While increased student mobility and global interconnectivity has made it possible for schools to target prospects in a wider range of countries and regions than ever before, local students still account for the majority of enrollees in many institutions at all levels.
Most small colleges, K-12 institutions, and many universities still have a strong local core, while even language schools, who would be thought to rely more on foreign enrollments, often receive a sizeable amount of bookings from local residents.
With that in mind, focusing on local student recruitment can often be a wise move for schools looking to establish a strong sustainable base of interested prospects.
Developing Local Student Personas
The first step to creating a local student recruitment strategy is properly defining your potential local audience. Consider how large this segment of your overall audience is, what their specific needs are, and what is likely to encourage them to enroll at your school.
Much of this will depend largely on what kind of institution you are working for. In community colleges, career colleges, and trade schools, for instance, local students are likely to make up the majority of the student population. Likewise, many private K-12 institutions will have a large percentage of local students, although boarding schools may attract more students from other places.
In these situations, simply surveying and analyzing your current students and alumni will likely give you what you need to develop an accurate local student persona.
Example: A persona developed for a career college with a large local student base at its two campuses in Ontario.
If more of your students traditionally come from further afield, there may still be potential to increase local enrollment that you are overlooking. Many language schools, for example, are now receiving an growing amount of inquiries from potential applicants who are already living in the local area.
Appealing to the specific needs of these prospects is key to securing their enrollment. Often, they will have moved for work, so offering classes that fit around their professional schedule can be important. Business language courses, which teach skills specifically geared towards the workplace, can be very popular with local students.
Example: Liden & Denz offers tailored Russian courses for expats in Moscow. Their options include morning and evening classes, one-on-one instruction, and even in-company training. It’s a great example of a school that is perfectly attuned with the needs of its local audience.
Local language students may also have moved to your area with their partner, and be looking to improve their skills so they can pursue work, or just integrate more easily into their new home. They may also have children who need to improve their skills, so junior courses may be appealing for them.
Example: Little Mountain Learning Academy in Vancouver targets a lot of its programs towards children of newcomers to the city who need to improve their English skills.
Keep in mind, too, that local students are more likely to enroll in a language course for longer periods of time, and may prefer a more spaced out schedule over a period of a number of months than the short, intensive courses usually favoured by international students.
Universities may also find that there is untapped potential in their local market. Mature students, specifically, are less likely to want to relocate to pursue a degree, as they will often have settled lives with families and partners. Younger students, too, may be attracted to the idea of studying locally in order to save money on accommodation, or to avail of any scholarships or financing options that are exclusively available to students from specific regions.
Example: The University of Waterloo has a dedicated page to answer common finance questions for students from Ontario.
Whatever your institution, there is likely a local market there waiting to be found. With a little research, your school should be able to evaluate its potential and capitalize on the opportunities available.
Optimizing Your Student Recruitment Plan to Improve Local SEO
One of the biggest advantages of using digital marketing for local student recruitment is that local businesses have been increasingly favoured in search in recent years. Ever since the Google Hummingbird algorithm update in 2013, search engines have prioritized localized results in order to give users a more intuitive experience and allow them to find what they are looking for more easily.
A big part of this has been the introduction of the local “3 pack”, which appears as a graph with an accompanying map at the very top of any search result Google judges to relate to local services.
Example: The top three results for the search ‘language school’ in Montreal. As you can see, all results in the 3 pack are institutions in the surrounding area.
Achieving this positioning in search results can have a huge effect on your traffic and the amount of inquiries you generate. To improve your chances, it’s important to take ownership of your Google My Business listing. This is the basic information Google includes about the nature of your business, its location, and contact details, as well as links to your website and reviews from Google users. It will appear when any user clicks on your listing in Google places, and as an open graph on the right-hand side of the page in any branded searches for your school.
Example: The GMB listing for the University of Surrey in the UK as it appears in a branded search.
Optimizing this can be very important to encouraging prospective students to click through. You should ensure that all details about your school are present and correct. If they aren’t, you can take ownership of your listing by claiming it on Google My Business, and then make any relevant updates yourself.
You can also add photos to your GMB listing to make your school look more appealing to prospective students.
Example: The University of Delaware added a number of its own striking images to its GMB listing.
Ensuring your website is optimized for local SEO can also pay dividends. While search engines now localize many results by themselves, including the name of your city, town, or region in your page titles, headings, and meta descriptions can still help to improve your visibility.
Example: Many of the top-ranking results for the search ‘ESL school in Dublin’ incorporate localized keywords into their page titles.
In addition, including your NAP information (name, address, and phone number) in the headers or footers of your web pages is also believed to be beneficial for local SEO.
Another important thing to consider about local SEO is that much of it goes hand in hand with the rise of voice search. Voice queries will often be dominated by internet users searching for services and businesses in their immediate vicinity. Tailoring your site for voice queries by using structured data with a focus on real speech and answering questions could have a big effect on your traffic. Your FAQs pages, for instance, may become increasingly important to attracting local students as voice search becomes more common.
Developing Website Content for Local Student Recruitment
While optimizing your website for local search will help to drive traffic from local prospects to your site, it won’t necessarily be enough to keep them there. To encourage this audience to take the next step and make inquiries about your school or courses, it’s important to localize your content where appropriate.
This is especially crucial if you have several campuses in different locations. Prospective students may be unsure if the courses or facilities they want are available in their location, and can become confused if presented with information that is too general or vague. To remedy this, many schools with multiple campuses create specific pages for each one, and may even create location-specific pages for each of their courses, provided there are enough differences in what students can expect to warrant it.
