Unlike traditional businesses – that tend to have specific audience segments they’re looking to attract – schools and universities aim to attract people from a varied background, each with their own interests and relationship with your institution.
While each school is unique, it’s fair to say that the types of people you typically look to attract include:
- Prospective students – Clearly this audience segment comes to mind first. Your school relies on the recruitment of new, incoming students each and every year.
- Current students – Just because you have successfully attracted a student to your school doesn’t mean that student isn’t open to the idea of transferring elsewhere. Part of your marketing efforts likely do (or should) target your current students to keep them engaged.
- Alumni – This, too, is an important population to reach out to. Alumni can be your biggest financial supporters and brand evangelists, actively reaching out to future prospects.
- Faculty – Your faculty is no different from current students; they might be satisfied with their experiences at your institution; but unless you continue to deliver an amazing experience to your faculty, you risk losing them to your competition.
- Parents – Often times, it’s the parents of students who make key financial decisions, including whether your school is providing the type of educational experiences their children deserve.
Review that list above again for a moment. Aside from your school, there’s not much else each of these population segments have in common. Each have their own motivations; each have their own internal conversations as they surf the web or browse your site.
How, then, can you successfully keep each of these audience segments engaged and happy with your institution?
It comes down to your school’s website.
Your website is singlehandedly your most important digital asset and, some would argue, your most important marketing tool. But, as an institution with a lot to offer, and many people to try and cater to, your website could also become a cluttered and confusing mess.
That is, unless, you structure your site with your users in mind.
How do you do that? What we often recommend for our education clients that have a digital marketing strategy is to create content hubs on their website.
What is a content hub?
There are many different types of content hubs, but a good example of what our digital marketing agency recommends can be seen if you visit the site of Colby Sawyer, a liberal arts school based in Waterville, Maine.
Colby College’s main website can be found at http://colby.edu.
For all accounts and purposes, their homepage doesn’t look much different from other school websites. Some would argue, actually, that it’s far less complex than other school homepages – it’s just one main screen, which forces the visitor to navigate the menu to make their next move.
You’ll see in that main navigation some of the same items used in schools across the country. “Alumni.” “Parents.” “Admissions.” “Academics.”
Each of these menu items help the visitor to funnel to a section of the Colby site that closely matches their needs.
If we click on the Alumni option, here’s what we’re greeted with next.
This is a pretty standard sub-page on the Coly site. The URL is straight forward: http://www.colby.edu/colbyalumni/. By developing a sub-page specific just to alumni, Colby can tailor the content on this page to a very narrow group of visitors.
That includes adding customized buttons and calls-to-action on the site, specific to alumni.
In the image above, you see a sub-menu of items including: “Give”, “Volunteer”, “Alumni Council” and more.
What you won’t see is that sub-menu on the main Colby homepage, nor on any of its sub-pages that aren’t tailored to alumni.
That’s because a typical school website is already inundated with an overwhelming number of menu items – due to the nature of the institution. Finding ways to minimize information overload is key toward keeping your visitors engaged.
Colby has done this brilliantly through simple site structuring.
This entire sub-page – as well as the sub-pages for Parents and more, are pretty good examples of content hubs; however, Colby goes even further.
Take, for example, what happens when we go to the Alumni landing page, and then click on the menu item “Join/Login to Colby Connect”:
We aren’t just taken to a new page – we’re taken to a new site: https://colbyconnect.com/.
This little portal gives Colby the ability to develop an entire resource center, just for alumni. Not only does this provide alumni with a unique, and positive, experience. But it also makes them feel like they’re part of an exclusive club (which they are), and as any marketer will tell you, if you want to create lifelong customers, make them feel like a part of something.
Here, Colby did just that.
But as we mentioned at the start of this article, schools like yours aim to attract many types of audiences, not just alumni.
That’s why Colby also created a content hub for its current students. It’s called Inside Colby:
The site itself is pretty simple – it’s a blog. But, more importantly, it’s a site “for students, by students.”
Current students use this microsite to share their on-campus experiences and other glimpses of life on campus. This type of user-generated content reduces the cost of the school to market this type of messaging, but it also helps add transparency and trust between the school and students, as well as prospects.
That’s because although the portal is aimed at existing students, its content is public and can serve as a powerful draw for recruiting new students.
The residual effects of these content hubs
Above we outlined three different types of content hubs. The traditional – or sub-pages on your site; the substantial portal (the alumni login site), as well as the more laid-back, user-guided “Inside Colby” site.
Each are designed to attract targeted audiences and keep them engaged. Here’s why that’s so important to your institution.
For starters, you of course want to deliver a positive user experience, simply to strengthen the weight of your brand.
But from our SEO standpoint, these pages and sites offer a multitude of benefits.
When you build microsites and sub-pages (often referred to as landing pages) with targeted messaging, you then can optimize those corners of your website with keywords and phrases. That way, when one of your targeted audiences conducts a Google search, they’ll most likely stumble upon a page or post that answers their question.
If they do, then they’re likely to spend more time on your pages and site (which Google registers as a positive indication of the content you provided). They’ll also be less likely to exit your site quickly (known as a bounce), which again, is seen favorably by Google and other search engines.
As a result, search engines will reward your website as a whole with higher rankings, because they can feel confident that the experience you provide to your audiences is positive, and in line with the searches they’re conducting.
Building out your content hubs
We recommend you list out your target audience segments, and brainstorm what type of content hub these audiences would want to see.
Generally speaking, parents and alumni each would like to be a part of something exclusive, while students and prospects want to hear from their peers, rather than from official school representatives.
With that understanding, how do you think you could restructure your site to deliver the best possible user experience for all of your visitors?