Last week OurChurch.Com attended the FL/GA Lutheran Educators Conference in Daytona Beach. While at the conference I lead a workshop about how Christian schools can use Google to achieve full enrollment. This topic takes on even more importance in the current economic climate where most private schools are seeing a drop in enrollment.
Below are some key notes from the workshop:
We started by talking about the current situation schools were facing. One person mentioned that lower enrollment hurt their ability to bring in new students since prospective parents wondered why there were so many open seats at their school. I asked about teacher pay and another person mentioned that annual raises had to be withheld because of the budget. I also asked them to consider what would happen if they lost more students next year due to the recession.
What about your school? What issues are you facing due to budget issues from low enrollment? What would happen if next year you loose students?
We then, though an illustration, talked about the differences between search marketing and print advertising, such as newspapers and mailings:
Many schools also advertise in the print phone book. I encourage schools to continue to do this, but also to realize that fewer and fewer people are using the print phone books to find information. According to a TMP Directional Marketing poll, online search beat out the print phone books for looking for business/purchase information in 2008:
- Search Engines: 31%
- Print Yellow Pages: 30%
- Internet Yellow Pages: 19%
- Local Search: 11%
- Other: 9%
- Total Online Sources: 62%
While the search engines only barely beat out the print phone book, overall online sources accounted for 62% of searches for business/purchase information (including looking for a school). So, having a phone book ad is important since around 30% of people still us them, but nearly 2/3 of people are using online sources, so schools need to have a strong online presence.
We then talked about how schools can get a strong online presence.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO):
A simple explanation of search engine optimization (SEO) is making your school’s website search engine friendly (so search engines can easily read the site) and telling the search engines what your site is about or what search terms (keywords) they should list you for. This in turn increases your search rankings allowing more people to find your school website.
What are search rankings? When you do a search the search engine returns a list of websites or web pages. Being high on that list is what we call having high search rankings and being low on the list would be having low search rankings.
- Being ranked #1 for your school name is all well and good, but that’s not what people are really searching for when they are looking for a school. Brainstorm to think of search terms (keywords) people would actually use to find a school, terms like “schools in your town”, “Christian schools in your town”, etc.
- Use the search terms (keywords) in the text on your site, but make sure it makes sense. Remember, people are going to see your site, so you want it to make sense to them. Don’t just stuff keywords into your site’s content.
- Use search terms (keywords) in the Title and Meta tags of your website
Those are some basic tips that can get you started. I encourage schools to find someone who knows about SEO and have them help so you get the best results and avoid any potentially dangerous mistakes.
Local Search Engine Optimization:
Local search refers to the local search options of the major search engines such as Google Maps and Yahoo Local. It is a small, but growing trend in the search world. In addition to getting your school in front of people using the local search options, local search also has the added bonus that local search results are often displayed in the regular search results, above the regular search results. (See example)
Local SEO Tips:
- Use the school’s address on every page of website
- Setup listings in the Local Search Options
- Setup listings in the Internet Yellow Pages
- Setup listings in Local Review sites (like CitySearch.com)
- Setup listings in School Locator sites (like eSchoolSearch.com)
- Tell students/parents about the listings and ask them to write positive reviews and rank the school well.
Again, those are some basic tips that can get you started. I encourage schools to find someone who knows about Local SEO and have them help so you get the best results and avoid any potentially dangerous mistakes.
Google Adwords (and Yahoo Small Business Advertising to some extent) is a great way to quickly get your school listed in the search engines for the keywords people are using to find schools. In some larger cities where local keywords are more competitive, Adwords may be the only way your school can get into the top of the search results, at least at first. For most schools purchasing high rankings through Adwords won’t cost more than $100/month, which isn’t bad for a marketing campaign that can bring in several new students. A basic Adwords campaign is pretty easy to setup and maintain as well.
- Geo-target your ads (so the ad for your school in Tampa, FL isn’t displayed to people in San Francisco, CA)
- Don’t go after the #1 position; go after #2 or #3. You’ll save money a considerable amount of money and will still get most of the traffic.
- Mention the school is Christian. This way people who are looking for a Christian school will know your school is what they are looking for and people who are not looking for a Christian school won’t cost you money by clicking on your ad.
The last thing we discussed in the workshop is the cost of marketing. I brought up three perspectives about marketing to discuss.
1. Marketing Is A Cost
I propose that this is a false understanding of marketing. Marketing should not be considered a cost like books, carpets, or other line items on the budget.
2. Marketing Is An Investment
When you invest for your retirement and put money into your 401K or IRA, you expect to get your money back. You also expect to make interest on the money you put in. Similarly, when you put money into marketing, you expect to not only get that money back, but also get additional money.
Consider what your school charges for tuition. For the sake of an example, let’s say it’s $5500, about the average Christian school tuition in the US. Now consider how much additional cost your school has for adding that one student. For the example let’s say it’s $1000 for books and other supplies. (Payroll, utilities and mortgage all stay the same with or without the new student). That gives you $4500 for every new student that enrolls that goes towards your general budget (programs, payroll, utilities, building fund, etc.)
So, if you invest $1500 on marketing and get one new student ($4500) you are $3000 ahead. If you get two new students ($9000), you are $7500 ahead. If you get 10 new students ($45,000), you are $43,500 ahead. I imagine you can do a lot with $43,500.
3. Cost Of NOT Marketing
Let’s say you have a board meeting and one person wants to spend $1500 on marketing and another person wants to spend $1500 on an event. You have “fun” discussion about it for a while and eventually the board decides to spend the money on the event. What happens? Your school spends the $1500 and has the event and that’s it.
Now, let’s say the board decides to spend the money on marketing. What happens? You spend $1500 on marketing and let’s say you get one new student (a pretty poor marketing campaign). You then have made back the $1500 you spent on the marketing and have an additional $3000. So, you are still able to have the event and you are also able to do something else, maybe paint the hallways or something.
By not marketing, it kept your school from getting the new student (who, by the way, next year and each year after brings in another $4500 as long as they stay) and cost you $3000 in additional money for the budget.
One of the participants in the workshop commented that his school has always done well simply relying on word-of-mouth advertising. But it now struck him, “Where could we be if we had done some marketing of the school? We may have been able to expand.” A great point! Even if you are doing well, could you be doing better?
So, consider where your school would be next year if you use search marketing and, instead of loosing more students next year, you gain students.
If you are interested in discussing how OurChurch.Com can help your school with search marketing, please complete the following form and request a FREE consultation.