By Andy Kelley, Founder and CEO, ESM Digital
Activate your website for results in 2019
The president of one of the career schools we serve recently told me, “I’m tired of paying Google. I want more organic leads, and I want to spend less on paid media. What can you do?”
I understood that my client wasn’t ready to abandon the search engine. He just was frustrated with its escalating costs. I also knew that he had this great website but wasn’t using it to its potential.
It was time to optimize what he owned and activate content to be the inquiry channel it could be.
It was a challenge, but one of my teams at ESM Digital readily agreed to the undertaking. Before I reveal the results we were able to produce, let me explain how content and search engine optimization (SEO) can work together to produce a significant uptick in website traffic, that in turn, can result in an increase in high-quality organic leads.
The truth is that by the time a student conducts an online search for a school, s/he already has three in mind. If you want yours to be among them, you need to show up early and often and organically.
How do you accomplish that?
Tell a story that will resonate. And while sometimes I’m talking about an actual story – like when we highlight a graduate in an eNews or a blog post – most of the time it’s about producing great content that hits prospective students at multiple touchpoints on their journey to a school. If you do that, and do it well, you’ll be at the right place at the right time – when a student who may have had no idea he’d be going to your school, makes the decision to enroll.
What is content?
From a digital marketing perspective, it’s everything. It’s the whitepaper, email, eBook, press release and blog post. And by the way, it’s also the display ad that appears on paid media channels. It’s whatever puts a school’s name in lights and allows it to stay top-of-mind wherever a prospective student roams on the internet. Content is an opportunity to educate, inform and build loyalty. Teach those future students about what you have to offer and answer their questions like a trusted friend, and they’ll come to believe you are one. Content is appealing to students and search engines, alike.
That’s because quality content built with search engine optimization in mind helps your school rank organically in the search engine results pages and increases your school’s brand recognition. It helps your future students (and Google) find you.
SEO is a way of working with Google and other search engines to organically increase your website’s ranking and visibility in their results. This increases the likelihood that students searching for the kinds of programs you offer will find your school before your competitors. If you’re not on page one, your competitors will be. SEO helps you rise through the ranks, earn a page one spot, and stand out from the competition. It also increases traffic to your website.
A common misconception about digital marketing is that all you need is a shiny new website to capture leads and students. It’s true that your website is one of your most important owned assets. It is the number one marketing tool you have to attract, educate, inform and enroll new students.
It should be built on a solid foundation of the most current SEO practices, but if your website is really going to work for you, it requires constant maintenance.
If you invested in a new house, you wouldn’t let it fall to disrepair. In the digital world, your website is like your house – and SEO is how you build and maintain it.
First and foremost, you need to consider its structural integrity; that’s a big part of what SEO does. It ensures that your site can be crawled and indexed in search engine result pages. It makes sure that users get what they expect when they come through your virtual doors.
However, it’s not easy to keep up with SEO. As Google works to provide the best user experience, it constantly updates its algorithm – more than 600 times a year. And there are more than 200 ranking factors it considers. Google doesn’t publish information about its algorithm, and it doesn’t let users know if and when they will occur. It’s virtually impossible to stay on top of all of those updates without expert experience and knowledge. At ESM Digital, we mine analytic data to monitor, maintain and revise our clients’ sites to ensure they stay in line with Google’s frequent algorithm updates. We know that failure to do so could result in penalization and lost rankings that would be difficult to recover from.
Since one of Google’s ranking factors is website engagement, it’s no wonder that organic traffic delivers the best results. Users who come organically to your site tend to spend longer time, view more pages and convert at higher rates than paid media leads. And unlike digital advertising and paid search marketing, the initial investment in SEO increases exponentially; it never “pauses.” Moreover, if you do not incorporate SEO, you will see a loss in traffic and inquiries. Ignore SEO, and your “house” will fall apart. SEO is an investment, not a cost. It produces great ROI that can last indefinitely. SEO also isn’t fully effective without good content. You wouldn’t invite guests into an empty house, would you?
Now back to the original client request: Reduce my paid media costs without causing a loss of leads.
What we did:
- Shift 10 percent of the paid media budget to:
- Conduct a technical SEO audit and implement site-wide improvements based on the information learned.
- Add lots of optimized content, targeting high cost paid media keywords, and upper funnel keywords, as well.
- Integrate content and SEO efforts across digital marketing including email, social media, paid search and display.
- Monitor the key performance indicators very closely to measure results.
What we saw:
- Increased traffic, engagement, time on page, inquiries and students!
- Site speed increased by 69 percent
- Organic site traffic increased by 36 percent
- New website visitors increased by 31 percent
- Overall organic leads increased by 32 percent
Although we saw great results for that single client, we wondered if we could replicate what we did with other clients. We could. And we did. With a decided shift in strategy, our content-first focus has produced positive results across the board. We’re still on board the paid Google train, but what we’re seeing organically, is impressive.
Bottom line is that we reduced paid media cost while increasing overall inquiries and enrollments.
Additionally, by targeting high-cost keywords organically, we saved money on search engine bids. This meant that our paid search team could spend effectively, producing a better ROI.
While it’s impossible to have a digital presence without using Google, why not invest in media you actually own? Your website and its content have the power to enroll more students. If you want to show up on page one of a Google search in 2019, optimize what you own and activate content as the inquiry channel it has the potential to be.
ANDY KELLEY is the founder and CEO of ESM Digital, a higher education marketing agency based in Cambridge and Andover, MA. A former executive in Marketing and Admissions at Boston University, Kelley founded ESM Digital as Effective Student Marketing in 2004. He began his company as a one-man consultancy and grew it, over the last decade, into a multi-million-dollar agency with partner schools spanning the United States. Kelley built his firm on a foundation of integrity and exemplary client service, but grew it by adapting the science and discipline of direct marketing to a digital arena. He and his team are passionate marketing professionals who use data and in-depth analysis to produce and prove results that often exceed the expectations of their partner schools. Neither he nor his team is ever satisfied with the status quo. If you’re interested in learning how to activate your website for results, contact ESM Digital today: https://esmdigital.com/
Contact Information: Andy Kelley // Founder and CEO // ESM Digital // 978-475-0880 // firstname.lastname@example.org // https://esmdigital.com/ // linkedin.com/in/andykelley