The last five years have seen a drastic shift in what works for marketing your continuing education or lifelong learning program. Marketers throw around a lot of terms like “engagement,” “viral,” “SEO,” and “branding,” but the simple fact is that our customers are searching the Internet when they want to take a class. If we want to succeed, we need to make it easy for them to find us in a virtual world.
That’s where the concept of inbound marketing comes in.
Inbound marketing is a process of using your website in a way that attracts visitors naturally through search engines, the blogosphere and social media.
Outbound marketing, on the other hand, is where marketers push their messages out far and wide and hope it resonates with someone. This technique used to work really well, until our customers were able to search and cross reference their options online.
The other thing that has happened that hurts outbound marketing is that people are getting more and more sophisticated at blocking out marketing. Caller ID, spam filters, DVR, and satellite radio are several ways that the average person can avoid us.
More importantly, research shows that nearly 90 percent of American consumers search the Internet before making a purchase. If 90 percent of your potential customers are searching the Internet before they sign up, don’t you want to make sure your program is at the top of the search results list?
The question then becomes – how does inbound marketing work? All marketing starts with a good plan. You need to determine the goals of your plan, what you want to achieve, who your audience is, and what you know about them (Where are they? What are their needs? What can you help them with?).
Create a Powerful Website
A powerful website will serve as the cornerstone for your entire inbound marketing effort. That’s where you want your customers to end up.
You want to create a website that:
– Is intuitive and easy to navigate
– Looks good
– Is search engine optimized
– Is mobile optimized
– Easy to update – and updated often
In a recent survey of LERN members, for instance, it was found that 70 percent of the most successful programs update their website at least monthly, with 35 percent of the most successful programs updating their sites weekly.
Of those most successful programs, 63 percent had mobile optimized websites. This is extremely important because the number of visits to the Internet from mobile devices will surpass visits from desktop computers by 2015, according to analysts at Morgan Stanley. So when your customers visit you from a mobile device, they need to be able to read what’s on your site. Plus, according to a recent Google survey of mobile users, 61 percent of people said they will abandon a site without making a purchase if it is not mobile-friendly.
- Create a blog. One of the best ways to generate traffic to your website is to create a blog. That’s because organizations with blogs get 55 percent more traffic than those without blogs. Also, blog pages are 400 percent more indexed on search engines like Bing and Google, and having blog pages improves your SEO.
- Be active on social media. Nearly two-thirds of U.S. Internet users regularly use a social network. Being active on social media also helps create more inbound links to your site and your blog. This not only attracts more prospects, but search engines use social media indicators to determine your search engine ranking. This also is true for our field – the LERN member study found that 90 percent of the most successful programs are using social media for marketing with the top three platforms being Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn
- Drive them to your site with email. When you email your customers and give them a reason to visit your website, they will come. Your current and past customers are the most likely to be your future customers; therefore you should be in contact with them often.
Convert Visitors to Leads
Of the visitors who come to your website, 3 to 5 percent should become leads. A lead is someone who shares their contact information with you in order to get something in return. It may be filling out a form that allows them to get a special offer, submits a question to you, or downloads something like an eBook or whitepaper that you’ve created.
Giving away a “taste” of your program does not discourage people from registering for your program. In fact, it’s just the opposite. If you share a great whitepaper written by one of your instructors, it’s more likely the potential customer will want to sign up for the class.
In order to give away something on your website, you’ll need to link to a landing page. On it should be a description of the offer and a form to fill out. Of those who click through to your landing page, at least 20 percent should fill out the form.
Turning Leads into Sales
Once someone becomes a lead, they should be put into a lead-nurturing email campaign based on what form they converted on. For instance, if someone downloaded a whitepaper with tips on using social media, they would be put into the campaign promoting your social media certificate.
Email campaigns should consist of at least four emails sent in two week increments. When the person registers for the program the campaign is promoting, they should be opted out of the campaign.
One of the toughest challenges in developing content for your blog as well as your giveaways is finding things to write about. However, free content gives people a “taste” of what you are offering and allows you to collect their contact information. It also allows you to find out who is downloading what – and therefore tailor communications to them.
Some examples of free content are whitepapers (two-five pages), tip sheets (one page), eBooks (10 or more pages), and webinars.
First we find the content, then we find a way to deliver it (whitepaper, tip sheet, etc.). Finally, we find a way to repurpose the content. For instance, five tip sheets can be combined into a whitepaper. Two whitepapers become an eBook.
Some places to find content:
1) Follow the news. What kind of programs do you offer? What’s happening in that arena? If you are offering professional continuing education for nurses, what’s going on now in the field of nursing?
2) Monitor social conversations. Some tools that can make monitoring social media easier are Hootsuite, TweetDeck, and Google Alerts.
3) Conduct original research. A simple survey of your key constituents using SurveyMonkey.com can provide you with the data about your customers. The result: Download our report on the “State of XYZ.”
4) “The Best Of” and “Top” content. A compilation of your most popular blog posts, for instance, in a given amount of time becomes an eBook.
5) Evergreen content. Keep a list of topics that’ll be of interest to your key constituents regardless of the season or other external trends, such as timesaving ideas, how-to articles that address universal problems, and inspirational articles.
Suzanne Kart teaches the Marketing Institute, part of the LERN Institutes which are taking place April 13-16 in Savannah, Ga., where attendees can take an option Certified Marketing Planner test to earn the CMP designation. Click here to learn more or download the brochure below.