Sean Henri
Written By:
Improving School Search Ad Performance: Give Parents What They Want
13:39

When schools advertise on Google or other search engines, it’s all too easy to burn through a few thousand dollars before seeing any results. A marcom or admissions team might exhaust their entire advertising budget before getting their first inquiry, school visit request, or application.

With common problems like poor targeting or misconfigured analytics tracking ruled out as the root cause, many school marketers find themselves scratching their heads looking for answers.

Fortunately, the answer is usually quite simple: you’re reaching the right people, but you aren’t giving them the information they want and need. For better results, simply give them what they want.

A Misalignment Between Ads, Landing Pages, and Searcher Intent

To explain what I mean, let’s think about our own search behavior. When we go to Google to seek something out—say, a review of the latest iphone—we automatically click on the search result that matches the language we used to search, and appeals to our intent.

To illustrate this point, I tried searching “latest iphone review,” and this was the first thing I saw:

A search ad by Apple that is well-aligned with the searcher's intent. It offers to 'Compare all iPhone models'. 

Apple knows that in seeking reviews, my intent was likely to compare the latest model to previous model, so I could decide if the extra cost is worth it. To meet my intent, they offered a comparison tool. To match my language, Apple returns an ad that includes “iPhone” in the title.

While they didn’t give me exactly what I wanted, they did the next best thing: helping me to understand how the new model compares. It’s plausible I might click the ad and proceed to purchase. Without the ad, I might have read a less-than-favorable review, and opted against upgrading.

What Prospective Parents Seek When They Search

Let’s take this back to our world: marketing quality education to prospective students and their families.

When seeking to learn about the best schools in their area, a parent unfamiliar with the world of independent schools might search “top private schools near me”. Let’s break that down:

  • “top” = the best
  • “private schools” = a broad term suggesting a general lack of awareness of the common subcategories of private and independent schools
  • “near me” = close to their physical location as of the time of their search, implying that they might be searching from home or work

The searcher’s intent is to find a curated list of private schools so they can have a more narrow starting point for their research. Long-term, they hope to find the right school for their child.

The Searcher’s Intent:

“As a parent wondering if the public school system might not be challenging my son enough, when I search ‘top private schools near me,’ I want to find a list of highly-rated private schools in my area, including their curricula, extracurricular activities, and tuition costs, so that I can compare them to our current public school. Long term, I hope to find a school that better meets my son's educational needs and prepares him for the future, while also considering the impact on our family's daily routine, especially my remote work schedule and commute times.”

What Schools Often Provide in Return

In response to this search, a school might be tempted to run an ad that puts their school’s name at the top of search results. They might append the ad with their school’s motto, tag line, or a category descriptor like “Private Grade K-9 School”.

While far from ideal, this approach is fairly common. Below is a fictional example of the type of ad I’ll often see when testing this search in a new market.

A Mediocre Ad Example:

A generic search ad for a private school that fails to persuade the searcher to click.

While not awful, and possibly good enough to get the parent to open the link to view in a new tab, it misses an opportunity to make an immediate impression by giving the searcher what they really needed.

The searcher might see this ad and think:

  • Is there any evidence this school is amongst the top, or best options available?
  • Is there anything that differentiates this school? It sounds pretty generic.
  • Is it close enough to me? Where in CT? It’s a pretty big state!
  • I’m not ready to “Apply Now.”

The school and their advertising partner might see better results by giving the searcher the information they actually want and need in order to progress towards their goal:

  • Evidence that they can be considered amongst the “top” schools in the area
  • Proximity to the searcher “20 Minutes From Cheshire”
  • Changing the call-to-action from “Apply Now” to something more stage-appropriate such as “Learn More” or “Download Our Parent Guide.”

If we were partnering with the school to improve their digital advertising performance, we might rewrite this ad to look something like this:

An effective private school ppc ad that aligns with the searcher's needs and persuades them to click and inquire.

The headline immediately addresses the concern about the school's relevance and proximity to the searcher by stating it is a "Private K-8 in Durham, CT."

The description emphasizes the school's commitment to excellence and personalized learning, connecting directly to its mission. It also provides specific details about what differentiates the school: individualized attention, small class sizes, and dedicated educators.

Finally, the ad answers the searcher's question about the school's ranking, by saying “Ranked among top schools,” and adding "20 minutes from Cheshire" for geographical context. The call to action, "Learn more!” encourages immediate action.

The revised ad meets the bar for the rule we established at the beginning of this article: give the searcher what they want. To further improve, the school could add callouts and sitelinks that aim to further communicate the school's value proposition and differentiate it from competitors.

“Not What I Expected”

It’s not enough to meet expectations with your ad. Once you earn the searcher’s click, you need to follow through by delivering more detail that supports your claims. This is done on the destination page for your ad—commonly referred to as a landing page.

We’ve written extensively about what effective independent school landing pages look like, and I recommend that you read this material carefully when you have the time.

For now, let’s keep it focused on the core need of providing the prospective parent with the information they were looking for when they turned to Google.

The parent, in this example, has searched “top private schools near me”.

