Picture this: Your school’s new website recently launched, your communications plan is in place, and your admissions events are planned in full. You’re feeling good about the upcoming season until someone on the team asks, “What are we doing to reach potential families? Have we considered running an advertising campaign?”
...Does that make your heart rate go up a little? You wouldn’t be alone! With the increasing number of advertising options out there, it likely feels like a mess of unknowns. And considering that you’ll be paying simply for the chance of catching the eye of a prospective family may cause enough uncertainty to make you avoid advertising altogether. But don’t fear! Advertising can play a vital part in your marketing, enrollment, and even retention strategies — and it doesn’t always require a complicated plan with a big budget.
In this blog, we’ll cover:
- Considerations Before Getting Started
- Types of Ads & When to Use Them
- Advertising For Your Budget
- Setting Yourself Up for Success
Together, we’ll dive into some digital advertising basics to help you make the most informed decision for your school!
Considerations Before Getting Started
With the right approach, advertising can do wonders for your school’s digital footprint. Consider it an investment rather than an additional spend. It can help you reach families who may not know you yet, get you to the top of search results, and even keep current families engaged. And while advertising doesn’t have to be scary, it does require careful planning for the most successful outcome.
Let’s consider your entire admissions funnel (this can apply to school districts, too!). Each stage of this funnel reflects where a prospective family is at in their journey to finding a new school — and, in turn, how you can most effectively reach them.
Awareness: When potential families are at this beginning phase of their research, your top goal should be to get your school’s name out there. At this point, families are searching for general keywords, like “all-girls schools near me” or “Montessori schools in Nashville.”
Advertising at this stage of the funnel should be high-level. You shouldn’t be pushing for conversions just yet. Recommended materials for advertising at this stage:
Interest: At this point, a prospective family likely knows who you are. They might have even visited your website and have you on their list of schools to consider. At this stage, you’ll want to drive them to a small conversion opportunity to get their information in your system so that you can nurture them with an email campaign.
Advertising at this stage of the funnel can be more targeted, and you’ll want to think of which conversion opportunities you’d like to put your ad dollars behind. Recommended materials for advertising at this stage:
- A well-designed website
- A gated content piece, like an eBook or viewbook
- A dedicated landing page for this content piece
- A form to download the piece of content
Desire: At this stage, a family is ready to contact you. You’ll want to make sure your inquiry page is up to par with an easy and understandable user experience.
Like the Interest stage, advertising at this Desire stage of the funnel should include a clear call-to-action. Recommended materials for advertising at this stage:
Action: Your prospective family has indicated interest. Your job is done, right? Wrong! You still want to stay top-of-mind with this family through to the point of enrollment. Retargeting ads and a custom application page on your website likely come into play here.
Recommended materials for advertising at this stage:
- A custom application page
Why you should consider these stages first: There is no single advertising campaign that covers everyone in your funnel. In fact, trying to advertise that way can leave you with wasted budget and little to no return. Bucketing out your goals based on each stage of the funnel can help you plan exactly what materials you need to execute your campaigns with precision.
Types of Ads & When to Use Them
Once you have your landing pages, content offers, and goals in place, it’s time to consider your advertising options. There are seemingly endless choices, but we’ll break down the two core outlets.
Social Media Ads
Social media advertising is becoming a norm in many school marketing efforts, as it reaches potential families where they spend so much of their time. With advanced targeting based on online behaviors, running ads on channels like Facebook and Instagram can help make a big difference in your overall reach.
Social media ads can be used at all stages of your funnel, and they can come in multiple formats to fit your needs.
For Website Traffic:
- Photo Ad - Text with a single image and Call to Action (CTA)
- Video Ad - Text with a single video and CTA
- Carousel Ad - Text with a series of images or videos (up to 10) that a user can swipe through, each with a CTA
- Instant Experience - Text with a video or photo and a CTA that leads to an in-app landing page experience, which is built within Facebook Ads
For direct conversions:
- Lead Ad - Text with an image or video and a CTA that leads to an in-app form that can be filled out without leaving the social media platform
St. Patrick’s Episcopal Day School, shown here, uses a video ad to raise awareness about their school!
There are a few reasons to run ads on a search platform like the Google Network:
- To reach families at specific stages of their research journey
- To achieve a page one presence for a search term that you don’t otherwise reach organically
- To compete with nearby schools
Before getting started, you’ll want to conduct some keyword research to explore what terms would make the most sense for your school. You can start with some simple Google searches to see where your website organically stands, what competitors are already running ads, and what other terms may be relevant.
The next step is then to put these terms to the test. There are plenty of keyword research tools out there, including the Google Keyword Planner (included in the Google Ads platform) and Ubersuggest (shown here). These tools will allow you to explore the search volume and competitiveness of certain terms to determine what might make the most sense for your campaign.
