Content marketing has been the darling of online marketers in recent years, but do colleges need it? After all, colleges are always sharing content written by professors or news about campus events. In our experience, however, colleges miss an opportunity to connect with prospective students when they don’t provide content specifically created for them. Colleges tend to prioritize alumni, current students and faculty. But with enrollment growing more challenging, colleges can no longer afford to view prospective student audiences as an afterthought.
How content marketing connects
Content marketing does work for colleges and it can have a big impact. Prospective students who are comparing academic opportunities and career paths likely won’t find the answers they are looking for in the professors’ blogs and news posts typically published on college websites. But consider the connection you could make with prospective students if your college appeared in the search results for a query like, “How do I get into nursing school?”
Leading content marketers make a practice of identifying and monitoring popular search terms in order to provide quality answers to their audience’s most pressing questions. Once relevant and engaging topics are selected, articles are composed in a friendly, conversational tone and distributed according to a promotion strategy that ensures content is delivered to the right audiences at the right times.
When done correctly, you could seek out these prospects and get on their radar early in their college decision process. Instead of waiting for them to go out of their way to find you, you could be meeting them exactly where they already are during their research process. Consider the impact this could have on their decision.
What can colleges expect from content marketing?
Content marketing requires a long-term investment, which contrasts with the immediacy of other marketing efforts. This is because the most effective means of attracting new readers to your articles is through earning favorable rankings in online search results — the higher, the better.
The Google algorithm that determines how pages rank in search results is extremely complex and constantly in flux, with hundreds of factors in play. It’s not feasible for a blog article to get on Google’s radar overnight — it takes time for an article to prove its worth. Although it may take months before an article starts gaining organic traction, content marketing is a worthwhile investment because, when done correctly, these articles continue to build momentum. Once an article is published and promoted, it begins to live and breathe on its own, continually attracting new readers and requiring very little maintenance.
One article written by Collegis Education on behalf of one college in 2013 illustrates this potential perfectly. Focused on the career opportunities with a degree in computer science, the article took about six months to start climbing the search result rankings. After a year, however, it was garnering more than 5,000 organic visits each month. After two years, that number escalated to about 22,000.
Today, three and a half years later, that article consistently attracts between 35,000–40,000 organic visits each month, driving 30–40 new inquiries. To put that in perspective, that means the college is consistently getting more than 35,000 visits to its website and more than 30 new student inquiries from an article that hasn’t required additional investment for years.
Of course, this is merely one article out of thousands on the college’s blog, each contributing in its own way. In order to be successful with content marketing, a consistent effort is required. Colleges should plan on allocating regular staff time to regularly publishing and promoting fresh material.
How does content marketing fit with other marketing tactics?
Content marketing should not replace other marketing tactics. Rather, it should provide a layer of support to your other efforts. But content marketing also requires a boost from social media and sometimes other digital media in order to let world know it’s there. It’s a good idea to build a routine of pushing your articles out via social media and sharing it with industry influencers each time a new one is published.
Won’t most colleges have the same content?
This depends on the thought and planning that goes into your content marketing strategy. You’re likely aware of the demographics and characteristics of the ideal student at your institution. By building detailed personas based on this information, colleges can cater their content to meet the needs of their precise audience. This means that while two colleges may write an article about the same topic, they should look and feel very different.
For example, let’s look at the subject of student loans, a topic that nearly every college gets questions about. College A is speaking to a traditional student audience, 18-year-olds fresh out of high school. College B is focusing on middle-aged, working professionals looking to go back to school. These audiences have very different needs, concerns and obstacles when it comes to financial aid; therefore, the articles will be extremely distinct.
Working with personas also give colleges the opportunity to cover important topics that are unique to that given audience. College A could create a “Senior Year Checklist” for prospective students or College B could write an article on “How to Balance Working and Going to School.” These types of articles can help address obstacles that are specific to your audience. This type of content helps your school get on their radar early in their college decision journey.
A smart investment
Implementing a content marketing strategy isn’t going to get you overnight results, but the investment can be worthwhile. Once things get up and running, it’s not uncommon to see a higher return on investment from content marketing than traditional advertising (TV, radio, billboards, etc.).