interest. To get started putting your first ad together, here are 6 qualities of a great social media ad:
- A clearly defined goal
- A small target audience
- A high-quality, relevant and eye-catching image or video
- A short description of the offer
- One call-to-action
- A link that goes directly to a relevant landing page
There are also several different forms of Facebook ads as well as other platforms that you might want to consider for your charter school’s enrollment goals, and Finalsite’s Consulting team can help develop a tailored social media and ad strategy to help you hit those goals.
Facebook and other social media platforms provide plenty of free opportunities for marketing outside of paid ads, too. Finalsite can help you make the most of your social media presence across a variety of sites with our social media integration tool, Feeds.
Make Finalsite Your Trusted Digital Marketing Partner
At Finalsite, we want to help charter schools succeed in the digital space. Digital marketing doesn't have to be a daunting task. Take some time now to learn more about Finalsite’s services for charter schools or feel free to reach out and speak to us directly about your digital marketing strategy today.
This blog has been updated since its original publish date of June 20, 2019
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Phil directs the charter school market at Finalsite and spends every day consulting with some of the most forward-thinking and successful charter school leaders in the country about effective awareness, engagement and communications strategies. Being lucky enough to marry an assistant director of marketing and communications at a local choice school, Phil also gets to talk school marketing strategy during morning walks with the dogs, kayak rides on the local lake, and while fast-forwarding through commercial breaks of his favorite recorded shows.