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Posted by Graeme Wilkinson on 23 June 2016

We explore how digital marketing can help international schools

Having worked in the international school's market for some time now we've witnessed considerable growth in the sector, and it's fair to say that it's a market which is becoming increasingly crowded - and as a result, more competitive by the day.

Over the past decade there has been a 320% increase in the number of international schools across the world, and recent figures from the International School Consultancy reveal that there are now more than 8,000 English-medium international schools, teaching a total of 4.26 million students worldwide.

This rapid increase in the number of international schools indicates a healthy, growing market but one that competition is growing in - meaning that marketing has moved to the top of the agenda for many international schools.

These schools need to find ways to;

  • Ensure that prospective parents are finding their organisation when they undertake their research process
  • Fully understand what information is important to these parents
  • Provide the right information, at the right time, in the right places to their target audience
  • Differentiate their school effectively to stand out in this crowded market

Which may seem a daunting list, but don't worry as by making the right investments in digital marketing your school can equip itself with the tools needed to stand out from the crowd - and we're going to tell you how...

To help you get started we've put together our list of top 10 tips to help your international school increase your admissions enquiries, and successfully outperform your competition.

1. Make sure you understand a parent’s decision making process

This is possibly our most important advice and probably the hardest to get right.  in education, unlike other industries, your customers are likely to remain with you for a considerable time so gathering customer insight will be one of your most valuable tools.

We recommend building this intelligence gathering into your recruitment process, and asking parents certain questions at different parts of the application process - questions may include;

  • What triggered their search for an international school?
  • What information helped them to decide on their chosen school?
  • Which sources did they use? 
  • How long did it take for them to make a decision?
  • What were their first impressions of the school? 

This insight will help you start mapping out their journey from the point they started their search to their selection of their chosen school.  Your goal is to discover what tools they used as part of their search, what questions they wanted answered and at which stages, and any frustrations / challenges they encountered.

2. Focus on Keyword Research

The importance of search can't be ignored - there are currently 2.3 million Google searches made every minute.  With search engines looking for the most relevant, trustworthy answers to queries, you should be aiming to be in the top organic results for relevant keywords to your school - for example your location and the type of curriculum offered etc.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), and specifically keyword research will play an essential role when your school is developing an inbound marketing strategy.

Understanding what search terms your audience is using, and those which competitors are performing well for, will provide valuable insight into which keywords and phrases your school should optimise content for.  

Developing a robust SEO strategy will help your school attract prospective parents via search engines by ensuring your content is as relevant as possible to their queries.

3. Develop an Inbound Marketing strategy

Inbound marketing is all about creating content that is going to be found by your target audience through search and social media.  By implementing an inbound marketing approach your school will be able to closely align your marketing to the way prospective parents think and behave when considering which school is right for their child.

Developing an inbound marketing approach can significantly increase your admissions enquiries by attracting prospective families to your website with helpful, relevant content (this may be a blogpost, eBook, whitepaper, video, case study etc.) which is designed specifically for them and where they are in their decision making process.  And the insight you gain from our first recommendation of understanding their decision making process will really help when developing your strategy.

A keen understanding of exactly which questions your target audience is asking will allow you to provide the answers through your blog and other content platforms.

So for example, if your research highlights that prospective parents want to know lots about what facilities a school offers, then make sure that you are promoting (through social media and optimising this content for search) content that focuses on this such as virtual campus tours, blog posts highlighting state of the art facilities etc.

4. Invest in Marketing Automation

If you are looking for ways to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of your marketing efforts, then the answer is marketing automation.

Marketing automation is a tactic that allows organisations to nurture prospects using highly personalised, valuable content that helps convert these prospects into leads, and turn those leads into customers.

By implementing a marketing automation system your school will be able to benefit from streamlining lead generation, segmentation, lead nurturing and scoring, customer journey marketing, customer retention and measure marketing return on investment (ROI). So quite helpful eh?! 

You will be able to maximise the value of every website visitor by nurturing them along their decision making journey with specific follow up content. Website visits can be personalised so that visitors see content relevant to them, and specific content that is most likely to encourage them to convert into a qualified admissions enquiry.  

An example of marketing automation in action would be knowing that a visitor has downloaded your school fees guide, and on their next visit directing them to content on the full experience your school delivers (e.g. sharing details of your fantastic school facilities or extra curricular activities offered) to help validate those costs.

