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How to (Wisely) Spend Your School’s Digital Marketing Budget at Any Scale
Connor Gleason

If you had a million dollars, what would you do with it? What about ten grand or an extra thousand dollars?

When it comes to managing your school’s marketing budget, the phrase "a dollar saved is a dollar earned" may come to mind. However, in the realm of digital marketing for your school, the trick lies in knowing where to invest those dollars to gain the maximum output.

The key is to think of marketing as an investment, not a cost, and that’s a tough pill to swallow for a lot of us who need to justify our spending to our business and finance offices. No matter how you define it, your marketing budget needs to be trackable and, if successful, scalable.

If you have to spend an extra buck somewhere, or you’ve got a $1,000 or $10K surplus at the end of the year or quarter, how do you spend it wisely and responsibly, and how can you justify that investment?

We’re going to take a look at how best to spend at different increments, and how to find the value in those investments.

Understanding the Value of an Investment

It is essential to recognize that marketing is an investment and not a mere cost. Your marketing budget should be trackable, scalable, and aligned with the value it brings to your school.

When asked how he would chop down a tree in three hours, Abraham Lincoln wisely stated: “For two hours, I would sharpen the ax.” Similarly, investing time and resources in preparation and research is akin to sharpening your marketing ax.

How Much Should You Spend?

Unfortunately, determining the right amount to allocate for digital advertising is a complex question without a one-size-fits-all answer. Some factors to consider include:

  • The previous year's spending and the results achieved
  • The percentage of your marketing budget you can afford to allocate for digital channels
  • The lifetime value (LTV) of your average customer
  • The conversion rate of website visitors into leads and customers
  • The amount of investment required to meet your goals

Where Should You Spend?

In the digital world, various platforms such as Google, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter offer different advertising opportunities. Many marketers have identified Google as their top-performing platform, and many find Facebook valuable.

It’s important to diversify your advertising channels and adapt to consumer behavior changes. For instance, reroute funding from traditional channels like direct mail to digital channels such as paid social and paid search.

Making the Most of Small Budgets

Investing $10: Boosted Posts on Social Media

If your budget is tight, you can start with as little as $10. For instance:

  • Boost a video on social media to expand your audience
  • Promote an event such as an open house
  • Boost content offers, like a viewbook or a guide to selecting a private school
facebook ad boost range

Boosted posts enable you to reach a wider audience and they can be highly effective if you have eye-catching visuals and a clearly defined goal.

facebook boost ad

Facebook does an excellent job of letting you know what to expect. It can show you a preview of what kind of potential reach and engagement you could see for your boosted post. 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:

screenshot of facebook targeting

Investing $100: Experiment with Social Ads

With a budget of around $100, you can experiment with social ads for a month or try a new platform like Twitter, which is excellent for creating awareness. Remember to view it as an investment rather than "spending," and focus on consistent, meaningful ads that build awareness.

If your school hasn’t played around with investing in social media ads yet, now is the time. Your prospective families spend a lot of time on social media, and this is a smart (and affordable) way to build awareness and work toward increasing their interest. 

But, at this dollar level, set your expectations. With social media, invest in awareness — don’t expect to convert families.

Why social media at this price range? A new social channel could be a great advertising tool because:

  • The average cost-per-click is significantly lower than search ads
  • You can diversify your reach with a variety of lists and campaigns
  • There are a lot of ad formats to experiment with

Facebook has transformed from a platform where we can easily stay connected with friends and family, to a pay-to-play platform, where brands and businesses of all sizes are fighting for clicks, likes, comments, and shares. 

But, it has to be done right.

If you’ve run social media ads in the past without success, it could have been an issue with your ad content, your visuals, the targeted audience, or even your main objective. For example, promoting your school’s open house to an audience that has never heard of your school is going to fall flat.

It’s tricky because your school's social media ad isn't just in competition with other schools — it's in competition with their friends' posts, posts from brands they "like" all the time, and of course, dozens of posts with cat videos, selfies, and photos of your breakfast.

Pro Tip: The content you select to represent in your ad is key — and it needs to be "thumb-stopping good." The visual content you choose to represent your school in an ad needs to be intriguing, engaging, and relevant enough to stop a user's scrolling experience.

Take a look at what Detroit Country Day School is doing. They have ads to encourage and inform targeted audiences about their outstanding faculty.

DCDS facebook ad

It's a well-produced video, and it's short and sweet with a clear call to action. And they have a great landing page to help support conversions for these efforts. They’ll be able to look at that page’s data and compare it to the ad data and see how their efforts fared. Smart!