Example: The website of Centre of English Studies, an ESL provider with branches in Ireland, the UK, and Canada, is a great example of a school with a well-organized content hierarchy for each of its locations. Prospects can easily see what each one offers in terms of courses, facilities, accommodation, and more by clicking the relevant item in the menu, and jump to other locations to compare.
You should also highlight any specific advantages available to local students, such as unique financing or funding options that might be available to them. Another thing that can be very important when trying to attract local students is offering the opportunity to visit your school in the flesh. While students from other places will find it difficult to attend open days, presentations, or campus tours, local students are much more likely to take the trip, and will value being able to check out your school’s facilities and speak directly with your admissions staff. As a result, promoting these events can dramatically increase your chances of increasing enrollments at a local level.
Example: Concordia University makes it very easy for prospective students to book a campus tour, allowing bookings up to 24 hours in advance, and even last-minute additions to scheduled tours. This type of flexibility can be great for local students, affording them the opportunity to drop by whenever they are free.
You can also create unique content such as blogs or videos that are specifically targeted towards local students. For example, a blog that highlights the career opportunities available to graduates of a specific course in your local area could prove a big hit with this audience, who may not be able to find this sort of region-specific information easily on the web.
Example: This post from the University of Toronto Faculty of Law provides advice on the path to becoming a lawyer for prospective students, with the article specifically covering the requirements in Ontario. Posts like these can be great for local students, who might find other similar material on the web is geared more towards those in other locations such as the USA.
While this can be a very fruitful strategy, you should be mindful about overlocalizing your content, particularly if you have limited time to spend on new content creation. If you can only write blogs very occasionally, for instance, and are trying to attract students from several different places, focusing on one specific market may not be the best use of your resources. Unless you have the bandwidth to create different content for all of your audiences on a regular basis, taking a more universal approach may be advisable.
Social Media for Local Student Markets
Social media can also be an excellent place to reach local students. As the social world continues to evolve, many people are beginning to use social networks as a way to find local businesses and services. A good place to start is to ensure your school is recognized on Facebook Places, which is the site’s location-based search system. Doing this will also mean that the location shows up on Instagram.
From there, try to incorporate your location into your posting strategy. You can use location-based and locally popular hashtags in order to show up in searches by local students, and you should also tag your location in your posts where appropriate. Studies have shown that posts with tagged locations on Instagram receive up to 79% more engagement than those that don’t:
You can use location tags in social media stories, too, and any slides containing those tags on Instagram will show up in the location story the site compiles. Encouraging your current students to do this as well can greatly increase your visibility.
Example: Many students use the Université de Montréal location tag in their Instagram Stories, which are subsequently added the school’s overall location story.
For best results, it can be best to do this on a macro level, tagging your city or town rather than your school or a very small area, as Instagram will only create stories for more popular tags.
Above all else, though, your posts should work to appeal to a local audience. Creating and sharing content around local events can be a great way to grab the attention of prospects in your area, particularly if they have some relevance to your school and its program offerings.
You can also pay attention to local news or events in order to find trending topics your school can create posts around. Being in tune with local happenings helps reinforce the sense that your institution is an active and engaged part of the local community.
Example: This tweet about Princeton University’s Program for Community-Engaged Scholarship (ProCES) highlights how connected the school is with its local community.
Additionally, try to demonstrate an appreciation of your local area. Feature photos of the most beautiful parts of your city or surrounding area, or post about your faculty or students’ favourite spots in town to show potential local applicants that you recognize what makes it unique.
Example: New York University regularly posts old photos from its archive on Facebook showing glimpses of the city’s past.
Partnering with local businesses for contests can be an effective strategy, too, and one that is more likely to be successful when you are trying to attract local leads.
Lastly, social media is a great place to promote any open houses or other physical events for prospective students taking place on your campus. Remember, local students are far more likely to visit your school in the flesh than those researching it from further afield, so there is much to be gained from promoting your events online as much as possible.
Example: University College Dublin shared this Facebook event to promote an Open Day in November.
Running Local Paid Ad Campaigns to Attract Students
There are some obvious advantages to undertaking a local paid advertising campaign as opposed to targeting on a national or international level. For a start, you are much more likely to be able to home in on your target audience by casting a narrower net, likely resulting in increased conversions.
Additionally, locally targeted paid search campaigns can also be more cost-effective. Localized ad buys often attract less competition than larger scale campaigns, meaning you may be able to bid lower on desirable keywords. Advertising to your local market may also lead search engines to perceive your ads as more relevant and assign them a higher quality score, further reducing the amount you have to spend to secure good placements.
Example: An ad for College Platon, a small language school in Montreal, appears on the front page of the SERP results for the term ‘study English’. This is likely quite a competitive keyword, but a localized ad buy can be more affordable.
Having a local student recruitment plan can very beneficial in social media advertising, too, and you can use the precise demographic targeting options to further narrow down your audience and ensure your ads are served to those who match your local student personas.
While it is important to be open to targeting students in a wide range of different locations, particularly as student mobility continues to grow, there is still a lot to be said for building on a solid local presence. Local students will eventually become local graduates, after all, and their achievements and successes will help to build your reputation in your community through word-of-mouth. This can be extremely valuable for schools of all kinds, helping you cultivate a sustainable base of continuous enrollments that will benefit you for years to come.