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Many private schools, colleges, and universities are beginning to find that traditional marketing methods designed to draw in new applicants and students aren’t working. As students and parents become more informed on advertising methods, they are more likely than ever to tune out radio advertisements or ignore billboards asking them to visit your campus.

Instead of pushing forward with costly, intrusive, and largely ineffective advertising methods, schools should explore the world of inbound marketing. Unlike traditional marketing, which is often seen as disruptive and expensive, inbound marketing is far less intrusive, and often doesn’t cost very much at all. Many schools have found it far more effective, and now use it almost exclusively to draw in applicants.

This page will help you learn a little more about inbound marketing for schools, and why you should consider using inbound marketing methods to supplement or even replace your traditional advertising techniques.

If you’d like to speak with a specialist before moving on, you can reach us at 888-601-5359.

What is inbound marketing?

The “inbound” in inbound marketing refers to the fact that these methods target people who are seeking out information about you or a topic on which you are knowledgeable. Many of these methods focus on making the most of the attention that has been given to you, and convincing potential students or their parents to convert into leads.

Inbound marketing is emerging as one of the best ways to cut back on advertising through radio or television placement, billboards, and printed ads. While these methods are often very costly and difficult, if not impossible, to track the ROI (return on investment) for, inbound marketing methods can be evaluated very quickly to determine if they are successful or not.

There are many different ways that inbound marketing can be done, and not every method is a perfect fit for every school. Depending on your audience, you may find that one method is hugely successful, while the others don’t do well – or you may find that a robust inbound marketing plan with multiple methods is the only way you can get ahead.

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Inbound marketing methods for schools

Let’s cover some of the best inbound marketing ideas for schools. These tips will help you put together your own strategy, and may even lead to a change in the way you seek out future students at your school.

We’ll start with search engine optimization (SEO), which is a crucial step in getting your website prepared for inbound marketing. Your entire strategy may hinge on SEO, so it’s an important place to start!

1. Search engine optimization (SEO)

SEO is the process by which a website is optimized for search engines. Basically, a site with good SEO will rank very highly in search results for relevant terms, while a site with poor SEO will be buried in the search results (or may not even show up at all!).

Optimizing your website involves making your on-page content as relevant as possible for the keywords or phrases that you feel you should rank for. So if you are a university in Auburn, you might know (or at least suspect) that potential students will be searching for phrases like “Auburn schools,” “Auburn AL school,” “Auburn college,” and so on. If you want your site to rank highly for these terms, they should appear in the appropriate context on your website, and in links pointing to your site from other pages or websites.

SEO can be a complicated and sometimes challenging topic to learn, understand, and apply to your website. However, it is absolutely necessary for sites that want to increase their presence in searches for specific keyphrases or terms. Without SEO, you may not have any chance of showing up in searches, which could make the rest of the inbound marketing program for your school futile!

Here are some general SEO tips for schools:

  1. Make sure that the keywords and search terms you would expect students or parents to use (like the Auburn examples listed above) appear on your site
  2. Try to keep the images on your site to a minimum, or at least reduce their sizes: search engines can’t “read” images, and slow sites often drop a spot or two in rankings
  3. Work to build high quality, relevant links to your site from other sites in your industry – for example, you might ask for a link from an organization that you sponsor
  4. Include your address and contact information on your site, which can help with local SEO; you can also list your site on local online directories as a way to build additional links

If you’re having trouble with SEO, or don’t know where to start, you may want to contact a SEO agency like WebFX for assistance. This will help get you on the right track and ensure that the rest of your inbound marketing efforts are as successful as possible.


2. Blogging

Content is one of the most important factors in an inbound marketing strategy. Content is not only important to SEO, since it contains the keywords that determine whether or not your site can rank for something, but important to users and website visitors. Every piece of content that you put on your site should both help you rank and serve some kind of purpose for those who read it.

Starting a blog is one of the easiest and fastest ways to start an inbound marketing program. Blogs are generally very successful for schools because they offer applicants a way to learn more about the school they’re going to apply to, or get a “behind-the-scenes” look at how life is on your campus.

Schools can blog about a variety of topics, provided they are relevant to students or parents. However, what is defined as relevant for this audience is far wider than other industries. You could write blog posts about healthy lunches or meals on campus, decorating a dorm room, tips to maximize study time, events happening on campus, special scholarship opportunities… the list goes on and on. Not only does this increase interest in your school and the likelihood that both applicants and current students will read what you have to say, it helps put even more keywords and content on your site that search engines can use to help rank you more highly.

