Did you know that higher education institutions spend $429 to $623 on marketing per enrolled student each year? As a trade school, vocational school, or college, does this sound like a lot to you?

Well, colleges are having to compete for students, and marketing is a highly-effective way to win. However, no amount of marketing budget makes up for a lack of solid SEM strategy.

Yep, that’s right. If you’re spending money on the wrong kind of marketing strategy, you’ll end up investing in all of the wrong things. And, nothing will work. That’s not where we want you to be.

Instead, we wanna walk you through the various elements of a SEM strategy so that you can create a plan of action that will actually work for your school.

SEO and SEM Explained

Good SEO practices help a website rank higher on SERPs thereby driving more traffic to the site. However, SEO is a dynamic and ever-changing field, which makes it important for businesses to stay up-to-date with the latest trends and best practices. 

Some of the most important aspects of on-page SEO include optimizing title tags, meta descriptions, header tags, images, etc.

Generally, both on-page, as well as off-page SEO, are important for achieving better search engine rankings. However, the relative importance of each depends on the individual website and the competitive landscape.

SEM, or search engine marketing, is another type of digital marketing. The goal of SEM is to increase the visibility of a website on search engine results pages (SERPs). However, SEM refers to paid advertising tactics that can often yield results quicker.

Overall, search engine marketing is an effective way to drive traffic to a website and can be used to achieve a variety of marketing goals, such as increasing brand awareness, generating leads, or boosting sales.

Why? You’re capturing people who are searching for you instead of waiting for them to visit you organically. 

In terms of marketing for vocational or trade schools, for example, this means that you could run a PPC campaign targeting people looking for “automotive technician programs near me” on Google.

Once they search for that keyword, your ad would ideally appear at the top of the page. Then, they would click through and see an optimized landing page full of information about the program and a call to action directing them to fill out a form or call the admissions office.

Is SEM Better Than SEO?

Not necessarily, no. It’s different. We often suggest each one in certain cases.

SEO is a great long-term content strategy. Results with SEO don’t start to occur until about three to six months after you start investing in an aggressive content strategy. However, if you do SEO right, you can see lasting effects for quite a while.

SEM, or PPC marketing more specifically, has near-immediate effects. Whereas SEO takes time to implement and can take several months to start seeing results, PPC is a much shorter-term strategy. 

You can create and launch ads quickly, targeting a highly-targeted audience. However, as soon as a business stops paying for ads, the results will stop as well. For this reason, we often recommend opting for both SEO and PPC marketing

This will allow you to:

  • Enjoy the benefits of the immediate boost in traffic from paid ads
  • Figure out which keywords work for you and which don’t
  • Slowly yet meticulously craft an SEO strategy
  • Start posting high-quality content that will gain traction over time

By combining both, you’re able to let PPC marketing work its magic for you while your SEO strategy takes its time to build momentum.

However, if you’ve only got the budget to invest in one and your goal is near immediate traffic and conversions, PPC is the way to go.

What Are the Most Important Elements of a SEM Strategy?

Any good SEM strategy is built on a solid foundation of keyword research. Without a thorough understanding of the words and phrases that your potential customers are using to search for products or services like yours, it will be very difficult to create an effective campaign. 

Once you have a good grasp of the keywords that you should be targeting, you need to focus on creating content that is both relevant and compelling. 

This refers to both your ad copy and your landing page copy. Your ads should be attention-grabbing and relevant to user search intent

Your landing page copy should be compelling and action-oriented, urging the reader to complete an immediate reaction. For a college, this could be something like:

  • Download our admissions guide
  • Book a chat with an admissions specialist
  • Get our course guide
  • Book a campus tour 

Finally, you need to monitor your campaign closely and make adjustments as necessary to ensure that you are getting the most bang for your buck. This includes things like:

  • Adding negative keywords to a negative keyword list
  • Adding good keywords that users are using (but you hadn’t previously included) based on your campaign data
  • Optimizing your ad copy
  • Optimizing your landing page copy and design

By following these simple steps, you can create a SEM strategy that will help you achieve your desired results.

Search Engine Strategies for Schools

Search engine strategies for schools should have one goal: increasing your school’s visibility online. The higher the ranking on that first page of Google, the more likely people are to find the website.

If you’re going with SEM for this then it means you’ll be crafting a high-converting, highly-targeted PPC marketing strategy. 

While PPC can be an effective way to reach prospective students, it can also be costly if not managed properly. To get the most out of your PPC budget, it is important to create a well-thought-out PPC strategy. What does that look like for a school?

