- Independent Schools
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 budget as they are expensive options that offer little ROI.
The most innovative and successful schools are turning towards digital marketing strategies to drive website traffic, enquiries, open day attendance, enrolment, 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 analyse cost-per-conversion (the amount of budget you had to allocate to gain a new lead).
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 underutilised marketing tools for schools because of its immense workload and upkeep, but when executed correctly yields incomparable results.
Search engine marketing consists of two key areas:
- Search Engine Optimisation (SEO): SEO is the practice of crafting website pages and content with the purpose of ranking high in search engine results pages. While schools can implement an SEO strategy at no cost, this strategy requires on-going maintenance and a well-planned and executed strategy, in order to be successful — especially if your school has never optimised for search before.
- Pay-Per-Click Ads (PPC): PPC advertising is a strategy that involves selecting keywords (e.g. best schools in Shropshire) 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.
Total investment: You'll want to budget £5,000 per year for SEO consulting and assistance to work with a reputable partner (like FinalsiteUK). For pay-per-click advertising, plan on spending £5,000 on consulting, and then set aside a budget of at least £400 per month for ads. While spending £5,000 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 maximise your return.
Why invest: 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.
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 the following reasons:
- 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 your current and prospective audience, 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.
Total investment: Like search engine marketing, you'll want to partner up with a professional to ensure you make the most of your ad budget. Tackling social media ads without experience can be difficult, time-consuming, and costly. If you wish to go it alone, plan on allocating £250 to £500 per month on social media ads themselves and at least £4,000 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.
Why invest: In short, social media ads work — and they work really, really well. Marketing professionals at Bancroft School and Whitfield School, in the US, 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 a form has been submitted on your website? Data integrations offer benefits to your IT, marketing, admission and development teams, as they promise consistent data across databases without increasing your workload.
Total investment: Variable, depending on how many and what type integrations your school needs.
Why invest: An integration with your Student Information System means that you only need to update data in one database, and your information across databases is updated. While this is important to keeping your administration team happy, good data is a fundamental component of a successful marketing strategy, as you need the right information about your prospective and current families 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 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.
Total investment: 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 1-2 x tuition each year for their website. There's a higher cost up front than annually, but both are important considerations.
Why invest: 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 portion of your budget, it is the smartest place to invest money, as without it, the previous three strategies are virtually meaningless.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Olivia works with schools worldwide to develop and implement social media strategies. She began her career in television and has worked with production companies including the BBC, Disney and Southern Star Australia. Transferring her skills to the corporate world, she has worked as a leadership skills coach and trained teams from blue chip companies including Coca Cola, AMP and IBM. Prior to her current role as Social Media Specialist at FinalsiteUK, Olivia was Deputy Editor for Families Magazine. Holding a Bachelor of Dramatic Art and a Diploma of Digital Marketing (CIM), her blend of experience gives her a unique understanding of audiences, branding, and storytelling. Olivia has 14+ years of experience working in corporate coaching, publishing and digital marketing.