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Understanding Digital Advertising for Schools

8 min read
Mar 2, 2022 8:00:00 AM

Learn all about digital advertising for schools and why it matters.

Many schools love to share their traditions. Some schools have legacies going back centuries, complete with ancient stone courtyards and gothic towers that look straight out of Hogwarts. Even younger schools like to harken back to an earlier era of scholarship and formality. How else do you explain those robes at graduation?

However, when it comes to advertising for schools, traditional methods no longer work.

Glossy magazine ads and billboards are expensive. And most people who see them aren’t in the market for a new school anyway.

Your school should be directing your limited advertising budget in an efficient, targeted way. And your results should be trackable and verifiable.

To do this, you need to put old-school advertising aside and move to the world of digital advertising.

person using phone and seeing digital ads

Why Schools Are Moving to Digital Advertising

The shift to digital advertising isn’t limited to schools. Companies large and small have steadily grown their advertising budgets online over the last 25 years. A big reason for this is that the digital world is simply where the customers are.

Gone are the days when a brand could reliably expect their customers to be watching one of the three broadcast TV networks or reading the local daily newspaper.

As internet access has expanded and connected devices have become more common, customers have more options than ever. And it’s only natural that the advertisements will follow.

Advantages of Digital Advertising

If you’re wondering why you should get into digital advertising for your school, it helps to understand the benefits of doing so: 

  • Digital advertising has the advantage of harnessing technology to target ads specifically at your desired audience — aka, the families in your community you’re trying to reach and enroll.
  • Instead of paying to reach everybody who is watching a certain television show or everyone who is driving past a certain billboard, you can target specific internet users. This makes their advertising dollars stretch farther.
  • Digital advertising is trackable. This gives you valuable, actionable data. You can then use this information to constantly improve your digital advertising strategy based on real-time feedback.
  • Traditional advertising makes it nearly impossible to know which of your ads were effective and which were a waste of money. But digital ads know exactly how many times a person clicked your ad. This lets you see exactly what you’re getting for your advertising investment.

Understanding the Two Types of Digital Advertising for Schools

Digital ads fall into two major categories:

  • Search engine marketing (also known as SEM)
  • Display ads (including ads on social media)

Both have a place in digital advertising for schools, although they have different uses.

Let’s take a look at each type and discuss when one is most appropriate.

1. Search Engine Marketing for Schools

With search engine marketing, you pay for placement on the results page of a search engine (like Google) based on keywords.

For example, a new charter school in Boston might be buried several pages deep in the search results because other local schools have better search engine optimization, or SEO.

To make up for this, the new charter school can effectively skip to the front of the line by buying an advertisement that prominently displays their link above the normal (also called organic) unpaid search results — regardless of where the search algorithm ranked it.

Typically, search engine ads are text-only, and they’re charged by the click. This means you pay only for each person who actually visits your website — which makes this model extremely efficient.

Not only is it efficient, but search engine marketing is also extremely powerful. According to the digital marketing agency 99Firms, 93% of all web traffic originates from search engines.

So anything you can do to get the link to your website in front of these users means more potential students to enroll.

2. Display Ads for Schools

Display ads are closer to digital billboards. Unlike text-based search ads, display ads are typically graphical in nature. And instead of appearing on search engines, they show up on the websites — such as local news, a how-to article, or school review websites — that users click on after they’ve searched.

Sometimes these display ads are purchased from websites directly, but typically they’re administered by large advertising networks (including Google, who you can’t get away from).

These networks either charge by impression — meaning how many times the display ad is shown — or by how many users click the ad.

When Should a School Use Search Engine Ads vs. Display Ads?

The choice between search engine ads and display ads boils down to the two key differences between them. 

When a School Should Use a Search Engine Ad

Since SEM ads are typically text-only and appear in response to specific keywords during a user’s search, they work best when they’re aimed at getting families to take a specific, immediate action — like signing up for a tour or submitting an application.

Search engine ads are additionally valuable because they appear at the precise moment a user is looking for what you have to offer.

If a parent searches for “best school in Denver,” they’re actively searching for a school RIGHT NOW. They’re at their computer or on their phone, doing research, and considering their schooling options.

This is the perfect time to guide them to your website.

Search engine ads ensure you don’t miss a critical opportunity to gain that family’s enrollment.

When a School Should Use a Display Ad

Display ads, on the other hand, are more visual and appear before users while they’re engaging with another website.

While you would love for these users to click on your ad and take immediate action, display ads also work as part of a larger branding or marketing strategy.

Display ads keep the name of your school in the front of a family’s mind during a time when they might not be ready to act. 

Remember: just because a family doesn’t enroll today doesn’t mean they won’t enroll with you. Plant the seed — your school’s name and logo — early so that when they’re ready to enroll, you’ll be top of mind.

