Over the last several years, private schools have been moving away from traditional outbound tactics like television spots, mass email blasts, newspaper ads, brochures, and billboards.
As the marketplace grows more crowded, it’s simply harder to stand out with outbound marketing – and it can be prohibitively expensive, while results are often difficult to track and measure.
Now, just to be clear, we’re not suggesting you do away completely with your traditional marketing tactics!
But we do recommend that private schools consider some of the compelling, relatively low-cost, and measurable ways digital marketing can help them reach more prospective parents online.
Consider the decision-making journey parents may undertake when selecting a school for their child. Here’s one possible sequence:
1. Word-of-mouth recommendation
2. An online search for reviews on your school
3. A visit to your website to confirm reviews
4. A peek through your social media channels
5. Attends campus tour and recruitment presentation
6. Browses through your print brochure
7. Submits follow-up questions online/fills out an application
What’s important to note is that, for many parents, the journey happens BOTH on and offline. So, it’s useful for your school to be strategically present in both traditional and digital mediums.
So without further ado, here are our top 6 ideas for the digital dimension of your marketing mix, so you can attract and convert more parents online.
1. Define Your Unique “Parent Personas”
If your role at a private school puts you face-to-face with parents and families on a regular basis, you probably have a very good idea of your target recruitment audience.
However, if you report to other stakeholders (a board, perhaps) it can be very helpful to formalize your observations by creating official “parent personas.” The personas you develop will help guide and justify the student recruitment marketing tactics you choose.
Your “typical parent” profile will include a number of descriptors and characteristics, such as:
- Average age
- Place of residence
- Average number of children
- What they look for most in a private school
- Their top concerns or fears (“pain points”)
- Who is most likely to influence their decision (spouse, other family members, child, etc)
- How do they discover your school? (word of mouth, traditional ads, online search, an agent, etc.)
- What “evidence” are they looking for when selecting a private school for their child?
Your answers to these profile questions will change for each demographic you hope to reach. Some private schools are heavily focused on select international markets. Others are specifically targeting local parents of children with learning challenges.
Once you know precisely what your particular target audiences are looking for during the decision-making process, you can ensure that all of your marketing content contains that crucial information, reassurance, support, and “proof.”
Customizing your marketing messages in this way will help you cut through the noise, and connect with your prospective parents in meaningful and persuasive ways online – creating the conditions necessary for “conversion.”
2. Publish Blog Posts to Help Parents Discover You Online
One of the best ways to reach out to your personas online is by blogging on a regular basis. Blogging is an essential tool for private school student recruitment for several reasons:
1. Blog posts help raise your visibility online so your website appears higher in search engine results pages (especially when you optimize them for SEO by including important keywords in your titles, subtitles, and building internal links throughout the body of your posts).
2. Regular blog posts are a great way to speak directly to your parent personas’ goals and concerns for their child. When you publish high quality posts that reflect those needs, you show that your school’s interests are aligned with those of your target audience. This builds confidence in your educational vision and approach.
Here’s a great example from Lakefield College School (LCS), a private boarding school in Ontario, Canada that uses SEO-optimized blog posts to reach out to their parent personas in meaningful ways:
The LCS blog covers topics most important to its target audiences, including:
- preparing students for the boarding experience
- what to look for when selecting a private school
- how boarding schools ensure the safety of each student
- insights on how best to prepare teens for success at university
- the benefits of an international boarding school experience
Your blog should focus on the issues and questions your parent personas are talking about most during the inquiry process.
By addressing (and anticipating) these concerns upfront, you establish your school as a trusted source of information. Parents then feel more comfortable submitting an inquiry, filling out an application, booking a tour, etc.
3. Commission Content from Parent & Student Ambassadors
Many private schools have a small team of communications and admissions professionals. They juggle a wide range of responsibilities on a daily basis, and adding an insightful weekly blog post to that to-do list could be next to impossible!
