Finding the right school for a child has always been a daunting task for parents. It involves a lot of research, comparison, and decision-making, which can take a considerable amount of time and effort.
However, with the advent of machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), and its various applications, this process has become more accessible, efficient, and personalized. The explosion of AI chatbots, ChatGPT for schools, the rise of voice-assisted tech, and the emergence of AI-assisted digital marketing have impacted how families find, research, and engage with your school. Suddenly, it seems as though the robots are deciding if it's the best choice for their child.
So what’s changed?
When it comes to online research, Google has been “the middleman” — it’s really just the messenger. Families had questions, and with those phrases and keywords, Google delivered a platter of what it thought were the best results, and families selected from those options. (Ah, simpler times…)
But with AI, the middleman is gone. Families aren’t searching as much as they are asking and being given an answer. The answer.
So, how can your school’s online presence stand a chance when the bots scour the web looking for answers? Let’s take a look at how families are using AI to search and engage with your school and how you can ensure the correct and best information about your school is readily available.
ChatGPT could change how families engage with your school
One of the most notable AI applications that have made it easier for families to research schools is the use of chatbots powered by language models like ChatGPT. These programs could serve as valuable tools by supplying information about schools, addressing questions, and directing families as they navigate their research process.
Why? Chatbots have the ability to provide customized recommendations for families based on their unique preferences and requirements. Chatbots are computer programs designed to simulate conversations with human users, and language models like ChatGPT are capable of generating naturally sounding search results and responses based on the input they receive.
For instance, if a family seeks a school with an advanced athletic program or a specific academic focus, a chatbot can assist in filtering the options and suggesting personalized recommendations.
With the help of ChatGPT, parents can now find information about public schools, compare different options, and get their questions answered through personalized recommendations based on their preferences, such as location, school size, curriculum, extracurricular activities, and more. Consequently, parents can receive prompt aid and guidance whenever they require it, eliminating the need to await an email or phone call.
We’re very quick to assume the provided answer is correct — but it may not be. The program doesn’t access a database of facts to respond to questions; the responses it gives are based on patterns that ChatGPT recognizes in the training data. It’s not even connected to the Internet. And while it’s the largest language model ever trained, its dataset only goes up to the fall of 2021, and it might produce biased — and even wrong — responses.
However, it's crucial to remember that technology cannot entirely replace human interaction in the school selection process. Your school needs to think about its online and digital presence, what is being said on the review sites, and what your school brand represents — all the factors that form a reputation.
Voice search marketing for schools
Another AI application that has revolutionized the way parents search and engage with schools is the popularity of voice search and voice commands. Voice commands allow users to interact with their devices through spoken language, and voice recognition technology conducts searches on search engines — especially for information about local services and businesses, which includes schools. In fact, 58 percent of voice search users search for information about local businesses.
When using an Apple device, simply saying, “Hey Siri, what are the top private schools in my area?” returns the top three Google results immediately, without needing to lift a finger. With smart home devices, this becomes even more hands-off, as it will read the results for you.
While 25 to 49-year-olds use voice search more often than any other age group, one recent report suggests that half of the US population uses voice search features every day, and more than one-third uses them at least once a week, turning Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, and Cortana into household names during that last decade.
With the rise of smart speakers like Amazon's Alexa and Google Home, parents can now use their voice to find information about schools, such as their location, admission requirements, and academic programs.
Considering 90 percent of people think voice search is easier than searching online with written searches, this hands-free approach does make it more convenient for busy parents on the go.
What does this mean for your school or district?
More than anything, the rise of voice search will impact how schools approach their search engine optimization (SEO) strategies, as well as their marketing strategy. Voice searches tend to be more conversational in their structure than the standard search — you’ll be more likely to ask a full question, for example, than you would be to say a few keywords that you would typically type into a search engine.
Keeping this in mind, consider how you can adapt the keywords you want to rank for in a way that favors voice searches. Can you create some long-tailed headings on your website, or perhaps publish an eBook that answers a common question? These simple changes can make a difference for your SEO as you keep up with the rise of voice search.
