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12 School Advertising Ideas: Top Dos and Don'ts
Leah Mangold

Earlier this year, over 2,000 people gathered for School Marketing Day — a virtual day of sessions, inspiration and best practices to help school marketers pivot their strategies amid the coronavirus outbreak. One of the most popular sessions covered an important topic: Digital Advertising. 

If you missed it, here’s a recap!

12 Things to Stop, Start and Keep Doing With Your School's Digital Ads to Get Your Best ROI

  1. KEEP boosting posts
  2. STOP worrying about sticking to your brand
  3. KEEP using high-quality images in your ads
  4. START running more traffic and conversion-focused ads
  5. START using pixels and event tracking to capture more conversions on social media
  6. START following Google Trends
  7. STOP bidding on your brand name
  8. START/KEEP mining actual search terms for negatives
  9. START running 2+ ad versions at the same audience
  10. START using Automated Bidding to maximize results
  11. START auditing Ad copy and landing pages for consistency
  12. STOP spending the minimum

Social Media Advertising

1. KEEP boosting posts 👍

If you’re already doing this (most schools are), great! Don’t stop. Boosting posts offers schools a quick and easy way to capitalize on content that’s already performing well, without needing to implement an entirely new ad campaign. Boosted posts have come a long way since they first launched, and offer more targeting and personalization options than ever before.

screenshot of the backend of Facebook showing the Boost Post option

If your school hasn’t boosted a post yet, here’s why you should start: 

  • Boosting posts are easy to manage — no extra work required. Simply take the social media content that you already put lots of time into creating, and amplify it! 
  • Boosting posts increases organic traffic to your content. Because you’re boosting content you’ve already created — rather than creating an ad — you can drive engagement on your Facebook page. This increase in organic engagement helps overall visibility and traffic.Even if you just boost a few posts per month, you’ll have the Facebook algorithms on your side when it comes to all of your other social media content. A lift here is a lift everywhere!
  • A boosted post doesn’t take away from your other social media ads — in fact, it complements them. Both can be prevalent in your overall social media strategy. 

Pro-Tip: Be sure to boost your school’s most popular, engaging content and match it with an appropriate target audience for that content, to make the most of your ad dollar. 

2. STOP worrying about sticking to your brand 🛑

You may be tempted to use the same powerful messaging that you use on your website and in your value statements. Don’t do it. While “Excellence Exemplified” may be a great statement on your homepage, where it is just one piece of an overall visual narrative, the phrase won’t perform well in ad copy. 

Instead, use direct language that speaks to the parents and their needs. 

  • Include tangible stats. Call out your high graduation rate, your students’ impressive test scores, alumni outcomes and job opportunities, and that one amazing campus perk that sets you apart from the rest. 
example of good advertisement
  • Write with conversational language. Don’t use big words or abstract thoughts. The language in an ad should stay at a fifth-grade reading level — you want parents to understand what you are saying at a glance, not after a second read. 

Pro-Tip: Since the goal of an ad is to get visitors to your website, focus on giving them a reason to click on your ads. Then you can impress them with your school’s witty branded phrases and powerful messaging — on your website.  

3. KEEP using high-quality images in your ads 👍

For your everyday social media posts, a standard, unedited photo may be “okay.” For paid ads? Not so! It’s imperative to make a great first impression. 

Be sure to use the best photography your school has — and if that’s still not good enough to “wow” parents, it may be time to invest in a professional photographer. 

But wait, isn’t video even better? 

Facebook does love video for organic social media content — and we definitely recommend it when you are trying to drive up your school’s engagement. However, it isn’t the most effective way to drive people to the website; instead, it keeps people watching in the Facebook app. For ads, stick to quality photos. (Or, if you must, include a segment or “teaser” of a video for families to finish watching on the website — fifteen seconds long, tops!)

4. START running more traffic and conversion-focused ads 🏁

While we want you to keep boosting posts, it is time to take it one step further (if you haven’t already)! 

Think of your social media presence as part of your school’s “front lawn.” Boosting posts is like buying a new shrub and planting it next to the other bushes you have — it’s a great way to spruce up your social media presence, and gives the “landscaping” a visible lift. 

When you invest in conversion-focused ads, on the other hand, you are taking your “yard” to the next level with a much more advanced and technical approach. You’re adding a patio, irrigation methods, perhaps a stone path through the lawn — you get the picture. It’s a much larger initiative and involves some extra planning from behind-the-scenes, but it makes that new shrub you bought look even better. 

The point is — there’s so much more that you can do with paid social media advertising than simply boosting posts. To make the most of your ad dollar and prove ROI, your school should invest in more technical ads.

Related Reading: What Makes a Good Social Media Ad? 

5. START using pixels and event tracking to capture more conversions on social media 🏁

When advertising on social media, make sure you’re utilizing that channel’s pixel (snippets of tracking code that identify user preferences). Perhaps most importantly for schools, pixels allow you to retarget specific ads to individuals who have visited your website. Seeing as these visitors are already familiar with your school, retargeting helps you stay top-of-mind as they search for the perfect education option for their kids.

pixel screenshot

Plus, using the pixel in social media advertising will give you a record of your success — which you’ll want in your back pocket so that you can prove ROI to board members and key stakeholders. 


