The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has changed how schools function. We’ve all witnessed virtual schools and many school personnel continue to work from home or in hybrid settings. Months of varied parent responses to COVID-19 have given us insights into the inbound marketing trends in this new normal and what to expect in 2021.
Inbound marketing, a term coined in 2006 by Hubspot, focuses on attracting parents through content that is helpful, relevant, and engaging which then converts an anonymous prospective family into an inquiry. Inbound marketing uses marketing strategies that attract visitors to your website through a blog, SEO presence, and social media platforms.
Traditional advertising methods, such as radio, billboards, newspapers, television, and other advertising channels rely on broadcasting your message to millions of people, whereas inbound marketing is a more targeted, focused way to bring visitors to your website naturally.
As 2020 winds down and 2021 is poised to begin, schools need to be thinking about the inbound marketing trends that will engage and retain potential families while generating more traffic, leads and, eventually, enrollments.
Here are eight inbound marketing strategies for savvy school marketers to invest their time and resources in 2021.
Social media channels
Schools should prepare to dedicate more resources to social media marketing in 2021 in order to engage and retain families. Marketers are increasingly making social media a priority, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. This trend will continue well into 2021 and beyond. The pandemic has significantly increased the amount of time people spend online, including spending time on their favorite social media channel.
Google listings and local SEO
The most important marketing tactic for independent schools is to ensure your local listings are verified and kept current on various search platforms. For example, your Google My Business (GMB) listing organically draws potential families primarily on a local level. Your GMB listing offers people valuable information about your office hours (which may be in flux due to COVID-19), your school’s mission, grades served, and location.
On a side note, many schools are surprised at how many local directories are available online. Hubspot lists 57 local directories you may want to consider signing up with. While not all of these are a good fit for schools, certainly many of them make sense, especially when parents use “near me” in their search. Keep your listings updated in order to send signals to Google that your information is “fresh” and current.
Communicate changes quickly
Consumers, including parents, express frustration about the lack of timely communication about changes. Since many kids are learning remotely, it may not be quite as easy to send notes home or follow traditional modes of communication. Be clear about how and when you will communicate in order to set reasonable expectations. Designate someone to keep parent contact information up-to-date so you can communicate via text or email (or both) channels.
Google Ads automated bidding
Many schools consistently run Google Ads. Most schools have someone on staff (or they outsource an expert) who will consistently refine campaigns, keywords, and bids to ensure they are getting the most conversions for their advertising investment. This comes at a cost – whether it’s in staff time or outsourcing fees.
Automated bidding for Google Ads isn’t new, but improvements, especially this last year, make automated bidding better than ever. Being able to rely on automated bidding for your ads means you can devote your time to other aspects of your pay-per-click (PPC) ad performance, meaning you’ll have a better return on investment.
Voice search refers to queries submitted through a voice assistant, like Siri, Google Assistant, or Alexa. Voice search queries often generate different results from typed queries. Since more and more families are using voice search, being accessible to these types of devices is becoming increasingly important. Information and content related to your school needs to be specifically optimized for voice search. In order for your content to sync with voice search, you need to design content that is more direct and conversational.
Retention through segmentation
As any school marketer will tell you, retention is one of the most important aspects of school marketing. Happy parents tend to tell other families about their positive experiences. Committed parents also are often willing to share feedback that can help your school make necessary improvements.
One of the ways to improve your retention efforts is to segment existing parents into a different group than prospective parents. This allows you to send more relevant content to each segmented group on email and target them differently on social media. You can even target existing parents in a more cost-effective way, helping you stretch your marketing budget a little bit further.
One of the biggest trends for 2021 is adding interactive elements to your website and social media channels. This allows you to provide value, encourage engagement and learn more about prospective families. Consider adding videos, quizzes, surveys, polls, animations, tools, calculators, free downloads, or other interactive elements that will help you get and hold visitors’ attention.
Focus on school personnel engagement
In order for your school to thrive, remember to engage your school personnel in your marketing efforts. For many, this is the first time they’ve ever worked remotely and the experience may have seemed liberating at first. But by now, the thrill has worn off for most. Add in distractions from their own children and the stress of delivering education remotely and it’s possible (probable, even) their morale is suffering.
Be sure to stay connected with faculty, staff, and administrators. Motivated staff ensures better communication with marketing staff. Set up multiple communication channels and be prepared to share successes with everyone on each channel.
While there are many other inbound marketing trends projected for 2021, these are a great place to start when planning your 2021 marketing strategy.