3 Ways to Market Your School

school marketing tips
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It used to be so simple, didn't it? Your school simply created a gorgeous brochure, mailed it out to potential families and waited for the phone to ring and the admissions appointments to be made. But not anymore. More than ever, schools are finding themselves in a position of needing to market themselves to families. Prospective families are more savvy than ever, and they have a long list of things that they are looking for in a school for their children.

You’re in a competitive marketplace, so how does your school get noticed and where do you need to be focusing your marketing efforts?

Here are three things you can start doing today to maximize your marketing efforts. One of them will even save you money!

1. Evaluate and optimize your website

Today, it’s not uncommon for private schools to receive “phantom applications” meaning that there is no record of the family in their system before an application is received or request for an interview is made. Years ago, the only way to get information about the school was to inquire. Now, families can access that information through a quick online search. Therefore, it’s essential that your website serves a good purpose.

Make sure your school’s name, location, grades served, and application instructions are front and center on your website, along with your contact information. Don’t make people struggle to find this basic information they want; you might lose a prospective family before you even get a chance to say hello.

Make sure the application process is outlined with easy-to-find dates and deadlines, as well as public events posted so families know when you’re holding an Open House.

Your site should also be responsive, which means it adjusts itself automatically based on the device the user has at the moment. Today, your prospective families will be using their phones to access your site at some point, and if your site isn’t mobile-friendly, the experience for the user won’t necessarily be a positive one.

Not sure if your site is responsive? Check out this handy tool.

You also need to think about how your school’s site is viewed by search engines. This is called Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. Developing a strong SEO plan and targeting specific keywords can help your site get picked up by search engines and ideally display at the top of the search list. In the most basic terms, SEO can be broken down like this: Search engines like Google want to show users pages that have interesting and reputable content in their search results. That means that you need to make sure that your school’s website has interesting and reputable content that can be shown in search results. 

You’re writing great content that uses keywords and long tail keywords (phrases, really) that people are searching for online. That’s great! Now, start linking to previous content in your new content. Did you write a blog about admission process last week? This week, when you blog about financial aid as part of the admission process, link back to your previous article. This linking will help people navigate through your site and find even more great content.

But, how will your audience find your content? Start by making sure you share your content using things like social media outlets (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and email marketing.

And, repeat. Blog, link, share, repeat. Consistently. Over time, you’ll build your followers up, and search engines like Google will take notice, slowly increasing your reputation.

2. Develop a robust social media plan.

It’s not enough to just have a website with great content. As I just mentioned, you need to share your content, and a strong social media plan is the perfect way to do that. You need to think about where your target audience is on a daily basis and how you’re going to interact with them. If you’re not already active on social media, you should be. Think about your own actions on a daily basis. I’m fairly sure that you likely check at least one social media site a day, and you can assume your target audience is doing the same. Think about what might be right for your school, and pick one or two social media outlets to use to start, if you haven’t already.

Are you more interested in targeting the parents or the students? Determining your main target audience is key. Facebook and Twitter may be ideal for targeting parents, while Instagram and Snapchat could be best for students.

How much time do you have to devote to a social media plan? Consistency is key when it comes to social media marketing, and having regular content to share and a purpose to what you’re sharing is important. Make sure that you have a plan that is realistic for the long-term, and that you are posting regularly. Ideally, you want to focus on evergreen content, which isn’t time sensitive and has a long shelf-life. That way, you can share the content many times, and it’s always relevant. Things like calendar reminders aren’t evergreen, and can only be used for a short period of time.

3. Stop - or at least limit - print advertising

If reading this one causes you to panic, hear me out. Print advertising is expensive, and it’s not always the most effective use of your money. It’s hard to truly judge the success of print advertising, but many schools, including mine, have stopped the vast majority of our print advertising campaigns, and guess what? We’re doing better than ever! Here’s why: We've focused our outreach efforts on inbound marketing tactics that reach our target audiences where they actually are on a daily basis. Here's what you need to do to get started. 

First, if you’re going to do print advertising, be strategic. Limit your scope and be intentional with your efforts. For example, my school, Cheshire Academy - a boarding school in Connecticut, only does print advertising for one program that targets a very select audience in our local town. We offer a full scholarship for residents, and advertising in the local paper for this one specific purpose is worth the investment. I only run one major ad a year, and I opt to spend my money on one large, full page, color ad that will grab my reader’s attention in one of the Back to School issues that I know will be read cover to cover, instead of spreading out my money and running several small advertisements throughout the fall that can easily be missed.

Then, instead of investing the rest of my advertising budget in print ads all year long, we spend a portion of those ad dollars on Facebook advertising, and in the end, we see a larger return on investment. Facebook allows us to target our ads to specific users who actually want our product (you can’t do that in print!), and we can alter the ad if it’s not performing well or stop it all together. We can run ads for a month, a week, a day, an hour ... whatever we want! The flexibility and control of digital advertising like that is definitely worth the investment.

Think about it— if someone is looking through the newspaper and notices that you’re not there, is that a bad thing? No! You just saved money by not advertising, and the reader still thought about you. What’s the goal of advertising? To get noticed. If you get noticed by not advertising, that’s good news. And, people might even wonder why you’re not in the paper or magazine they are reading, which means they might just head on over to your website or Facebook page to see what’s happening at your school.

As long as you have other outreach efforts, not being in the print advertising sections isn’t going to hurt you. And the benefit of digital advertising is instant conversions. When you can make a digital ad that leads the user right to the inquiry form where you get their contact information, that’s an ideal interaction. Print advertising requires the reader to move from their current media form - the print publication - to another media form - the computer or their mobile device - and search for you. When you advertise on Facebook and show up right in their timeline, that’s only one click to get them to interact with you. That’s easier for the user, and it saves you time and money! More inquiries with less money? Sign me up!