This is where parent and student ambassadors enter into the “content marketing” equation.
Private schools typically have student leaders who help out at traditional recruitment events like open houses. They give tours to parents, provide genuine testimonials for your website and brochures, and act as brand ambassadors for your institution. Some schools also get parents involved in these grassroots recruitment activities.
Why not ask a select group of parents and students to contribute content to your school blog? You can even choose parents that best represent the target markets you’re aiming for.
Blog content ideas might include:
- a series of interviews with parents about their experience at your school (angle the questions toward your target personas’ known concerns and priorities)
- have students interview the head of school, teachers, and staff (offers prospective applicants genuine insight into your values, vision, and educational approach)
- have students write short posts on what they love most about attending your school (with pictures, video, etc.)
St. Jude’s Academy (a private K-12 IB school) has asked teachers to contribute blog posts about what goes on in their classrooms each day. If you’re not quite ready to get parents and students on board, this is another strategic solution for generating online content that can attract visitors to your website.
Here’s an example of a St. Jude’s blog post from a grade one teacher. She describes the day’s learning activities and includes pictures of students hard at work:
The bottom line is that parents want clear insights into life at your school before taking “next steps” toward enrollment. Grant them “insider access” online by posting content written by your own families (or teachers), and you will certainly see an increase in website traffic and inquiries.
4. Use Your Social Channels to Amplify Your Blog Content
So you’ve written, and asked parents, students, or teachers to write, fabulous blog posts for your website. How can you get the word out that these posts exist, and amidst all the competing clutter online, entice prospective parents to read them? Social media.
Use your Facebook and Twitter accounts to share and promote each and every post. Include links to the piece on your website, incorporate hashtags, and start creating conversations about the content you’re publishing.
You can even pay to “boost” certain posts to ensure they are seen by your specific target audiences. Facebook allows users to target their ads by:
- specific interests
Writing great content is just step one. You need to amplify each blog post in order to extend your reach online, raise awareness about your school among your target audiences, and drive traffic back to your website. This is a key element of student recruitment through social media.
5. Leverage Online Ads to Directly Target Your Parent Personas
Paid Search, or Pay-per-Click advertising is cost-effective, completely measurable, can be customized to reach your audience, and is proven to help schools generate inquiries online.
Plus, with PPC, your ad will automatically appear at the top of Google search results, which immediately improves your chances of getting noticed by parents during their online research process.
Here’s an example from St. George’s, a private boys boarding school in Vancouver, British Columbia:
This add is clearly targeting the search phrase, “boarding school Canada,” which St. George’s has determined is what their target persona is keying into Google. The message is simple, but persuasive – and they’ve included a phone number to capture offline inquiries as well, which is smart.
Of course, St. George’s has developed a dedicated landing page for this ad – an essential element of your online advertising for student recruitment:
You could even use PPC ads to raise awareness about an upcoming open house, encouraging parents to fill out your form for more information about the event, book a tour online, or download your eBrochure. There are plenty of ways to support and enhance your traditional marketing with online tactics.
6. Get Listed on Relevant Private School Directories
When parents are searching for a private school, they will often turn to (or stumble upon) directory websites that offer lists of schools arranged by city, school type, or region.
These directories help parents navigate the many options available to them, access reviews of various institutions, and compare top schools.
Make sure your school is listed on high traffic directories like ourkids.net, which helps parents compare and select private camps and schools across Canada:
Or this US-oriented example, the K12 Directory of Schools:
Be sure to contribute images whenever possible, testimonials from parents, and an up-to-date description of your school.
Do a little research to determine which directories your prospective parents are looking at most during their decision-making process. And, be sure that you’re continuously gathering fresh reviews from your families to post on your directory profile (best practice anyway, since these are so helpful and persuasive across all of your marketing, both on and offline).
And there you have it!
Six ways to increase your visibility online, effectively target your most valuable parent audiences, and generate more quality inquiries for your private school.