Do a quick search for “benefits of blogging” in Google, and you’ll be served up hundreds of data points on how blogging helps every industry meet their goals — and the same is true for schools. A school blog has the power to improve your school’s performance in search, position your school as an expert in education, and help improve enrollment and retention. It is the foundation of any solid content marketing strategy, as it is a single location where you can share content that resonates with Generation Z, millennials, baby boomers, and even the silent generation (AKA, grandparents).
Despite a blog’s importance, many schools aren’t using them — or using them effectively. As a matter of fact, our Inbound Marketing Benchmark Report suggests that less than half of schools currently have a school blog, and most of those schools with a blog have an infrequent, sporadic, or minimal blog presence, with less than 18% of schools blogging at least once per week.
One of those schools that does blog consistently, however, is Avon Old Farm School. And according to Kristen Kerwin, the investment of time and resources has been well worth it.
In the blog’s initial launch, it saw 8,500 new website visits to the main blog page, and an additional 5,000 visits to individual posts in just a few months. And on Facebook alone, the content has garnered 56,689 views, 1,365 likes, and 104 shares. Since the blog’s launch in July 2017, the school has maintained a blogging cadence of one to two posts per week. The school’s blogs are typically at least 800 words on average.
Those are certainly some compelling numbers in my book.
Many schools don’t have the time and resources for a strong presence, which of course serves up one potential roadblock. But, even those that do, often hit a writer’s block pretty early on. It has resulted in one of our most frequently asked questions of all time at workshops, on webinars, and at FinalsiteU: What should my school blog be about?
Inbound Marketing Manager Kristen Doverspike and I recently covered top of the funnel blog content for schools during Episode 3 of The School Marketing Show — LIVE! Watch it below:
Is there a difference between news posts and blog articles?
But first, let’s clarify another big FAQ: what is the difference between a school blog and school news? And: can something that is newsworthy also be good for the blog?
Both blog and news articles are intended to engage, inform or entertain — which can certainly make for a grey area when trying to determine what to blog about. One quick way to describe the difference is this: news articles focus on timely matters, while blogs are usually timeless — meaning they are evergreen and relevant one week, month, or even one year later. Kristen said it best when she referred to the Avon Old Farms blog as “a hub of know-how that can be visited and shared repeatedly at any time by any constituent.”
In short, if you’re writing about recent campus happenings, that’s news. If you’re writing about how the traditions have evolved on your campus over the past 100 years, that’s a blog. For example, take Avon Old Farms’ blog from December 5, 2018: “Why Holiday Traditions Matter.” The article covers four of the school’s holiday traditions, and why they matter to the school’s culture. If the school wanted, they could also publish a timely news article about each one of the traditions after the fact, like the did for the Holiday Classic Hockey Tournament.
On the flip side, news articles can inspire blog posts. Maybe you’re already doing an “Athlete of the Month” news post, where you simply announce the athlete of the month, the team they are on, and why they are this month’s MVP. This could easily be turned into a blog post by adding some more “meat.” Interview the athlete of the month, his/her teammates and even the coach. The post becomes more of a “feature story” about the athlete, rather than a simple news article stating the accomplishment.
What should your school blog about?
Before you start a school blog, you need to get out of the mindset of writing about your school. Often, because schools are so used to writing news stories, it is hard to break the habit of just talking about yourselves.
So, what should your school blog about? The big picture answer is simple: your school should blog about what your constituents care about. And while I can’t tell you what your school’s constituents care about (because every school is unique!) I can share some driving forces for coming up with effective blog content that increases website traffic and community engagement.
First and foremost, you need to consider the inbound marketing funnel.
When you understand what kinds of content your prospective and current constituents crave at each stage of the funnel, it become easy to come up with topics. (For your blog, the phases of attract and engage, recruit and convert, and nurture and enroll can be joined together for simplicity.)
Attract & Engage
Prospective families are currently searching about education options for their children, which includes public schools, private schools, and charter schools. They know education is important, and want to make a decision that is best for their child and family. Most of their searches are unbranded, and are general searches such as “why attend a private school?” or “is a private school worth the investment?” or even “is a private school safe?”
Focus on general topics, and consider the questions your prospective families, who still aren’t sold on a private school education, might be asking. A good source of topics is your admissions team, who is likely fielding a variety of questions every day.
Suggested Blog Ideas:
- Why Attend a Private School?
- 5 Benefits of a Private School Education
- 10 Questions to Ask When Choosing the Right Education for Your Child
- Top Considerations for Choosing Between Private and Public Education
Recruit & Convert
By now, prospective families have identified that they want to send their children to private school, but now you need to convince them that your school is the right fit. Families are weighing the pros and cons between day and boarding, single gender and coed, Montessori and traditional education, etc. Your goal is to write blogs that help them make these kinds of decisions.
Because of the uncertainty, prospective families are still using mostly unbranded terms, such as “best private schools near me,” or “all girls school vs. all boys school.” Because your goal is a conversion, each blog written for this stage of the funnel should allow for a conversion — such as a content download, viewbook download, speak to an admissions expert, etc.
