Sompting Abbotts Preparatory School is a small independent non-selective school in West Sussex.
In late 2017, it wanted to attract enrolments. Its traditional offline marketing and existing website were failing to attract enough new parents or web traffic. Visitor numbers were static and the management team wanted to increase website visitors, improve user engagement and increase lead generation.
Connected Copy worked with the school to discover the root of its challenges. The result was a major re-brand, a website re-design away from WordPress to a new Squarespace platform, and a digital marketing campaign. This was targeted to appeal to the school’s increasingly millennial parent audience.
Results and ROI by end 2018
Traffic to the school website +169%
The school’s top 10 target SEO search terms are all on Google’s first page, many in top 5 results
Some year groups are now full and operating a waiting list
The website was shortlisted for the 2019 UK Content Awards
The independent school sector is facing challenging times.
Independent schools tend to be the first to experience the effect of any downturn in the economy.
Financially, they're facing business rate debates, inflation-triggered fee rises, teacher pension contribution increases and compliance-related obstacles.
Add to this the fact that in the UK, middle-class families – the traditional parent base of the sector – are seeing their incomes stagnate.
84% of millennials don’t trust traditional advertising. They also want to buy from a brand with which they have high emotional engagement. Smart brands are ditching traditional ads, focusing on design, and leveraging social media and technology.
The buyer's journey has changed. Consumers do more of their own research, and they engage with more content to support their decision-making. A consumer engages with 11.4 pieces of content prior to making a purchase. (Forrester)
Independent schools traditionally haven’t had to focus hard on marketing to guarantee a steady stream of pupils. They're having, though, to become more business-minded.
A smarter marketing approach is now needed to attract what is a smaller applicant pool. This pool is shrinking for socio-economic reasons and due to changes in the UK birthrate.
The Office for National Statistics states that the UK birthrate reached a 12-year low in 2018. Couples are having fewer children or deferring having them until later.
Independent schools, like many organisations, are also having to adapt their marketing strategies to reach their millennial prospective parent customer base.
Marketing to millennial parents isn’t easy. The millennial generation lead hyper-connected lives. They depend on their phones to do their Internet research. They're able to recognise hype, insincerity and misinformation.
Millennial parents require a new approach to engagement. It hinges on user-focused content that answers the key questions these inquisitive and caring parents are asking.
That means a multi-channel strategy, with an emphasis on social media and video marketing.
Researching the challenges the school was facing and its competitive reality was the first step.
This sought to uncover:
Typical parent profile 'persona'
A survey of existing parents was run. This turned out to be a rich source of material that fed into the concepts for the school re-brand. Parents responded enthusiastically and revealed what they loved and valued about the family-run school.
Factors such as class sizes of max 15, whole child development, emphasis on outdoor learning, scholarship potential, focus on ‘old-fashioned’ courtesy and values, and sporting opportunities scored high.
The survey provided real voice of customer and information on parents’ opinions, fears and desires. This feedback was then used to add authenticity to the website copy by using the parents’ words in the headlines, body copy, and calls-to-action.
It’s often the smaller stuff that is most resonant and phrases that stood out were some of these:
“Children can actually climb trees”. “The school’s like Hogwarts”. “There’s lots of old fashioned courtesy”. “Children actually open doors for one another”. “Kids get to do den-building, exploring copses and collect conkers”. “My children can now identify sparrow hawks and buzzards”. “Confidence-building: everyone gets to be on sports teams, in plays and music concerts”. “My child’s no longer lost in a crowd like she was at her state school”.
Competitor school assessment
Sompting Abbotts is one among other (bigger) independent schools in its area. It became clear via online research and review mining that what differentiated it in a positive sense was the fact that it was not a big school.
The traditional values and homely atmosphere of the small prep school were what really appealed to parents.
They felt they were getting more value for money from the individually tailored approach offered by a school where every staff member knows every child. They saw this as a plus over and above the one-size-fits-all style, more ‘hot-house’ approach of larger establishments.
Value proposition and USP
The combined research gave rise to the school’s new tagline: Education to future-proof the magic of childhood.
