In my work with school marketers, I tend to hear similar concerns about inbound marketing campaigns. Do any of these sound familiar to you?
- We’re not getting enough good traffic to our website
- We have lots of content but it’s not producing inquiries
- We’re not getting enough inquiries
- Families who are submitting inquiries aren’t a good fit for my school
If you’re facing any of these challenges, you’re in good company!
One of the best ways to address these challenges is to implement an inbound marketing strategy. Inbound marketing focuses on attracting best-fit families to your school through content and interactions that are relevant and helpful. This is done by creating meaningful content that can enable your school to have meaningful interactions with potential families.
In a nutshell, inbound marketing is about good social etiquette. It’s not about interrupting people; it’s about being helpful, it’s about being responsive, and about being very human in the way you utilize your marketing and sales strategies.
The inbound methodology, as described by Hubspot:
- Attracts people using a blog, keywords and social media marketing
- Converts visitors using forms, calls-to-action and landing pages
- Closes leads using a CRM, email and workflows
- Delights customers and encourages them to become brand ambassadors through surveys, smart content and social monitoring
Here are the top 3 inbound marketing challenges I hear from school marketers, and some of the tactics you can employ for a successful inbound marketing campaign.
Challenge #1. We’re not attracting enough of the right type of traffic to our website
This concern focuses on the “attract” stage of the inbound marketing methodology, so essentially this is a problem if you’re not attracting the right leads to your website.
If you have this type of a challenge, the first thing I encourage you to investigate is how well you’re positioning your school in the online space. In order to do this, ask yourself these questions:
- How would you rate your school’s online profile? Do you conduct regular audits of your school’s online presence?
- Why should a prospective family choose your school over competing alternatives?
- Have you defined your ideal families and mapped out their school shopping behaviors?
- How well is your positioning conveyed across your digital footprint?
Spend time reflecting about how well your school positions itself online. Do you know what is unique about your school? Do you have a clear understanding of why families should choose your school over similar competing alternatives? And, if you do, are you effectively promoting that uniqueness online, especially in a tiny search listing where you have a very small window of opportunity to get your message across?
Tip #1. Convey Your Positioning Consistently Across All Online Platforms
If you look at independent schools that position themselves well online, you’ll see they have consistency in their messaging across every digital profile. The reason this is so critical in the online space is because we know that somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of online searchers don’t bother going past page 1 of Google results. I personally can’t remember the last time I clicked on page 2 of Google search results.
Instead of clicking through and looking for more options and alternatives, users tend to actually change their search behavior. They’ll sharpen their search and extend their search typically through a longtail keyword search rather than clicking onto page 2 search results.
The hard truth is if you’re not on page 1 for the keywords you want to rank for then unfortunately there’s not much point in even putting effort into that activity.
So how do you understand what keywords you should start to research from a keyword perspective?
Tip #2. Ensure All Your Content is Developed with Your Parent Personas at the Forefront of Your Mind
The best place to start is to consider the families you are trying to attract to your school. Remember inbound marketing is about being helpful and being human. Think about the parents you are trying to attract and what they are concerned about when it comes to their child’s education. What stresses them out about searching for the right school for their child? Can you, as a school, solve their problem finding the right school? If you can, you need to start there.
Imagine at the outset when they’re having trouble finding the right school what are the types of things they will be searching for online when they’re looking for help? This is definitely a useful starting point. Where most schools go wrong is they start optimizing their website around programs they offer. These are the most competitive keywords you can try to compete for, and it’s going to be an enormously difficult and long-standing battle to retain a good search listing position for those keywords.
If you actually take the reverse approach and start with the prospective parents’ pain point, their challenges or what they aspire to achieve for their child and start to build your strategy from that perspective, you can build a keyword strategy from the top of the funnel to the bottom of the funnel. And that will enable you to compete more effectively, drive more traffic – higher volumes of traffic – and to have a healthier top, middle and bottom funnel of inquiries you can nurture.
