Think about the first impression that a prospective parent has with your school.
You may be envisioning them walking up your steps, admiring the flowers that your PTO planted over the summer. You can picture them being impressed by the beautiful mural that your art classes created in the lobby. And you know that when they meet your awesome school administrator, they will feel the love and welcoming attitude that you try to create at your school.
But is this really the first time they engage with you?
Most of the time, their first interaction or exposure to your school will be via their phone or their computer as they research you online. All the hard work that you did in making your front office welcoming and engaging will not matter if they have not been convinced that you are worth visiting in the first place.
If you do not provide a great “digital first impression”, it is very unlikely that they will ever come visit your school in person.
Here are three simple and free tips for schools to ensure that their digital first impression is the best it can be.
Ensure that parents can find you when they are using Google
The first step that almost all parents will do is to perform a Google search on you. This may be your school’s name, or it may be characteristics like “school near me”, “best school in my town”, or “STEM school”. Put yourself in the shoes of your prospective parent and try this. Think about what you are “known for” or what you think a parent would use to search for you and Google it.
Did your school show up?
If it didn’t, or you showed up, but on page 12, then you definitely need to improve your local web presence. If your school showed up, do this again with your browser in “incognito mode”. Your browser might know that you look at your school website often and will pull it up automatically. You want to mimic a parent who hasn’t been to your website before.
The first step in ensuring that your school shows up in a Google search is to ensure that you have claimed your site via Google My Business. As the largest search engine, it is critical that you are ensuring that Google has the most accurate information about your school to display when people are searching.
Google My Business is free and critical, foundational step to complete to improve your local web presence.
Having an accurate Google My Business listing will improve your likelihood of showing up in search, will provide your information when people use Google Maps and most importantly, will increase your chances of showing up on the coveted “Google 3 pack” which is the map that shows the most relevant answers to the search query.
Why is this the 3 pack so important? It appears before any other organic search, so if you are just getting started in digital marketing and don’t have strong SEO, this is a great way for you to leapfrog sites that do.
Being registered with local Google also allows you to accept reviews on Google. Having a lot of positive reviews on Google also will improve your likelihood of showing up in a search, because Google will prioritize sites that have a lot of reviews
Whomever designed your website, should have registered it with Local Google. But if it wasn’t done, here is a link to walk your through the steps. Don’t worry, it is very easy to do!
Be present and positive in online review sites
Wouldn’t it be great if every time a prospective parent was thinking about your school that they heard a chorus of happy, satisfied parents singing your praises? Well that is what online reviews can do for you.
Conversely, think about the experience when a parent is researching your school and the first thing, they see is a disgruntled parent talking about how bad your school is?
Like it or not, online reviews are now a critical part of your school’s marketing mix. You may not be able to prevent people from leaving poor reviews, but you can counter them by having several positive reviews from your parents.
This is a great activity for your PTO or Parent Ambassador program. At the beginning of the year, identify the review sites that you want positive reviews on. I would prioritize Facebook, Google, Greatschools.org and Niche.com.
Then, direct your PTO parents to try to place four to five great reviews every semester. You may even want to help them by saying, “We really would like you to mention X in your review”. This way you can reinforce what you think is a key benefit of your school and hopefully push any negative review down to the bottom.
Having a good presence on online review sites is important because they will generally show up before your school when parents are searching for attributes like “Best school” or “Top STEM Program”. This is because these sites spend a lot more money on their local search engine optimization (SEO) which makes their sites show up before yours.
It is important that when these sites profile your school, that their information is accurate. The best way to ensure that these sites have the true facts about your school is to engage with them and provide them updated and correct information. Make sure that you are “claiming” your site with them and updating the information about your school.
For a lot of parents, the first time they research your school is via these online review sites. They are pretty important.
If you want more information about online review sites, this post covers them in more depth.
Make your website the best it can be
For many school administrators, thinking about updating and improving their website can be a stressful and scary undertaking. For us non-techies, this is not a task that we relish. But your website is the cornerstone and most important thing in your enrollment marketing to get right. Every prospective parent will visit your website at least once when they are researching your school, so you can’t overlook it.
Once a year, review your website for accuracy. Are all your staff members correct? Are there broken links? Outdated information? Having a poor website is going to impact your enrollment efforts in a significant way.
Right or wrong, parents are judging the quality of your school by the quality of your website. If your website is halfway finished or has a bunch of broken links, they are going to assume that your school is run in the same fashion. They may not give your the opportunity to explain why you haven’t gotten around to updating your website.
Next, ensure that you have testimonials from happy parents on your site. You can take this information from your online reviews, or merely ask parents if they would write you a testimonial that you can use on the website. Testimonials are a great way to “sell” your school to prospective parents.
Finally, review the pictures and imagery that you are using on your site. Remember that a picture tells a thousand words, so your site needs to be heavy on pictures and lighter on copy. If more than 30% of the page is copy, you need to think about ways to decrease this and utilize images to tell your story.
Also, examine the photos that you are using to ensure that they are appropriately diverse and representative of the students that you are trying to attract. People want to be able to envision their child at your school. If they don’t see kids that look like their kids, they may have second thoughts about taking the next step of engaging with your school.
Finally, are you utilizing your website to identify leads? Having a great website is only part of the task. You must be able to identify who is visiting your site so you can proactively follow up with them. Getting traffic to your website is great, but if you don’t know who they are, and can’t proactively reach out to them, it doesn’t matter how many people visit your website.
I covered how to do identify website visitors in this blog post.
You only get one chance to make a first impression. And first impressions will rule a school in or out of further consideration. With many steps in the enrollment process, it is critical to get your digital first impression right.
Every step should be designed to change a prospective parent into an enrolled parent. These are some easy things you can do to ensure that parents are giving your school a chance at second and third impressions, and hopefully enrollment.