College and university marketers are starting to understand the importance of content marketing and how it can supplement paid search, paid social, and other digital enrollment marketing efforts to drive prospects into an admissions pipeline.
Content marketing is an effective top-of-the-funnel tactic because it can generate demand for your degree programs rather than just respond to demand that already exists, as is the case with lower-funnel tactics, like paid search.
However, content marketing can also seem overwhelming because, if well-executed, it requires a good amount of research, coordination between contributors, and a solid governance structure. For example, the Northeastern University graduate blog publishes content written by professional writers and faculty, addressing topics prospective students care about. Headlines range from, “What does it mean to be innovative?” to “Must-Have Skills for Data Analysts.” The articles never promote the university’s degree programs directly, but readers see side-bar information about them and the blog is housed within the university’s website. In addition, when readers opt to download e-books for additional information about the topic, they provide their email address and count as a prospect conversion for the university.
A content marketing strategy does not have to be expensive and can be scaled depending on the amount of resources. Plan your strategy by addressing the following steps:
- Identify what your prospects are searching online
Ask yourselves what topics and industry news are interesting to prospects of the programs you want to promote through content marketing. For example, if you want to attract readers who may be interested in your MBA program, make a list of topics and questions they may be researching online.
- Develop a List of SEO Terms per topic
Once you know which topics will appeal to your prospects, leverage the Google trends tool to develop a list of short-tail and long-tail keywords with high search volume. This will help your content appear towards the top of Google search results, increasing clicks and traffic to your blog. Also educate yourselves and your team on broader best practices in search engine optimization to make sure you are not missing out on valuable traffic because of holes in your SEO strategy.
- Develop a content calendar
A content calendar is an invaluable tool in organizing your content marketing efforts. You will likely want to publish content that promotes a variety of degree programs and spans across industries. A content calendar will help ensure you maintain balance among your topics during any given week or month.
In addition, a content calendar helps identify deadlines for all required steps in the planning process, including topics, research, writing, editing, and deployment. The calendar will help you plan content for your blog, but there are many helpful templates for social media content planning, as well. Ideally, your blog content will integrate with your social media strategy and email nurture messaging.
- Ask faculty and students to write articles
In addition to leveraging professional writers (if your budget allows for it) and in-house marketing staff members, consider recruiting faculty and student contributors. Faculty tend to appreciate the opportunity to highlight their research and provide prospective students with examples of the kinds of research projects they might become a part of. Students (and alumni) enjoy sharing about their experiences in the classroom, in internships, and on campus overall.
Faculty and student videos make great additions to an otherwise text-heavy blog. Consider how you can create efficiencies across writing and video production efforts, for example by recruiting contributors for both at the same time.
- Implement a content governance structure
Once you have identified topics, keywords, and contributors and have organized your efforts through a content calendar, you need to ensure all content abides by the editorial and brand guidelines of your university.
Content governance software, like the WordPress plugin, “My Content Management,” allows multiple contributors to submit content for easy review by designated editors, who can then approve and publish it.
- Capture prospects into your admissions funnel
There are multiple ways to measure the success of your content marketing efforts, including traffic volume and click-throughs to program pages. A better way to stay focused on conversion is to immediately capture readers as leads by making them an offer at the end of each article. At Northeastern, we used downloadable e-books to acquire readers’ email addresses and absorb them into our admissions pipeline. Infographics, videos, or templates also make good options for downloadable content.
These five steps are the key building blocks of a successful content marketing strategy in higher education. Depending on your budget and resources, you may choose to publish a large volume of content every week or a more conservative schedule. Either way, considering SEO early on, keeping the process organized via a content calendar, and making governance easy and scalable will serve you and your institution well.
Suzan Brinker, PhD specializes in Higher Education enrollment marketing. Having previously served as Director of Marketing at Penn State and Northeastern University, she now leads Viv Higher Education, a full-service marketing agency for colleges and universities.