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Digital Marketing Trends to Watch for in 2020 (According to Google)
Leah Mangold

In early January, Google released its annual list of top digital marketing predictions for the year. Among them were the following five most relevant to schools:  

  1. Snackable video content
  2. Voice assistants
  3. Inclusive marketing/Brand transparency
  4. Visualizing Search
  5. Data-driven marketing

1. “Snackable” video content

It’s no secret that video consumption is on the rise—just check out the latest Google stats and you’ll see that YouTube is rapidly replacing cable TV. This change has been great news for brands, giving them freedom to publish their own video content at whatever length they want, without worrying about network constraints. 

That said, the 2020 video trend is to create content that is decidedly not lengthy.  

Your current and prospective students regularly consume content on apps like TikTok and Snapchat—platforms that set a max video length using seconds, not minutes. 

What this means for schools:

We aren’t saying you need to start using Snapchat and TikTok in your social media strategy—in fact, we often recommend against it. It’s better to focus on really improving your brand presence on other key platforms (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) than to spread yourself too thinly throughout the social media universe. 

That said, you definitely can (and should!) think about the “snackable” video trend as you create content for social media. 

  • On Instagram, utilize the Stories feature: Add short video clips of students in class, practicing their sports, or drawing in art class. Focus on telling a story in just a few clips. Schools see the most engagement when they share 5-7 stories per day. Keep in mind these clips are 15 seconds or less!
  • On Facebook, upload native video content instead of linking to videos from other sites. This way, your video will begin to play as your students scroll through their feeds and won’t require them to click on a link. (Facebook’s algorithms also favor native video, so it’s a must if you want your content to perform well organically.)
  • On Twitter, don’t upload videos that are longer than a minute. Twitter was built for succinct, easy-to-skim content. Twitter users don’t want to watch a documentary. 
  • On LinkedIn, stick to professional videos that are well-edited and add brand value. Save the goofy, “fun” videos for the other channels. Informal videos, specifically, function best on Instagram Stories. 

Related Content:

click here to get your copy of the free ebook: the complete social media guide for schools

2. Voice assistants

The second Google prediction: “At the end of 2021 there will be more than 1.6 billion people who use voice assistants on a regular basis, and their interests will not only focus on asking for time or sending an email.”

What this means for schools:

Our increasing reliance on voice-activated devices points to a key consumer trait: we want instant access to information. For schools, that means providing information that is easy to find, easy to read, and easy to share. 

  • Follow SEO guidelines and use header tags. When it comes to content in the featured boxes and knowledge panels on the SERP (Search Engine Results Page), Google chooses only what it can easily scan and index. The same is true for Voice Assistants; if your content is in a featured box, it can be easily read aloud by Alexa, Siri, and Google Home. 
  • Be upfront about tuition fees. Prospective families want to know how much your school costs — and they’ll be annoyed if they have to dig to find it in a PDF or, worse, call to speak to someone. Instead of hiding it, create a tuition page that encourages visitors to engage further. For example, The Hun School’s tuition page includes a video on why a Hun education is worth the price and a call-to-action that helps the school track leads and reach out! Specific tuition information is easily accessible in the accordions:  
screenshot of Hun's tuition and financial aid page

Pro-Tip: Be upfront about everything— not just tuition! The more you can simplify the user experience and access to content, the better!

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3. Brand transparency and inclusive marketing

According to Think With Google, Generation Z is especially choosy about the brands they engage with — preferring ethical brands, cruelty-free products, and companies who contribute to societal progress. In general, today’s consumers expect to be able to learn about a company beyond product information and want to see diversity reflected in marketing materials.  

“It can be a competitive differentiator in 2020 to be transparent about their role in society, and highlight where they plan to invest to become even better.”

What this means for schools: 

When families are choosing which schools to send their kids to, they will base their decisions on more than simply a curriculum list or a presentation of offered activities. They want to identify and feel comfortable with their schools’ views on issues such as diversity and inclusion, bullying, crisis control, and even climate change or other globally-relevant topics. Be transparent about these values on your website and you’ll stand out.  

