A good marketing strategy requires a plan of when, where, and how to invest your school's budget. For many schools, traditional marketing efforts like print advertising are a crutch: they're easy and familiar. However, these older marketing strategies are no longer the best place for schools to invest their ad dollars they are expensive options that offer little ROI.
Rather, the most innovative and successful schools are turning towards digital marketing strategies to drive website traffic, inquiries, open house attendance, enrollment, and faculty recruitment. Digital marketing investments offer a major return on investment, as they provide you with the opportunity to track what's working and what's not, and improve on a frequent basis. In addition, most digital advertising strategies are cheaper than traditional avenues like print when you analyze cost-per-conversion (the amount of budget you had to allocate to gain a new lead).
With all that being said, if you're looking to make the most of your school's budget in 2017, the following four places are the smartest places to invest because they each offer substantial ROI and are a key part of any successful digital marketing strategy.
1. Search Engine Marketing
Search Engine Marketing (SEM) isn't a new strategy, but is still one of the most under-utilized marketing tools for school marketers and admission professionals because of its immense workload and upkeep, but when executed correctly yields incomparable results.
Search engine marketing consists of two key areas:
Search Engine Optimization (SEO): SEO is the practice of crafting website pages and content with the purpose of ranking high in search engines. While schools can implement an SEO strategy at no cost, this strategy requires on-going maintenance and a well-planned and executed strategy to be successful — especially if your school has never optimized for search before.
Pay-Per-Click Ads (PPC): PPC advertising is a strategy that involves selecting keywords (e.g. best schools in Boston) that your school wants to rank for in search, and then paying to appear in those searches. PPC is a popular strategy because it offers a quick and impactful ROI, and schools are only charged if someone clicks on the ad.
You'll want to budget at least $6,000 per year for SEO consulting and assistance to work with a reputable partner (like Finalsite). For pay-per-click advertising, plan on spending $6,000 on consulting, and then set aside a budget of at least $500 per month for ads. While spending $6,000 annually for a consulting partner may seem like an area where you can cut costs, implementing a search engine marketing strategy on your own can be cumbersome and costly. When you work with a professional consultant, you'll decrease your investment and maximize your return — and when you work with the right partner, it's like an extension of your own team.
The research tells all. Because 93% of all online experiences begin in search, and 60% of all clicks go to the top three results, if your school wants to even compete, a strong search engine presence is essential.
Search Engine Marketing Services
2. Social Media Ads
While social media ads have not been around for as long as PPC ads, they are the fastest growing form of digital advertising that can offer digital marketers a huge bang for their buck. Social media ads are key to any digital marketing strategy for four main reasons — but the following two are the most convincing:
Organic social reach is on the decline: In most cases, what you post is only reaching about 2% of your engaged followers. In order to ensure your posts reach current and prospective constituents, you'll have to have some kind of ad budget to ensure content is seen.
It helps you reach new audiences: Because 30% of all online time is spent browsing social networks, you can craft ads to target new markets and increase qualified website traffic.
Like search engine marketing, you'll want to partner up with a professional to ensure you make the most of your ad dollars. Tacking social media ads without experience can be difficult, time-consuming, and costly. If you wish to go it alone, plan on allocating $500 to $1,000 per month on social media ads themselves and at least $5,000 per year to team up with a strategic consultant. For schools on a much tighter budget, you can spend as little as $20 per month on social ads and still see some ROI.
In short, social media ads work — and they work really, really well. Just ask the marketing professionals at Bancroft School and Whitfield School, who jumped on the social media advertising trend in 2016 by partnering with Finalsite and saw huge ROI, including:
- 481 new website visits and 174 conversions — that's a 36% conversion rate
- A huge increase in new website traffic — for Whitfield, 73% of social traffic was brand new, and for Bancroft, 43% was brand new
- The two schools saw a combined total of 62,000+ impressions on social media
3. Improved Integrations
Driving more traffic to your website is important — but what do you do with all that data once they've submitted a form on your website? Data integrations offer benefits to your IT, marketing, admission and development teams, as they promise consistent constituent data across databases without increasing your workload.
Depending on how many integrations your school needs, plan on spending at least $1,500 per year for a single sign-on, and $5,000 per year for an integration.
An integration with your Student Information System means that you only need to update data in one database, and your information across databases is correct. While this is important to keeping your IT department happy, good data is a fundamental component of a successful marketing strategy, as you need the right information about your prospective and current constituents to send the right messages. Schools who use integrations can save anywhere from five to ten hours of work on a weekly basis — accumulating to hundreds of hours saved over the course of an academic year.
4. A New Website
Your website is hands down your most important marketing tool. In most cases, it is the very first place prospective (and current) families go to learn more about your school. While step one is to make sure they can find you (through SEO, PPC and social ads), once they're on your site, it's important to keep them there. Design, site speed, content and mobile-friendliness all play a key role in the success of your website.
The cost of a new website varies too much in price to cover in a quick bullet. As a rule-of-thumb, many schools should budget 1-2x tuition each year for their website. There can be a higher cost up front than annually, but both are important considerations. We recommend reading this blog post to give you an idea of the different options and prices: How Much Should My Website Redesign Cost?
Web design trends and the way your prospective families behave online has changed dramatically in the last year — and even more so in the past three years. While your website may take up the biggest chunk of your budget, it is the smartest place to invest money, as without it, the previous three strategies are virtually meaningless.
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.