Once you’ve developed your keyword strategy (there’s lot’s of different keyword tools on the market) that will help you stimulate keyword ideas. SEO Coach offers a keyword ranking tool that will essentially help you determine which of the keywords you’re interested in are either difficult to compete for or more likely for you to compete for and how many of those keywords have a high versus low search volume. Obviously, the bullseye target of a keyword strategy are terms that aren’t too difficult to compete for and have a really nice volume of monthly search traffic.
Tip #3. Don’t Just Focus on Keywords, Structure Your Content Around Core Topics
Once you’ve determined what your target keywords are, you can start to optimize the pages on your website. This can be a really quick win for any private school because if you re-optimize the pages on your website with keywords you know you can compete for, you can quickly see an increase in the volume of traffic you’re driving to your school. Because you’ve oriented these keywords around families, you have a greater chance of driving the right type of inquiries to your website as well. If this is done well, you can see an increase in traffic in about 1-2 weeks.
SEO Coach also offers an amazing content strategy tool. Anyone who has done exhaustive keyword research and spent hours going through reams of data to identify the right targets knows it’s a pretty labor-intensive task. This tool saves an enormous amount of the time and effort involved.
Once you decide on a topic area, this tool will help you identify what iteration of keywords you can use related to that topic. It will help you identify the keywords you can realistically compete for and are worth targeting because there’s a certain volume of monthly search traffic associated with them. You can then build out the framework of an entire campaign very quickly. You can use those keywords then to optimize your blog content or perhaps your video content. This will then enable you to then drive that traffic to your website.
The real beauty of this content strategy tool is you start to develop authority related to a specific subject, and that’s very important for any entity looking to improve their organic search listing positions or website’s domain authority around a particular topic area. That’s how search engines work today. Search engines want to see a specific organization is “owning” a topic, which they can “see” based on the interaction from people coming through and to their website and engaging with that content. Search engines will start to believe you actually are a master of that topic area and they’ll add weight to ranking score as a result.
So definitely check out SEO Coach and how it works with the idea of pillar content and cluster content. Essentially the best way to think about that is cluster content is typically blog or video content you’re using on your website to attract traffic to your site. This is content you can optimize or using good quality keyword targets and content you know is going to be of interest and engaging. Once you have visitors on your website you want to convert them so you need to use pillar content which is a higher value piece of content you can gate with a form. This is what enables you to actually capture inquiries on the website.
Once you start orienting around this methodology of build campaigns around topics to become an authority in a subject matter you can increase your website traffic by as much as 50 percent.
Sometimes organizations fail to recognize when you’re positioning online you need to make sure you’re giving people an opportunity to understand who you are as a private school and that you need to check off all the metrics in order to optimize your site successfully.
A well-optimized website will be using very defined keywords in the URL structures on their website, titles of pages, and all throughout the content. They tend to tell you as a visitor, depending on what’s of interest to you, you can take a certain journey through their website and, at this point, that journey can become personalized.
Any successful inbound marketing campaign has to start – and stop – with the people you are targeting. It’s really important you understand your parent personas and you’re literally talking to them as you build your campaigns. If you don’t, there’s a good chance you’re going to go wrong in your strategy. To own the search listing space online, it’s become increasingly important to start to develop campaigns around a subject matter to make sure you have an ecosystem of content that’s going to reassure search engines that you are a master in your topic area and there’s a lot of ongoing activity around this subject matter.
Challenge #2. Our website isn’t actually converting traffic into inquiries
Do you have lots of traffic but no inquiries? Sound familiar? This concern focuses on the “convert” stage of the inbound marketing methodology here, where we’re essentially trying to convert website visitors to inquiries. Typically, what we’re trying to do is capture inquiries through a form on the website. We also need some calls-to-action in place and we typically use landing pages to highlight that high-value piece of content so we can really do a good job of promoting it.