DCDS landing page

Investing $1,000: Utilize Google AdWords for Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

With a slightly larger budget, you can really start seeing activity. Google Ads is a powerful tool for search engine marketing. It allows your business to achieve a presence on the first page of search results for specific terms. Other benefits include:

  • Building a larger audience for your brand
  • Achieving faster results compared to organic SEO
  • Scheduling ads to reach the right people at the right time
  • Gaining insights through data and optimizing your strategy
  • Outranking competitors

Search ads have the highest conversion rates because they capture the attention of users who are actively seeking information. Investing in SEM helps you connect with hot leads who know what they want and are ready to take action.

SEO & Digital Advertising Fundamentals for Schools

Medium Budgets: Embracing a Dedicated Campaign

With a budget ranging from $500 to $3,000, you can run a dedicated local search campaign on Google. It's important to remember that $500 per month is generally the minimum recommended amount to effectively reach your audience.

With around $1,000, you have to be strategic in selecting which area of your funnel to target. For example:

  • Building Awareness: Spend your budget on getting your name out there
  • Retargeting: Focus on reaching prospective clients who have previously visited your website
  • Allocate your ad dollars to a local campaign on Google

If you have $1,000 to spend over two months, you can spend around $16 a day. At $2 per click for a PPC ad, this could result in 8 clicks a day from genuinely interested individuals, or around 480 clicks over two months.

ppc ads mockup on laptop

Large Budgets: Creating an Integrated Campaign

With a budget of $10,000, you can create an integrated campaign that involves multiple touchpoints across different channels, addressing various stages of the sales funnel. For example, someone might initially find you through a Google PPC Search ad, and then you can retarget them on Facebook and Instagram.

No matter your budget, at any scale, your approach might look like this:

  • Goal: Identify a quantifiable and achievable goal for your ad campaign.
    • Example: Get 10 prospective families to attend our virtual open house event
  • Audience(s): Who are you planning to target?
    • Example: Millennial parents in a 20-mile radius who are interested in private boarding schools
  • Channel(s): Where are you running this campaign?
    • Example: Facebook & Instagram
  • Date: Identify a reasonable timeframe for your ad and your budget
    • Example: 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.
    • Example: 100 views on the virtual open house page and 10 conversions on the registration form
  • Budget: How much money can you set aside for this campaign?
    • Example: $15/day
  • Materials Needed: What do you need to make the campaign a success?
    • Example: Targeted landing page, text. videos, and imagery, thank you page
Hebron Academy facebook ad

Hebron Academy is an example of a school that employs integrated campaigns well, with ads running on the Google Network, Facebook, and more, for various stages of the funnel. They use SEM to reach audiences at the top of the funnel, and then continue to engage them through social media platforms.

Hebron Academy Landing page

Scaling the Campaign

If you are limited to $10,000, consider using it over 3-5 months and then analyze the analytics deeply. If you see conversions and inquiries, reinvest the profits into your marketing and scale up.

Budget Breakdown for Google Ads in an Integrated Campaign

  • Determine Your Conversion Rate: If you’re just starting, aim for a 3% conversion rate.
  • Calculate Daily Budget and Number of Clicks: Find your daily budget, and divide it by the average cost per click (CPC) for your keywords, which gives you the number of clicks per day.
  • Calculate Leads: Multiply the number of clicks by your conversion rate to find the average number of leads per day.
  • Evaluate and Adjust Budget: If you are getting fewer than one lead per day, consider increasing your daily budget or trying to boost your conversion rate.

Reevaluating Spending for Maximum Impact

Your ad budget should be adaptable to meet the evolving demands of your school. This means being attuned to seasonal variations, days of the week, and other factors that may affect clicks and conversions. Adopt an experimental mindset; this will help you identify the most profitable initiatives in your strategy and adjust your budget accordingly.

Pro Tip: Avoid examining results daily as it’s too granular and doesn't provide the bigger picture. Instead, reevaluate your spending on a bi-weekly or monthly basis. This gives your campaigns enough time to produce reliable results while still allowing you to make timely adjustments to meet quarterly or yearly goals.

Key Takeaway

Whether you're working with a small, medium, or large budget, the key to effective digital marketing is to be thoughtful and strategic in allocating your funds. By understanding your school's audience, setting clear goals, and regularly evaluating and adjusting your spending, you can maximize the return on your marketing investment. Remember that it’s not about how much you spend, but how wisely you use your budget to achieve your objectives.

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Connor Gleason Headshot


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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