The drive towards high quality content in marketing shows no signs of abating in 2016. Blogging as a marketing medium has taken on a life of its own, to the extent that certain businesses are developing their own ‘content brands’, such as Adobe’s CMO and Xerox’s Real Business, which operate as independent websites but whose clear purpose is developing strategic content marketing for their parent company.
While universities and colleges may not be looking for that level of differentiation, blogs are still a powerful resource to drive content marketing for higher education. As destinations dedicated to the exploration of ideas, higher education institutions are uniquely well-positioned to establish themselves as authorities and thought leaders in their fields of study by producing consistent, well written and strategically optimized blogs. Leveraging your faculty, students and marketing team to create a dynamic blogging strategy, you can turn your blog into the most engaging and vibrant part of your online presence.
Properly Identifying Your Target Audience To Develop Your Key Messages
While you shouldn’t be looking to be overtly promotional with your blog content, having clear key messages in mind will have a bearing on the writing style of your posts and the angles you approach pieces from.
To develop key messages, you need to properly identify your target audience. This is one of the most fundamental marketing concepts, but it’s surprising how many schools fail to do it correctly. Colleges often make unfounded assumptions about their target market or miss opportunities for growth by reaching only a broadly sketched version of their existing students. Developing student personas, segmented according to shared characteristics that come to represent an archetype, enables the creation of more relevant content that directly addresses your students’ backgrounds, motivations, interests and challenges. Here is a simplified summary of sample attributes to include.
The more specific your target persona, the better. Even if your courses have a broad appeal, your blogs are an opportunity to narrow your focus, targeting smaller demographics within your overall market. As you’ll be producing new pieces regularly, you can develop a plan to target posts strategically at different audiences.
Example: Concorde Career Colleges use their blogs to provide supporting information for prospective students interested in one of the career paths they offer. They mix up their blog content with general interest seasonal posts and other practical topics aimed at their targeted personas. Each blog includes a clear header image, several links to their program pages and relevant research sources for SEO and full disclosure purposes, and prominent calls to action. Readers can easily subscribe to blog updates, adding themselves to the college’s email list, and even choose the frequency of contact (instant, weekly or monthly).
Developing Effective Content
Once you’ve properly identified your target audience, you need to consider how to tailor content to appeal to them. Would your prospective students like blogs that contain insights about your courses and campus life? Or would they respond better to topical posts about the latest news in their study area? Should the tone of the posts be fun or formal? Should they go into complex detail about subjects, or be kept simple?
Developing the right content approach can involve a lot of trial and error. Ideally, you should approach it using A/B testing principles, trying a few approaches and analyzing the results. For example, you could publish a blog one week on a more topical subject, and then centre your next post more specifically on the course you’re offering, and see which generates the best response in terms of views, CTRs and conversions.
Once you’ve found a format that works, you want to ensure a regular stream of new blogs, and you can develop a content calendar to schedule your posts. You should also consider who will be writing the content. Expert insights from instructors or professors can be a great asset to your blogs, but they might not have time to contribute regularly, so you may want to hire specialized content writers, either in-house or through a marketing agency.
A student blog is also a great asset to any college website, providing valuable perspectives into life on campus for prospective students and their parents, although since it’s important to keep a sense of authenticity in these posts, you’ll have less control over the messages you’re communicating. A combination of professional writers, faculty and students contributing content is likely the ideal content development mix.
Example: Nipissing University’s “For students, by students” blog showcases its vibrant campus pictures front and centre with a handy filtering function so visitors can zero in on what interests them most.
Looking at the Latest Trends to Develop Essential SEO Components
When developing effective SEO strategies, Google acts as a kind of Roman emperor for content writers, giving thumbs up or down to our efforts. The company constantly modifies its search algorithms to ensure more relevant results for users, and its advances have driven content marketing trends from past practices of simply stuffing webpages with links and keywords, to the present more subtle, quality-driven approach.
Some basic on-page SEO factors and keyword integration will help search engines to better find your blogs. The title and H1 tags are the primary indicators to search engines about your blog’s topic. It’s an opportunity to include a keyword that features prominently in your post to improve your search rankings. Organizing your content with H2 subtitles makes your content more digestible for both readers and search engines, and is another opportunity to include naturally integrated keywords. Finally, add an action-oriented meta-description – an “elevator pitch” that is displayed on search engine results pages to convince users to click on your link.
2016 will bring more changes, including an increase in the emphasis on common voice search keywords. As “intelligent personal assistants” using voice recognition software such as Apple’s Siri or Google Now become more popular on mobile, ranking high for question phrases will become increasingly important. A recent study by Rosetta revealed that “Who” phrases increased 134% in the last year, while “How” phrases were up 81%. In education lead generation, colleges would be wise to consider adding keywords based on question phrases, such as “How do I become a nurse?” or “Where can I study pharmaceuticals?” as SEO continues to evolve.