Tip #4. Create Content People Love
The trick with conversion is content, and not just any old content. It has to be really, really good content. I would encourage every school marketer to spend less time pumping out content and more time on creating really good content. This is not a volume game, it’s really a quality game.
You’ve probably heard tons of marketing gurus say “write better content” and “make better content” and the truth is actually creating content makes you want to tear your hair out. Sometimes you write an absolute masterpiece 20 page ebook or a white paper, and literally you feel like you’ve earned a college degree by the end of it, and then you get four views and no conversions, and it is literally soul destroying.
The truth is that we need to actually change with the times. People don’t have time to read. When was the last time you read an ebook that was more than 20 pages long? (If you’re in college and it was homework that doesn’t count.)
Content is very hard to create – and it’s also very hard to consume. And remember the nature of how people are consuming content now is very different from what it was in the past. Many people now listen to a podcast episode as they go for their daily walk or listen to an audio
You can actually create different forms or formats of content so it becomes irresistible to click.
I would challenge school marketers still reading this (good for you if you are) to do an audit of your content. Is your content “unskippable”? You have to be honest with yourself to determine if your content is literally irresistible to click. If it’s not, you need to limit your expectations. It has to be in line with the quality of your output, so you have to think outside the box.
Tip #5. Employ Content Creation Tactics
How do you do think outside the box? Have you heard of the skyscraper technique? The skyscraper technique is a really clever technique. Essentially what you do is use sites like BuzzSumo, Ahrefs, or Google News for the best performing pieces of content related to that subject matter that you want to own. These sites will produce reports that tell you what the top ranking piece of content on that subject matter. The idea is to try to come up with content that will beat the best performing content on that subject.
You can do this by creating something better. Make your content:
- More thorough or comprehensive
- More up-to-date
- Include expanded explanations
- More user friendly
- Enhanced in format or design
Other content ideas include:
- Interactive content (there’s lots of tools you can use like qzzr.com to very quickly produce surveys or interactive games)
- Free tools (who doesn’t love free stuff?)
- Videos (video content doesn’t have to be perfect it just has to be human)
- A/B test your emails to determine what content is working. If it’s not working, quickly change your tactic and try something else.
Challenge #3. Our inquiries aren’t enrolling in our school
Typically a school at this stage is in a position where they are getting a lot of traffic, they have inquiries but families aren’t enrolling. The role of the marketing team is to get the inquiries and then the admission team needs to enroll families so I won’t go into an in-depth comprehensive strategy to enroll families but here’s a couple of ideas you might want to consider.
Tip #6. Give your admissions officers more time to focus on what matters
Consider creating tools like email templates, sequences, and documents that admissions officers can plug and play depending on the situation. This is basically using workflows but for the admissions team. This could be where an admissions officer sits down with the marketing team to set up a sequence of emails admissions can send out, perhaps to
Tip #7. Meet families on their own terms
You’d be surprised at how many schools don’t make it easy for parents to choose who they want to speak to and when they want to communicate. Some of the tools you can use might include a chat service on your website or a calendar app functionality where a prospect can just go in and access any of the open time slots on your calendar and
Tip #8. Equip your admissions officers with knowledge
Give your admissions officers meaningful insights such as a prompt when someone has opened their email or read your collateral or here’s a contact record giving you a list of every interaction they’ve had with your website or any of your social channels. These are powerful insights that admissions officers can use to know who they should prioritize and what kind of conversation they should have to engage that family and work with them to get them enrolled.
If you implement all these tactics, your inbound marketing campaigns should make you feel ecstatic because your life should be a lot easier! I hope this article has given you some useful, actionable items you can use right away.
If you’re interested in developing a strong inbound marketing strategy, be sure to check out SEO Coach. You can choose a DIY (Do-It-Yourself) or DIFY (Do-It-For-You) plan for this incredible SEO software that will help you get to the top of Google search results.
Does your school utilize an inbound marketing strategy for your marketing campaigns? How is inbound marketing working for your school? Be sure to leave a comment below…