Creating a Language School Digital Marketing Strategy

Date posted: September 6, 2019

language school marketing plan

For language schools hoping to increase bookings or improve their visibility on the international stage, a strong marketing plan can be the key to success. Marketing strategies can help you gain more clarity as to who your prospective student audience is, craft messaging appropriate to them, and apply a more targeted approach to all your marketing efforts going forward.

For language schools, there are specific tactics that, when included in a marketing plan, reliably produce excellent results for effective promotion and the gains that come along with it. Curious about where to get started? Here’s a guide to help you produce an effective marketing strategy for your language school.

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Identify Your Ideal Language School Marketing Personas

As a first, guiding principle for all of your language school marketing efforts, it is valuable to establish a clear picture of the kinds of individuals you wish to attract to your institution. This “persona” should provide a detailed description of the most important characteristics of these prospects, and can be used to inform the messaging you create in your marketing efforts.

Here are some of the important qualities to consider when crafting your persona:

  • The prospect’s motivations and goals for learning a new language
  • Concerns or potential roadblocks the prospect might face
  • Where your ideal prospect is likely to do research about language schools
  • Background information like age, location, level of education, financial status, etc.
  • Others who might influence the prospect (family, agents, guidance counsellors, etc.)

It is important to think about these qualities because they can be indicative of specific attitudes and behaviours that you might want to speak to in your marketing. For example, if you develop a student persona of a high school student looking to learn a language for university study abroad, your messaging will need to position your courses as a reliable pathway to further education.

Example: This example of a persona takes in key demographic information such as age, gender, and location, as well as the common motivations of prospective students.

English language school marketing

Note that you do not need to limit yourself to only one persona. A good school with a broad range of courses can expect to attract students of multiple backgrounds or demographics, and establishing different personas for different categories of students or parents can be a great way to ensure your messaging addresses the particularities of their needs.

Keep in mind, though, that establishing too many personas can defeat the purpose of creating them in the first place – not every applicant need match your personas exactly, or even at all. Rather, the personas should just be a guiding principle to help you more easily communicate with large groups of prospective applicants. To achieve the level of focus that personas are meant to facilitate, stick to just two or three at the most.

Want to get started developing personas? The best way to begin is often simply to get together with your recruitment team and any other relevant individuals within your organization, and note down some of the obvious characteristics you have noticed in your student body (or the characteristics of the kinds of students you want to attract). You can take this concept further by issuing an anonymous survey to your student population, asking them questions directed at illuminating trends relevant to the points above. Finally, taking a look at the source of your existing web traffic using tools like the Google Analytics Location Report can help you identify potential target markets, perhaps giving you an indication of particular nationalities to consider creating messaging for.

Keep in mind that it is important to make an effort to craft personas with student diversity in mind. Students often prefer to attend language schools with classmates from a range of different nationalities, as this encourages more peer-to-peer practice in the language of instruction. By developing personas that allow you to cast a wide linguistic net, you can take an important step toward addressing the needs of your enrollees.

Improving International SEO For Language Schools

Organic search traffic is the bread and butter of many schools around the world. By improving the ranking your website enjoys in search results, it’s possible to gain a great deal of visibility and attention from prospective students.

Achieving good search engine rankings can depend on a number of factors, including the quality and relevance of your content, how easy your web pages are for search engines to crawl, their use of visual elements, and how well your site is optimized for mobile devices. For language schools, however, who may need to appeal to prospective students in a wide range of languages and locations, constructing a successful SEO strategy comes with even more additional concerns.

For one thing, while Google is the world leader in search, and is therefore the service for which most institutions worldwide will want to optimize, there are other regional search providers that are also worth considering, depending on your target student market. Here are a few of the main regional players you need to know about:

  • Baidu: China’s most popular search engine. Favours URLs with Chinese characters, quick loading speeds, and minimal JavaScript and Flash.
  • Yandex: Russia’s top search engine, with a significant presence in a number of Eastern European countries.
  • Naver: The dominant engine in South Korea. Also includes social networking elements.

Generally, all of these search engines operate along the same principles of favouring high-quality, relevant content, but it’s important to consider the particularities of each one. For best results, take the time to do your research into international SEO, or else engage the services of experts well versed in international SEO practices.

In addition, if you know a large proportion of your student base will communicate in a particular language, it can be a good idea to invest some resources into developing multilingual web content. To ensure your message gets across properly, and that clarity and value are preserved, be sure to get your existing content translated professionally. A poor translation could well lead to miscommunication, or lead native speakers of your language of translation to perceive your institution as being of poor quality.

Example: Cervantes Escuela Internacional Spanish school offers numerous versions of its website in different languages, making it easier for students from different markets to engage.

marketing plan for a language institute

Driving Traffic to Your Language School’s Website with Content Marketing

One of the most effective ways to improve organic search rankings is to create web pages and blog posts with specific keywords and phrases integrated into their content. Over time, this can help draw a greater number of visitors to specific pages and improve their position in search engine rankings.

