Maximize Your School’s Digital Marketing on a Shoestring Budget

A piggy bank sits on top of a laptop computer. Blog post on ways schools can maximize digital marketing with a limited budget

by Trevor Waddington, Principal and Founder of Truth Tree and Missy Speyrer, Associate Director of Marketing & Sales at Truth Tree

Do you dream of reaching more families but worry your marketing budget can’t keep up? You’re not alone! Many schools struggle to get the word out — out of fear of breaking the bank. The good news is that smart marketing is more about strategy than spending a lot of money. 

Trevor Waddington, Principal at Truth Tree

Former Director of Marketing & Admissions
at independent schools in the Philadelphia & Washington, DC areas

When I was working in schools post-2008, I really had to get creative because my budget was slashed in half. Every dollar mattered!,” said Truth Tree Principal, and former director of marketing and admissions at independent schools in the Philadelphia and Washington, DC areas.

We know that most families searching for a school start online (just like looking up recipes, restaurants, and movie times). So, to reach searching families, it’s more about being in the right places than the most places. If your school has limited resources, it’s best to focus on a few key areas. Here’s how:

  1. Determine Your Identifier(s) Every school has unique strengths, like a great kindergarten program, an award-winning arts focus, or a reputation for letting kids be kids while learning. It doesn’t have to be a conventional strength. Don’t overthink this: it can simply be the thing that draws families to your school and keeps them there. 
  2. Narrow Your Focus Think about which grades have the most room to grow and what makes your school special. This will help you target the right age levels to highlight what you do best.
  3. Free Marketing Magic In the conventional sense, there are tons of free marketing tools available, perfect for those with a limited budget. 
  • SEO: This fancy term just means making your school website easy to find online. Think of it like putting up a big, bright sign that says “Awesome School Here!”
  • Content Marketing: Share fun and informative articles, pictures, and videos about your school. Take this idea beyond ‘news’ updates to solidify yourself as the expert on that identifier we discussed above. Coupled with news updates, these content pieces show families what a great place your school is for students to learn and grow!
  • Social media: Connect with families on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and (maybe) TikTok! Share updates, answer questions, and show the fun side of your school. More often than not, social media posts should include a tie to the bigger picture.
  • Feeder School Marketing: Be sure you’re communicating with the schools whose students could naturally transition into your school. Creating opportunities for field trips and open dialogue with administrators there could mean you’re top of mind when parents begin searching.
  • Get Help from Current Parents Happy parents are your biggest fans. Encourage them to write online reviews, share and comment on school social media content, and write their own positive stories tagging the school account(s). Word-of-mouth marketing coupled with the elements above is powerful!
  • Collaborate with Local Hotspots Partner with local businesses that cater to families, like bookstores or libraries, to offer flyers or co-host community events. 
  • Email Marketing Building an email list of interested families allows you to send regular updates about school events, achievements, or special programs, keeping them engaged. While a CRM with automation might not be in the budget, setting reminders to send out email invites to those who toured still gets the invite sent.

Even a small budget can give your marketing a big boost. Here’s an example of how you could spend $15,000 over 6 months:

  • $6,000: Keyword Targeting: Reach families looking for high school programs on Google.
  • $2,500: Keyword Targeting: Target parents searching for kindergarten options on Google.
  • $3,500: Display Ads: Show eye-catching ads on websites and apps that families use.
  • $1,900: Retargeting Ads: Remind families who visited your website about your school with social media ads.
A screenshot of an ad campaign being built out in Google Ads. The screen reads "Create your first campaign" with "set custom budget" toggled on detailing an ad spend of $23 (USD) per day for a projected 1,793 weekly clicks, average cost per click (CPC) of $0.09, and weekly cost of $160.99. Adjusting the daily budget allows for setting the maximum spend within a particular timeframe for specific ad campaigns. Truth Tree knows schools. Truth Tree knows digital marketing. Truth Tree knows school marketing.
A screenshot of an ad campaign being built out in Google Ads. The screen reads "Create your first campaign" with "define who should see your ads" as the section header to the "keywords" section with a field for the URL Google Ads can scan for keywords. Truth Tree knows schools. Truth Tree knows digital marketing. Truth Tree knows school marketing.

Remember, this ad spend is just an example of diversifying a budget. The best way to spend your budget depends on your specific goals

Paid Strategies Suggestions:

Even if you don’t have that amount to spread out, a smaller budget on ads working in tandem with the free ideas above could have more impact than you think. Some things to keep in mind with paid advertising:

  • Free Trials: Some paid marketing platforms offer free trials. Use them to test different strategies and see what works best for your school.
  • Start Small and Scale Up: Begin with a small paid campaign and track the results. As you see success, you can gradually increase your budget.
  • Retargeting: This lets you show ads to people who already visited your website, reminding them about your school and keeping you top-of-mind at the same time.

What’s the difference between retargeting and remarketing? Click here to learn.

Digital marketing doesn’t have to cost a fortune. In fact, the ad spend for many of our school partners is lower than you think. The success of their campaigns lies within the efforts of our digital marketing experts who build out those campaigns. But with a clear focus, a little creativity, and consistent effort, you can reach more families and grow your school!  

So, what are you waiting for? Start planning your digital marketing strategy today and watch your school shine.

Bonus Tip:  Make sure your website and social media pages are mobile-friendly. Most families use their phones to search online! Don’t post once and forget it! Regularly update your website and social media with fresh content to keep families engaged. 

Be strategic, and level it up: You can track your results using the free analytics tools available on each platform, but you can streamline the evaluation and reporting with platforms like Enrollytics™ to measure your overall progress adjusting your strategy as needed.

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