These keywords will help you form your campaign(s). Using your funnel and the goals identified earlier, you can use search ads to capture the attention of prospective families in the awareness and intent stages of the funnel.
Hebron Academy, shown here, runs search ads to reach those looking for boarding schools in Maine.
Before getting started, be sure to learn about the most common mistakes schools make in their advertising efforts and how to avoid them!
Advertising for Your Budget
The phrase “pay to play” is often brought up during discussions of digital advertising, acknowledging that organic reach isn’t always enough. From getting the coveted first-page presence in Google search results to beating out competitors on social media, putting some ad dollars behind your strategy might be the tipping point for fueling your funnel. What’s often not acknowledged, however, is that there are options for every budget.
For Small Budgets ($10-300): Boosted Posts
If you don’t have a lot of room in your budget for advertising, that’s OK. With anywhere from $10-300 to work with, you can do a one-time or regular series of boosted Facebook posts to reach a wider audience than what your school’s page can organically reach.
You can boost a post that you already know has performed well, or curate a post that sells the value of your school with the intention of boosting. Boosted posts can work well for:
- General awareness
- Event promotions
- Content offers
Facebook does a great job of letting you know what kind of budget could work for your boosted post. In this case, just $14 over 7 days could help reach 371 people daily!
And while boosted posts are essentially a lite version of the features you would get with Facebook Ads Manager, you can still get granular with your targeting. In this example, we’ve narrowed our audience down to a location with demographics that suggest new parents who recently moved to the area and are interested in private schools. This could be a great audience for potential new families!
For Medium Budgets ($500-3,000): A Dedicated Campaign
Generally speaking, a $500/month budget is the minimum recommended amount to run a dedicated local campaign on Google or on social media. This ensures that you have enough ad dollars to reach the audience you need.
At this lower end of the recommended monthly budget, you have to make some decisions about what area of your funnel is the most worthy of your limited ad dollars. Are you just looking to get your name out there? Reach prospective families who have visited your website? Choose the best scenario to run with, and consider putting your ad dollars into a local campaign on either Google and/or social media.
For Larger Budgets ($5,000+): An Integrated Campaign
If you’re looking to reach potential families at every touchpoint, you’re likely looking to run an integrated campaign — which is a campaign that spans multiple ad formats to achieve a single goal. This is ideal when you want to help follow someone through the use of ads to the point of enrollment at your school. Hebron Academy knows integrated campaigns well, with ads running on the Google Network (previously shown), Facebook, and more for various stages of the funnel.
Setting Yourself Up for Success
At this point, you’ve considered the various stages of your admissions funnel, you’ve done your research regarding the options at your fingertips, and you’ve made a decision for your route of action based on your available budget. That’s great! Before getting started with building your campaign, it’s important to document everything you need so that you can set expectations and ensure a strategic campaign launch. To do so, first identify the following items:
- Goal: Identify a quantifiable and achievable goal for your ad campaign.
Ex/ Get 10 prospective families to attend our virtual open house event
- Audience(s): Who are you planning to target?
Ex/ Millennial parents in a 20 mi radius who are interested in private schools
- Channel(s): Where are you running this campaign?
Ex/ Facebook & Instagram
- Dates: Identify a reasonable timeframe for your ad and your budget
Ex/ At least 1-2 months before the event
- Ad Objective: What do you want people to do when they view/click on your ad? These can be your key performance indicators (KPIs) that you’ll want to track to determine the success of your campaign.
Ex/ Views on the virtual open house page and conversions on the registration form
- Budget: How much money can you set aside for this campaign?
- Materials Needed: What materials do you need to make the campaign a success?
Ex/ Targeted landing page, videos, and imagery
Keeping track of your planning can help you set a frame of reference while reporting on your campaigns once they are complete. If something worked well, you’ll know exactly how you can set up your next campaign. Be sure to go through this exercise any time you’re getting started with digital advertising, and you’ll set yourself up for success!
Digital advertising can be a daunting concept for schools, but there are options for everyone at every budget. Putting some ad dollars behind your strategy can not only help build awareness for your school but also fuel your entire funnel through to enrollment. If you feel like you could use some assistance with getting started, Finalsite’s team of dedicated experts are here to help! Request a free consultation today to learn how you can use your ad dollars in the most effective way.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
In her position as Inbound Marketing Manager, Kristen provides the strategy and creation of content across email, website and social media communications at Finalsite. With over five years of experience in content strategy and digital marketing, Kristen has worked with clients around the country to develop their branding, SEM, SEO, social media, and inbound efforts. She holds and maintains a number of certifications from Google, Hubspot, and Hootsuite