Here we are, smack dab in the middle of admissions season. And if things aren’t going quite to plan, there are some changes you can make now to positively impact your 2020 numbers and beyond.
What Changes Can You Make When Inquiries are Down?
Invest in Paid Ads
Invest in Social Media Ads
Earn Positive Reviews
Redesign Your Website
Shorten Your Inquiry Form
Make Sure Your Form is Responsive
Optimize Your Landing Pages
Offer Something of Value First
Disclaimer: Even the best marketing can’t increase the applicant pool.
Today, you’re dealing with a much smaller applicant pool. From a 10,000 foot view, we can chalk it up to the fact that millennials are having fewer children, and often having them later in life. Couple that with increased debt from student loans and decreased salaries compared to their parents, private school is out of reach for many families.
More specifically, according to a report from Enrollment Management Association (EMA) the proportion of the population under the age of 18 is expected to drop from 23.5 percent to 21.2 percent between 2012 and 2060. That same report suggests that the number of independent school graduates is expected to decline by 26.5 percent between 2012 and 2032.
It’s essential that your school takes this data into consideration when setting year-over-year goals. You can’t expect major increases in inquiries or enrollment when there aren’t increases in the population.
Why are Inquiries Down?
Before diving into some general strategies, there might be reasons specific to your school to explain decreased inquiry traffic: the opening or expansion of competitive schools, issues around program, or even a scandal that pops up when a family Googles your school. Maybe your school is new, or maybe it's associated with a type of education that’s seeing a decline in interest nationwide.
While some of these can be combated with aggressive marketing campaigns, it’s no less important to set realistic goals based on your school’s unique circumstance.
Specific cases aside, when schools aren’t reaching their inquiry goals, it can usually be attributed to two main causes:
You’re not getting enough website traffic: There are literally just not enough people visiting your website. This can be due to a variety of reasons, such as poor performance in search or low brand recognition.
You’re not getting enough conversions: You have plenty of website traffic, but no one is filling out your inquiry form.
These really are two different problems that require different strategies to fix.
Strategies for Increasing Website Traffic
Let’s say you see one inquiry for every 25 website visits. When you’re only getting 25 website visits a week, it can take a long time to rack up a solid number of inquiries. If you need to increase website traffic, you will need to:
1. Invest in Paid Ads
Paid ads can have immediate ROI for schools needing to increase website traffic. Strategic PPC ad campaigns can almost guarantee you a page one spot in Google. And because the majority of clicks go to the top list of results on the first page, this is almost always a win when the goal is increasing traffic.
What about SEO (Search Engine Optimization)?
If you work in school marketing, you’d probably been told you need to “do SEO” to help with website traffic. And while this is absolutely true, SEO is a long-term strategy. Changes you make to your website today may not make an impact on your website traffic until months from now.
Further suggested reading:
Crafting a paid ads campaign is a delicate balance of creativity and analytics. Our team of experts can help build a search campaign that crushes the competition.
2. Invest in Social Media Ads
Your target audience likely spends a lot of time on social media, which means it is a fantastic platform for building awareness for your school and increasing website traffic.
Keep in mind that social media really isn’t the place to ask prospective families to inquire. It is merely a vehicle to get prospects to your website to learn about your school. Because of social media’s “social” nature, individuals scrolling through cute dog pictures, viral videos, news, and updates from friends, they’re likely not in the state of mind to make a commitment to do something just yet.
Further suggested reading:
Finalsite’s social media experts have helped more than 100 schools reach new families with compelling social media ads. We can help your school do the same with a social media ad strategy that works!
3. Earn Positive Reviews
Ninety percent of all online experiences begin in search, and the majority of those searches are usually unbranded, such as “best private schools in Boston.” This kind of search will likely serve up a map view like this, followed by review sites like Niche.com.
Having positive reviews in search, on social media and on review sites like Niche.com, GreatSchools.org and BoardingSchoolReview.com, can help in acquiring more organic website traffic from prospective parents as they shop for schools.
Further suggested reading:
4. Redesign your website
Okay, so maybe a website redesign can’t help with website traffic right now, but it can help in the long-run. Because Google “punishes” slow-loading and non-responsive sites in its search results, having an old, clunky site might be harming your organic reach.
