Preparing for a Successful Independent School Recruitment Campaign

Private Schools Marketing

Any way you look at it, 2020/21 is going to be a different year for independent school recruitment. Remote learning like we’ve seen this year represents a sea of change in the delivery of education. But with students and parents at home on their computers, it also represents an opportunity for independent schools to recruit more strategically. Here’s how.


Measurement & analytics: Get the right answers with the right data

“Online learning” and “homeschooling resources” have been trending search topics in North America for the past two months, but what does this mean for driving admissions? This is just one example of a question that could be brought to marketing and admissions departments this fall, and with the proper measurement plan in place you’ll have an answer. Almost every school’s website has Google Analytics (GA) on the site, but the difference between having it and using it is all about whether or not it’s been customized for your goals. Below we’ve outlined the steps you should be taking to customize your Google Analytics account. If you haven’t done this before, don’t worry. Most schools haven’t, and until recently it was hard to use GA on Blackbaud websites. However, we’re approaching a period of uncertainty, and whether we find opportunities or challenges in the coming months, having the right data means we’ll have the right answers for those we report to.

Measurement planning

In marketing and sales, the first step to proper data and measurement is to have a plan. Measurement planning is an exercise that requires experience, but once you have the right plan in place, it takes a lot of the “technical speak” and complexity out of using analytics. A proper measurement plan gets away from analytics terminology and starts to define what is important to your school, separating key performance indicators (KPI) from the outcomes that matter. Technically speaking, it separates micro and macro events and conversions. What all that means in English, is having a proper plan in place lets you talk about real people and events—admissions numbers and open house or virtual tour attendees—rather than techno garble.

Measurement planning is about collaboration

Many schools have had goal, event and conversion tracking set up in analytics, but it was done by a technical person working individually. The goal is to get to a place where we’re making decisions based on data, and to do that we need to make sure we’re tracking the things your decisions makers care about. As the head of admissions or marketing for a private school, you need to have your headmaster, board of directors and any other colleague who makes marketing decisions agree on what is being measured for 2020/21. If you accomplish only that goal, you may not have had a successful recruitment season, but you’ll have answers about what has changed.

Set up Tracking Now

You need lead time to collect data. Once a measurement plan is complete, no time is too soon to apply that strategy to your analytics. If you plan to run a campaign this fall to recruit for the following school year, having your analytics properly set up and running over spring and summer will mean that you have a full year's worth of data to plan with for the following year. One thing we have learned is that many private schools start their recruitment campaigns too late in the year. The data suggests you have opportunities throughout the calendar year to move your audience toward conversion. However, to find those opportunities you’ll need a full year of data to plan well, year over year.

Gather data: Integrate analytics with school management software

Setting up Google Analytics for school websites has gotten easier. It’s now possible to integrate Google Tag Manager (GTM) with common proprietary software. This is a change that has come in recent years as major software developers such as Blackbaud have recognized Google Analytics as a market leader in marketing data.

GTM is a free product that lets you access helpful data you can use to guide your marketing campaigns and tactics. By understanding your audiences through insights from their data, you can deliver more meaningful content, where and when they’re looking for it.

Insight reporting also tells you how your competitors are gaining attention online so you can best position yourself in the market. Schools that don’t track and collect data lose the opportunity to reach prospects and learn what their competitors are doing.

Build an agile campaign

Address what parents care about. Once you’ve integrated tracking software into your school’s website and you’ve collected data on those visiting your site, you’re set for campaign development. The best way forward is to lay the groundwork for a campaign that will understand your audience and their respective customer journeys and that can also react and respond to whatever the data presents.

Identify the Problem

What kinds of content is your audience looking for? What is their biggest concern? Do they worry that students lack motivation when studying at home? Are they looking for schools with more experience or who are better adapted to a flexible delivery of education? Once you can identify what your audience sees as the main problem, you can provide a solution that speaks to it. One problem we often find with campaigns in market is that they lack the assets necessary to test what the market actually cares about. How will you know if your audience responds better to an online learning message than another message if you don’t build more than one ad?

Provide the Solution

Now that you have real data to back you up—and not just your best guess—you have a strong foundation on which to make decisions. A great example we’ve found in the education sector is the difference between using behavioural analytics and using acquisition data to produce campaigns and on-site content. What’s important to many people in a school can be a product of behavioural influencers—“we need to have this on our website because parents or students need it” or “this is something I know our families care about so it should be in the campaign this year”. These types of needs can be a problem when we don’t know how to organize them, bringing up more questions such as: what is the behaviour they’re looking to drive? What is the desired outcome? With the right plan and analytic approach, we can find good answers to these questions.

With our experienced approach, you’ll be able to separate these types of needs into behaviour motivators and acquisition strategies. For example, content that performs well on your website to repeat users is valuable, but it’s even more valuable to engage that specific audience (current families). An ad that performs well in driving new visitors to your site is called an acquisition data point, but, after that, the behaviours we want from a new visitor (e.g., signing up for a virtual tour) vs. a returning visitor (e.g., reading an important announcement) are different. You need to have the right data and you need to build a campaign that is ready to test different ideas, but once you’re set up and organized to do both of these, we can serve the needs of the decision makers at your school by getting them focused on the behaviours and the outcome they’re after. More and more private schools are learning how to find and reach their audiences online. If you don’t go there, your competitors will get there first. This is the new marketing landscape.


Private schools are well positioned to run effective recruitment campaigns next fall, even in uncertain times. The key is to collect relevant data ahead of launch to guide your campaign and then position your school as the solution that addresses parents’ concerns.

Schools have been adapting rapidly to new modes of delivering education this year. Private schools have a distinct advantage in being generally well funded, technologically ahead of the curve, innovative in their delivery and able to respond nimbly in times of change.

The most effective ways to prepare for a strong recruitment campaign are to:

Metric Marketing will help you set up and collect the data you need through integrated analytics and tracking. We will act as a trusted partner and bring to the table our deep expertise in digital marketing for private schools. Contact one of our Account Representatives today to discuss how we can help you set up analytics and gather data-driven insights for building a successful recruitment campaign.

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