It emphasised the fact that the school gives children what its parents want. That's a rounded, excellent academic education that prepares their offspring for careers ahead, coupled with a safe and traditional childhood.
Parents clearly appreciated that the school is somewhere children still collect conkers, build dens and climb trees. A protected place where children really could be children in a world in which they’re often forced to grow up too fast.
SEO keyword targets
Keyword research showed that the content on the current website meant that the only target phrase Sompting Abbotts ranked for on Google’s first page was its own.
Page content was carefully written. It leant on strategic keyword use and crafting of SEO meta elements.
A Wikipedia page for the school was authored. This was good for credibility and SEO visibility. A Google My Business listing strengthened this.
The result is that the school is now on Google’s first page for all its target terms such as: West Sussex independent school; Worthing private school; Prep schools near Worthing; Preparatory school Sussex; Independent schools in Worthing; Private primary school Sussex; Private primary school worthing and Independent school Sussex.
The best brands tell a story. It was clear that Sompting Abbotts, established in 1921, run by the same family for three generations, had a fabulous one. Until the new website, it wasn’t really communicating this well.
It was a story that could be re-invented to resonate with today’s audience and their needs. The new website tells this story through content, video and imagery.
The aim was to come over as warm, friendly and accessible. It was also to dispel the idea that independent schools are elitist and highbrow to counter the media’s current fixation on a handful of high-fee, high-profile schools.
The website makes clear that Sompting Abbotts is nothing like the stereotype schools that are exclusive, expensive and the preserve of Russian oligarchs...
It is a local school. It offers small classes, dedicated teaching and an all-round holistic approach to education within a caring environment. It also produces astonishing success stories. Yes, impressive senior school scholarships, but above all, happy, confident children.
Staff, parents, pupils and alumni can be a school’s biggest salesforce. The website re-design succeeds in communicating what it is they value about the school and helps give them a pride in being part of it. It helps create a ‘magnetic’ pull field around it and a consistent story.
By not listing out dull school facilities and statistics, the home page is not what you'd normally expect. The content was written to appeal emotionally to the underlying desires of prospective parents.
Namely their wish to give their children the best start and opportunity in life through an ‘individualised education’. The term private school education is not used ...
To meet the needs of its millennial prospective parent audience, the website seeks to answer all the questions they might want to ask via friendly FAQ sections.
It also provides a free educational e-book download “Your free guide to choosing a preparatory school”, which also helped build a mailing list of prospective parents.
Content marketing & social media
Content marketing has been a strong visibility tactic. The website features an ‘Insight’ section with regular content output. It leans on the strengthened brand to convey the school’s warm family personality.
A bank of informative (and keyword-rich) magazine-style blog content was produced. These are articles on educational topics such as strategies to reduce your child’s screen time, best books for pre-schoolers and tips for teaching your child phonics.
They are child-related subjects that are not just relevant to the school’s own parents but to all parents – in the state or independent sector.
These were shared organically on social media: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. They won strong engagement and shares from the wider public and the press. The school’s Facebook page now has 770 followers, up from 203, 18 months ago.
The website makes strong use of ‘show-don’t-tell’ video marketing to help prospective parents in their decision-making process.
These videos have boosted search performance on Google and are hosted on both YouTube and a school-branded video platform that works to keep people on the website and reduce bounce rates.
Visitors to the website can now view existing parents talking about their experience of the school, plus many short authentic videos of school life such as these below.
“For us, Sarah has been a marketing sorceress! She carried out surveys, studied our market in depth, then rebranded us. She re-designe an ineffective billboard website into one that’s beautiful, engaging and informative and sells our USPs as an independent school. Thanks to this and the content and video marketing strategy plan she's put in place, we’ve seen 97% growth in enrolment enquiries since launch, 28% increase in pupil numbers and 167% rise in visitors to the website this year to date. Before the new website, we didn’t rank for the keywords prospective parents might be searching for. Now for all 10 of our target terms, we’re on Google’s first page – for most, in the top five results.”
Stuart Douch, Headmaster, Sompting Abbotts