You may have heard “Content is King” and thought, ‘we need to build some content!’ So, you build a content library, you start a blog, you start a podcast and you wonder…’where are the people?’
There are a lot of components to not only setting up an effective EDU content strategy, but also in following up and making sure your efforts are moving the needle. You need to have analytics set up, track everything and be willing to iterate if you need to change directions in any way.
Are you measuring the right things?
To build an effective strategy for a client, I first have to know what the important metrics are. I never build strategies based off things like bounce rate or time on site. While I think those are nice soft metrics to look at, I think the most important metric to look at is enrollments. From there, we can break this down into apps, leads, etc. But above all, if what we are doing is not generating more enrollments, then it is not working.
What is the objective of your content? What part of the funnel does it fulfill?
Do you create a lot of content about things going on at your college? Who is that content for? Do you think that prospects are interested in that sort of thing, or is that more designed for people who are already enrolled?
Usually, sales funnels have a top, middle and bottom. The top-of-funnel content is generally how someone gets to your site. This content is based on search terms or is intriguing in some way and someone found you off social media. These prospects are rarely ready to fill out an application, so what are you doing to capture their information and keep them moving along your funnel? Usually nothing!
For middle-of-the-funnel content, these are people who have expressed an interest, but they are not ready to enroll yet. These people are in the decision-making phase, and that decision may well be to not attend your college. What types of content are you providing them to keep them moving forward and making the decision to enroll with you? Are you teaching them about the program? Are you dealing with their fears and concerns head-on? Focusing on your personas and their motivations is key to getting people interested in your middle funnel offers and moving toward an application.
For the bottom of the funnel, these are things like conversion forms and online applications. Apart from the people who are totally ready to go no matter what you do, what you will find is that usually you have created a site where the decisions for the prospect are either to leave or enroll. Those big jumps will affect your conversion rate. Once you have more qualified prospects in your funnel, then you can iterate on your forms, make them better and less obtrusive, and get more prospects to your admissions team.
Keep search at top of mind
All too often I hear, “I am going to SEO this blog.” What does that even mean? What is SEO-ing a blog? I can only assume that means that they are going to put some keywords in there and add a meta-description. Maybe even some alt-text to the images. And then you can sit and wait and wonder because your 300-word blog post is never going to show up in search – that is, unless you are NASA and have an uber-strong site.
You see, unless you have a very strong site (there are tons of articles on Domain Authority you can reference), your blog isn’t going to rank merely by entering some keywords into it. And that begs a whole other set of questions about where you got the keywords from and how they layer into your content strategy.
And THEN, there are even more questions about the whole posts vs. pages argument if your site is built on WordPress. I don’t personally believe, nor have I seen posts outrank pages for competitive terms (assuming all else is equal).
Not just inbound marketing
The whole, “Build it and they will come” mentality of a lot of inbound and content marketing peeps is just false. You have to take a multi-layered approach.
First, you must develop content based around things (keyword themes) that people are actually looking for. This will involve a comprehensive keyword research plan and keyword map so you can create and execute content that people are looking for, but also not poach other keyword rankings you already have. For example, if you already rank for the term, “Master of Social Work Degree” or something like that, then you don’t need to create additional content around that term. You’re essentially cannibalizing your own rankings if you do this. A comprehensive content strategy will figure out what you are already ranking for and guide you in the direction of other content so you can grow traffic to your site.
Next, you must make sure your content is competitive. This means it must be long enough, rich enough, and above all, linkable enough to meet muster against the sites and pages already ranking. This involves a deep analysis of all competitor copy that is currently ranking and determining what your content needs to get to the next level.
In my content strategies, I develop plans for schools to create content-rich, competitive pages around keyword themes that are going to drive traffic, and then I save the blog for timely news and fun stuff happening around the school.
I then layer in content based around personas, content in different formats and new and noteworthy school-focused material.
The WIIFM Factor
I am a big believer in the WIIFM mentality when it comes to consumer behavior. From the prospective student’s perspective, they are thinking, ‘What’s in it for me?’ creating a content strategy that matches what people are looking for with what they want to and need to know, and that pushes them through the funnel, is always far better than turning your website into an online course catalog or a data dump and expecting applicants to sift through the noise.
Building a content strategy for EDU involves getting in the mind of your prospects and then creating content that matches user search behavior with enrollment intent. Creating a multi-layered approach and then measuring, measuring, measuring will get and keep your programs full, semester after semester.