Summer is ending, which means inboxes are filling up again, school supplies have taken over the garden section at Target, and it’s time to fasten your seatbelts and get ready for the joyful chaos that marks the start of the school year. If you took as much time off as you should have this summer, you may not have had the opportunity to clear out some of the digital cobwebs that gathered while you were in fire-fighting mode last year. But you can’t meet your enrollment or communications goals without a solid foundation — you wouldn’t host a five-course dinner in your home without cleaning up first, would you?
Fortunately, it’s not too late. Whether you’re a team of one who’s strapped for time or you have a few extra pairs of hands at your disposal, here are some practical steps you can take to make sure your school is putting its best foot forward online this fall.
Declutter Your Website
The Spot Cleaning
First things first — when families navigate to your website to learn more about your school, you’ll want to be ready with current, hyper-relevant information. A good rule of thumb is to plan to do a global review of website content at least once a year, but if you’re short on time, focus on making sure that key pages are up to date. High-traffic areas like pages dedicated to admission, athletics, your academic program, and the student experience should take the highest priority. Pay special attention to event dates and deadlines for your school’s admissions and enrollment processes.
If you’re using Google Analytics 4, the Engagement menu will display traffic data for the pages on your website in ranked order by volume. In the Universal version of Google Analytics, this information can be found under “Site Content.” Traffic and engagement metrics like pageviews, average time on page, and bounce rate will help you to see how “sticky” your web pages are and identify opportunities for improvement. Review your exit pages to see where you’re losing people on your website and take advantage of the “Site Speed” reports to identify pages that are taking a while to load. Pages that take longer than three seconds to load can frustrate website visitors and cause them to leave your site.
As the pandemic continues to cause uncertainty for the new school year, schools that manage family expectations with clear, current information will gain a lot of favor (and avoid a lot of phone calls). Did you have a landing page or microsite dedicated to COVID-19 operations last year? Now it’s time to update those pages to reflect your plans for 2021 so you don’t give families the wrong impression. There is still a wide range of approaches that schools are taking for this fall, but make sure you aren’t still highlighting your distance learning or reopening plans from 2020. If your school has made changes to course descriptions or other programmatic changes, be sure to update that information too.
Finally, if you have employee directories or profiles on your website, make sure they reflect any personnel changes that occurred on July 1, especially on pages that are manually updated instead of being imported from another system. Any other information that’s being imported from another system should also be reviewed. For example, if you’re using a third-party application or website to import content like your social media feeds, athletics schedule, or staff directory into your website, it’s important to keep an eye on those integrations to make sure they’re functioning properly.
The Deep Cleaning
If you aren’t pressed for time — or you’re a rock star who’s already completed the items above — there are a couple of bonus updates to make to your website. The first is to refresh your photography to reflect the current state of your facilities, student population, and campus operations. Telling parents what to expect from your school is an important first step, but showing them is even better. Will your school require masks when school starts? If so, high-traffic pages should reflect that.
The second is to look for opportunities to repurpose all of the on-demand content you created with virtual events last year. That’s right — you now have a library of virtual programming you can make available to prospective families, whether they’re researching schools from out of town, or simply can’t make it onto campus right away. And, if you created online events related to specific parenting or education topics, consider gating them to use for on-site lead magnets or digital ads.
Get Your Profiles in Check
The Spot Cleaning
This is a sneaky one that’s easy to forget. For the majority of schools, your website and social channels aren’t the only places you “live” online. There is often a long tail of directory listings, professional associations, and platforms families use to research and discover schools where schools have profiles, and those profiles require maintenance. Because some of these sites include rankings and reviews that can be particularly valuable to families (and can show up in search even higher than your school’s website), it’s important to make sure that your brand and your data are accurately represented. Typically, the responsibility for updating these sites rests on the shoulders of marcom and admissions folks, so before a colleague asks, “Have we updated our profile for [blank]?” you’ll want to be prepared to say yes.
Before you get started, create a list of the profiles that exist for your school online. It may not be perfect, but having these platforms listed in one place will save you a ton of time later. Next, I’d suggest prioritizing them based on which sites are the most important for engaging prospective families and driving high-intent traffic to your website. Using that logic, your Niche or Google Business profile would be higher on the list than a profile for a lesser-known membership organization. Both are important, but using the filter of what will have the greatest impact on your enrollment marketing efforts and online reputation will help you work through what needs to be updated immediately and what can be updated later in the fall.
The Deep Cleaning
Once you’ve updated the sites that have the greatest impact on your efforts to engage parents and reinforce your brand, then you can turn your attention to sites for membership organizations, employer branding, and the like.