Without naming the school, I’ll share what have seen had the clicked on the same ad I did:

  1. Hero Section: A promo highlighting their summer programs
  2. Why Their School: A video talking about why they recently changed their mission statement
  3. Latest Events: Events Applicable to current families, not prospective
  4. Latest News: News relevant to current families, not prospective
  5. Values: Three images without any supporting text until the user hovers over them
  6. Footer

Did this give me any of the information the prospective parent was seeking? No. Here is why:

  • They wanted to find one of the “top” “private schools,” but instead were greeted with a statement about summer programs. This risks confusing the parent about what they are actually looking at. Is it a school, or a summer camp?
  • The video, if watched, is compelling and relevant to the searcher’s needs. Yet by speaking to how they recently changed their mission statement before talking about the importance of their mission and how they execute it, they risk sparking some concern or doubt. Why did they feel compelled to change it recently? Does the statement have true meaning?
  • News about the happenings at the school can be appealing to families if the headlines and content is written intentionally to appeal to the prospective family audience. This page’s news items were clearly written for the current school community.
  • Values are important to convey, but you need to do so clearly and effectively. In this instance, interesting design was favored over clarity. If the user did not know to hover, they would not have learned the school’s values.
  • By not concluding the page with a call-to-action statement such as an “Inquire now to see if our school can unlock the full potential of your child,” the page leaves the prospective parent completely on their own to decide what to do next. Without proper guidance, that choice will likely be to exit.

The odds of this page triggering an inquiry or app start are likely quite low.

In another example, an ad brought me directly to the Academics > Low School section of the website. Its lead headline simply stated “Lower School”. While the page had some compelling content, it assumed some prior knowledge of the school, glossing over important details such as the school’s overall value proposition, full range of academic offerings (grade levels), location, mission, and so on. Without this context, the well-written content really lacked the context needed to be meaningful.

While I won't outline the specific changes our team would make to this page if we were managing their ads, reflecting on the searcher intent statement detailed earlier in this article should make the path forward clear. Consider what information would be necessary to help the searcher fulfill their intent.

Below are two wonderful examples of schools that are doing this incredibly well. The first is from The Little School in Bellevue, Washington.

An effective and compelling landing page for a private school that speaks to the parent's goals with an emotional appeal.

The page effectively addresses prospective parents' needs by providing clear and relevant information. The headline, "Welcome to The Little School – where young minds flourish," sets a positive tone and assures parents of a nurturing environment.

Vibrant images of children actively engaged in learning and play, along with text highlighting the school's commitment to creating joy and embracing childhood, directly appeal to parents. Detailed descriptions of the school's unique features, such as cultivating creativity, amplifying individual strengths, and expanding educational horizons, provide the specific information parents seek.

The layout is clean and easy to navigate, with sections on the school's campus, programs, mission, and community. Testimonials from students, alumni, and parents add credibility and provide relatable insights. Calls to action like "Learn More" and "Request More Information" facilitate next steps, while the prominent information request form makes it easy for parents to connect.

A compelling call-to-action at the bottom of an independent school landing page. It promises more information and invites the parent to engage.

For local parents, the emphasis on the school's natural environment, with features like "12.5 acres of natural learning environment" and a "4:1 student-to-teacher ratio," is particularly appealing. Overall, The Little School's landing page effectively meets the needs of prospective parents by providing clear, compelling information, engaging visuals, and easy navigation, thereby enhancing search ad performance and conversion rates.

Another strong example is this landing page from Westland School in Los Angeles. The headline, "A Progressive, Independent, Private Elementary School in LA," clearly defines the school's identity and location.

A clear and engaging independent school ppc landing page. It positions and differentiates the school while hooking interest with emotional appeal.

The page uses engaging visuals, including a video tour and images of students learning and playing, to illustrate the school environment. Text highlights the school's commitment to fostering creativity, critical thinking, and lifelong learning, directly addressing parental concerns.

Specific information about the school's values, such as creativity, social responsibility, and collaboration, is clearly outlined. Testimonials from parents add credibility and a personal touch, making the information relatable.

The clean layout and easy navigation, with sections on the school's values, teaching approach, and community, ensure prospective parents can quickly find what they need. Prominent calls to action, like "Register to watch our short virtual tour," encourage further engagement. The registration form for virtual tours makes it easy for parents to connect with the school.

These examples–both built on Hubspot by the Pepperland Marketing team–highlight how effective landing pages can directly address what prospective parents are searching for, from detailed descriptions of unique features to testimonials that add credibility. These pages use clean layouts, easy navigation, and clear calls to action, making it simple for parents to take the next step.

To Improve Performance, Be Their Guide

Improving the performance of your school's search ads hinges on aligning your ads and landing pages with the specific needs and intents of prospective parents. By providing clear, relevant information and engaging visuals, you can create a compelling experience that addresses their concerns and encourages further engagement. You become their guide.

Reflect on the searcher intent statement detailed earlier in this article, and consider what information would help prospective parents fulfill their intent. By doing so, you will not only improve your conversion rates but also build a stronger connection with families who are searching for the best educational environment for their children.

Ready to boost your school's conversion rates? Download our free Landing Page Self-Assessment Worksheet for a comprehensive list of best practices. For expert guidance, schedule a complimentary consultation with one of our school marketing experts to receive actionable insights you can use immediately to see better marketing results.

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