Ensuring that your school appears prominently in online searches is a continuous process requiring multiple strategies. In this blog we discuss search engine marketing (SEM) which includes search engine optimisation (SEO) and pay-per-click advertising (PPC). Both these strategies can be used to direct traffic, generate new interest and acquire leads.

Each strategy has its own benefits, so it’s important to use a combination of both to maximise your time, resources and spend.

The difference between SEO and PPC

SEO is a long-term investment focused on building your reputation. Promoting your school by answering questions and solving problems for prospective parents and students will raise your online search profile. Though its cost is relatively low, SEO requires investment of a lot of time and resources before results begin to show. Once you are producing high quality content regularly, there comes a point when SEO optimised digital assets start to provide exponential returns. The value of your content doesn’t reside in one or two great posts, but rather in your digital existence as a whole, and this collective value starts boosting newer content as you go too. Eventually your SEO optimised pages will create a continual flow of traffic to your website, landing pages or school blog. 

PPC, on the other hand, is a fixed-time campaign with high upfront costs (such as payment for advertising) but returns are quick, highly valuable and specific – such as sign ups to your virtual open day. PPC campaigns are designed around a keyword strategy just like SEO, however they only bring returns as long as you are paying for the campaign – so there’s no exponential growth or long term benefits as with SEO. Because of the high upfront costs, PPC should be used wisely and you’ll want to pick the right spots. 

How and when to use SEO

You’ll always want to use SEO to push your website higher and higher in search results organically. It’s important to use long tail keywords (LTKs), in language that your ideal audience/ personas will be using for their queries online. The more relevant your LTKs are to your personas, the more interest you will attract. Once your research identifies a list of keywords that are relevant to your ideal audience, you can begin with ‘on page’ and ‘off page’ SEO.

On page SEO

This is where you have the most control. You can carefully embed your keywords throughout your page, including title, subtitles, meta description, tags and paragraphs. However, it’s important to write naturally – the days of meaninglessly repeating keywords are long gone. Other tactics to remember include making sure the page has a fast loading time and including social sharing buttons – the more your content is shared, the more google will know it is valuable, which will in turn push it higher on search results.

Off page SEO

This is when other sites (ideally high authority ones) link to your content. You don’t really have much control over this, other than producing great content that people will search for, share and link back to. Again, ensure that you have plenty of sharing options and subtly remind readers throughout the content to do so – either in text or with calls to action. You might want to add some clever copy such as: ‘Know someone who is looking for a school that specialises in music? Share this page with them now!’ 

How and when to use PPC

Since PPC campaigns only run for as long as you’re willing to pay for the advertising space, it’s best to reserve them for events and open days – specific things that you really want to promote. With virtual open days, you’ll want to achieve two things – create awareness and get real sign-ups, so a PPC campaign would be a great choice here. Other reasons to launch PPC campaigns are to attract particular kinds of students or to increase admissions numbers for the upcoming school year. With these campaigns you just have to bear in mind at what stage of the funnel the prospects are that you are targeting – are they at the awareness stage, consideration stage or decision stage? – and you’ll want to choose the keywords you pay for accordingly. 

To summarise, you should think of SEO as your always-on SEM strategy, whereas PPC is reserved for special events. As we hope to have shown in this guide, you need both.

Is your school looking to incorporate an SEM strategy for an upcoming virtual open day? Get a free 30-minute consultation with one of our digital experts to find out what the best approach is for you.