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3 Mistakes Your School's Paid Digital Ads Can (Easily) Avoid
Connor Gleason

Digital ads have become a cornerstone of effective school marketing strategies, yet a few common pitfalls can sabotage their success. It all starts with getting the basics right.

But navigating school advertising on top of everything else can be daunting. The process is complex, from making the most of a scrappy ad budget to choosing the right platforms and selecting eye-catching images.

Creating a compelling digital marketing strategy for your private school is more crucial than ever. Unfortunately, it's too easy for school marketers to get wrapped up in the details and overlook creating effective ads. When this happens, common mistakes can creep in, significantly lowering the impact of your ads.

While these logistical elements are essential, the heart and soul of any successful ad campaign lies in the foundational aspects of the ads themselves.

Failing to mention a benefit, lacking credibility, and ignoring the user journey — recognizing and addressing these issues can improve your school’s social media ads, transform your ad strategies, and fuel your search engine marketing.

So, let's start creating more powerful and effective digital ads.

Understanding Your Audience: The School's Prospective Students and Parents

Before you start crafting ads for your schools, it’s vital to understand your target audience. Your digital ad campaigns should cater to your targeted audiences' interests, needs, and aspirations. Why does this matter? Because aligning your ads with your users’ needs can dramatically increase their effectiveness. This leads us to mistake #1.

Mistake 1: Your Ad Doesn’t Mention a Benefit

It's easy to get caught up in showcasing your school's features and unique attributes. However, your ads might fail to connect without clearly stating the benefits these features bring to your audience.

Let's consider an example. An ad that says, "Our school has a state-of-the-art science lab," shows a feature, but it doesn't tell your audience how it would benefit them.

An improved version could be: "Our state-of-the-art science lab provides hands-on learning experiences that ignite your child's love for science." The latter not only talks about a feature but also articulates a clear benefit.

screenshot of social media ad

To make your digital ads more compelling, consider your audience's perspective and brainstorm what benefits they're seeking, like Forest Ridge has done. This approach can make your school's social media ads more effective and drive more engagement and conversions.

Screenshot of social media ad

The Wyndcroft School has done the same with their school's pay-per-click (PPC) ad — a diverse student body that will enrich all students’ education.

SEO & Digital Advertising Fundamentals for Schools

Mistake 2: Your Ad Has No Credibility

Credibility is the bedrock of trust, and trust is essential for any school looking to attract new students. Ads that lack credibility make it difficult to convince prospective parents to consider your school.

For instance, claiming your school provides an "unparalleled education experience" without backing up the claim might leave your audience skeptical. To fix this, include credible sources in your digital ads. You can use testimonials from satisfied parents or endorsements from students or alums to help back your claims. You can even highlight your school's awards or recent achievements.

Screenshot of social media ad

Marshall School includes parents' voices in their Facebook ads — a great way to align their audience directly with those they're trying to reach.

Keep Reading: 12 School Advertising Ideas: Top Dos and Don'ts

Mistake 3: Your Ad Isn’t Mapped to a User’s Journey

Digital marketing for schools isn't just about creating eye-catching ads — it's about crafting the right message for the right audience at the right time. This is where the concept of the "user journey" comes into play.

The user journey encompasses different stages a prospective parent or student goes through before making a decision — awareness, research and consideration, and decision or conversion. If your digital advertising doesn't align with these stages, it may fail to guide your audience toward enrollment effectively.

awareness funnel

For instance, at the awareness stage, social media advertising for your school is about educating your audience about the challenges of finding a high-quality private school. As they move to the consideration stage, your paid advertising could focus on how your school solves those challenges. Finally, at the decision stage, your ads should aim to convince them that choosing your school is their best decision.

Screenshot of social media ad

By mapping your content to the user journey, you'll create a more personalized experience for your audience, increasing the likelihood of successful conversions. Detroit Country Day School is taking a calculated risk by going a step beyond “who” and “what” their school is. This could pay off if they targeted its ads to families who already know about their school and want to generate leads and convert families.

Creating a Digital Ad for Your School: A Step-by-Step Guide

To avoid the common mistakes of digital ads for schools, let's break down the process of creating a more effective ad, step by step, using the best practices we just covered.

Showcase Benefits

Start by identifying the key features of your school that you want to highlight. These could be your state-of-the-art facilities, highly qualified teachers, or diverse extracurricular activities. But remember, the emphasis here is not only on showcasing these features but translating them into clear benefits for the student or parent.

For instance, your highly qualified teachers become “mentors who nurture your child's passion for learning,” or your extensive extracurricular activities can mean “a holistic education that caters to every child's unique interests.”

Establish Credibility

Next, establish credibility within your ad. Back your claims by incorporating testimonials or endorsements from satisfied parents or successful alums. If you have won any awards or accolades, these can also lend credibility to your ad.

For instance, "Ranked in the top 5% of private schools in the state" or "Endorsed by the National Association of Independent Schools" can provide the reassurance your audience wants.

Map Content to User Journey

Now, with the critical elements of your ad in place, think about where this ad fits in your audience's user journey. At the awareness stage, your ad could focus on parents' everyday challenges when choosing a private school. As your audience moves to the consideration stage, you can highlight how your school addresses these challenges. Then, at the decision stage, your ads should provide the final nudge toward an inquiry or enrollment by offering a personalized campus tour or a one-on-one meeting with the admissions director.

Key Takeaway

Digital ads are vital to your school's marketing strategy, but don’t ignore the basics of a successful ad. You can significantly improve your social media and search engine marketing ads by addressing the common mistakes of neglecting benefits, needing more credibility, and ignoring the user journey.

Not sure where to start with digital advertising? Finalsite is here to help! Click here to get started.

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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