8 Hacks to Increase Student Enrollment & Retention

Hack #2

Know Your Audience (Part 1)

Can Your Audience Find You?

In this second edition of “8 Hacks to Increase Enrollment”, we will examine the wealth of digital resources available that are built to assist in drawing attention and interest to your school.  Diving right in, the “hack” to quickly identifying and reaching the right people involves asking 3 key questions.

  1. Is my school easy to find online?

  2. Once located, is my school positioned in the best possible light?

  3. How can I expand my reach?

For additional perspective, imagine you are a parent seeking the best school for your child.  You likely fall into one of the following categories:

    • Your child is now school age
    • You are new to the area
    • You are dissatisfied with the quality you are receiving from your child's current school

    Regardless of the reason, the first thing you are likely to do is grab your phone or computer and search for schools in your area.  First impressions are important. It’s important to understand who your prospective parents are so that you can effectively market to them.  Let’s face it, you would not market a product to your grandparents the same way you would to your child.  Effective marketing is knowing what triggers your audience’s emotions and interests.  Knowing this allows you to “speak their language” and helps you to market to them better.  Reviewing some school websites, we see sites with obsolete information, broken page links, an outdated look and feel and irrelevant information that will fall on deaf ears.  

    Your prospective parents are Generation Xers (Born 1965­-1979) and Generation Yers or Millenials (Born 1980­-1994).  According to “Marketing to the Generations”, your target market can be characterized as having short attention spans, ecology minded, tech-savvy, pro-community, pro-multiculturalism and seeks instant gratification.  With this in mind, are your marketing efforts appealing to these traits?    Is your website accurate, credible and user-friendly to the point it conveys that you are a tech-savvy school and appeases their need for instant gratification?  Does your media clearly state your school’s mission? Do your media images convey that you are multicultural and diverse?  Do you have online application and registration processes that satisfies their tech-savvy, ecology minded and instant gratification nature?

    Now switch roles. You are now a school leader, responsible for healthy enrollment at your school.

    • How well is your school represented in the search results?
    • Are you showcasing your best assets?
    • Is your school projecting value and credibility to potential families that are relevant to them?

    Many school leaders quickly recognize the need for improvement in this area but struggle with how to achieve the desired outcome.  It’s actually not as elusive as it might appear.  By focusing on two key areas, school leaders can ensure a professional and accurate online presence that will serve as an important first step towards earning the interest of prospective families.

    • Google Business Listing – According to searchengingwatch.com Google currently accounts for 72.48% of the world’s market share of search.  Google has a “My Business” service that allows leaders to create, customize and edit the listings for their respective organization to ensure optimal online presence.  Click here for a quick tutorial on Google Business Listings. 
    • School Rating Services – There are a number of rating services and while it may be a challenge to be represented in all of them, it is manageable to identify your personal top 3-5 and ensure your school is represented well.  It’s important to note that some of these platforms allow you to create a listing so that you can customize the information in the same way Google “My Business” allows.

    With regards to ratings, the most effective action is to encourage families and your community to visit the respective sites and provide an accurate, favorable rating.  A targeted communication either via email or social media with direct links to your school’s profile will ensure easy action on the part of the recipient and a higher likelihood that they will help in providing a rating.  You may ask your Parent Organizations to assist in these efforts.  Below are some of the primary rating vehicles:

    1. Google – as a part of your Google Business Listing

    2. Facebook – exists as a function of your current facebook page

    3. Great Schools

    4. School Digger

    5. Niche

    6. Yelp

    With these (FREE!) services, your institution is well positioned to catch the eye of prospective parents and further develop their interest in all you have to offer.

    Finding New Audiences

    With a solid digital presence in place, you are well positioned to promote the offerings of your school to an external audience.  External audiences will certainly vary based on a variety of factors but often include:

    • Child care or early learning centers
    • Neighboring churches without companion schools
    • Area parent groups
    • Area community organizations
    • Area sports organizations

    The types of audiences you are targeting will dictate the manner in which you reach out and invite them to your school.  Some audiences are best served by a direct personal approach via an onsite meeting, while others can be effectively reached via advertising and social media efforts.  To determine the best approach, it is important to understand the needs of each audience and how they are most comfortable interacting.  With Child Care Centers, a more direct approach is best as you are essentially seeking a trusted partnership whereby you will refer families with infants and young children to them while they advocate for you as children in their programs grow and become school age.  The arrangement can be informal and genuine and simply approached as nice people and trusted organizations working together.  Alternatively, you may be a part of or come across online social media groups the would be well served by your school.  Respectfully extending a genuine invitation to group members directly can go a long way.  Finally, paid advertising, specifically display advertising efforts can be employed to get your message in front of a focused target of people in your same geography as well as those that share similar interests. More on advertising below.

