In Episode Five of The Admissions Club, our experts discuss the importance of your school website, and how it serves as the central online hub for your school. Learn how you can maximise the effectiveness of your website to attract prospective families and forge lasting connections.
Think of your school’s website as your online campus. The idea is that you want the right type of families to visit your online campus, so they can have a look around, see what a great education their child will receive, and eventually enrol in your school.
To get these families to your website, you first need to make sure they can find you online! Some families might be searching for a school on search engines like Google, others might use social media like Facebook, and others still might be looking at review sites. A digital marketing plan will help you stand out in all of these different places.
One of the best things about going digital is that you’ll be able to better target these families, and use analytics to measure your results.
“Your website’s going to be the first, second, or third impression, behind an ad and a landing page. And if it’s all about the school, and not about the user’s child, it’s not going to emotionally connect with the user. You’re not going to be able to build rapport, and that parent is not going to see a lot of value in your website.” - Trevor Waddington
When parents find you on Google or through an online ad, your website is key to ensuring they continue to get to know about your school and don’t write you off right away.
This is where your website becomes your platform to convey that emotional connection and capture a parent’s heart and mind. They need to resonate with your school, and your website needs to uphold that ‘this could be the place for my child’.
“And that’s why it’s vital for schools to have a website that is user friendly, has a clear call to action, and provides prospective families with the information they need to take the next step.” - Aubrey
When it comes to your school’s marketing, all roads should lead to your website. Advertising, social media posts, videos, and articles; all should point your audience to your website. A good school website with the right messaging, strong imagery, powerful videos, rich experiences, and great stories, will ultimately help to turn visitors into new enrolments.
“Our website plays a huge role in our digital brand. Every page is designed in a way that encourages a future family to take action, whether that be requesting additional information, scheduling a visit, or exploring our blog.” Lindsay McCarthy
Every school website needs to tell the school’s unique story. A picture paints a thousand words, so using large, aspirational images and videos helps families see why they should trust you with their child’s education. Your design will depend on your school’s target audience, what your school offers, and what sets you apart.
When it comes to functionality, your website should be easy to navigate and help families find the information that they need to convert enquiries into enrollments. Think about elements like online forms and clear call-to-action buttons placed in key areas across your website.
“You know, I’m glad we didn’t start with ‘should’ schools focus on search engines for their marketing - they have to. It’s number one. Plain and simple. When 77% of school searches start on a search engine, it needs to be your primary focus.” - Trevor Waddington
It’s about showing the right message to the right audience at the right time. If a parent is searching ‘private school near me’ and they’re in your target audience, you want to present an ad that speaks to their psychographic persona and that stands out.
About 4.3 billion people use Google worldwide, and that includes those families you’re trying to reach. The first thing to pop up when a parent searches for your school will be your Google My Business profile, so ensure it’s updated with the correct information, it features engaging photos and videos, and includes event information and updates.
“As I’m doing online brand visibility assessments for schools, I’m often surprised with how many schools have not claimed their Google My Business listing. Or, if they do have a listing, it doesn’t showcase their school well! Google My Business is free and really does help you show up in searches.” - Aubrey
It’s common for schools to spend more time and energy on their social media strategy than their Google My Business profile, even though the listing is probably going to show up more in searches than Social Media.
Before we get technical, let’s unpack a few important terms:
SEO: Search Engine Optimisation - this is making sure your website lands higher in search engines (think Google) natural ranking. You don’t pay anything when someone clicks on your listing.
SEM: Search Engine Marketing - this refers to paying for advertising space on a search engine like Google. Pricing normally works on a “Pay-per-click” model, which means you pay a fee, whenever someone clicks on your ad.
Even if a parent doesn’t search for ‘best’ or ‘top school near me’, people assume that the first results on page one of Google are the best results, so where you rank organically is almost as (if not as important) your ad at the top of the page.
You don’t pay the search engine any money to be displayed, but coming out on top requires a lot of keyword research and a website that’s designed to help search engines find you.
Another option to get your school at or near the top of page one is through pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, or search engine marketing (SEM). This means that when a parent types in a certain keyword or keywords, your ad is going to show up at the top. In exchange for that position, you’re going to pay that search engine a fee for every click.
“I don’t think it should be SEO or SEM, but rather SEO and SEM. If you made me pick though, I’d recommend starting with SEO, because you can do the work yourself and I’d like to think of SEO work as an annuity that will keep paying off for months and years to come.” - Brendan
It’s all about weighing up your options. If you’re in a highly competitive space and the first page is hard to reach, then SEM might be for you. Don’t neglect SEO once you start. Good SEO will make your SEM cheaper, and ideally, you only use SEM to boost your search performance and not to uphold it completely, that’s just poor marketing spend.
“Well really, you really shouldn’t choose between SEO and SEM, you do need to do both and you need to do both year-round. If you need students right now, one hundred per cent you should be running Google Ads and maybe to a lesser extent Microsoft ads, but at the same time you should be working on your SEO for doing both on and off-site optimization so you can rank higher in the search engine results.”
Even if your organic listing is number one, ads would usually be at the top. But the first organic results are going to be below big-time school search sites and review sites.
Ideally, your strategy is bringing you actual human beings who are mission appropriate to your school. Your school has to be front and centre when parents are doing their online searches, and Google is trawling school websites 24/7. So it’s a continual strategy to get those Google bots the information they need so that when parents are searching, your school is popping up.
Focusing on your online visibility is crucial if you want your school website to be found by future families. By treating your website as your online campus, you can envision what prospective families are looking for when browsing your site, and cater to their needs and expectations.