To start, it is essential to put some time into doing research to determine which keywords you should be trying to optimize your web content for. Tools like Google Keyword Planner, Google Search Console, Moz Pro, and SEMRush are all popular options that can help you perform deep analysis and determine which keywords will be the best fit for your website. Generally, the keywords you will want to optimize for will be:

  • Relevant to your school and its course content
  • Keywords for which you already rank, but not especially highly
  • Non-branded (your school’s name not included)

Crafting content for these keywords is as much an art as it is a science. Think of keywords as indicators what people are looking for from schools teaching your language. Your content needs to not only include those keywords but needs to integrate them naturally, and be built around them to create a message that answers the questions or meets the needs of the person who searched for those keywords.

One good strategy for language schools looking to improve visibility is to create content around geo-localized keywords, or keywords that include reference to a geographic area; for example, “French language schools in Paris.” This can help you draw in people who know they want to learn a language and where they want to learn it, but aren’t sure about the specific institution.

Example: English Studies Institute in California created a blog post about sightseeing opportunities near its location in Berkeley, California. Not only is this a great way to get prospects excited about the school’s location, but it also provides ample opportunity to naturally integrate key search terms into the blog title and body text.

how to market English language schools

Your target personas for specific courses will also help steer your content creation efforts in the right direction. For instance, if your school is running a language summer camp, it will most likely be targeting parents, who may be interested in learning about everything from the educational content of your course, to the activities you offer for students, to your safety and supervision policies.

Example: XUK Camps run a regular blog with posts about all kinds of topics that may be of interest to both students and parents as they prepare for camp.

language school summer camp marketing

Of course, regardless of what type of course you are running, you need to communicate the value of it, and the rewards of learning a new language, whether they be academic, professional or personal.

This can be particularly important for schools offering courses in languages other than English, as the benefits may not be as immediately apparent to prospects considering your school.

Example: The Italian Academy created this blog outlining the benefits of learning the language.

language school strategy

There are numerous other common content marketing angles that language schools can take, from student stories, to study tips, to highlighting fun things to do in your city or area. Once you begin to consider what your prospective students might be interested in, what questions they may have, and what will be motivating them to seek out your school online, you will likely not run short on ideas.

Multilingual Paid Advertising for Language Schools

Online paid advertising presents another valuable opportunity for language schools to increase their reach and communicate with top prospects. These ads can be run on Google, Facebook, Baidu, and many other international search and social media platforms, appearing in feeds or alongside search results and only costing money when clicked on by a viewer. This means that, for the most part, money spent on paid advertising will be spent on prospects with a demonstrated interest in your school.

The power of paid ads is that they can be easily directed at very specific audiences. You can choose to have your ads appear to individuals in a particular location, to a particular gender or age group, to people with particular interests, etc. This means your school can focus your paid advertising efforts directly on its targeted personas.

Similar to SEO-optimized content, paid advertising in search engines should be centered on keywords that are relevant to your school and course offerings. For optimal results, it’s a good idea to choose keywords, and therefore to create ads, in the language of the prospective students you are trying to reach, and not necessarily your language of instruction. A marketing plan for a language institute that targets students in South Korea, for instance, might include running ads on Naver in Korean.

Ideally, all ads should direct prospective students to a specially made landing page, which should be written in the same language as the ad for continuity and comfort. The page should offer information relevant to whatever was promised in the ad – perhaps about a particular course offered at your school, or about the international student enrollment process – and a contact form. The goal of this page should be to get prospects interested enough in what your institution has to offer that they provide their contact information, which can be used for later follow-up.

Example: Language Systems created a unique landing page displaying course information in Portuguese.

language school advertising

Once your paid advertising campaign is up and running, it is important to monitor the results and refine the ad and landing page on an ongoing basis. If your ad isn’t generating many clicks, it’s possible that the ad text needs to be improved, that different keywords need to be selected to make your ad more relevant (if you running ads on search engines), or that you need to refine the parameters of your target audience. If your ad gets many clicks, but your landing page doesn’t receive many sign-ups, it’s likely that the content on the page needs to be adjusted to better appeal to prospects. Paying attention in this way and making corrections where necessary can lead to great improvements in traffic and lead generation via paid advertising.

Make Social Media a Priority in Language School Marketing

Today, every language school marketing strategy must account for the power of social media to build connections with prospective students around the world. A strong social media presence can help you deliver interesting news and updates to prospects, and to communicate with them in an intimate setting with a great sense of immediacy. However, because the platforms of choice vary somewhat from country to country, it will be important to put some thought into which services will be best for your school to focus on.