6. START following Google Trends 🏁

Think of a Google ad as real estate. Before making a purchase, it's important to know what the market looks like and what is reasonable to spend. The solution:

If you are managing your school’s ads yourself, you need to know the day-to-day trends of what prospective families are searching (which, as we’ve seen with COVID-19, can change quickly)! Bookmark Google Trends and make it a habit to see which words or phrases are trending — and where. 

google trends results for "Distance learning"

Don’t have time for that kind of work? Invest in a team who can take care of it for you. Finalsite’s consulting team, a certified Google Ad Partner, spends every day looking at school-related search terms — they can help you craft the right kind of campaign for your school’s needs.

learn more about finalsite consulting services

7. STOP bidding on your brand name 🛑

Most schools already show up at the top of branded search (a search query with your school name in it). So there’s no reason to have an ad bidding on those words as well. 

Plus, there’s a good chance doing so will waste your ad dollars on the wrong audience: current families. You don’t want parents who are just looking for the lunch menu or the time of the next tennis match to click on an ad — they can do that from organic search! Save your ad money for the unbranded search terms that prospective families are using. 

Exceptions to this rule: 

  • If your school has a name that gets confused with unbranded search terms. For example, Google may confuse the branded search term “International School of Beijing” with the unbranded search query “international schools in Beijing”.
  • If your school has multiple campuses. Some schools with multiple locations bid on branded search terms because they want to control which campus Google shows. 
  • If an item on the results page is hurting your school’s brand. Schools in need of a reputation management strategy can bid on their names to push an unfavorable item from another source onto page two. 

Pro-Tip: Search your school’s name (i.e.: do a branded search) in an incognito window. If your school is showing up on the first page the way you want it to, don’t waste your money on a branded search ad. 

8. START/KEEP mining actual search terms for negatives 🏁

When people bid on keywords, they can choose to have an exact match, where the ads will only show if the exact phrase that they selected is searched.

It is more common, however, to widen the net with a phrase match or a broad match. With this approach, you choose the concept you care about and allow Google to show your ad if a search seems to match or have a similar user intent. 

The trouble is, Google is not always right. 

For example, parents who are looking for “free summer camp” or “cheap summer camp” are not going to want the kind of quality camp experience that this school offers:   

screenshot of the backend of Google Ads dashboard

That’s a waste of perfectly good ad dollars! To avoid this, look for keywords that your ad was shown for that don’t match your intent or won’t result in a conversion. Mark them as “negative” and you’ll improve your conversion rate — which helps you stand well with Google and saves you money.

9. START running 2+ ad versions at the same audience 🏁

It’s a classic A/B strategy — try two versions of the same ad to see which works better. If big companies like Geico do it, why shouldn’t you? 

GEICO Car Insurance Google Ads

This North Carolina school ran an A/B test to see which summer camp ad had a better click-through-rate and cost per conversion: 

example of an a/b test for a summer camp

10. START using automated bidding to maximize results 🏁

It’s cumbersome to manually set a bid — automated bidding makes the process easier, because you simply determine what your goal is. If you want to focus on maximizing traffic to your website, you can do that. If you’d rather maximize impressions (in other words, you don’t need people to click, you just want visibility), you can do that. Or, you can focus on maximizing conversions. Find out more by visiting Google’s support page. 

screenshot of Google's support page

Digital Advertising (General) 

11. START auditing Ad copy and landing pages for consistency 🏁

There’s nothing worse than clickbait. If your ads say “Visit Campus,” while your campus is closed, you’re falsely representing your school. This is especially important if you have ads that are date-based, such as open days, admissions events, or fundraising galas. 

Frequently check your ads to make sure that they are consistent with what your school can offer, in light of COVID-19. Better yet, adjust your ad strategy to promote virtual versions of the events!

12. STOP spending the minimum 🛑

There is so much potential in digital advertising, especially when you know how to make the most of your ad dollar. We recommend spending at least $1,000 per month for local ads alone. If you are a boarding school (where you advertise to families beyond your area) your ad spending should be twice that. 

recommended school ad spending for for local ad and national ads

If you are working with an agency, make sure you know how much of your money is going toward the ads themselves — not just the agency fees. (At Finalsite, we help schools get the most out of their money in this category. Learn how we can help!)

Key Takeaway

Digital advertising has taken the world by storm. Schools should be maximizing social media ads and search ads to drive admissions, build up their school brand, and give their website the attention it deserves. Need help? Our team of Google AdWords-certified digital marketers and social media experts are ready to customize and execute a campaign for you. 

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



As Finalsite's content specialist, Leah promotes new school websites and exemplary content marketing examples from schools around the world. She’s also writer and editor of numerous blog articles, eBooks and presentations on best practices for digital marketing, social media, and school web design. Leah found her passion for international education at Arcadia University, where she earned her BA in Global Communications and studied abroad in England, Greece, Vietnam and Australia. When she’s not exploring new places, she’s either blogging, doodling, or dreaming about it.

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