Check Your Emails
The Spot Cleaning
Before your email volume ramps up again, block off time to review any templatized, routine messages for prospective families you have in your toolkit. Audit copy for routine emails to make sure that you aren’t referencing broken links, expired event pages, people, or programs that may have changed. Review any calls to action you’re including and look for references to things that change every year like admission-related deadlines, “quick facts” data points that appear on your website, and even the school year itself.
The Deep Cleaning
If you’re using a system that automates emails for comm flows — email sequences that are tied to a specific piece of content or interest — it’s important to get into the habit of regularly reviewing those messages too. Start by thinking about which comm flows are working, which ones you might need to tweak, and which ones you can nix altogether.
Consider the following:
- Do you have email sequences tied to content pieces you plan to retire? Those are easy ones to deactivate and archive.
- Have you identified new content you plan to gate behind a form that will require new comm flows? Start to plan the messaging sequences for that new content.
- Do you have emails within existing sequences that are showing low engagement? Those are your opportunities to make bigger adjustments to content, volume, and pacing.
On a more granular level, once you have your bank of comm flows set for 2021-22, you can look at the items I mentioned above—broken links, CTAs, etc.—to double-check messages within older sequences to make sure that the content is current. For automated emails, it’s also important to review the fields for your senders, reply email addresses, subject lines, and preview headers.
For a look at how you can perform a more comprehensive comm flow audit, be sure to check out this webinar.
Look in the Rearview Mirror
The Spot Cleaning
I can’t talk about digital housekeeping without mentioning data. Love it or hate it, it’s all but impossible to make decisions (and strategy adjustments) without it. So what data would be most helpful to review before the summer comes to an end?
As I mentioned earlier, having a read on your most high-traffic pages is a must. The end of the summer is also a good time to do some high-level benchmarking, and as it turns out, we have a handy report for that.
The Deep Cleaning
Once the high-level pulse check is done, when time allows, there are three specific things I want to call out for a deeper look at your school’s digital marketing performance:
- Website referral data. In addition to visitor information, make sure you’re regularly reviewing your website’s referral sources to see which channels outside of your website are contributing the most to your website traffic. This will help you to begin to understand which of those off-site channels — from digital ads and social media to school ranking sites and local publications — to invest in in the future. It’s also important to look at referrals for organic search and social media and compare them to referrals for paid social media and search to uncover opportunities to refine your SEO and digital advertising strategies.
- Visitor behavior. In addition to understanding your most visited pages, it’s important to understand how website visitors are interacting with your site and where there may be opportunities to improve. Global website data is helpful, but pay close attention to performance for pages where you want people to take action or you want to encourage them to keep moving within your site. For example, if your tuition page has a high exit rate—the percentage of people who leave a site without visiting any other pages—that’s a red flag. You may not be able to do anything about the actual cost of tuition, but you can make tweaks to the content on that page to make it stickier so visitors don’t leave immediately after seeing a dollar amount.
- Email engagement. Over the course of a school year, sometimes the email volume becomes so overwhelming that taking the time to measure it can feel impossible, but it really is a must. You (or a member of your team if you can delegate) can use some time before the school year ramps up to establish some baseline benchmarks for school, but it’s also important in the long term to carve out time at least monthly to review key KPIs so you aren’t spinning your wheels with ineffective messages.
Those KPIs are:
- Open rate (for now). This simple metric will tell you the percentage of subscribers who opened an email. An open rate of 20-40% is considered to be pretty solid, but beginning this fall, you may start to see some wonky data for your email open rates. This is because Apple is making changes to the way email data is tracked for Apple Mail users on devices with iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS Monterey. With this update, Apple Mail users will be able to have their email activity “protected,” which will stop senders from knowing whether an Apple Mail user opens an email or when. This change will impact any email opened from the Apple Mail app on any device—no matter which email service is used (e.g., Gmail or Outlook). The good news is that this won’t impact other email apps used on Apple devices like the Gmail app on an iPhone. You can read more about this change and how to prepare for it here.
- Click-through rate (CTR). This basic metric will tell you the percentage of email recipients who click on one or more links in an email. Pay particular attention to important calls to action to make sure they’re resonating with your email recipients.
- Click-to-Open Rate (CTOR). This one is a little more sophisticated. CTOR tells you about the impact of an email’s content by comparing the number of unique clicks with unique opens. CTOR differs from CTR because CTR looks at all of the emails that were delivered, not the emails that were opened. The downside to this one is that, similar to open rate, this metric is likely to become a little dicey starting this fall.
- Subscriber growth rate. This is how fast your audience is growing compared to the number of unsubscribe requests.
- Conversion rate. The percentage of recipients who take a specific action like scheduling a meeting with an admission officer or registering for an event
So there you have it. As you trade your beach chair for your laptop and get back into enrollment management hero mode, this list can help you lay a solid foundation for the digital marketing strategies you put in place in the fall.