If you're not sure whether digital marketing should be part of your school district's marketing campaign, this post is for you. We're going to discuss the importance of maintaining a strong online presence through digital marketing so you can engage with your current school community and can reach new families moving into your district.
Why does digital marketing matter to school districts? Over the past decade, public school districts have seen an increase in competition with charter schools, online schools, and private schools, so digital marketing is a crucial way to engage with the community and help retain students.
When it comes to marketing, you want to focus your efforts where you can reach the most members of your target audience. Digital content and ads can help you reach parents and students where they spend a great deal of their time — online. We're going to look at several important aspects of any successful digital marketing campaign so your district can shine online.
Search Engine Optimization
Consider how often you conduct an online search to learn where to find something, how to do something and much more. Search engines play an essential role in most of our lives, especially for younger generations who are used to turning to the internet for quick answers as well as more extensive research.
When parents are researching schooling options in their area, they will likely start with an online search. If they're in the earlier stages of their search, they may try terms like "schools near me" or "what is the best school in [city name]?" If they want to know about your school district specifically, they may conduct a specific — sometimes called a branded — search.
If you want to put your best foot forward online, make sure you optimize your rankings in Google so any relevant search terms will give attention to your district. Search engine optimization (SEO) is a critical aspect of any digital marketing campaign. Let's look at a few key elements of your SEO you'll want to focus on:
- Google My Business: Google My Business is a free service which can help people find accurate information when they search for your school online. Be sure to claim your listing so you can then make sure the information listed, such as address and phone number, is all correct. You can even use Google My Business to respond to reviews and post about upcoming events.
- Title tags and meta descriptions: When you conduct a Google search, the results you see include title tags and meta descriptions that give you a brief explanation of what that web page covers. Google your school district and see what your website's homepage and other pages look like on the search engine results page (SERP). Is the title clear? Does the meta description give a succinct explanation of your site?
- Mobile-friendliness: More Google searches are conducted from mobile devices than from desktop computers. Parents and students alike tend to spend a lot of time on their phones, so your website must be mobile-friendly. It isn't enough for your website to look great just on a desktop. That's why Finalsite designs websites with mobile formats in mind.
- Content marketing: Blog content is another great avenue to get your website ranking on page one. In the competitive school market, providing valuable content like parenting advice, study tips, child development insight and more is an excellent way to stand out. We recommend blogging at least once a month, but once per week is ideal. Finalsite makes it easy to post content with the Posts feature.
- News articles: While your blog should be reserved for more general content that people will find valuable regardless of whether they're a part of your school district or not, news articles should be focused on updating the school community on the latest school happenings and events such as an upcoming spirit week, school construction or a state championship game. Finalsite's news featuremakes it easy to share.
Video content is becoming an increasingly significant part of the web. Just a few years ago, researchers estimated that 80% of all internet traffic from consumers across the world would be video traffic by 2019. This may seem astounding, but many people prefer to learn about products and services through videos rather than through reading text. Videos are a great tool for marketers because they allow you to add more color and emotional appeal than you may be able to convey through text and still images.
Videos provide an excellent way for school districts to share their unique culture and the qualities that make them special with current and prospective families. Still, many school districts haven't tapped into this valuable means of marketing. Let's look at a few possible subjects you can highlight in videos that can help show people what makes your district special:
- Fun spirit days
- Exciting sports highlights
- Day-in-the-life moments
- Testimonials from students and parents
- Testimonials from school leadership
Video sharing sites like YouTube and Vimeo make it easy to share video content with the masses, and social media sites give an additional means of sharing these videos. We recommend focusing your video marketing efforts on Youtube since these videos often come up in the results for branded Google searches. You can embed videos into your web pages, which is an excellent way to increase a person's engagement with and time spent on your website.
If you're worried about your marketing budget, the good news is that you can create videos in-house, even with limited equipment. The key is to follow some basic principles of video creation that will help your video appear professional and enjoyable to watch. Beyond that, have fun and experiment with different types of videos!
Online reviews are incredibly important to many people who conduct searches online, including searches for schools. Nearly everyone checks online reviews before they ever visit a business. If you haven't thought much about your district's online reviews, now is the time to focus on this critical aspect of your web presence.
Reviews are estimated to constitute about 10% of Google's algorithm for ranking local searches. Google includes overall ratings, which are based on individual reviews, with business listings, so your school district's rating will be a prominent part of your first impression for many searchers. Other than Google, other popular review platforms for schools include Niche, GreatSchools, and Facebook.
So, how can you make sure your online reviews are giving an accurately positive impression of your school? There are two main ways you can help boost your online presence through reviews:
- Recruit brand ambassadors: One way to increase your online presence with positive reviews is to reach out to families who love being a part of your school community. These people make excellent brand ambassadors. They're likely already telling their friends and family about your school in person. Ask them if they can take that enthusiasm online and write reviews that focus on their positive experience with your district. Make sure you give them the freedom to use their own words so the review sounds genuine.
