The 10 Commandments of School Digital Marketing

The 10 Commandments of School Digital Marketing

by Trevor Waddington, Founder & President, Truth Tree

Are you having a devil of a time executing your digital marketing strategy? Feel like you need a miracle to get the results you want? Do you need a divine nudge to make it to the promised land?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, the answers you seek are below. Here are our 10 commandments of digital marketing for schools to shepherd you through 2022.

1. Thou Shalt Have A Digital Marketing Strategy

Every school needs a marketing plan that includes a digital strategy. Tactics within should consist of SEO, SEM, and SMM, among others. If you are running ads for your school without a plan, you need to step back and answer these questions.

  • Do you have a defined marketing message?
  • What are your marketing goals?
  • What are your enrollment goals? (there’s overlap, but your marketing goals should differ from your enrollment goals)
  • Who is your target audience?
  • What digital platforms will you choose?

2. Thou Shalt Not Keyword Thy Own Name

Point blank, you don’t need to keyword your school’s name in ads. If someone is searching for your school by name, guess what, they are looking for YOU.

There are two exceptions:

1. Other schools are keywording your name, pushing your organic snippet below the fold on page one.

2. One or more schools in your marketing share your name or have a very similar name.

3. Thou Shalt Speaketh Like A Parent

Did you hear the story of the parent who searched for the “best upper school near me?”

Neither did Google.

Many independent schools have a lower and/or upper school.

However, you can see that’s not a term people use. We are not suggesting you change the names of your divisions. We are saying that the language on your site needs to mirror what people look for if you want your organic listing to be optimally ranked.

Therefore, if you have a lower or upper school, it’s advantageous to have terms like elementary school, middle school, and high school interspersed on your website.

A few ways to do this include adding the popular terms to your meta tags and descriptions, as well as image tags.

Here’s an example of what we may recommend on your upper school page.

  • Before: In our upper school, students…
  • After: In our upper school, high school grades 9-12, students…

4. Thou Shalt Market For Intent Over Vanity

A 2021 survey of school marketers showed that almost twice as much money went toward display and social ads over search ads.

Parents don’t go to Facebook, cross their fingers, and hope to see an ad for a school. They go to Google, type or say something like, “private schools near me,” and off they go.

If you’re not visible on page 1, you’ve reduced your chances of getting clicked by up to 200%, and they may start their search journey without you.

The reason schools tend to emphasize social advertising over search is because it’s more visible, and in earlier times, it was easier to do.

Search engine advertising is not as glitzy because it’s just words, but it’s where 70% of the action beings and more than 90% of where some action will occur. Don’t be left out.

5. Thou Shalt Be Patient

WebFX says 3 months. ChatterBuzz says 4-12 months. Insel says 12 months. While there’s some debate about how long it will take, all the “big-time” digital marketing firms agree that it takes time for your ads to make a legitimate impact.

“But Trevor, we launched a campaign yesterday and are already getting impressions and clicks!”

That’s to be expected. Even though you see activity, these platforms need significant processing time to collect quality data to effectively serve your ad to the right audience.

At Truth Tree, we often see the discarded remains of short-lived campaigns that ran for three weeks because the school didn’t see immediate results.

6. Thou Shalt NOT STOP Marketing Outside Admission Season

You may have an admission season, but school search season for parents is year-round. Just watch this video 😉

Of course, there are ebbs and flows, primarily the weeks surrounding Christmas and Independence Day, but even then, people are still searching. We’ve helped schools gain massive awareness that impacted enrollment because their ads were the only ones running. So don’t discount advertising your school when sipping eggnog or waving an American flag are in fashion.

7. Thou Shalt Not Dwell On Conversions

Who doesn’t like to come into work and see four new inquiries flashing in their CRM? But did the leads come from a dedicated landing page attached to an ad or organically through our website? Either way, an inquiry is an inquiry.

However, school marketing professionals tend to agonize over lead forms on landing pages.

Did you know that landing page conversion rates for colleges are less than 3%?

College is as compulsory as it gets without actually being so. The reason conversions are low is you are “taking” what is most precious to a parent: their child and their money (hopefully in that order). It’s a big decision and commitment that requires deep research.

If specific digital marketing tactics are all that you’ve added to your strategy, how do your overall admissions numbers compare over the last five years? If they are up, you shouldn’t stress over a lack of landing page form fills. Want more information on the subject? Check this out.

8. Thou Shalt Nurture, Nurture, Nurture

To move a family from ‘hey, I’m interested’ to ‘what do we do next?’ requires time, planning, and organization. A part of that plan should include an email campaign delivered at the right time with the right message. Each email should raise your value in the minds of those prospects. And when that value reaches a certain point (up or down), they’ll either take the next step or decide you’re not the school for their child(ren).

So don’t abandon nurturing leads after two unsuccessful emails. Heck, they might have glanced right past your email, like this, or mistakenly deleted your voicemail along with the 50 robocall messages.

9. Thou Shalt Not Display Deceptive Diversity

Between 2016-2020, we interviewed 49 parents or parent sets of color. When asked about schools they visited, 82% said one of their top three pain points was the difference between what they saw in person vs. what was depicted in ads. Anecdotally, several admitted it was “the norm” or even expected.

Graphic representations in marketing materials, digital or otherwise, should closely reflect the diversity at your school. Not only is it deceptive, but students, teachers, and parents quickly figure it out. The common practice was a point of contention during the “Black at” movement that spread on Instagram last year. Our recommendation is to capture students in action as you would see them on most days at school, not arm-in-arm with a rainbow of students all gazing up at a beaker of colored liquid.

10. Thou Shalt Not Work in Isolation

The beauty of digital marketing is you can quickly pivot your ads based on the projected needs of the school. For example, if 9th grade applications are up big but 5th-grade applications are struggling, you can quickly shift ad copy and reposition the target audience to attract more middle school families.

But to our surprise, most school marketing professionals are not privy to live admissions data or have regular communication with the admissions office.

At the very least, admissions should be sharing total inquiries, visits, and applications compared to previous years every month. At an optimal level, admissions should provide the quantity and quality of each metric by age or grade and how they heard about the school. The latter scenario, when appropriately used, will help you hone your ongoing digital marketing strategy to achieve your enrollment goals.

These are our 10 commandments of school marketing online.

When you can part the sea of competition by following these commandments, your school will surely “prophet.” 😉

Truth Tree is committed to providing leading-edge digital marketing information that is actionable for schools to help them achieve their enrollment goals. For more information about how we can help you, contact us today.

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