If you don’t have time to blog, consider setting up a program that will allow contributions by students or other faculty members. This can be a great way to supplement your content, encourage contributions, and make students feel like they have a way to improve your school. Don’t overlook this opportunity!


3. Content marketing

Content marketing is a phrase that refers to using content – blogs included – to attract new website visitors and potential leads. Creating content is a very important part of a good inbound marketing program, and this content can go beyond a blog or source of articles on your website.

The purpose of content marketing is to provide value. Since a school blog may focus heavily on news or events, a rich content marketing program can supplement this and provide additional value to website visitors. These may come in the form of guides, whitepapers or studies, or long-form content pieces that don’t quite “fit” on your blog.

As an example, you could create a content marketing program around a series of downloadable guides that will be seen as useful to potential students and their parents. You could publish a guide to your campus or campus life, a guide on making the most of study time, a guide on preparing for tests, a guide on how to balance school and a part-time job… The possibilities really are endless. Or you could conduct studies on topics of interest to your student body and publish the results in a whitepaper. Maybe your students always give top scores to the quality of their education – wouldn’t the parent of a future student want to see that kind of information?

Again, content on your website serves two purposes: to draw in visitors, but also to give search engines something more to “chew on.” You will need to take care to write for humans, but also keep your preferred keywords and SEO strategy in mind for search engines.

4. Social media

Social media is usually a very effective form of inbound marketing for universities or colleges who would like to reach out directly to students. Since a very large majority of the population in your target age range is on Facebook establishing a presence on this and other social media can help you get in touch with these potential enrollees directly.

An effective social media strategy doesn’t involve simply creating a Facebook page and waiting for students to find it. In fact, this method almost guarantees failure! Instead, you should evaluate all of your social media options and determine how they will fit in to your overall inbound marketing strategy, and how you will use them to get the attention of future students.

For example, let’s return to our example of a school in Auburn. When this school sets up a Facebook page, they should probably do the following:

  1. Link to it from their website in a visible way
  2. Ask current students to like it, which will help it show up in the feeds of their friends
  3. Start a small advertising campaign that targets students in the area and age range of potential students
  4. Post links to new content on their site and start conversations with those following the page, since activity can encourage potential students to like it

These are really only the first few things that a school should do when they set up a Facebook page. Social media strategies for school are often far more complex than this. However, this is at least enough to get the school started and on its way to developing a following on social media.

Not every social media channel out there is for everyone. Some schools may find that Twitter is a great way to connect with both current and future students, while others may discover that Pinterest is the best way to drive clicks to their content marketing program. Inbound marketing methods for schools can all vary based on details like student age, programs offered, and location, so you may need to experiment with social media before deciding how best to use it.


5. Video

Our final inbound marketing tip involves video. The phrase “seeing is believing” definitely applies to students who are seeking out a school at which they’ll enroll. If you want to increase the likelihood of out-of-state admissions from students who may not be close enough to tour your campus, creating videos may be the best way to draw them in.

Creating videos can help your inbound marketing program in a few ways. If they’re placed on YouTube and tagged appropriately, people who find them there may then visit your website to learn about your school. If they’re placed on your website, they’re just another form of content that users will find helpful. Finally, if they’re placed on Facebook or other social media pages, they may be interesting enough to prevent visitors from leaving right away.

Your videos should be professional, but they don’t have to be perfect. Consider producing a simple “video tour” of your campus, or posting videos of special events that take place on your campus. You can also conduct video interviews with staff members that may be interesting, or accept videos about your school created by students. You could even hold a “create a commercial” contest and post the winners’ videos on YouTube!


How can schools get help with inbound marketing?

Inbound marketing, as we’ve shown you, is an incredibly effective way to get the attention of potential students or their families. Unlike traditional marketing methods, inbound marketing for schools can lead to a high return on investment, as well as a dedicated following on a blog, social media, or even via email marketing.

We know that it’s hard for schools to find the time to start an inbound marketing program. That’s why WebFX is here to help. If you’re ready to start attracting new leads through inbound marketing, we can help you develop a great plan – from establishing a presence on social media to creating a blog to kicking off your content marketing. You don’t have to do this alone! We’ll be happy to help you increase your enrollment rate through inbound marketing.

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