Revive Enrollment: 10 Strategies for Private Schools

Revive Enrollment: 10 Strategies for Private Schools

January 8, 2024
(Reading time: 7 - 14 minutes)

Imagine an incoming class with rows of empty desks come fall, making for a looming and disheartening budget shortfall or the growing prospect of pivoting operations altogether.

For many storied private K-12 institutions, declining enrollments pose an existential threat. As birth rates taper off, public magnets siphon top talent, and families prioritize affordability, attracting and retaining students grows more cutthroat every admission cycle, no matter the school's heritage, awards, or Ivy League matriculation rates.

Yet a small but growing cadre of school administrators are halting the downward spiral through savvy digital marketing transformations. Rather than resigning their school's fate to changing demographics, these leaders actively court contemporary parents by revamping messaging, showcasing community, and eliminating friction across the prospect journey. 

The results? Double-digit growth in applicant volume and enrolled students for five straight years and counting.

This will explore ten powerful strategies using real-world examples and data to showcase tangible impact. With declining enrollment plaguing many institutions, evolving your marketing approach is critical. 

So whether you oversee admissions or marketing, consider these examples a blueprint for reversing the tide at your institution. With some concerted effort, defying downbeat projections remains within reach. Let’s get started.

The Parent Decision Journey: A Roadmap for Your Marketing Strategy 

Implementing a coordinated playbook to attract and retain prospective families is mission-critical for private schools seeking to boost enrollment. This process requires aligning digital marketing and admissions teams to guide prospects through an informed decision journey from initial awareness to registration.

Key phases often include:

  • Triggering Awareness – Through SEO, social, and paid channels
  • Qualifying Leads – Capturing key prospect information and needs
  • Facilitating Exploration – Campus tours, school visits, and open houses
  • Personalizing Follow-ups – CRM nurturing and counselor consultations
  • Securing Enrollments – Optimizing applications, aid, and registrations 

With this playbook in mind, Greenfield Academy structures messaging to nurture prospects through each phase – offering relevant information when they need it most. This helps facilitate conversion over time through the funnel.

Additionally, executing an effective enrollment playbook requires tight collaboration between admissions and marketing teams. As leads enter the funnel, establishing shared lead qualification criteria and CRM tracking ensures smooth handoffs. Marketing oversees driving initial prospect interest while admissions nurture campus tours, aid consultations, and application finalization.

This fluid crosstalk and lead routing relies on aligned systems and protocols. Regularly updating pipeline reports and designating evaluation timelines enables the teams to work cohesively toward school enrollment KPIs.

Before detailing impactful strategies, it's important to leverage tools identifying competitor school families ripe for migration or transfer to your institution. You need to also compile psychographic data around household priorities and educational values, enabling you to pinpoint aligned prospects in nearby areas. Targeting these families through tailored outreach and messaging can yield prime lead sources.

Now, let's explore ten impactful digital marketing strategies admissions and marketing leaders can implement together to orchestrate a complete enrollment growth playbook.

10 Strategies to Reverse Declining Private School Enrollment

Strategy #1: Build an SEO Foundation to Increase Discoverability  

As the principal at Greenfield Academy knows all too well, search engine optimization (SEO) is integral for driving initial awareness with prospective families. 

In fact, surveys indicate over 9 out of 10 parents rely on Google and other search engines when first researching academic institutions. If your website lacks authority and relevance for critical keywords, it will fail to garner visibility during these information-gathering queries.

Here are five proven tactics to build your SEO visibility long-term:

  1. Conduct keyword research using Google Keyword Planner to identify high-potential search terms and phrases families use around private school admissions, comparing options, etc. Target topics like curriculum, athletics, and performing arts based on strengths.
  2. Optimize landing pages and blog content specifically around your priority keywords, aiming for 5-7% keyword density. Place them in headers, text, captions, and meta descriptions.
  3. Boost local SEO rankings by ensuring your Google Business Profile and schema markup properly showcase address and contact info services.
  4. Build inbound links from relevant websites through guest posting opportunities. Identify private school directories, local publications, and education sites accepting contributor content and secure placements.
  5. Track organic ranking growth month-over-month for your target terms using software like SEMrush or Ahrefs. Monitor traffic to optimize further.

