The dawn of the internet radically changed the way students discover, research, and apply to schools. Enter social media, and the customer journey changed again—with a whole new set of channels for students to explore, from Facebook to YouTube.
Schools have had robust traditional marketing programs for decades. Smart schools have responded to changing student behavior by investing just as heavily into digital marketing. This doesn’t just apply to well-known universities, but also to smaller colleges, trade schools, tutoring companies, etc.
The majority of today’s students are Gen Zers. They grew up as digital natives, with a smartphone or iPad in hand. These students leverage a number of resources when learning about schools, but the two most popular are the school’s website and search engines like Google.
With a smart digital marketing strategy, you can complete that research journey for students, bringing them from the search engines to your website. Using Facebook, Google, and more, you can introduce your school to more students than ever before. Best of all, you can respond to their needs with the content they need to get interested in what your school has to offer—and stay interested.
The beauty of digital marketing is that it’s all extremely measurable. That means your school can pinpoint where in the funnel you’re attracting students—and where you’re losing them—so you can adjust and fine-tune your strategy moving forward.
Today’s students live and breathe online. For your school to reach them, you need to be marketing online, too.
Our Best Education Digital Marketing Tips
Raise your hand if you’re ready to engage prospective students with digital marketing.
Here are our top marketing tips for education brands.
Map the full funnel of the student journey
Outline various journeys for students applying to different programs, or with different needs, such as financial aid. Then, track your efforts throughout that journey. Set KPIs for applications, not just form fills, to truly understand how well your marketing is performing.
Remember that it’s not a straight path
Students review multiple channels before they finally feel comfortable with applying to your school. Offer answers to the questions students are asking through your website content. Then, create sitelinks to these pages in your paid search ads to get students to convert faster.
Personalize your content to the student
Both by location and program. Today’s students require hyper-personalized marketing from the brands they follow. All of your advertising should feel like it “speaks” personally to them, from the copy to the images. For instance, a person applying for a nursing program will gravitate towards display ads with someone in scrubs versus people in business attire.
Back up your ads with targeted landing pages
These landing pages should answer everything that a student needs to know, at their particular stage of research. This may include persuasive copy selling them on all of the required coursework, links to news sites where the professors have been interviewed, a gallery of the department’s Instagram page, and a form for them to get more information.
Watch your watch (really!)
Run an analysis to see when your most-qualified students tend to apply and target those days and times to prevent wasting spend. Also, pay attention to when students start their search. When should you pull the throttle on getting more students (increasing spend) and when should you pull back to reduce costs?
Watch your budget, too
Education is a highly competitive industry and costs can be driven up easily. Set up weekly reporting and keep an eye on your budget to ensure you are not overspending.
Top Digital Marketing Channels for Educational Institutions
Any brand can benefit from digital marketing, but we’ve found the following three to be particularly effective for educational institutions like universities, colleges, trade schools, tutoring companies, etc. If your school is just getting started with digital marketing, these will put you on the right track.
With paid search, your school bids to display your ad for keywords relevant to your school. These keywords are phrases that a student might use while searching for schools, such as “nursing programs” or “online accounting degree.” Google displays your ad at the top of the search results, but you only pay once a searcher clicks on your ad.
The average student performs at least ten searches in Google, before ever choosing a school. With paid search, you can ensure your school shows up at each stage of their search, building their awareness of your programs and keeping you top of mind.
If you’re not showing up when parents and students search for keywords relevant to your school, they might not think you offer certain programs when you do. Worse, they may not get the chance to ever learn your name.
For students at the bottom of the funnel, you can outbid competitor schools who offer equivalent programs. When it comes time for them to make their final decision, your ad may make all the difference. Students have a better recall of paid search ads than they do with ads on any other platform. That’s the real value of paid search for the education industry.
Education Success Story
Our client, South University, wanted to increase their application rate and attract quality students. By optimizing their campaigns to address the full funnel of the student’s search journey and build brand recognition, we boosted their conversion rate by 25% and their application rate by 8%—in just 4 months.
As students research schools, they review a variety of online sources. They’ll check the latest college rankings in the US News & World Report. They’ll read blogs written by current students, and seek application advice from college counselors.
None of those sources are managed by your school—but you can still reach students when they’re on them. You just need display advertising.
