Whether you’re just starting out creating your first content strategy or you’ve been using a content strategy for a while, it never hurts to re-evaluate your content plan and make sure it’s current, creative, and engaging for prospective parents.
If you’re having trouble planning for the upcoming year or need new ideas for your content strategy, you’re in the right place.
In today’s post, I’ll dive into what content strategy is, why your school needs a content strategy, and what steps you need to take to develop a content strategy tailored to your school.
What is Content Marketing?
Content marketing flips the script on traditional marketing. While traditional marketing is primarily advertising, where you talk about your school and why parents should enroll their child in your program, content marketing is designed to educate and show what’s possible for their child. In doing this, parents are going to realize your school has the authority and experience to give their child the best education possible and is the right fit for their family.
Is content marketing a slower process than traditional marketing?
Yes, perhaps. But it’s also more efficient in today’s marketplace. This is because the way parents make educational decisions has changed significantly over the past twenty years. Now that people have access to so much information online, most parents are going to spend time researching various schools. Parents know they have options, and only the most trusted school is going to be chosen.
That’s where content comes into play.
According to Content Marketing Institute, content marketing is 62 percent less expensive than other forms of marketing, and it’s generally responsible for 3 times as many leads (or inquiries). The content you produce as a school is going to bridge the gap between cold audiences, who don’t know about your school yet, to your warm audiences, who are learning more about your school, to becoming parents of enrolled students.
When you provide high-quality content, you are giving your audiences information they are wondering about, helping them make a decision or even inspiring them to see what’s possible, that’s going to build trust, and trust sells way more efficiently and successfully than selling does.
Interestingly enough, most of your competition won’t do any of this for a few reasons. First of all, content creation isn’t easy. Content development is a commitment and it’s not going to pay off overnight. But in truth, publishing the right content consistently is the best thing you can do to market your school in 2022, and it’s only going to become more important in the future.
Another reason so many schools don’t focus on a content strategy is because it’s a mindset shift that many schools don’t get comfortable with. So many school marketers have a hard time with this because they’ve been using traditional marketing strategies for so long it’s hard for them to believe content marketing really works.
You might be surprised at how effective inbound marketing, SEO and social media marketing strategies really work. Most parents are going to start their school selection process by looking for information online. Once they find your school and the helpful content you provide, they are going to start trusting you and, more often than not, will choose to enroll their child in your school.
How to Create a Content Strategy
There are four basic steps to creating an effective content strategy (I know, easy – right)!
Step 1. Decide your overall content format
Determine the content format that makes the most sense for your school and prospective parents. What I don’t recommend is becoming too fragmented. You don’t want a “a little here, a little there” type of approach, because that is the recipe for getting overwhelmed.
This is probably the easiest content to produce. For one, there’s not a lot of production involved. Secondly, you can enlist the help of your team members and/or outsource blog writing if you decide to go in that direction. Thirdly, since it’s written and published on your website, you can work toward ranking on page #1 of the search engine results page for your keyword if you do your keyword research correctly. This can attract new prospective parents to your school website over time.
The downside of choosing a blog post content strategy is that it’s less likely to build rapport with your audience.
With a podcast content strategy, you increase the amount of effort required to produce your podcasts. You’ll need to:
- Write an outline or possibly a script
- Find someone to interview (if that’s your format)
- Schedule the podcast recording
- Record the podcast
- Edit the episode
- Upload the episode to your site and write notes
The benefit of a podcast content strategy is that people are getting to hear the voice of your school representative and the people you interview. People relate better to people when they hear or see them. Usually, people are listening to podcasts when they are doing something else, like driving, working out, doing housework, gardening or a myriad of other tasks. This makes them more forgiving when it comes to little mess ups or tangents you may go on during your podcast. This makes your school more “human” and relatable.
When it comes to video production, people have higher expectations. They are taking the time to watch the video and they expect it to be more like a scripted, edited television show. You are dealing with visuals and more difficulty when it comes to editing.
However, people love videos. Videos are the most relatable form of content. People who watch your videos will see you, and by extension your school, in a more authoritative, transparent light. You will become known, almost like a semi-celebrity, or at least your school will become more familiar because of your exposure.
The best way to decide which type of content format is best for your school is to decide which form you will be more likely to stick to.
Step #2. Develop your content plan
The most important aspect of a content marketing strategy is consistency. If you think about content creation in terms of something you’ll do “when you have time”, it will never get done, or at least not consistently.
How often should you publish your content?
Most content experts recommend at least once a week. Trying to publish more often than once a week can become unwieldy and hard to stick to. But publishing less often makes it difficult to gain traction and remain “top-of-mind” for your prospects.
My next piece of advice is to brainstorm a content plan.
In other words, what specific topics are you going to cover with your content?
My suggestion is to think about your content in terms of where prospective parents are in their enrollment journey. In marketing terms, we think about these as stages in the “sales funnel”. There are basically three stages you want to be writing marketing content for:
Top of Funnel
Top of Funnel covers the Awareness Stage of the enrollment journey. This is where families are looking for helpful information and curious about private schools. These are families who are finding you for the first time and often are new to the concept of independent schools. Good topics at this stage are informational, instructional and even inspirational in nature. Sometimes I think of this content in terms of “here’s what’s possible for your student at our school” type of content.
Middle of Funnel
The Middle of Funnel stage is also known as the Interest Stage. At this stage, parents are becoming interested in your school and need information that will help them make a decision about whether their family is a good fit with your mission or programs. The content at this stage should focus on what makes your school special and to make a case for why they should choose your school over other schools in your area. If it seems appropriate, include a call-to-action to complete an inquiry form.