Regularly publishing optimized content around targeted terms can command greater visibility in organic search over the long run. For a school like Greenfield Academy focused on the Charlotte metro area, this might include keyword phrases like:

  • “Best Charlotte private high schools”
  • “Top North Carolina preschool programs” 
  • “Charlotte private school admissions”
  • “Highest-rated Charlotte prep schools”

Over the past year, Greenfield has published over 100 blog articles and landing pages targeting such terms. This SEO initiative has grown overall organic traffic by 34% year-over-year as the school surfaces more prominently in search.

With robust organic visibility established, Greenfield supplements with paid search ads via Google Ads. These targeted promotions help connect with parents who are proactively searching for private options in the city. In 2021, 300 site inquiries came directly from paid search.

Strategy #2: Cultivate Raving Fans on Social Media

While search drives inbound interest, social media presents a prime channel for authentic peer-to-peer recommendations. 

Parents vet schools and scout engagement across platforms, watching for affirmation from enrolled families. Real interactions provide the social proof parents crave during evaluation beyond brochure stats.

Through consistent posting and engagement, Greenfield Academy activates its community online. The school shares classroom activities, sports highlights, theatrical productions, academics, and more. When parents and students actively share, comment, and participate - it signals a vibrant experience.

Greenfield focuses on four tactics to maximize word-of-mouth:

  1. Community Building: Encourage user-generated content from students and parents to reinforce experiences.
  2. Hashtag Campaigns: Launch hashtag campaigns around open houses, productions, etc, to group-affiliated content.
  3. Retargeting: Remarket to past site visitors who demonstrated interest via custom social ads.
  4. Paid Amplification: Promote performing arts, athletics, and other showcase content to localized target groups, signaling prestige.

This mix of organic and paid practices develops social authority while connecting Greenfield assets to the right audiences.

These social platforms also enable targeted advertising capabilities. On Facebook and Instagram, Greenfield promoted posts spotlighting admissions deadlines and Open House events, reaching over 1,500 ideal prospective families last fall.

Across channels, compelling and interactive social content attracts and informs prospective families through validation.

Strategy #3: Launch a Student Ambassador Program 

Beyond general social engagement, Greenfield Academy formalized a Student Ambassador program. These exemplary students represent all grade levels and interests. The goals? To boost awareness and provide authentic peer accounts of student life.

These ambassadors create video testimonials, engage with prospects during campus tours, and promote the school on their social channels. This tiered engagement offers credibility prospects crave.

Since its inception last year, ambassadors have shared over 100 social content items supporting Greenfield’s initiatives. Better yet, through ambassador referral codes, the program has driven 32 confirmed registrations – a new growth driver.

With personalized outreach crucial for conversions, trained student ambassadors can further support during pivotal prospect interactions like campus tours. Assigning ambassadors as tour guides allows for authentic peer narratives around student life.

Similarly, configuring student panels during open houses enables direct Q&A engagement between prospects and pupils relating to authentic experiences. This degree of access and openness resonates profoundly with discerning families."

Strategy #4: Modernize Your Website to Reflect Brand Values

As a principal, you instinctively know first impressions carry consequences. In digital marketing, your website visitors likely represent early interactions between curious families and your school. An outdated or poorly communicating site undermines credibility.

Recently, Greenfield Academy invested $65,000 in a relaunch of its website, displaying the school positively while sharing its values, faculty standards, and programming. Savvy families detect modern design, logical navigation, and mobile responsiveness as signals of operational excellence. Compelling imagery and student experience videos further humanize Greenfield’s offerings through sight, sound, and motion.

Since the redesign, prospects have explored over 30% more pages per visit, demonstrating stickiness and user engagement. In turn, more prospects ultimately submit inquiry forms driving downstream conversions.

Strategy #5: Install Clear Calls-to-Action to Capture Prospects  

With visually compelling and informative pages established, ensuring visitors convert into leads is imperative. Idle website engagement alone is insufficient, requiring clear calls-to-action (CTAs) to activate interest. 