AI’s role in digital marketing
AI has also changed how families engage with your school’s ads on social media platforms. With the help of AI algorithms like those found on Meta (which owns Facebook and Instagram), AI can help target ads to specific audiences based on their demographics, interests, and behaviors. This level of personalization can make the ads more relevant and engaging, leading to higher click-through rates and conversions.
For instance, thanks to AI in digital marketing, parents who have shown an interest in education-related topics, or share similar demographics with your followers on Facebook may be more likely to see your ads highlighting your school's unique features, showcasing success stories, or addressing specific concerns or questions that parents may have.
Optimized social media ads that target specific audiences aren’t necessarily a new idea, but recent developments in AI-assisted ads have shown they’re more accurate than anything you might be able to create.
AI can be used to personalize ad content, such as Meta's recently launched Advantage+ which utilizes artificial intelligence to create up to 150 advertisements tailored to the marketer's objectives, replacing the requirement for manual ad development. Through this AI-assisted platform, ads are analyzed by algorithms, and the most successful ones are selected with the ability to automatically adjust text and images.
Through its intuitive Ads Manager editor, Meta will let you know if you can make some updates to optimize your ads. Advantage+ will let you toggle on and off AI-enabled enhancements that will adjust your ads to cater to the individual — whether that’s finding the perfect tune, image brightness, or aspect ratio — to bring you the highest likelihood of clicks and conversions.
Still not convinced a bot could produce a better ad for your school than you?
In late 2022, advertisers using Advantage+ saw over 20 percent more conversions than in the year before, while some recent tests resulted in advertisers seeing a 32 percent increase in return on ad spend (ROAS.)
Google is similarly offering a better way to optimize your search and display ads through AI-infused tools. When updating your Google Ads, you can head over to Recommendations to see what updates might help you reach the goals of your marketing campaign.
One of these new tools is “Automatically Created Assets,” which will pull content from your landing page to create unique ads based on a single person’s search. While it may feel a little scary to give Google’s AI the steering wheel, it will only show new combinations of the content you’re already providing on your school's website.
If you trust Google to scour your content to show the best-possible ad on a user-by-user basis, you might just find that you see more conversions! It offers personalization without the lift.
Boost your school’s visibility and search ranking
Will your school’s digital presence be ready when the bots come calling? Here are six ways you can improve your school’s visibility and search engine ranking on Google for parents who are researching schools:
- Claim your Google Business profile: By creating and claiming a business profile with Google, your schools can provide important information to potential families, such as your school's location, contact information, hours of operation, photos, and reviews.
- Optimize your website for search engines: Ensure that your website is optimized for search engines by using relevant keywords and meta tags, creating high-quality content, and ensuring that your website is mobile-friendly.
- Use local keywords: Use local keywords to optimize your website and Google Business profile. For example, use location-specific keywords like "best elementary school in [city]" or "top-rated middle school in [region]" to improve your search engine ranking for local searches.
- Encourage online reviews: Encourage parents, students, and faculty members to leave positive reviews of your school on Google and other review platforms. Positive reviews can improve your search engine ranking and help attract more families to your school.
- Use social media: Use social media platforms to promote your school and share information about upcoming events, student achievements, and other news. Be sure to include links to your website and Google profile in your social media profiles and posts.
- Use paid search advertising: Consider using paid search advertising, such as Google Ads, to target parents who are searching for schools in your area. This can be a highly effective way to improve your visibility and attract more potential families to your school.
By implementing these strategies, your school can improve its visibility and search engine ranking on Google, making it easier for parents to find your school when conducting research for the right school for their family.
As AI continues to evolve and improve its accuracy, we can expect even more of an impact on how families research and engage with finding a school. Don’t be afraid to test out the AI-assisted tools that are designed to help you save time, target your messaging, and engage your audience with precise detail. Then, when the time comes, use your CMS platform to engage families with a personalized experience only humans can offer.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
In her position as Director of Demand Generation 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.
Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, storytelling, coffee, and creating content that connects.