  • Use a diverse selection of voices for testimonials. Interview the athletes, artists, and academics. Talk with parents about their experiences, too. The more authentic, believable and well-rounded, the better.
  • Use language for visitors outside the “school world.” It’s important to meet your new audience where they spend their time. For new families, especially, industry words like “independent school” and “pedagogy” are unfamiliar. Use conversational language instead, such as “private school” or “other school options.” Not only will these keywords resonate more with families, they also are more likely to perform well in SERP.
  • Market your differences, not your similarities. Lots of schools have similar mission statements and program offerings, so don’t base your branding solely on the programs you offer. If you want your school to stand out, highlight the authentic aspects of your school— including the idiosyncrasies.
  • Be honest about big investments or large decisions that impact the community. Families like to be in the know. For a great example, check out this page from Brentwood School that highlights new construction plans (AND encourages giving!)
screenshot of brentwood school's 30 year education master plan" page screenshot

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4. Visualizing search

Google Images are a core component of the SERP, and only becoming more important this year. In the knowledge panel (an information box often located on the right in SERP), you’ll notice Google often includes a collection of related photos: 

merchiston castle school, edinburg knowledge panel screeshot

These photos are often the first thing people see when they search for your school — so ensuring they are high quality is important!

merchiston castle school image search result in google Images

Furthermore, many people go directly to the Google Images tab when making a search inquiry. According to ThinkwithGoogle, “From 2016 to 2018 ‘image search’ grew on mobile by over 60%. Hitting the right combination of text and images can achieve tremendous results.”

What this means for schools: 

Just as video content is taking social media by storm, powerful photography is an increasingly important asset for school marketers who want their school to stand out among the rest. 

  • Invest in a professional photographer. There’s really no substitute for quality photography—it can transform even a standard design into an engaging and enjoyable website. Hire a photographer who can provide cream-of-the-crop images for your homepage. 
  • Ask students and parents for photos. There’s a good chance you have people in your community who are already taking good photos with their phones. Find those people! Hold student photography contests, talk to the Yearbook committee, ask teachers. There’s nothing like a stockpile of candid photos to help you get ahead with your social media content.
  • Add alternative (alt) text to all images.  Alt text is often mentioned in the context of web accessibility, but it plays a role in search ranking, too. Google uses alt text to identify the content in an image— use keywords in your alt text and include your school’s name in alt text so that your images appear on Google Image searches. 

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5. Data-driven marketing

Personalized marketing was once an exceptional tactic for companies to get ahead. In 2020, it’s not the exception— it's the rule. 

According to Google: “Whereas it was possible to achieve good results with rule-based marketing in the past, it is working less and less in today's times. Consumers expect messages that cater to their personal needs.”

What this means for schools: 

Finalsite schools can use advanced inbound marketing software to increase inquiries, retention and donations. 

  • Use automated email workflows to deliver relevant content to your alumni (and only when they’re truly interested!) A targeted advancement campaign is much more likely to succeed than shooting a mass email blast into the dark.
  • Personalize website content based on visitors’ visit history and geographical location. If you really want prospective visitors to feel connected to your school, you have to make the content relevant to them.   

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Key Takeaway

Even though big brands are often the first to apply digital marketing trends, many of the 2020 predictions are just as relevant to school marketers!  Focus on creating content that is short, upfront, SEO-friendly, inclusive, visual, and personalized—no easy feat, but the results will thank you! 

download your free copy: 2020 social media guide for schools


As Finalsite's content specialist, Leah promotes new school site launches and great content marketing examples from schools around the world. She’s also writer and editor for numerous blog articles, eBooks and presentations on best practices for digital marketing, social media, and web design. A graduate of Arcadia University, Leah is passionate about global communications, handwritten notes, and sole travel. When she’s not exploring new countries, she’s either blogging, doodling, or dreaming about it.

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