5. Invest in PPC campaigns

Your target audience of prospective parents will often be in the situation where they are relocating their family to a completely new country, meaning that when they start their schools search they have very little knowledge of the schools within the area.  They will therefore often perform general online searches to begin their information gathering process.

So for example, they would possibly enter a search term such as "international school with British curriculum in Dubai" which is quite a general search and contains no 'brand names' (e.g. school names).  Therefore, your international school needs to feature in the results of non-brand searches in order to be on the radar of these prospective parents.

To ensure your school isn't missing from these results we would recommend developing a paid search campaign as part of your digital marketing activities. Often referred to as pay per click (PPC), this strategy will support your SEO and content marketing efforts to guarantee that prospective parents have every opportunity to find your international school.

PPC campaigns can also be useful for short term campaigns or time sensitive content, such as if you are running an open day or looking to promote a summer school. 

When running any PPC campaign the journey that your prospective parent will take should be considered at all times.  Therefore, you need to make sure that the advert used, the landing page and subsequent calls to action (CTAs) form a logical journey for the visitor. Make sure you think about what stage the parent is at - so for example, don’t expect them to complete an admissions form if they have just made a general search and don't appear to have any previous knowledge of your school, instead use the landing page to highlight everything about your international school which helps it stands out from the competition.

6. Focus on your Unique Selling Points

Which moves us nicely onto the next point - exactly what makes your international school different? Is it your academic results? The teaching staff you employ? The science, technology and sporting facilities? Extra-curricular activities offered?  What does a prospective parent need to know to decide to invest the future of their child with your school? 

Your digital presence should be fully utilised as a window into the complete experience which a student will benefit from at your school - you need to shout from the rooftops about everything great that you do!

And once you have your USPs clearly outlined we recommend that you work these into your website content, ensuring that every page has a call to action (CTA) that encourages your visitors to find out more about what makes your school different.

7. Create Virtual tours

Virtual tours can be a great way of showing off your school and bringing it to life online. Prospective parents and their children will often be located in a different county and may be unable to visit the school in person during their selection process, therefore a virtual tour can be really useful in bridging that gap.

A virtual tour guide could direct them through your state of the art auditorium, your first class sporting facilities, cutting edge science labs or outdoor swimming pool, all direct from the phone or tablet of the parent or child. 

When creating your virtual tours try and make them as interactive as possible, and not just a quick look around. Show what goes on in different areas of your school using videos and photo galleries, and get current students and teachers to talk about their experiences. Try and make it as close to a traditional school visit as possible.

8. Use More Than Just Text

Explore all different content options to share your school’s story online – use videos, social streams, images and testimonials to extend the reach of the school experience which you offer. 

Why not use tools such as Facebook live or Google hangouts to share key school events such as concerts, assemblies and prize-giving?  Don’t be afraid to experiment with new technologies - being forward thinking will allow your international school to stand out from the competition.

9. Provide a Connected Experience

The list of online and offline touch points that your target audience will interact with can be quite lengthy - prospective parents may become aware of your school through social media, a paid search advert, direct email or direct mail, word of mouth etc. then go on to view your website on a desktop device or mobile, follow your social media accounts, download your app - the list goes on and on...

As parents jump between touch points they will expect to see consistent content across all platforms.  This means that you need to consider how to best connect these different interactions to ensure that you offer a joined up experience.

So instead of thinking of a desktop experience, a tablet experience, a mobile experience etc. you need to start thinking of one connected experience. You need to ensure that you deliver the right content, for the right device, at the right time, and that all of these different forms of content link in logically together. 

10. Continually Measure and Optimise 

In order to get the most value out of all of the tips which we have highlighted it's crucial that you implement ways to measure their success and constantly refine, optimise and improve the digital marketing activities which your school invests in. 

Setting up Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) will allow effective tracking of your online activities, most importantly highlighting whether they are delivering to plan or not. 

It's important not to fall into the trap of spending all of your time doing, and not enough time measuring, analysing and improving. 


Hopefully this blog will have provided a helpful introduction to the different digital marketing areas which we believe your international school should be focusing on.

Competition is only going to continue increasing in your sector so don't delay with adopting a strategic digital marketing approach - you will be rewarded by successfully differentiating your school from your competitors. 

If you're keen to keep up to date on more education focused digital marketing advice, then please do subscribe to this blog and you'll get all of our latest news delivered straight to your inbox.

And please do get in touch if you would like to chat further about how we can help your international school improve your digital marketing performance - we're always happy to chat! 


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