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Feature Friday: How St. Thomas School Grew Its Admissions Funnel By 40% with Online Ads
Stephanie Griffin

Imagine this: your ideal prospective parent is ready to start researching potential schools in his or her area for their son or daughter. They turn to Google to start their research. Since less than 10% of people advance to page two on the search engine, this prospect is most likely only looking at the first page for results. That is why now more than ever Search Engine Marketing is becoming a crucial part to many school's marketing, communications, and admissions strategies.

I recently spoke with Amanda McDevitt, Director of Marketing & Communications at St. Thomas School, after hearing their applications for the current school year increased by 40%, inquiries increased by 37%, and new student enrollment increased by 37%. These numbers were so substantial thanks to Amanda's collaborative effort with St. Thomas School's admissions and the help of Finalsite's SEO and PPC consulting services. Since launching their new site in 2016 and adopting a new inbound marketing approach, the school has been successful using SEO (Search Engine Optimization), PPC (Pay-Per-Click) Ads, and Social Ads to reach new audiences, share and repurpose engaging content, and grow their admissions funnel.

St. Thomas School Search on Google

Understanding the Importance of Search Engine Marketing

St. Thomas School was in the process of redesigning when Amanda joined the marketing and communications team at the end of 2015. One of her goals coming into the position was to incorporate more inbound marketing into St. Thomas School's current strategies. "I knew a lot about [inbound marketing] and wholeheartedly believed it was the way to go, but my previous school was still focused on traditional marketing – print advertising, school fairs, static website with no content development, et cetera – so I hadn't had the opportunity to actually do inbound marketing," said Amanda. "St. Thomas School is an innovative place. They were open to what I wanted to do and we quickly adopted an inbound marketing strategy."

After launching their new site in August 2016 and, having been with the school for almost a year, Amanda knew it was the perfect time to start implementing a new search engine marketing strategy to reach a wider, more targeted audience. "Schools need to understand the importance of search engine marketing as the new Yellow Pages," said Amanda. "When people go to search for schools online, they need to be able to find you and your website, or your school is missing out on a huge opportunity to reach prospective families."

We couldn't have said it better ourselves!

It's important to remember how Search Engine Marketing can help your school's website get in front of many people searching for schools like yours every day. Many schools, like St. Thomas School, have turned to setting up SEO and PPC campaigns to advertise their website and drive traffic back to it. SEO drives more qualified traffic by:

  • Appearing in the searches that matter to your school
  • Appearing at the top of search for unbranded searches
  • Serving up relevant interior pages of your website from branded searches

Using SEO, PPC, and Digital Ad Campaigns on a Budget

For many schools, the cost of advertising is a major deciding factor when considering SEO and PPC. If you're unsure on which to use, consider ways you can better understand the tools of the trade and knowing how to use SEO/PPC at the right time.

Once you determine which to use and when, it's time to consider how you plan to pay for these campaigns. St. Thomas School's success proves you don't have a large budget to successfully create these campaigns. Amanda recommended cutting the school's print advertising budget by half in the first year and then cut that in half again for the current school year, to use that money towards these campaigns, as well as social ads.

Learn how to make the right search engine marketing decisions based on your timeline, budget, and goals in this free on-demand webinar.

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The Result to their SEO/PPC Campaigns

The school first launched their PPC campaign in November 2016, followed by their SEO campaign in February 2017.The following data was compares October - December 2017 vs. October - December 2016:

  • Clicked Email Link to Contact Admissions
    • Paid Search: up 600% year-over-year (7 vs. 1)
    • Organic Search: up 29% year-over-year (31 vs. 24)
  • Clicked Online Application/Register for Open House (Ravenna Hub – External Link)
    • Paid Search: up 1,300% (14 vs. 1)
    • Organic Search: up 55% (240 vs. 155)

St. Thomas School Open House

The school's Google My Business Posts also received over 4,000 views from October – January. According to their SEO/PPC consultant here at Finalsite, since Google My Business posts were a new feature in 2017, this helped the school get a lot of free exposure for the open house events. Their most recent open house event had a 41% increase in attendance.

The Result to their Social Ads

Some of their ads are event focused, but most of them are about the school's hallmarks and what really sets it apart, according to Amanda. Some of examples of some of their best ads that helped drive the most traffic back to their website included these ads on merit scholars and parents as partners:


These ads highlighting their 1-to-1 laptop technology program and edgework experience:


Amanda's goal for social marketing is to get people to the school website. "I post quality content and look to the amount of web traffic I'm getting from social channels to measure its effectiveness," said Amanda. "We increased traffic from social media by 619% in our first year of implementing this strategy. Of course, quantity of traffic doesn't matter if it isn't quality traffic so we also look to goal completions such as time spent on our site, number of pages viewed, etc to make sure we're bringing the right people (people who match our customer personas) to our site."

Ads can be a great way to reshare content with your audiences. St. Thomas School does a great job at repurposing their blogs in these ads. "Our top performing blog topics are technology and character/leadership," said Amanda. "These topics are viewed at twice the frequency of all other topics combined."

For example, this blog on closing the gender gap in STEM was able to be shared in this ad:


Another example is how this blog on how to pre-K model benefits middle schoolers is shared in this ad:


Amanda plans to continue sharing content that has proven to be highly engaging, as well as share some new digital ads that will highlight the school's employment opportunities.

Key Takeaway

Coming into her new role, Amanda was able to offer a unique approach with inbound marketing with the help of Finalsite's SEO/PPC consulting team to help drive traffic back to the school's website and ultimately increase inquiries. She even said "early indicators for next school year are looking awesome as well." If your school is ready to improve your performance in search, drive more traffic back to your website, and increase both your organic and paid reach with strategic campaigns, let us know!

Get Featured

How do your marketing strategies compare? Want to be on our Featured Friday blogs this year? E-mail us at and share your success with social media, the Finalsite platform, admissions, crowdfunding, or content marketing!

Social Engine Marketing Services

Stephanie Griffin

Stephanie brings a fresh new marketing perspective with her background in social media, communications, and radio broadcasting. She is a co-producer for the FinalsiteFM podcast network and is passionate about helping schools stay ahead of their marketing goals by tracking new trends and developments. She is also a practicing singer/songwriter and loves to expand her creativity in DIY projects.


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