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How To Be The Smartest School Marketer
Connor Gleason

During COVID, digital demands quickly increased and changed the way prospective families find and research schools for their children. Today, as families browse the web and start comparing schools, it’s vital to know the strategies behind optimizing your website content and launching digital marketing campaigns to be found when it matters most.

Don't let poor school marketing affect your success — whether your goal is to increase enrollment, rebrand as a school, or build a long-term and sustainable PR plan for your district, digital marketing strategies are vital to your school's success. When done right, effectively marketing your school can transform the way you communicate with prospective families, amplify your brand, and build your reputation.

But getting ahead of the pack this year will require working smarter, not harder. Let’s cover the smart marketing strategies schools can implement to deliver the best online presence.

Smart move #1. Redesign your website

Invest time in redesigning your website. Your PPC ads, search engine optimization (SEO), and social media channels all lead back to your website — the best digital marketing in the world won’t matter if your school website design doesn’t deliver a great experience. Knowing what makes a good school website has never been more important — one bad experience can lead to high bounce rates, a decrease in engagement and traffic, and spoil your online reputation.

How do I know if my website is due for a redesign?

If your current site isn’t telling your school’s story effectively, it’s time to start thinking about the message you’re currently sending to families. The bottom line is that if your site is difficult to navigate, not optimized for search, not mobile-friendly, or lacking content that resonates with users, then it's time.

Website Redesign Playbook

A website redesign is a commitment of both time and effort, but if it sounds overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be. It can all be planned in advance, and it doesn’t have to blow your budget — there’s more than likely a solution for any size of school or timeline.

Partnering with a dedicated team to develop your school marketing strategy can help place your school in the best position to achieve success. The Finalsite Advantage team can help support your school by providing hands-on, tailored marketing and communications advice, especially with a large project like a website redesign.

Smart move # 2. Rethink your social media strategy

Social media marketing is quickly evolving. More and more, the organic content you post is really only reaching your internal communities. It's not the best digital marketing channel to push content out to the people you want to attract and introduce them to your school. That requires a smarter strategy.

Develop a new plan for your social media ads

Successfully using social media ads requires you to have a separate paid strategy and know what social ads can do for you. The smart move is to reserve your social budget for awareness and re-targeting. 

Think of social ads as dumbbells — they're effective at the opposite ends of the interest spectrum. You can target people who have similar demographics, locations, and interests, and that's great for brand-building or educating people about a particular curriculum.

When you're showing your ads to a well-defined audience that’s already expressed interest in your school, it's a whole other ballgame. There’s a distinction between the organic content that you post to your current families, alums, faculty, and staff and the external audience not yet connected to you. They are much more aware, and you can be much more direct with your messaging. That’s when you engage them with specific calls to action.

At the other end of the dumbbell is the hyper-focused, remarketing type of advertising that only reaches a particular audience that has identified itself to you, either by visiting a certain part of your website (after you’ve added a tracking pixel) or by giving you their email information through content offer or an inquiry form.

Create a consistent and meaningful posting strategy

A single paid social post is unlikely to bring in a new wave of students. Instead, you should be prepared to develop a long-term strategy that will continually engage users over a long period of time.

Consider the four or five pillars of your school or district’s value proposition and build an ad around each one with a strong visual and consistent formatting of the taglines, language, and CTAs, just like Hebron Academy has done.

hebron academy social ad compilation

Over time, people will start to associate your logo and name with all these amazing things that your students are doing. When the time comes for families to find a school for their child, your school will be top-of-mind because of the long-term saturation. Your school will have been telling families the same story in a consistent and meaningful way.

Smart move #3. Start your school blog

Another smart marketing strategy you should consider is starting or improving your school blog. Unfortunately, for a lot of schools, blogging is last on their to-do list. Still, blogs are a great way to increase your site’s organic website traffic, authority, and visibility by positioning your website as a relevant answer to their questions, as well as allowing for more opportunities to use important keywords.

How do you write a blog? 

Blog writing involves researching keywords and writing high-quality content that matches the user intent, but there are just a few tips to keep in mind: 

  • Have a clear understanding of your target audience.
     
  • Write about what you know, find a topic that you and your team are confident about, determine where you can display your knowledge, and build trust with the reader. Don’t forget to include your teachers, coaches, and school leadership, too!
     
  • Blogs are also a great opportunity to include desired keywords to make your website more visible to people who are using search engines to find your school or district.
     
  • Don’t forget to utilize internal links. This allows users to engage with different parts of your website and will help improve the duration and engagement of the user experience. But, make sure you connect it back to your school.
     