Display advertising includes those advertising banners, videos, and boxes you see as you surf the web. You can use display advertising to advertise your school on all the relevant websites your prospective students are likely to encounter, from blogs to test prep websites. Not only that, you can tailor your ads to reflect the student’s current level of research with your own school.
For example, if a student visited your site from a paid search ad for your business school, you can serve them with a display ad advertising your business degree. Or, let’s say a student is reading a blog on scholarships for college students. You can serve them with a display ad for your school’s financial aid program, which is just the kind of information they’d be looking for.
This is called remarketing, and it’s extremely effective. For one client, we found remarketing ads drove a 501% lower CPC than traditional paid search. This is because you are marketing—again—to people who have already expressed an interest in what you have to offer.
Half of today’s prospective college students research schools on five or more social networks. With over 2 billion users, Facebook is the biggest one of all. It goes without saying that your school can’t afford to not be advertising to students on there.
You can think of Facebook advertising as the social media equivalent to paid search. With paid search, you pay for your ads to be placed at the top of the Google Search results. With Facebook ads, you pay for your Facebook posts to appear in a user’s News Feed.
Unlike Google, where you can make strides in SEO if you’re willing to put in the work, organic reach on Facebook is near-zero for brands. That’s why you need to invest in Facebook advertising to reach both the prospective students who have already liked your page, as well as the ones who haven’t even heard of you yet.
As with display advertising and paid search, you can develop Facebook content to engage students based on their research stage or particular programs they’re interested in. You can create traditional posts, social media videos, or chat with them on Messenger. The ad options for Facebook are seemingly limitless, and growing every day.
Here’s where the good news keeps getting better. Facebook ads drive some of the best conversion rates, at the lowest cost per clicks, of all the digital advertising methods we’ve discussed!
The Education Sector's Top Digital Marketing Challenge
With education, perhaps more than any other industry, the customer journey is long. Tuition costs are high and students want to ensure they find a good fit.
To do that, they’ll perform online research. Nearly three-quarters (72%) first arrive on a school’s site at least 2 weeks before they make their decision, with 20% first visiting a school’s site a full 4 months ahead.
That gives you an incredible amount of ramp-up time to stay in front of these students throughout the entire course of their consideration journey, nudging them down the funnel with strategic paid search, display, and Facebook advertising.
This multichannel approach starts at the very beginning of their search. When they first start researching online, 90% of students don’t know which school they want to attend. After just a few searches, however, they narrow their initial consideration set down to just 3 or 4 schools. That means it’s essential for you to generate that first interaction so students remember you when they are ready to apply.
The student journey from search to your school:
- Top funnel: You can use display and Facebook advertising to target students right when they’re at the top of the funnel. At this point, your goal is to generate brand awareness and make it into their list of potential schools.
- Mid-funnel: Then, stay engaged with them throughout their research journey. Create a series of Facebook campaigns that move them further down the funnel. Introduce them to your programs, highlight notable teachers once they choose a degree program, and share financial aid or application tips once they’re close to applying.
- Bottom funnel: Finally, once students are ready to apply, you can use paid search to target them at the bottom of the funnel. Create ads that target competitor schools and specific program offerings students are interested in. Paid search works best for keywords like these that have a specific focus and high conversion intent. (Ads at the top of the funnel, where you have more general terms like “schools in california,” tend to have lower ROI.)
Schools must engage with students each step of the way. Otherwise, you risk dropping out of their consideration set. According to Google’s own research, the students who ultimately convert with a school have already visited at least 16 pages on their website, and made 4 mini-conversions with paid ads or another digital marketing channel.
Best Education Digital Marketing Tips: A Recap
- Map the full funnel of the student journey
- Remember that it’s not a straight path
- Personalize your content to the student
- Back up your ads with targeted landing pages
- Watch your budget, too
About Your Marketing People
Your school wants to attract the best students. To do that, you’ll need best-in-class digital marketing behind you.
At Your Marketing People, that’s what we’re all about. We know you want marketing that drives clicks, at the lowest cost possible. More importantly, we also understand that you want that marketing to translate into applications.
Our education digital marketing strategies are customized to each client, but they all focus on turning prospects into students.
Learn more about how we can help you.