Bottom of Funnel
The bottom of funnel stage is also known as the Application Stage. At this point, parents are actively engaging with you, so you are delivering messages that reinforce the benefits your school offers and provide specific information that overcomes their objections. Parent, student and alumni testimonials are very helpful at this stage. Your goal at this stage is for them to fill out an inquiry form (if they haven’t already) or application. For sure you will want to include a call-to-action in this type of content.
Most of your content is going to be focused on Top of Funnel topics – informational, educational and inspirational. But remember to include the other stages in your content plan as well. Create a content calendar to ensure everyone on your team is in communication and accountable for their content creation responsibilities.
Step 3. Promote your content
It isn’t enough to create content – you have to get the word out there your content exists!
There are three main ways to promote your content: SEO, social media and email.
Search engine optimization (SEO)
SEO is a critical aspect of content promotion. Actually, you will want to be thinking about SEO while you’re selecting your topics and keywords. Search engines are going to be key in serving up your content to the right audience at the right time. The search engine will be different depending on the type of content you publish, but the core concepts are the same.
If you’re writing blog articles and publishing them on your website, you will want to focus on Google-ranking fundamentals, such as finding the keywords parents are searching for that aren’t too competitive, using keywords the right way in your writing and you might even need to build some backlinks to your posts.
Read more: SEO Coach: Get to the Top of Google!
If you’re producing podcasts, you will still want to research the best keywords for your topic. To be honest, it can be difficult to rank in podcast player apps because they don’t tend to have the best search engines, but you can still use keyword phrases you think parents will be searching for, such as in the titles and descriptions. Also, when it comes to podcasts, getting as many downloads and views as possible will help your podcast improve in rankings.
When it comes to podcasts, you are going to need to do more outside promotion than other types of content. Podcast apps don’t tend to do a good job of surfacing new content, but once you start building your audience, it will be worth the effort.
If you’re producing videos, YouTube is the search engine you will need to master. It’s similar to ranking on the Google search engine results page (SERP) in terms of researching the best keywords and using them in your titles and descriptions, but with YouTube, you also need to consider watch time as an important video SEO metric. Basically, the longer people watch your videos, the more YouTube will rank your videos and show them higher in the search results and as suggested videos.
When it comes to YouTube, no amount of outside promotion is ever going to be as beneficial as YouTube recommending your content, at least in the long term. Do your research with a tool like VidIQ or TubeBuddy to find the topics you should be focusing on, and just make your content is really good!
It’s fairly easy to create a social media post about every piece of content you put out and then publish that on each of your social channels. The only problem is you’re only going to be reaching your followers, and unfortunately, not very many of them at that. Most platforms like Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn don’t show your organic posts to many of your followers. So, for that reason, you might want to set aside a budget for social media advertising.
Another great social media platform is Pinterest. Be sure to create Pins for each of your content pieces. Since Pinterest is more of a search engine than a social media platform, sometimes you can attract new prospective families through this channel. If your audience is active on Pinterest, it might make sense to invest in some Promoted Pins to garner new eyes to your content.
If you can pair your email marketing with your content marketing, that’s how you build a successful enrollment strategy. If you have an email list and it’s constantly growing, you will want to email your list every week and link to your new content. And when you do, be sure to let your subscribers know why it’s important.
If you don’t have a lead magnet on your website, I can’t stress enough to you to get started! A lead magnet is where someone downloads your irresistible piece of content in exchange for subscribing to your email list.
Step #4. Getting inquiries from your content
The trick to content marketing is putting real value into your content while ensuring your readers recognize the value your school has to offer them and their child. It’s really easy to get caught up in the trap of giving all the time, and then, when you ask for them to fill out an inquiry form, they get a little confused and even irritated, because they only thought of your school as a resource.
There are a few smart ways to overcome this. First of all, in all your content you publish, be sure to drop casual mentions that your school is an expert at this topic (whatever it is) because you have had so much experience with it. Be sure to tell stories about the impact you have had on students or make casual mentions about things students are learning or experiencing. Prime parents to think of your school as the best fit for their prospective students.
Ways to do this if you’re:
Writing blog posts
Be sure to end each and every article with a call to action to submit an inquiry form or contact your school with questions. Or you can include a link to an inquiry form page wherever it makes sense in your article. Also, exit-intent pop-ups can be very effective. Some people don’t like them, but hey, the reader was about to leave anyway, so why not give it a shot? I use Opt-In Monster for my pop-up opt-ins because it offers so many variables.
Producing a podcast
This one is pretty easy. Just end with a line about your school and how they can contact you if they are interested in learning more. Be sure to send them to a specific landing page on your website where they can get more details and either submit an inquiry form or call you.
YouTube video marketing is a little different than other types of marketing because watch time is so critical. For this reason, I recommend NOT sending people anywhere in three out of four of your videos, except to watch another one of your videos. This is going to keep your watch times high and help you build a larger audience that you can then send to your website sometimes. In one out of four videos end your video with a call to action like “if you’re interested in learning more about our school contact me here (send them to an inquiry form landing page) to encourage them to reach out to you.
Now that you’ve created your content strategic plan, I have an inside tip for you to send your content into hyper-drive and reach way more people with not a lot of extra effort – and that’s to repurpose your content in really smart ways. This is going to let you create your content once on your core platform of choice and then extend your reach through other platforms, helping you get as much out of that content as possible.
While it does take time, creativity and organization to develop a successful content strategic plan, it is well worth the effort. From choosing your content platform, planning your content topics, promoting your published content and getting inquiries, setting up your content strategy for the upcoming year won’t be overwhelming if you follow the steps and explore the linked resources listed here.
What tips do you have to share with the school marketing community? What has worked well for your school? Please comment below…
*Disclaimer: I am an affiliate for at least one of the above resources which means that, at no additional cost to you, I make a commission if you purchase via my link.