Understanding Digital Advertising for Schools

A Family Clicked on My Ad. Now What?

Congratulations! Getting a family to check out your website is the first step. But if you’re going to convert that family from a web visitor to an enrolled student, you need to be prepared.

As discussed elsewhere, the primary focus of your website must be to attract prospective students and families — not to communicate with current students and families.

This is even more important for the families who discovered you through digital advertising. These families are likely looking at multiple websites, with numerous tabs open and a short attention span, so you need to immediately grab their attention and make it as easy as possible for them to connect with you.

The Importance of Landing Pages for Schools

One important tool in converting these visitors into even more valuable leads is creating special pages on your website aimed directly at these visitors. These are called landing pages.

These landing pages aren’t part of your normal website navigation but instead make it easy for the families who found you through digital ads to:

  1. Take action.
  2. Learn more about your school.

For example, your school might put up a search engine ad during the early fall aimed at getting families to sign up for a tour or open house.

If a family clicks on this ad, you don’t want to force them to look around for how to sign up for a tour. Send them directly to a page where they can learn why they should sign up for a tour and register for one on the spot!

Alternatively, if a family clicks on your ad over the summer, you might not have anything specific for them to sign up for at that time, but that doesn’t mean you should let their visit go to waste.

Do whatever you can to capture that family’s contact information (phone, address, and email) so you can follow up with them when you’re back in session.

One way you can capture a family’s contact information is to encourage newsletter subscriptions. (If you don’t have a regular school newsletter, now is a great time to start.)

  • For each person who lands on your school’s website, offer them the opportunity to subscribe to your school’s newsletter.
  • Alternatively, you can ask them to fill out a form and let them know you’ll mail them a physical brochure.

Many people are wary of giving out their personal information in fear of being spammed, so let them know that you will protect their privacy.

And, most of all, offer them something they actually want.

Before You Jump Into Digital Advertising for Schools…

As tempting as it may be to get your name out there on the internet right now, the transition to digital advertising takes some careful planning.

The first step is to complete a competitive analysis of the schools in your area:

  • Which schools are you up against?
  • What are their marketing resources?
  • How are they deploying these resources? 

Remember, one of the best aspects of digital advertising for schools is that it’s cost effective.

Getting an understanding of which schools around you are utilizing digital advertising and which ones are relying on traditional advertising will help you determine where you can find your niche.

Next, consider what search terms and websites you would like to target with your ads.

Part of this process will almost certainly involve a lot of Googling of different terms to see what shows up, but if you want to be a real pro, you should learn how to use two free tools: Google Keyword Planner and Google Analytics.

1. Google Keyword Planner

Google Keyword Planner is a tool Google provides to anyone using their advertising service. This tool lets you sift through recommended keywords to see how often they show up in searches and how much they cost.

2. Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a powerful platform that tracks your website traffic. It includes where visitors are coming from and what they are doing on your website once they arrive.

While it can take years to master every possible use of Google Analytics, even casual users can glean important insights from the platform’s main dashboard.

Finally, before you take the digital leap, look back at your customer personas. 

  • What can you deduce about your target families’ internet habits?
  • Where are they spending their time online?
  • Are they doing Google searches on their laptops?
  • Or are they checking Facebook on their phones?

The better you understand your target families in real life, the better you’ll understand how to attract them online.

  • For example, if Google Analytics reveals that most users access your site from their mobile phones, you’ll know you need to make a mobile-friendly website a top priority.

Mobile-optimizing your site is our number one tip in The 10 Biggest Mistakes Schools Make on Their Websites.

Take the Leap, and Get Ready to Learn

Unlike traditional ads, the barrier to entry with digital advertising for schools can be quite low. Often for just a couple hundred dollars, a school can place multiple ads on multiple platforms.

  • They can then compare and contrast the success of different messages and mediums. In advertising, this is called A/B testing.
  • As time goes on, you will be able to better target your digital ads, reaching more and better leads over time.
  • Best of all, with the analytics that digital ads provide, you will be able to track your progress and back up your success with hard data.

And that’s something no glossy magazine ad could have ever dreamed of pulling off.

Advertise Your School with SchoolMint Engage

Search engine advertising (especially Google) and social media advertising are powerful tools for helping local families discover and engage with your school.

To help you attract families through search engine and social media advertising, we offer SchoolMint Engage as a digital marketing solution for K-12 schools.

With Engage, we take the heavy lifting of digitally advertising your school off your plate and take care of:

  • Tailoring your advertising to match your enrollment goals
  • Determining your advertising budget and timeline
  • Establishing your campaign strategy and target channels
  • Matching the timing to your recruitment and enrollment seasons

Ready to learn more about how Engage can help you with digital search and social media ads? Get in touch!



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