  • Write evergreen content about topics that will remain relevant and valuable over a long period of time. This way, you'll continue to generate traffic leads and relevancy over time. For example, “The Top Five Reasons to Attend a Private School.”

Your school is an expert in something that’s equally important to parents — teaching children. That expertise is something you should share with the world.

Free eBook: The School Blogging Toolkit

Smart move #4. Set up automated email workflows

If you know anything about email marketing and their platforms, it’s that they have established themselves in the broader world of business and mass communications. Many of these platforms have gone beyond just managing lists of recipients and decent-looking templates for emails.

Even if you're still doing it manually, there's a decision tree that you flow through with each contact. The more you can automate that process and the more you can personalize the messaging, you’ll have a much higher rate of success.

workflows example

Here's a visual example: You send out a message, wait two days, and then you send out another follow-up message. Maybe you have a split where the people who've opened the message don't need to be contacted again, but the contacts who haven't opened it do.

With Workflows, you can keep track of how your messages are performing, and that can inform decisions about language, content, timing, etc. This year, look into using it to save yourself time and brainpower and reduce manual tasks, too.

Smart move #5: Double down on video content

The bottom line is that video is one of the most engaging forms of media out there. Each month, 3.25 billion hours of video are watched on YouTube, and over half of those views are on a mobile device.

There's always an opportunity to showcase how vibrant and committed your school is to students and families. Video is a powerful way to do that because we all take in visual information so quickly. Whether you have breathtaking drone footage or you feel your campus really isn't that video-worthy, there are still options for great video. 

Certainly, you have parents who will testify to the impact the school has had on their child's life. Or, you can take videos of the classroom interactions between the students and faculty who care and work so hard to change students’ lives. 

Start small and don't worry if your video hasn’t been produced by a professional video company. Video doesn't have to be professional, so enlist your community and ask them to share their authentic, user-generated video content from the classroom with you. Social media has helped us change our mindset about that — 60 percent of consumers think user-generated video content is more authentic and trustworthy than brand content.

Millfield boarding school youtube

If you search for “affording boarding school,” you’ll find that within the results is Miffield School’s YouTube video about what boarding life is like for its young women.

Start posting on social media and see how video posts do relative to your photo or text-only posts. On Instagram alone, video posts are two times more likely to generate engagement than image posts.

Google is an important portal into everyone's online experiences, and that idea is born out of the stats that we see about how people get to our client's websites. Google owns YouTube, and it’s very common to see a YouTube video as a featured element of Google’s Page One search results.

Smart move #6. Connect the dots

Twenty years ago, marketing was a dirty word — and for many public school districts, it still is. With all the increased competition and more school choice, marketing has become a reality for all schools.

The question we’re all asking is: how do we connect the dots between our marketing plan and our enrollment? Whether it's a billboard on the highway, a magazine ad, a digital ad campaign, or postcards — how is this impacting your admission and enrollment goals? 

Our friends over at InspirED have an annual survey of school marketers, and in their latest report, one of the takeaways was that about half of school marketers felt they were doing a good job at tracking their marketing efforts and how that translates to enrollment.

But that means 50 percent don’t feel like they’re doing a good job at tracking these results. That’s a huge obstacle to overcome this year because ideally, this percentage should be nearly 100 percent. School boards, heads, superintendents, and principals need to feel like they're getting value out of the budget they're putting into the marketing and communications office.

Internally, the admissions department is marketing’s number one customer, but they’ve just never had a close enough connection. Figuring out how to make that work starts at the top through conversations with leadership about roles, responsibilities, and how to work more collaboratively. Egos aside, both teams are working toward the same goal — a healthy enrollment. 

How do we move parents and students along to where we have evidence that they have learned about you and shown legitimate interest? That's been difficult, because typically, the initial research is happening on a platform other than the website, like on search or social media. This means your ability to track them is severed at some point.

Think about what it costs to get X many prospective parents to express interest in your school — you’ve gone from being completely off their radar to getting them on your inquiry list. That can be tricky, but compare those numbers to what you’re seeing within your enrollment management system, where you can measure everything from the inquiry through to the actual enrolled student. 

Key takeaway

Making smart marketing decisions requires going beyond knowing what marketing and communication tools to use. Discovering why and how to use them most effectively is key to unlocking the smartest digital marketing strategies for schools' websites, social media, and enrollment efforts.

Digital marketing and consulting services for schools. Click here to request a consultation!


Connor Gleason Headshot

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.


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