Private K-12 schools are in constant student recruitment and retention mode. Admissions is one of the most critical programs in the school for vitality and sustainability. Young private schools are always working to keep their pipeline full and seats filled. More established private schools are focused on attracting the most highly qualified students to meet the rigorous demands of their curriculum.
Traditionally, private institutions have relied heavily on referrals from existing parents and students to achieve these goals. While referrals are still a great resource, they are just one tool in the box to raise awareness, stimulate interest and drive traffic to the website and the school. Taking an integrated approach to recruitment is critical to ensuring success, especially as new private schools continue to open and alternative education options become more attractive and available.
Our work with schools like Trinity Academy, Oak City Academy and Cary Christian School have helped us understand the four most effective and important aspects of building out a strategic recruitment plan. To make it easy, we’re using the acronym SAVE.
Search Engine Optimization is one of the bedrocks of private school recruitment. Our clients have seen as much as 40% of their inquiries originate from organic online searches. This means their prospect was searching for something like “Raleigh private school,” “Christian school Raleigh,” or “best kindergarten program.” According to Hubspot, 60% of all organic clicks go to the top three search results and the first page gets 89% of all clicks. This means it is critical that schools invest in a robust SEO program that secures them a place on the first search page, at a minimum, and ideally in the top three spots.
Effective SEO programs include a focus on using the most keywords focused on quality and relevance, consistently writing original website content that’s engaging and relevant, writing compelling headlines and identifying opportunities for inbound links. Moz and HubSpot offer some great resources for grading your site, and of course, we’d be glad to take a look at it for you. What is your target audience searching for? How do you develop content on your website to be discovered through their searches?
Investing in digital advertising is definitely a must for building a successful recruitment strategy. This includes utilizing Google AdWords and social media ads on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Choosing which social platform in which to invest will depend upon where your school has built their strongest presence. With AdWords, we’ve seen even a small investment (less than $300/month) move the needle for our clients. And even smaller amounts used to boost social posts have resulted in significantly increased engagement.
The lynchpin is to identify the keywords and audiences most likely to get results and ultimately, conversions. This strategy is especially critical for young families looking for kindergarten options for their child or families relocating to the area. The first place they will go to learn more is the internet. Are they finding you? Google offers tutorials on starting and managing AdWords campaigns. And we’d love to explore opportunities to get your digital advertising strategy on course.
As you’ve likely noticed, video is rapidly becoming the dominant type of content found online. In fact, according to Cisco, by 2020, online videos will make up more than 85% of all U.S. consumer internet traffic. And according to WordStream, 92% of mobile video viewers share videos with others. At Angel Oak Creative, we’ve fully bought into the power of video. We’ve seen the results firsthand with initiatives like our Nonprofit Nuggets and People Matter series. And clients like Cary Christian School are investing in increasing their online video content and seeing their engagement metrics on the rise.
Most organizations cite cost as the biggest barrier to utilizing video, but you don’t have to blow your budget to get on the video bandwagon. Whether hiring a videographer, or doing it yourself, the keys to quality video are quality lighting and sound. Natural light works well and microphones for smartphones can be bought for under $30. So don’t be intimidated, start capturing your stories on video and share them with your prospective parents and students. An added bonus to developing video content is the opportunity it creates for parents and students alike to recall and articulate why your institution provides such an exceptional experience. Through their words and the visuals included, you will show your audience the value of your school and give them a virtual experience of your culture.
The final, and possibly most important, step in improving your private school’s recruitment is engagement. Engagement for your prospective families is the catalyst that moves them from interested to invested. Engagement for your current community is what moves them from participants to ambassadors for your school.
The first step in improving your opportunities to engage prospective students and parents is to build a strategic content marketing plan and calendar. Most organizations do their marketing and communications on the fly, especially when it comes to digital communications. They don’t strategically map out their most relevant topics, prioritize their platforms, identify owners for producing the content or create metrics for measuring success. If your organization does just one thing to improve its recruitment efforts this year, creating a content marketing plan would be a wise choice. This plan will help you build a foundation for your SEO, advertising and video efforts and provide the structure you need to move the recruitment needle. If you want to learn more about getting a handle on content, check out our e-book, “Taming the Content Beast.”
If you’re looking to improve your private school’s recruitment efforts, think about how you can SAVE them by focusing on SEO, advertising, video and engagement. Your school can make huge strides by investing in these simple steps. Let us know how we can help.
– David Chatham, Senior Marketing Consultant