Creating Visually Engaging Blogs
Digital natives are used to information that is presented visually, so when preparing student recruitment blogs, consider how you will capture the attention of the typical web scanner. One mistake many writers make is not considering the visual elements of the text itself. Easy-to-read fonts are essential, but effective use of paragraphs is also important, to avoid walls of text that can be off-putting for readers. Where possible, you can present items like course subjects or possible career paths in bulleted or numbered lists, which will help make them more readable.
When adding images to text, ‘visual storytelling’ are the two words you should be keeping in mind. Each image should help illustrate the message you’re trying to get across in your content. Try to make the images you’re using as striking and unique as possible, infusing your images with the distinctive personality of your college.
Example: Yale’s student blogs are classy and informative, rich in photography, easily scannable and intuitively navigable via clear menus and topic hashtags. The student bloggers each have enthusiastic bios, smiling pictures and contagious school spirit – a perfect introduction for prospective students.
An effective way to incorporate unique visuals into blogs is to repurpose your written content in a visual form, such as an infographic or checklist. Sites like Venngage and Piktochart offer easy-to-use services for creating infographics from your content. More and more colleges are also enhancing their blogs with video elements. Most modern Smartphone cameras will be sufficient for basic filming needs, and you can edit content with Adobe Creative Cloud or Camtasia. For a more unusual approach, programs like GoAnimate and Powtoon allow beginners to create animated videos using simple drag-and-drop interfaces.
Example: Cardiff University promotes its study abroad program with a video blog by an International student. The blog includes tours of the city, gives students insight into their accommodation and campus facilities, and even provides packing tips. The university features it prominently on their study abroad program page.
If you create content from a mobile-first perspective, ensuring it is visually appealing and easily navigated on mobile via responsive design, your images will appear fine on every device. 2015 was the year mobile traffic finally surpassed desktop activity, and Google’s Mobile Friendly Update, dubbed “mobilegeddon”, was introduced in April, boosting ratings for mobile-friendly sites and effectively phasing out pages which are only optimized for desktop users.
Leading Prospective Students To Action
After you have provided your visitors with informative and entertaining content, make it easy for them to take the next steps for further engagement. Calls to action (CTAs) are more than a link to your information-gathering landing page – they’re intended to give that last push to encourage your readers to take meaningful action, like signing up for your newsletter or information session.
Of course, every school hopes that prospective students will choose to apply as soon as possible but trying too hard for the hard sell or using unappealing language like “Submit” can have the opposite effect. Blogs are generally intended to be informative for your target persona so try wording that sounds non-committal yet explains the value of clicking the button from the user’s perspective. After absorbing further helpful content, the prospect may eventually develop sufficient trust and interest in your school to make a more meaningful commitment.
Example: The previously mentioned Concorde blog post ends with a two-sentence italicized paragraph emphasizing the short study time necessary for interested readers to put their passion for community service into action. A large image CTA “Learn More” leads to a dedicated landing page featuring concise selling points, an introductory video, available campuses and of course a form for requesting information. Social media links are also prominently displayed and promoted.
Social media is an excellent vehicle for amplifying your blog content, providing the opportunity to reach a much wider audience by others sharing your posts. By properly understanding your audience, you’re more likely to create content that your readers appreciate and are actually thankful for. People may choose to share content that entertains them, is insightful, or that they feel might help someone else. Strive to understand which blogs are more popular to continuously improve your quality and end your text with a relevant question to encourage readers to keep the conversation going.
Post your new content on all your social networks with an enticing image, providing an excerpt or leading question to engage your community. Make sharing easier by placing social bookmarking buttons prominently below blogs. Social media sharing has become more important in Google search rankings, with the company now even embedding Twitter results in searches. In addition, social media sites now actively aggregate content for users, and will drive a lot of content marketing internally.
Twitter’s new Project Lightning feature collects user videos, posts, and links on trending topics, while Facebook’s “Instant Article” platform, which allows users to publish articles instantly on the site, has proven hugely successful, and Google are developing their own version of the feature. With that in mind, your college social media page and your blog need to work together to drive traffic and conversation between your own website and your social media profiles.
Overall, colleges should be aiming to develop a clear, distinctive voice on their blog, one that prospective students will want to listen to. While each institution’s needs are different, the aim should generally be to establish yourself as an expert voice and leader of ideas in your field. If you can do this effectively, you’ll create a positive image of your brand that will drive recruitment.
Do you have other tips for making a great student recruitment blog?