Creating your School’s Digital Marketing Strategy
From primary schools through to universities, educational organizations are becoming increasingly active online. Depending on their target market and the resources at their disposal, the marketing initiatives they put in place differ and while certain schools believe interacting with current and prospective students on social media is sufficient, others prefer to use the entire spectrum of online channels to convey their messages to a larger audience.
There’s no such thing as the “right” digital marketing strategy, regardless of the industry, and the best way to define a strategy that’s directed at your target market and appropriate for the goals you hope to achieve is to do some research, test different approaches and compare the results.
Why should schools invest in digital marketing?
A) Online presence has become a necessity
When a company invests in marketing-related efforts, they do so in order to promote their products or services and boost sales. It’s therefore fair to say that in an ideal world, a marketing campaign should ultimately lead to extra business activity. In reality, your marketing campaign is unfortunately doomed to flop if you target the wrong audience on the wrong channels.
We live in a digitally-dominated society in which consumers use the internet to inform themselves before making a decision and if you’re not active online, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity.
This applies to all industries but even more so to the education sector.
Seeing as schools primarily target students and parents who are generally socially-active and under the age of 45-50, we can safely assume that building an online presence allows schools to generate quality leads. 25-34 year olds are the top age category on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, while 35-44 year olds make up the 2nd top category. And that’s just social media!
B) Potential benefits of digital marketing for schools
Any school that hopes to attract prospective students needs to promote itself on channels students are familiar with and online platforms are immensely popular among the millennial generation. But while more and more schools are taking their marketing efforts online to connect with their target audience, it’s important to understand that interacting with parents and students is a means to an end, not an end in itself.
By promoting themselves online and creating a community in which parents and students can interact and get answers to their questions, schools can improve their reputation, generate further admissions, attract international students and recruit suitable talents. (The list could go on and on). The potential benefits depend on the actions you take which in turn depend on your objectives. You may have to invest in online advertising if you’re looking to generate further admissions whereas improving the school’s reputation would probably require you to spend more time on social media, responding to customer enquiries & complaints.
How should schools market themselves online?
A) Determine your school’s objectives and target audience
As mentioned above, the steps that you’re going to take and the results you’ll obtain depend on your school objectives. If you don’t know what you’re aiming for, there’s a good chance you won’t reach it.
So before getting into the thick of your marketing campaign, decide what you want to achieve as specifically as possible.
Perhaps you want to increase student registration by 10%, improve the reputation of your school or simply be more visible on search engines for further brand exposure. In any case, understanding your school objectives is primordial.
Once you’ve defined your objectives, it’s time to get to know your target audience. Knowing your target audience allows you to know where, how and when to target them and common knowledge proves that a personalized approach works better than a generic one.
After all, if you don’t know what motivates your customers’ purchasing decisions, how can you effectively motivate them to purchase?
Usually speaking, schools target several audiences and each audience should benefit from a customized approach. A smart idea would be to create several persona profiles (students, parents, teachers, alumni etc.) and to gather data allowing you to define the wants and needs of each separate profile type. This data would then allow you to personalize your approach for each profile or type of customer.
B) Improve your website content & user flow
So now that you’ve defined your objectives and gotten to know your target audience, you can start bringing in new visitors, right? WRONG!
Before you start getting active on social media or investing in online advertising solutions, remember that your website is your biggest advertising platform. If your school’s objective is to increase the number of enrollments, staff hires or anything else that can be quantified and counted, at some point your customers will need to interact with your website.
But here’s the thing… After investing all that time and energy into defining a successful marketing strategy that brings in qualified visitors, wouldn’t it be a shame to lose their interest once they land on the website?
Yes it would. That’s why I encourage all school webmasters and WordPress maestros to make sure the website is well structured and presents an intuitive user flow before aiming to increase the number of visits. If your final objective for this digital marketing campaign is to receive more enrollments, you need to make sure that the enrollment page is easy to find. Perhaps you want your users to read your information pages before landing on the enrollment page as you believe that would increase the chances of them converting. If so, make sure that user flow is clear to understand.
This is one of the (there are others) reasons why interlinking is so important. Linking to other internal pages not only improves the user’s experience as navigating becomes simpler, it also has a positive impact on your online visibility as interlinking allows search engine spiders to crawl more pages on your website, meaning more pages will be indexed and possibly included in search results.
Now that your website is easy to understand and use, verify that your introductory pages contain the information your target audiences are looking for. It’s good to think out-of-the-box and in the next section we’ll look at creating creative blog posts, but your first priority should be to provide your users with the information they would expect to find on any school website: Admissions info, academic calendar, tuition fees, teacher job offers etc.
C) Increase visibility and interactions
The foundations have been laid for a successful digital marketing campaign and we can finally start optimizing the website for further online visibility. As I explained earlier, the initiatives you take depend on your objectives. For the purpose of clarity, let’s say your main objective is to increase the number of enrollments.