- Respond to reviews: There's no need to feel powerless when it comes to reviews. Your district can insert its own voice into online reviews by responding. This is considered a best practice for schools since it shows you care about what people have to say. For both positive and negative reviews, thank the person for their review. For negative reviews, resist the urge to be defensive. Instead, provide the reviewer with the appropriate contact information for someone who can address the person's concerns.
Especially when it comes to your existing school community, email marketing is an excellent option for communication. Traditional mailers involve costs for ink and paper and take longer to arrive in people's mailboxes. A more efficient way to send news to current families is through email. An email newsletter makes it easy for families to see what's going on at school. If they know someone who is curious about your district, they could even forward the email on to them.
Emails save your district time and money and allow for easy sharing. Email marketing also makes it possible to learn about how people engage with your newsletters or other messages. Analytics will show you meaningful information like how many people are opening your emails and reading them. To make email marketing easy and increase engagement with your emails, use a great email marketing software. Finalsite Messages is designed especially for schools, so it's an excellent tool to help you enjoy a successful email marketing campaign.
If you're wondering what to include in emails, the options are limitless. The great news is that you can repurpose content from your blog, news posts and videos in your email marketing strategy. This can increase engagement with all of your content and lightens your workload. The key is to get the most out of every piece of content you put out, and email can help you do that in a way that's convenient for both you and your students' families.
It's no secret that social media sites are hugely popular with youth and adults alike, especially younger adults with school-aged children. Facebook remains the most popular social media site overall, with over 168 million monthly users. After Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are also hugely popular social platforms.
So, how can you take advantage of the popularity of social media to market your school district? There are two main ways:
- Organic posts: One way is to create profiles for your district on popular social media sites and post regularly. Encourage faculty and members of the community to share your posts so you can expand your exposure.
- Paid ads: Paid social media ads are another option if you want to reach people on sites like Facebook. These ads will cost you some money, but you can carefully target your audience and use text, photos, and videos to capture their attention.
You can use your social media account to share photos and videos of spirit days, sporting events and more. Including images in your posts is essential because research shows visual elements help your posts attract more attention. Facebook posts that include images receive over twice the amount of engagement as those without images. Likewise, tweets that include images tend to be retweeted 150% more than tweets without images. You can reach out to students, faculty, and parents for photos and videos to share.
In addition to fun posts that get people interested in your school district, you can also use social media to quickly reach families with news concerning snow delays or other schedule changes. Whatever you use social media for, Finalsite's social media integration software makes it easy to keep track of all your social media accounts in one place.
While most of the marketing strategies we've discussed are free, paid digital ads are another valuable option to consider. The cost is well worth it if you can reach prospective families online. According to Hubspot, for every dollar a business spends on Google Ads, they make an average of $2 back in revenue.
Pay-per-click (PPC) ads are online ads that you can purchase through Google Ads or Microsoft Advertising. Ads on Google show up at the top of the page and look very similar to normal search results. This means they consist of text. You can also run ads with images that appear on other websites. PPC ads are clickable, and you only pay if someone clicks through on the ad. When someone clicks on the ad, it will take them to the landing page of your choice.
You can identify keywords that indicate someone may be interested in learning about your school district. You can also determine how much you're willing to pay for the keywords. The two most common types of school district campaigns include:
- Branded terms: A branded search means that a person's search terms are specifically focused on your school district. While your school district's website should rank well for these searches, purchasing ads can help you further control your branded messaging.
- General school terms: Families searching more general terms may focus on schooling options more broadly or on local schools in their area. By purchasing ads for these general terms, you can get in front of these families.
Digital ad campaigns can be an intimidating undertaking, but they don't have to be. Finalsite offers digital advertising services for schools that make it easy for you to reach your target audience.
Achieve Your District's Goals With Finalsite
As we've seen, digital marketing is an excellent way to reach new families and to keep current families engaged. An effective digital marketing campaign doesn't have to be costly or overly complicated. Even if you're working with a tight budget and don't feel like an expert, you can achieve your marketing goals by partnering with Finalsite!
As a leading provider of school marketing software and services, Finalsite has the tools and expertise to provide best-in-class marketing and communication solutions for districts. With help from Finalsite, you can enjoy an effective digital marketing campaign that helps your district thrive.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As an Internet Marketer on Finalsite’s Consulting Services team, Sarah has worked with over 100 schools domestically and internationally to improve their online presence with SEO and PPC. In her free time, she can be found spending time with her dogs (#dogmomlife), going to comedy shows with her boyfriend, and trying new restaurants in pursuit of the best gluten-free dishes.