How many applications does your school receive where the online application is the first point of contact with your school? Called “ghost inquiries,” these are on the rise for independent schools.
Brendan Schneider, Sewickley Academy’s director of advancement and blogger, argues that ghost inquiries have changed the admissions funnel. “Families are doing their research about your school using Google, review sites like Great Schools, viewing your school’s social media channels, and talking to families and friends about their individual opinions,” he explains.
We agree that it’s great to get an applicant from all the digital inroads to your school’s website, but Schneider urges schools to focus on the prospective family that has been on – and bounced off – your website and chose not to apply or even inquire.
More and more people are making admissions decisions without engaging in the more traditional methods (inquiry, admission event, etc.). Figuring out how to capture these “ghosts” who’ve yet to decide about your school is essential. Creating meaningful connections to your school helps them:
- Make a personal connection with you, a teacher or a student,
- Learn firsthand what makes your school special,
- Get important questions answered, and
- Allows you to discover what makes their child a good fit for your school.
Engaging the ghosts requires offering creative content that these prospects – really, anyone looking at your website – will want to read. Think like a business. These are “offers” for families that they can get only by filling out a form.
And what is the offer? A one- or two-page, downloadable PDF (or “e-book”) filled with information that they want to know and can’t be found anywhere else on the site. This can be information specific to your school or hot-button parenting and education topics addressed by your school’s experts to showcase your depth on the subject.
Make them informative and entertaining. And again, only make them available to families who fill out a form.
Find inspiration from frequently asked questions by families who go through a more traditional admissions process.
Cull your school’s faculty, staff and alumni talent for ideas. People love outcome stories, which answer the burning question: “How will X School prepare my child for a great future?”
Use Google Analytics to learn the most popular entry and exit points on your website to decide where to place this content. It is not always your home page. If people exit your site on the “Tuition and Fees” page, consider an offer for a PDF detailing “10 Financial Aid Myths,” written by your financial aid director and COO.
A few more ideas:
- How many lower school families ask about college placement? Ask your college counseling staff to write a piece titled “How to Write an Unforgettable College Essay.” Include recommendations and tips and tout your school’s placement program and outcomes.
- Ask your counseling and digital tech staff to explore “The Good, Bad and Ugly of Middle School Social Media Use” with recommendations on how parents can best handle this hot-topic issue.
- What about a Q&A with your athletic director and one of your coaches who is well-versed in athletic recruiting to address the topic of athletic recruiting? Or the more general topic of “Raising a Good Athlete and Good Sport” that gives you the chance to share the mission of your athletic program?
- Your reading specialist in your preschool or lower school could pen a great essay on “Things to Watch for as Your Child Begins to Read.”
- Showcase an alumna/us with a high-profile career. Do you have an astronaut, Emmy-winner, Nobel scientist, author, etc. in your alumni ranks? Interview that person to find out how your school prepared him or her for success. It will be a story people will want to read! (And it’s great cultivation, so be sure to coordinate with your alumni director.)
Once you get brainstorming, the ideas will flow! Need a brainstorming boost. Check out our tips.
While these posts do not need to be over-designed, work with your designer to plan a format for each PDF and include photos, charts (if applicable), your logo/branding and contact information for your school.
Form Creation and Placement of your Ghost-busting Content
Don’t overload your site with offers: strategize on what and where your content should be placed. Test different pages to learn where you get the most bang for the buck and, switch it up on a regular basis.
Your content request form should be short. Remember KISS (Keep It Short, Schools)! Stick with parents’ names, email and phone for starters. The rest can come with your follow-up phone call when you make that critical, personal connection.
Consider your “offer” language on the form:
- For email: “We can’t wait for you to read our complimentary NAME OF PDF. Please complete this short form, and we will email it to you directly.” If possible, when a person submits the form, have it go directly to a dedicated email that automatically sends the content to the viewer. If you don’t have that capability, make sure you email the content in a timely fashion along with a personal response to begin moving the prospect through your admissions process.
- For downloading: “Fill out this short form to get instant access to this informative resource.” The form should be followed by a button reinforcing the action, such as “Get my free NAME OF PDF now.” Once the viewer clicks the button, the information on the form will be emailed to whomever you wish to receive notification of the information. The viewer should then see a page that says “Download Here.”
Be sure to schedule a plan that automatically sends bonus content that reinforces your messaging and distinctions to the “ghosts” who completed a form, such as:
- An admissions timeline
- Invitation to an event
- A link to another PDF
- Video content, and
- Always, a link to the Apply Online information.
“Ghost” catching is all about leveraging the chance to share your school and share your voice.
Sarah Achenbach is Director of Communications at Kalix with extensive experience in independent school communications.
Need help crafting the right digital communications strategy and other marketing must-dos for your school? Contact us here.
Check out some of our past Admissions Marketing blog entries that may help you reach your goals: