7 Higher Education Content Marketing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
Date posted: May 12, 2021
Content marketing is not an exact science. The subjective nature of blog posts, videos, and other forms of web content inevitably means that what works for some organizations won’t work for others, and that the right way of doing things will depend largely on your unique audience and goals.
Having said that, there are certain tried and true tactics that have been shown to work for most organizations across different industries, including the education sector. And just as there are common best practices, there are also common mistakes.
In this blog, we explore some of the most costly missteps that your school might be making when attempting to execute your content strategy, and what you should be doing instead.
1. Creating Content That You Like, But Your School’s Audience Doesn’t
Many content creators struggle to understand that there can be a disconnect between content they find engaging and content their audience finds engaging.
This can be especially true at schools where those planning the content are particularly knowledgeable and passionate about the subject matter. For instance, the person planning a university’s content might appreciate an article about an advanced topic in a particular field of study, but it might go over a prospective student’s head, and even leave them intimidated about pursuing a program in that area. While a certain amount of thought leadership in your field might be desirable, it’s crucial to strike the right balance.
Likewise, professionals at language schools are often passionate about languages, but a literary blog post that uses complex vocabulary and flowery metaphors will not be easily understood by non-native speakers.
This can also apply to the style, tone, and structure of your content. You might dislike the use of more casual language and idioms, but find that your prospects find it more welcoming and friendly than a more formal tone. You might prefer videos that have a sleek, professional feel, but discover that your audience responds better to the more DIY production values of content creators on sites like YouTube and TikTok. Unless you happen to fall exactly within the demographics you are targeting, it’s likely your prospects will have somewhat different tastes than you.
The surest way to make sure your audience is catered to is to work with well-defined student personas in mind. A persona will give your content creators a snapshot of the typical backgrounds, characteristics, and interests of your prospects, making it easier to develop content that will resonate with them.
Example: This persona, designed for an undergraduate business program, contains a wealth of information about its prospects’ typical interests, attitudes, and goals.
Be careful, though, not to make assumptions about what your audience will like. For instance, for many years there was a widely accepted assumption that millennials, as digital natives consuming content primarily on their phones, would prefer shorter, ‘snackable’ content. However, more recently it has become clear that they actually have far more of an appetite for longer, more informative storytelling. The same assumption is arguably currently being applied to Generation Z.
Thorough research will help. You can seek the feedback of your faculty and staff based on their day-to-day experiences, and also survey your current students and alumni. Tools such as Facebook Audience Insights can also give you more data-driven information about your target demographics.
Example: The Page Likes screen in Audience Insights. This shows the most popular Facebook pages among the audience you have defined, in this case 18-25 year-olds from Dublin, Ireland with an interest in business, marketing, and social media. Knowing a bit more about your audiences interests outside of education could help you to formulate the style and tone of your content.
2. Not Creating Content for Each Stage of The Enrollment Journey (and Beyond)
Prospects who are still considering a university will respond to different content than those who have already applied. Parents who are discovering a private K-12 school for the first time will want vastly different information than those who are already preparing their children to enroll.
When it comes to education content marketing, keeping the enrollment journey in mind is key to ensuring your audience sees the right content with the right message at the right time.
Too often, however, schools are guilty of failing to do this. Some will focus too heavily on catering to new prospects, with content that focuses on introducing the school and its courses, but fail to offer content of real value for those further down the funnel, who may want information that’s more specific, in-depth, or helps to aid their final decision-making process.
By far the most common issue is that schools neglect to create content for those at the bottom of the funnel who have already applied or are preparing to enroll. While it can be tempting to feel like this group has already been convinced that your school is the right choice, it’s important to maintain their excitement and make sure that they do indeed go on to become enrolled students.
Example: Linköping University gets it content for those further down the funnel right, offering a wealth of information and resources for newly admitted students on its website.
Current students shouldn’t be forgotten either. They can serve as your most important brand ambassadors and advocates, as well as arguably your largest and most engaged online audience, and striving to keep them engaged with your digital presence can only bring good things.
Other schools will make the mistake of creating content which aims to appeal to their entire audience. While there may be some blogs, videos, or other pieces which have a broad appeal across your entire school community, too broad a focus will often result in content that feels unfocused, inconsistent in its messaging, or just too general to be engaging. While adopting a narrower focus might mean your content appeals to less people, it can help it to be more impactful.
3. Ignoring SEO in Your Education Content Marketing Efforts
The quality of your education marketing content will be the biggest determiner of its success. If your videos, blogs, and other efforts are engaging, informative, and persuasive, they will ultimately accomplish your goal of helping to drive more enrollments at your school.
Having said that, it’s no use creating compellent content if no one sees it, and SEO is the surest way to ensure your content is found on the web. By doing extensive keyword research and following tried and tested best practices, you can engineer your content to have the best chance of being found in searches by your target audience.