Identify Your Target Audience

First, you need to identify your target audience. What degree programs are they interested in? What type of information are they searching for? 

Not only will this help you determine which keywords to target in your PPC campaigns, but it will also help you define the geographic parameters of your campaign.

For example, you might target prospective students in your local area with local ads. However, you would want to create a separate campaign for out-of-state students looking for a great program as well.

Understand How to Perform Keyword Research 

This is where most colleges and trade schools get PPC wrong. And, we get it. Understanding how to perform high-quality keyword research is a bit of an art.

To start, we suggest thinking about common search terms people likely use to find your school. Depending on the programs you offer, there are probably a few obvious ones that come to mind.

When it comes to SEO, keyword research is essential. After all, if you don’t know what people are searching for, how can you optimize your website and content to rank in the search engines? Fortunately, keyword research is relatively easy to do. There are a number of different tools and methods you can use to find the right keywords for your business.

Then, we recommend that you go to Google’s keyword planner tool. This tool allows you to enter a keyword or phrase and see how many people are searching for it every month. 

This is a great way to get an idea of the popularity of a keyword. You can also use this tool to find related keywords that you may not have thought of. Enter some course names or certifications you offer to see if those might be good keywords to use.

Another popular tactic is to see what search terms come up with ads. For example, if you search for “Ag Science Courses Online” and ads come up, you know that other schools have seen success with PPC campaigns for that term and you could, too.

Overall, however, your keywords can make or break your PPC campaign. So, it’s often best to work with a professional or qualified team to identify the right keywords to use.

Create Compelling Ad Copy

When you engage in SEM strategies, copy is king. This is especially true when you’re running Google Ad campaigns. Why?

First, you need to consider the ad copy itself. If you’re unsure of what that is, go over to Google and type in “automotive technician training.” The first few results that come up are likely ads. Read those ads.

That’s the ad copy we’re talking about. You’ll note that it includes details about the training program and a few benefits. Then, there should be a call-to-action such as “apply for the program.”

The goal with the ad copy is that it’s compelling enough to entice people to click through to your landing page. The second part of the ad copy is on the landing page. 

Go ahead and click through on some of those ads you just saw when searching for “automotive technician training.” Browse around that landing page to see what’s included.

An optimized landing page should have, first and foremost, a strong headline that captures the attention of your audience and makes them want to learn more. 

Second, your landing page should include a clear and concise copy that explains what you’re offering and why it’s valuable. Third, you need to have a strong offer that incentivizes your audience to take action. 

Finally, your landing page should include a clear call-to-action that tells your audience what they need to do next. If you can include all of these elements on your landing page, you’ll be well on your way to generating more leads and conversions for your school.

Common Pitfalls to Avoid When Creating a SEM Strategy for Schools 

So you think you’ve got this SEM thing down? Ready to start creating a SEM strategy for your school? After years of crafting everything from a SEM strategy template to a full campaign for numerous schools, we’ve learned about a few pitfalls you should avoid.

One common mistake that schools make is failing to do proper keyword research. They assume that they know which keywords parents and students are using to find schools online, but they often don’t. 

As a result, their website and ads may not show up in the search results at all. Another mistake is failing to create compelling ads. SEM is all about getting clicks, and if your ad isn’t interesting or relevant, people are likely to just move on. 

Likewise, we sometimes see colleges getting the keyword strategy right only to fail when it comes to landing page copy. Why? You need to understand how your target audience wants to be spoken to.

Agricultural sciences students probably react to different language than a high school student looking to tour your campus just for general studies. Keep this in mind and write with your audience in mind always.

Finally, we see schools failing to track their results carefully and adjust their strategy accordingly. What works for one school might not work for another, so it’s important to keep an eye on your metrics and make changes as needed. 

Avoid these common pitfalls, and you’ll be well on your way to SEM success.

Need Help With Your School’s SEM Strategy?

We hope that we’ve provided you with a comprehensive breakdown of how to create a great SEM strategy for your school. However, we also know that we’ve just thrown quite a bit at you. From SEO strategies to SEM, PPC, and keywords, it can feel daunting to put everything together in a way that’s conducive to your school’s success.

That’s what we’re here for! At Local Finder, we specialize in search engine strategies for colleges, trade schools, and vocational schools.

Don’t waste precious marketing money on tactics that don’t work. Instead, get in touch to discuss the best option for your school and how we can help you create a winning strategy.


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