In order to receive more applications, you want more people to land on the enrollment page. A good way of making this happen is to optimize the page (as well as the rest of the website) so that it’s more visible on search engines. This is where on-page SEO comes in.
When someone makes a search on an engine such as Google, Google displays the page title, url and meta description of all pages included in the results (See below).
But Google isn’t clever enough to create this information all by itself, that’s why it’s important to manually add a page title and meta description for each page on your website.
The importance of an optimized page title should not be underestimated as it allows search engines to understand what the topic of the page is and what main keywords it’s likely to contain.
The keywords you want a page to rank for should appear towards the beginning of the page title so that they get picked up first.
The meta description on the other hand has zero impact on a search engine’s rankings but certainly has an impact on a user’s click through rate. It’s therefore best to write an optimized meta description and page title for each page on your website.
Once you’ve optimized the page titles and meta descriptions of all pages on your website, move on to optimizing the alt tags of your images. If the image cannot be displayed, this is the piece of text that explains to search engines what the image represents. Once again, this may not have an obvious impact on your users but it will have an impact on your search engine rankings.
Now that your website is optimized, search engines understand what content can be found on which pages, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll rank higher than your other optimized competitors.
So how can you rank higher than your competitors for certain keywords? This is where the power of content marketing comes in.
Hopefully you have a blog on your website on which you can publish news articles, announcements and other unrelated pieces of content. If you don’t have one, create one. A blog is an absolute necessity.
A blog gives you the opportunity to write SEO-optimized articles around certain keywords in the hope of improving your ranking for those keywords on search engines.
If you’re working on behalf of a British school in Dubai, you might want to write an article about “Finding a British school in the United Arab Emirates” for instance. The idea is to write content around keywords that your target audiences search for, it’s as simple as that.
Moving on from blog posts, off-page search engine optimization also has an impact on your search engine rankings and therefore your visibility. Off-page SEO differs from on-page SEO in the sense that it refers to optimizing the website externally and doesn’t require you to modify anything on the website. Instead it requires you to connect with other websites through linkbuilding.
According to SEO experts “Moz”, linkbuilding is the process of acquiring hyperlinks from other websites to your own. Quite simply, linkbuilding gets its name from the fact that it means building new links.
In order to understand the importance of linkbuilding, you first need to understand what links mean to search engines. Search engines use links to discover new pages (in many ways, links are roads between websites and search engines use these roads to find new web pages) and to help determine how well a page should rank in their results.
Basically, building new links improves the ranking of your web pages on search engine result pages.
As you can imagine, content marketing and linkbuilding go hand in hand. Creating blog posts around certain keywords naturally improves your search engine rankings and gives you content to link to for linkbuilding purposes.
Although social media has given educational organizations the opportunity to benefit from an online community that’s user-animated, many schools prefer not to create social media accounts so as to avoid public complaints. This is certainly the wrong way to look at it.
Sure, having a social media account gives students the liberty to post public complaints that could tarnish your reputation but you should instead seize this chance to turn that problem into an opportunity. In many ways, social media can be used as a customer service platform that will allow you to recognize problems that need fixing and react accordingly.
Having a social media account doesn’t encourage students to complain, it just brings those complaints to light.
Social media isn’t only useful for your current pupils, it’s also a platform on which you can reach out to prospective students. Responding to any posts or enquiries you receive and regularly posting visual and written content will transform your social media platform into an active online community which will help you reach your goals. Indeed, the best way to convince a parent that your school is right for them is to let other parents do the convincing.
For those of you out there who are willing to invest a certain budget, online advertising is a great way of bringing new visitors to the website. What makes online advertising so effective is the fact that you can choose where you want to advertise, how you want to approach prospective customers and where you want to send them to. In other words, nothing is left to chance.
So let’s stay on the same wavelength as earlier on and say we want to increase the number of enrollments. I could get a designer to create an advertising banner with a call to action, display my banner on websites on which I think my target audiences can be found and send all those who click to the enrollment page. Similarly I could pay for a SEM campaign that would display my sponsored ad linking to the enrollment page whenever someone searches for a specific keyword.
Online advertising is broad and encompasses a variety of advertising methods. Although you can launch and manage your own online advertising campaigns, it’s best to work with a professional who knows the benefits of each method and who can regularly monitor the results.
The education industry is as competitive as ever and if your school isn’t ranking on search engines or posting on social media, you’ll fall behind your competitors.
Being visible online is a necessity for any company or organization nowadays and even more so when your target audiences are young and tech-savvy.
Here at Sekkei Studio, we’ve helped many prestigious schools such as IFA Paris and Wellington College China to increase their business activity through effective digital marketing campaigns. If you’d like us to work together or just want some friendly advice, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us by email or through Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.
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