Effective CTAs invite specific clicks, giving visitors logical next steps to learn more. Common examples for Greenfield include prompts to:  

  • Download an admissions brochure
  • Register for upcoming open-house events  
  • Request pricing materials
  • Join an email or SMS list 

Greenfield places visible CTA widgets across its website, capturing contact details with each click. By exchanging visitor information for value-driven materials, the school can fuel further nurturing.

Since the CTA approach expanded in October, Greenfield now sees over 900 new lead opt-ins per month.

Strategy #6: Nurture Leads with Smart Funnels and Sequences   

With interest generated and leads captured, savvy institutions market to inbound prospects over time through structured sequences. Instead of disjointed, intermittent messaging, these sequences strategically nurture visitors until they enroll or exit the process. 

Known as marketing automation, software platforms like HubSpot underpin Greenfield’s lead engagement strategy. New prospects automatically enroll in pre-defined 60-day email sequences, providing timely information matching their stage. Early emails focus on academics and student life. Downstream messages prompt campus visit registrations and application submissions as decision deadlines loom.

Automated sequences sustain mindshare while alleviating resource demands on Greenfield’s admissions team to manually push communications. Augmenting these sequences, custom emails from counselors and student ambassadors provide personal outreach when appropriate. This balance of automation and personalization cultivates connections over two-thirds of leads.

Since adopting its automation approach, Greenfield reduced enrollment cycle times by over 30% as fewer prospects go cold. Equally as important, student retention improved by 22% over the last academic year with greater perceived affinity beyond initial sign-up.

Strategy #7: Launch Targeted Paid Ads to Increase Consideration 

While nurture sequences recapture existing prospects, new paid advertising campaigns ensure sustainable lead generation over time.

Given that most families initially discover Greenfield through search and social media, an expanded budget for paid ads maximizes visibility during the awareness phase. The school dedicates over $35,000 annually on running digital marketing campaigns that include content writing, Google Ads, Facebook, and Instagram promotions. Coinciding with peak research cycles, these campaigns spotlight campus aesthetics, academic programming, and extracurricular activities.  

With each major network offering robust audience targeting and reporting, Greenfield optimizes its ads to reach parents most likely considering private high school options in Chicago. More impressions ultimately drive more clickthroughs to its website, capturing net new prospects.  

Onboarding retargeting pixels across sites, the school also re-engages past visitors through banner ads, keeping Greenfield Academy at the top of the mind. If these prospects failed to immediately convert to leads from Greenfield’s site originally, persistent ads entice follow-up actions driving downstream inquiries.

Through its paid initiatives, Greenfield increased total lead generation volume by over 19% year-over-year while decreasing cost per lead by 27%. Better yet, new student enrollment attributed to paid ads rose from 32 to 52 last academic year.

When allocating budgets toward paid search, social, or display ads, targeting a CPA between $250-$400 per lead can deliver optimal returns. Regularly assess campaign KPIs like clickthrough rates, cost per click, conversion rates, and lifetime value achieved based on enrollments against that CPA benchmark. Breaking down metrics by ad type, audience segment, copy/image variation, etc., uncovers winning assets to expand further. While continuous testing and optimization is key, maintaining structured performance analytics ensures paid media spends further enrollment growth goals cost-effectively."

The addition provides specific CPA guidance for paid ad campaigns and discusses monitoring key metrics and ROI at the granular level to inform budget decisions and optimization. Keeping it in line with the paid media strategy section allows for good topical flow.

Strategy #8: Maintain Rigorous Analytics Tracking 

Informed strategy stems from keen data intelligence. With its suite of digital marketing channels and campaigns, Greenfield Academy closely monitors performance daily across channels. 

By instrumenting goals, events, and conversion points into Google Analytics, Greenfield benefits from visibility inspecting:  

  • Traffic volumes across organic, social referral, and direct sources
  • Lead capture form completion rates
  • Content engagement heatmaps  
  • Email open, clickthrough, and unsubscribe metrics
  • Web visitor-to-lead conversion rates
  • Inquiry to enrollment yields 

From this authoritative data, Greenfield and their private school digital marketing agency pinpoint high-performing channels and campaigns for further investment. Underperforming elements face scrutiny and potential resource shifting.