As for topics, focus on more specific topics that outline your school’s niche. A good source of topics is your marketing team, as well as your parent community. Your marketing team knows your differentiators, while your parent community can weigh in on the tipping point that led them to choose your type of school, and eventually your school.
Suggested Blog Ideas:
- 4 Ways to Make Private School More Affordable
- 5 Benefits of a Montessori Education
- STEAM vs. STEM: Which is Right for My Child?
- How to Choose between Boarding and Day School
- How to Write a Great Admissions Essay
Nurture & Enroll
At this point in the inbound funnel, prospective families have likely identified a handful of schools for their child. Now, the searches get more specific! They may be searching for your school directly, or entities tied to your school, such as “taft school curriculum guide.” Blog content for individuals at this stage in the funnel should focus on selling the value of your school. For this reason, it’s time to pull out all the stops to answer the question “Why [School]?” You will also want to use this time to share content that alleviates fears or hesitations prospective parents or student may have.
A good source of topics is your school. What makes you special? What expert guidance can you provide? You may also find inspiration by looking to the education industry to see what kinds of topics are trending, and how you can take big picture ideas and focus them on your school community.
Suggested Blog Ideas:
- How to Prepare for Your First Year at a Boarding School
- 3 Benefits of [Not] Having a School Uniform Policy
- Faculty, Student and Parent Spotlight Articles
- School Tradition Articles
We all know it is less expensive to retain a student than enroll a new one, so never forget about the importance of articles that focus on continuously selling the value of your school. Some of this content is likely to overlap with content for other stages of the funnel. Your current community wants to know that their investment is being put to good use. Focus on articles that position your school as an expert in the field of education, as well as articles that highlight how investments pay off.
Suggested Blog Ideas:
- How to Prepare for Back-to-School
- 6 Science-Backed Ways to Help Students Cope with Stress
- Doing the Distance: Dealing with Your First Boarding School Year
- Faculty, Student and Parent Spotlight Articles
Second, consider the questions you get asked.
Just like how this blog stemmed from a frequently asked question, your blogs can, too! Families have questions at all stages of the funnel, and creating content around these questions makes their process easier, and your job easier!
Send an email to your colleagues in different departments and ask them for their top five frequently asked questions — you may be surprised with how many blog topics you have right out of the gate!
Plus, because of Internet users’ new search habits, writing blog posts with the title as a question can boost your performance in search, too!
When all else fails, Google it.
What are other schools blogging about? What is your competition blogging about? Open Google and conduct a variety of searches, such as “Montessori School Blog” or “Private School Blog.” You’ll find inspiration from a variety of places this way. You’ll also likely notice that the majority of school blogs out there are not following today’s best practices, so out-ranking older, non-optimized posts can be easy in some cases.
And remember: Good artists copy. Great artists steal. Your blog topics don’t need to be brand new, or revolutionary. Looking at what other schools like yours across the country are blogging about can stem great ideas that you can use, too.
Other Blogging Logistics
In addition to planning your blog topics, you’ll also want to plan how long your posts will be on average, and how often you will post.
Blog Post Length
In general, the blogs that rank the best in search are at least 1,100 words on average. But this doesn’t mean every blog you write needs to be 1,100 words. Again, consider your audience. If your blog is targeted to your current community and SEO isn’t a priority for that topic, it’s okay to let it be 500 words.
A good rule of thumb to follow is this: If your blog falls into the attract/engage stage, aim for a longer post of at least 1,000 words. These are the blogs where search matters most!
And, don’t let length get your discouraged! Starting with something is better than having nothing at all.
Blog Post Frequency
There is plenty of data that backs up that the more frequently you blog, the more results you’ll see. For this reason, we recommend that schools blog at least once per week, but preferably twice (or even more if you have a dedicated writer!).
If you only have time to blog once per month, focus on one target audience or stage of the funnel, instead of all of them. Giving your blog a specific focus makes your once-a-month article makes a bigger impact.
Creating a Blog Calendar
Before you build a calendar, you’ll want to start with a list of topics, and associate those topics with a stage of the inbound funnel. (We’ve created a template to help you do that here!) As you build your calendar, it is important to consider how to integrate content for all stages of the funnel into your calendar. For example, you don’t want to write posts that only fall under “retention” for two months, and then switch gears. It is best to build a content calendar where all stages of the funnel are represented on a monthly basis — even if that just means one blog per week!
How will your prospective and current families know when you post new content? Reach them on all digital mediums, including email, social media, and your website. Because most blogs you write will be “evergreen,” you can share them in newsletters and on social media throughout the year, or draw attention to certain articles on different pages of your website.
Blogging has numerous benefits, including increased website traffic and engagement. A blog is also the foundation of any inbound marketing strategy, as blog content has the power to engage and nurture individuals throughout their journey of choosing the right school. Start today by brainstorming blog topics using our “Inbound Marketing Blogging Template,” complete with an outline of the inbound funnel, suggested topics, a sample calendar, and content planning sheet.