    Expanding Awareness in Your School

    Implementing a paid advertising strategy can be a great way to generate awareness and grow interest in your school.  Caution!.  It can also be a quick way to burn through money with little results.

    Before implementing an advertising strategy, you will want to ensure that you have utilized all the available free resources at your disposal.  These strategies would include people finding your school and social media tactics.  It’s important to consider that if you have been unable to realize results in your free efforts, you are less likely to see return for the money you invest in paid efforts.

    There are two primary methods for utilizing paid ads online; Paid Search and Display Ads:

    Paid Search – As previously mentioned in our posting on people finding your school, the primary method for anyone looking to learn about your school or even better, any schools in your area is to utilize a search engine, Google being the most widely used.  There are a number of things you can do to your primary website so that it appears as relevant as possible in respective search results. However, there are limits to how easily people will come across your school.  Not everyone searches for things in the same way or uses the same words therefore, a person might search “schools in New York City” where another might search “private schools in New York City” and another may search “catholic schools in New York City”.  

    Depending how people enter their search criteria, your school could appear or “rank” a number of different ways.  Again, there are things you can do to your site to combat this challenge but most require an experienced web developer to ensure the site is optimally indexed for search engines.  A practical way to combat this is by utilizing paid search.  The Google AdWords platform allows a cost effective method to set up campaigns based on a series of key words you determine.  In addition, you can set up different descriptions or ads so that your school can appear with the most optimal message respective of what someone is searching for.  If someone searched for “catholic schools in my area” you could ensure a result appears that includes a description of your school and it’s catholic qualities.  If someone searches for “ Pre-K in my area” you could create a different listing that focuses more on the Pre-K qualities.

    As you can see, with your primary website, it’s difficult to be all things to all people at the right moment.  Paid search using Google Adwords allows you to strategically position the benefits of your school in plain view of your target audience at the most critical times (when they are actively looking  for schools).

    Display Advertising – consists paid advertisements that you come across online in a variety of places.  Examples include Facebook and Twitter as well as select websites that serve up ads while you browse.  Each channel involves a setup process where you can select criteria to determine who best to target your ads to such as, geography, demographics, and interests.  Like paid search, it gives you great ability to reach a specific group of people.  Unlike paid search, you have no idea what words they are searching for or what needs are front of mind.  You are simply trying to identify an audience that is similar to your current customers and deliver a compelling message which they will hopefully find relevance in and click through to your offering.  Visit our related post social media tactics for more details on how to begin executing ads via social media.

    Both of these tactics are extremely accessible and relatively easy to execute.  Like most things, the devil is in the details of providing clear, relevant messaging and ensuring you target the appropriate audience to achieve the highest conversions possible.  Another great feature is that these platforms provide excellent analytics so that you can quickly determine which efforts are having the desired impact.  From these analytics you can take quick action to eliminate or adjust the ads that aren’t working as well as increase your budget on ads that are generating relevant interest in your school.

    Final Thoughts

    With a robust approach to drawing attention to your school, it’s important to reflect back on our first installment where we reviewed the importance of self awareness and identifying strengths and weaknesses.

    As new audiences discover the offerings of your school, first impressions are extremely important. The experience that you guide visitors through will often be the first touch points they have with your school.  You will want to ensure a professional, error free experience that incorporates modern, secure processes.  For example, if key information is not accessible in a seamless way on your website such as tuition or application procedures, it’s unlikely visitors would make extra efforts to contact the school or continuing searching for what should be a standard piece of information.  Taking this example further, asking prospective families to print forms or mail in physical documents in the early stages of interest can reflect poorly on the consideration given to key processes.  

    A seamless user experience that provides easy access to key information and a simple, secure and user friendly way for prospective families to apply to your school will further their relationship with your school and ensure an excellent first impression based on credibility and value.  If you've liked our content, please share this post with your fellow colleagues!

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