Example: Automotive Training Centres’ blog 4 Great Reasons to Become an Auto Mechanic shows up not just at the top of the results page for a Canadian Google search on ‘reasons to become a mechanic’, but as a featured snippet. From the additional text shown in the snippet, you can see that the school worked to integrate keywords into the headers and body text of the blog.
This isn’t always easy for schools, particularly those who rely on user-generated content from students or instructors who may not be well-versed in digital marketing. However, you can encourage your content creators to optimize their work by focusing on integrating keywords naturally into their pieces, as well as educating them on the proper use of SEO architecture, such as page title tags and header tags (H1s, H2s, etc.).
When done naturally and without compromising the overall quality of your content, a well-executed SEO approach will drive more prospects to engage with your school.
4. Not Creating Evergreen Content for Your School’s Website
When planning your content, it’s natural to focus on what’s new and trending in your field. For example, a business school might create videos discussing new developments in the corporate world, or a college running esthetician courses might blog about the hottest beauty trends.
This kind of content is likely to be welcomed by your prospects, and can definitely have a place in your larger strategy. The trouble is it will become dated quite quickly. An aspiring hospitality program student isn’t going to read about ‘The Biggest Trends in Travel and Tourism for 2019’ in 2021. Someone interested in digital marketing isn’t going to click on an article about Google+ or another defunct social network. Topical content has a limited shelf-life, which isn’t ideal in an online world where well-executed content can attract traffic for years after publication.
With that in mind, it’s always best to make sure a large portion of your content has evergreen potential. Focusing on your personas’ common motivations and concerns can help steer you in the right direction, helping you create posts that answer the questions your prospects will be asking year after year.
Example: University of Toronto created the article 21 pieces of advice for first-year students in 2013.
The piece stills shows up on page one of a Canadian search for ‘tips for students starting university’ almost eight years later.
By focusing on a topic that will always be relevant to its audience, UofT were able to create a piece of content that has continued to have value nearly a decade later.
Of course, even evergreen content can fade with time. Which brings us neatly to…
5. Forgetting About Content After Your School Publishes It
So, you’ve created a compelling blog post, an informative infographic, or an entertaining video. Do you just forget about it and move on?
Because content lives on your website for years, it may need to be updated and maintained over time to stay relevant. Your posts (even the evergreen ones) might become dated after a while, and end up containing older or irrelevant information.
A good way to keep your content fresh—and enjoy an SEO boost to boot— is historical optimization. This involves freshening up old content while also re-optimizing it for SEO to boost impressions and click-throughs on search engines.
Content consolidation—wherein you reorganize smaller pieces of existing content into one more in-depth page and then redirect your existing URLs to consolidate their page authority— is another way to give content a second life and get more from it years after publication.
You can also repurpose content into different formats, using blog content to create videos and infographics and vice versa, to deliver information in ways that will appeal to different segments of your audience.
Finally, you should continue to keep your old content in mind for sharing in emails, social media posts and other endeavours. You might find that something you created years ago is the perfect fit for a new campaign or strategy. All of these tactics could help to save your team time, enhance your online presence, and better connect with your school community.
6. Failing to Amplify Higher Ed Marketing Content
Once your content has been published, you shouldn’t hesitate to tell the world! This means sharing it across your social media accounts, in email blasts and newsletters, and across other channels.
Example: Lakefield College Schools regularly shares posts from its website on social media.
Most schools that regularly create content are fairly diligent in doing this, but some can fall short, usually due to bad planning. To make sure your content is amplified as much as possible, defining a multichannel strategy and schedule can make the world of difference.
Digital tools, such as social media scheduling platforms and marketing automaton software, can make this a lot easier, helping your team to easily plan and integrate its content in your promotional efforts on other channels.
7. Not Tracking and Measuring the Success of Education Marketing Content
The ROI of higher education content marketing isn’t as easy to see as other channels like paid advertising, and it can often be underestimated as a result. For example, a prospect who finds your school on social media or through an ad might check out several blogs, videos, and other content while researching your school before making an inquiry or applying. All of that content may have played a valuable role in helping them convert, but won’t be as visible in your reporting.
This can lead some schools to neglect tracking and measuring their content success, but it is possible. Paying attention to your web traffic, for starters, and which pages are driving it, will give you a good indication of what content is working and what isn’t.
You can also track key KPIs like average time spent on page and bounce rates in Google Analytics to get a sense of how engaging prospects find your content once they land on it. What’s more, if you properly configure goals in GA, you can measure conversion rates based on the pages users visit, and even calculate the page value of certain content.
Hopefully, you won’t have read this and recognized too many mistakes your own team are making. If you have, don’t fret. While these errors can be detrimental to your content marketing efforts, they can also be easily fixed with a bit of knowhow, careful planning, and hard work.