Facebook is an obvious choice for many schools, thanks to its subscriber base of over two billion users, but will not necessarily get you results in every market. In China, for instance, Facebook is blocked, and the WeChat and Sina Weibo social networks are instead the dominant forces. Both platforms offer schools the opportunity to create media-rich posts and messages for prospects, though the specific approaches differ. The popularity of different social networks can also vary throughout other parts of the world, meaning the first step toward developing a social media marketing strategy for your language school should be to determine which networks will offer you the best chance at connecting with your intended audiences.

Example: This chart from Statista outlines the top social networks worldwide. As you can see, the pool is far larger than just Facebook, Instagram, and other internationally known services.

social media for language schools

Source: Statista

It’s also worth considering that particular audiences may be more easily reached on other social networks, even if they aren’t the most dominant in their region. For example, if you want to attract students looking to improve their language skills for professional purposes, you might want to prioritize LinkedIn. For an audience of younger students, you might consider Instagram.

A number of different kinds of posts can reliably find success on social media platforms of all kinds, so it’s worth looking into these options when planning out your social content. Things like student testimonials from current or former students who loved their experience learning a language at your school, for instance, and curated blog posts or news reports that might be interesting to language learners, can be great ways to draw attention and encourage engagement by students with your institution. A quick post just highlighting your school’s offerings can also be great tools.

Whatever posts you decide upon, it’s important to include attractive visuals, as they do a much better job of capturing attention than a couple of paragraphs of text.

Example: Centre of English Studies makes great use of eye-catching visuals like this in its Instagram posts.

instagram for language schools

Use CRM and Marketing Automation to Streamline Follow-Up

No matter where they are in the world, students expect quick, personalized, comprehensive responses from institutions after an inquiry is made. For this reason, it is hugely important that your school invest in following up with any leads generated from your digital marketing campaigns.

Ideally, staff members who follow up with leads should be capable of fluent written and verbal communication in the leads’ native language. The follow-up process is meant to be directed at helping leads with any questions or concerns they have, and to create in them a sense of excitement at the prospect of attending your institution. Fluent communication is an important way to facilitate this process. Multilingual follow-up is also particularly important if you have been conducting campaigns in multiple languages, as prospective students will naturally expect to be answered in the language they made their initial inquiry in.

Follow-up can be completed across multiple lines of communication: email, telephone, and potentially even Skype or instant messaging services like WhatsApp, depending on the particular communication preferences of your prospects.

For best results, it is advisable to employ a CRM and marketing automation system. This software can help you track your developing relationships with prospects who have submitted their contact information. You can see how many times they have been contacted across phone, email, and other communication channels, and get a sense of when and how to engage with them next. You can also automate emails and other communications, and segment your contacts for more efficient follow-up. For schools looking to make the most of every lead, this kind of tool is incredibly convenient and powerful.

Example: Mautic is an example of a CRM platform that makes it easy to track your leads, as well as how and when they were last contacted by your organization – a useful way to ensure your follow is productive and appropriate.

marketing plan for English language school

Creating a Convenient Booking Experience for Language School Prospects

An often overlooked but increasingly important part of a marketing plan for language institutes in the digital age is providing a fast, convenient online booking system. Today’s prospects are used to being able to order goods and services easily and securely online, and schools need to provide the same standard of service as other businesses.

This means enabling prospects to complete as much of their booking as possible directly on your website. Of course, this is not always an easy task for language schools, who will receive bookings form all over the world, and may need to take receipt of passports, visas, grade transcripts and other documentation in order to process them. To get around this issue, it may be wise to consider investing in an online application portal that supports document uploads, as well as online payments, e-signatures and other tools that can make your booking process more paperless.

Example: HEM’s application portal allows for document uploads, among other convenient features.

language institute marketing plan

Offering free quotes on your site can also be very helpful for prospects looking to make bookings, as it allows them to calculate a full breakdown of the total cost of attending your school before they move further.

Example: CISL San Diego allows prospects to generate a free quote in its website.

language school quote calculator

For best results, try to be as flexible and transparent as possible with your pricing. Ensure your quote tool allows prospects to calculate the fees for different course lengths (if applicable), or for multiple students if you are dealing with parents, agents, or organizations. You should also include any optional extras such as activities, accommodation, and airport transfers in your price breakdown.

Measuring the Success of Your Language School’s Digital Marketing Efforts

In each of these aspects of your language school’s digital marketing strategy, it is imperative to monitor your results, and make adjustments to improve your performance over time.

Digital marketing is, after all, very much a data-driven discipline, and you will find a range of data sources through which to evaluate your success. Google Analytics, Search Console, Google Ads, and Facebook Insights are just a few of the great platforms that will offer you a wealth of data, while you can also configure your CRM and marketing automation reporting to provide insights into the effectiveness of your student recruitment processes.

Language schools’ particular student communities make for unique marketing challenges, but these can easily be overcome with a smart, patient approach to digital marketing. Employ the steps outlined in the points above and you can likely make great progress toward attracting a cohort of prospective students that will help your school thrive.

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*This post was originally published in November 2017, but has been updated and expanded to reflect the latest trends and developments in the industry.