A website redesign is also essential when your website isn’t seeing as many conversions (form submissions) as needed to fill your funnel. If your website has a confusing user experience, poor design, wordy content, lack of visuals, etc., the traffic you’re driving with SEO, PPC, and social media campaigns likely aren’t seeing a big ROI — which brings up our next area of discussion: increasing website conversions.
Strategies for Increasing Website Conversions
Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) is the process by which you attempt to earn more conversions (form submissions, and in this case, inquiries) without increasing website traffic. So, using the same example from before — if you normally get one inquiry for every 25 website visits, and you only get 25 website visits a week, a CRO strategy would beg the question: how can we get 5 inquiries from those same 25 visitors?
In short the answer is: simplify the process. You’re probably making it too hard to take the next step, and that’s preventing families from doing so. Here are some tips for simplifying the process for prospective families:
1. Shorten your Inquiry Form
In general, today’s prospect doesn’t have the time, patience, or desire to fill out a lengthy form — especially when it is simply for an inquiry. Inquiry suggests “I’d like to learn more, but I’m not totally ready for a commitment just yet.” These individuals are in the middle of your admissions funnel.
While you might not get every little piece of data you want, it’s important to remember that marketing and admissions isn’t really about you — it’s about creating an experience that invites and engages your prospective families. This usually begins with a shorter form that only asks the essentials, as St. Paul’s School for Girls does here:
We recommend keeping your inquiry form to seven form fields or less.
2. Make Sure Your Form is Responsive
Unfortunately, some forms generated by admissions software and student information systems still aren’t responsive.
With schools seeing more than 50% of their traffic from mobile devices, ensuring your inquiry form can easily be filled out on mobile is essential is a must!
Take a minute and test out the inquiry experience on your own mobile device. Is a lot of scrolling, pinching, and zooming required? If so, it may be time to consider a different option.
3. Optimize Your Landing Pages
So what happens when you’re already investing time and resources into SEO, PPC and social...and still not getting the results you want? It might be time to re-evaluate the inquiry form landing page. Start by reviewing the page’s data in Google Analytics. A page that receives decent website traffic, but has a high bounce rate or exit rate, likely means the content and form should be optimized.
Be sure your inquiry form is actually embedded on an engaging landing page, and not just an external link to a form like this:
While many schools still rely on the basic (and certainly not the most visually appealing!) form generated by their admissions software or SIS, it should be able to easily embed into a landing page on your school’s website, like Boston Trinity Academy does here:
Your inquiry form landing page should include:
A value proposition that speaks to your target personas
Photos or videos that highlight what makes your school unique
Student testimonials that speak to the value of your education
Content that answers the question “why inquire?”
4. Offer Something of Value First
Not everyone who visits your website will be ready to inquire, and if you want a chance to reach them earlier on in their search, it is absolutely essential that you offer something else — a content offer. A content offer is a valuable piece of content that helps families in their journey for finding the right school. It can be as simple as your school’s viewbook, or as creative as a guide for choosing the right private school.
The goal of this content offer is to get prospective families in your funnel earlier on. Content offers are always downloadable via a short form — no more than five fields — and is more likely to be filled out than your inquiry form. The higher volume of submissions on a content offer gives you more prospects to nurture from within your funnel, thus resulting in more inquiries.
In an article featured on the NAIS blog, Kathleen Visconti, Director of Enrollment Management at The Elisabeth Morrow School, shares her positive experience with branching out beyond inquiry forms:
“We have written several e-books that families can download after they sign up by email. We collect those addresses and add them to our database of prospective families. Our most successful content was ‘How to Find the Best School for Your Child.’ We have offered this e-book for three years and have had hundreds of downloads.”
There can be many reasons why your school’s inquiries are down, from a poor website to some bad publicity that’s out of your control. It’s important to evaluate your school’s goals, conversion rates and website data to determine what needs to be fixed, and create a game plan for improvement.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As Finalsite's Content Marketing Manager, Mia plans and executes a variety of inbound marketing and digital content strategies. As a former TV and news reporter, freelance cinematographer and certified inbound marketer, Mia specializes in helping schools find new ways to share their stories online through web design, social media, copywriting, photography and videography. She is the author of numerous blogs, and Finalsite's popular eBook, The Website Redesign Playbook.