Regular reporting provides crucial business intelligence, enabling the continual optimization of Greenfield’s marketing machine. Pitched collaboratively to school leadership, They were able to secure a 25% budget increase this past year based on the expansion opportunity observed through analytics.

Strategy #9: Launch Student & Faculty Podcasts and Videos  

While informational blogs play a key role in nurturing prospects, video profiles amplify Greenfield’s student outcomes and faculty standards through rich multimedia. Hearing current students and teachers directly cements credibility for parents weighing options.

Launching at the start of the 2022-23 school year, they debuted an ongoing series of Student Spotlight videos published on its website and YouTube channel. These profiles chronicle student and campus life from an authentic first-person perspective - ranging from academics to clubs and more. Consuming rich sights and sounds builds familiarity and trust.

Similarly, Greenfield’s new Faculty Voices video series showcases teaching philosophies and credentials across disciplines like languages, sciences, and visual arts. Listening to experience first-hand provides assurance, resulting in stronger informed opinions of the school.

What is even better is that these are produced by the students as part of an extracurricular activity.

Collectively, over 30 videos now exist with strong early viewership and shares. In fact, over 8 out of 10 recent prospect survey respondents said that consuming Greenfield’s multimedia content influenced their decision to apply.  

As the school knows, multimedia content best spotlights student outcomes, boosting confidence during the evaluation stages.  

Strategy #10: Formalize an Alumni Ambassador Program

Referrals from current parents and student ambassadors provide a crucial marketing channel for private schools. Greenfield looks to double down through its newly launched Alumni Ambassador initiative.    

The program expands referrals even further by engaging and empowering notable alumni enrolled across universities and thriving in their careers. Through social media and regional networking events, ambassadors spotlight how Greenfield’s early education foundations catalyze long-term growth. Whether catalyzing college entrance or jumpstarting entrepreneurs, these compelling claims attract similar-minded families.

While nascent, Greenfield believes alumni testimonials deliver unique credibility that only years of hindsight provide. Early data shows such authentic peer advocacy converting new families unfamiliar with Greenfield Academy even five years ago.

Beyond referrals, alumni can activate their networks to unlock internships, career advisories, and host student workshops. With many graduates thriving as executives, scientists, investors, and artists, connecting current students fosters mentorship.

Alumni can also coach mock interviews, judge competition submissions, and deliver guest lectures, further inspiring pupil potential."

This builds on the Alumni Ambassador concept by showcasing additional mentorship, teaching, and workshop opportunities from alumni beyond marketing activities. Keeping it in the same strategy section allows for relevant topical expansion.

The Path Forward: Revitalizing Enrollment Growth

The ten strategies outlined equip schools like yours or Greenfield Academy to methodically attract and retain more families despite demographic currents. While no silver bullet exists, orchestrating a data-informed marketing mix provably ignites growth when executed diligently.

But with limited bandwidth, doing so remains daunting for most school marketing and admissions teams. The ever-evolving digital landscape compounds matters, requiring specialized skills and constantly updated best practices.

That’s why more institutions partner with digital marketing agencies specializing in private school digital marketing to help them drive their enrollment turnarounds. With additional resources handling your digital marketing and outreach, internal leaders like yourself can focus elsewhere.

If declining applicant volumes or converting inquiries into enrolled students persists as a thorny issue, consider enlisting help. Our team here at Cube Creative Design possesses deep private school expertise, assisting institutions of all sizes to ramp enrollment.

Contact me today to learn more about orchestrating a customized marketing game plan for your school. With research-backed approaches tailored to your academic strengths and community assets, reversing momentum lies within reach.

Now is the time to future-proof enrollment and ensure your school’s legacy endures for generations to come. We stand ready to help - just reach out to start the conversation.

Adam Bennett

Written by:  |  January 8, 2024

Adam is the president and founder of Cube Creative Design and specializes in private school marketing. Since starting the business in 2005, he has created individual relationships with clients in Western North Carolina and across the United States. He places great value on the needs, expectations, and goals of the client.

See Adam Bennett's' bio: cubecreative.design/about/adam-bennett