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Higher Education Content Marketing Strategy & Best Practices

Higher education content strategy and best practices

Great content is the lifeblood of successful brands. Most colleges work tirelessly to produce content, but few understand the steps to make it “productive” in service of realizing broader strategic enrollment, reputation, and advancement goals.

Higher Education Content Marketing Strategy is founded on eight pillars.

  1. Vision & Goals
  2. Audiences
  3. Purpose
  4. Content Ecosystem
  5. Types of Content
  6. Promoting Content
  7. People, Process & Technology
  8. Measuring Impact

Let’s explore each pillar in detail.

Vision and Goals

Before you begin articulating a content strategy, review your brand promise, values, pillars and the ideals you want the college to be known for.

Successful colleges connect communication efforts with broader strategic enrollment, reputation, and advancement goals. They expand their community of friends and allies that engage with its offerings and expertise by publishing insightful, practical and valuable content.

Get granular when formulating the goals of your content strategy. For example, the college aspires to grow year-over-year overall enrollment by a x%, increasing enrollment in signature programs by x%, and portfolio of programs by z%.

Audiences

Running a college is often compared to managing a village or a city due to the diverse range of stakeholders it serves. A typical college serves the following stakeholders:

  • Students
  • Parents
  • Faculty
  • Staff
  • Donors
  • Foundations
  • Government Funding Agencies
  • Corporate and Civic Partners
  • Community at Large
  • Ranking and Rating Agencies
  • Media

Successful content strategy understands and meets the needs, wants and aspirations of all these stakeholders.

Purpose

The primary goal of content marketing is to earn attention and grow brand reputation by providing valuable content – that informs, persuades, engages and delights prospects and other stakeholders. It assures each stakeholder uniquely. For instance, it offers career guidance to enrolled students; it assures prospects that the value of their degree far exceeds its cost; it reassures the donors that their funds are being invested in improvements to community, society and human condition – ultimately creating an institution of consequence. 

Goals of Content Marketing

Content Ecosystem

Website, social media, journals and university flagship magazine form the underpinnings of a college content ecosystem. If a website is a college’s digital soul, journal is its brain, and social media and university magazine are its heart. Successful content strategy renews and rejuvenates these with:

  • High-octane student stories that show the students as the heroes on their personal quests
  • High-fidelity enrollment communications where a prospect and their family come to know if a college truly understands their deeper needs: the promise of a generative experience, academic rigor, wholesome outcomes and the gut feeling of an emotional fit.
  • Academic & research publications published in scholarly and TEDx-like democratized knowledge formats. 
  • Industry-academia and interdisciplinary centers of excellence publications that transcends traditional academic boundaries.
  • News & Events information revealing vibrancy. 
  • Athletics and intramural sports news that builds school spirit irrespective of whether the school is a division 1, 2 or 3 institution.
  • Alumni stories that demonstrate the worth of a college investment by showing the trajectories of generations of alumni, their impact, their passions, their triumphs and the contributions to society.
  • Donor stories of their ongoing involvement in shaping the institution and celebrating their personal passions. For corporate and foundation donors, recognizing their generosity and resulting institutional impact on society.
  • Corporate and spinoff stories that critically fill the gap created by reduced government funding for R&D.

It’s crucial for the website, social media, journals and university flagship magazine are used as a content engines that treat each story as a keyword-rich Google ranking asset.College and University Content Ecosystem

Types of Content – Low, Medium, or High Fidelity

Since content freshness is a Google ranking factor, your editorial calendar should prescribe regularly creating fresh content, new stories, consequential news, and event coverage to maintain search visibility and authority. Fresh content can take many forms: copy, stories, photos, infographics, videos, thought leader interviews, articles, white papers, field guides, animations, slideshows, microsites and more. To ensure this content stays within the reach of search engine bots, avoid publishing these in formats like PDF and embeddable flipbooks.

High-Fidelity Content Marketing

Promoting Content

What’s the the use of creating new content if it’s going to become a lotus flower in the Himalayans, which only a few people can enjoy? Leading content marketing strategists orchestrate content, code, optimization so it surfaces on Google page one. They ensure it can be easily shared by pairing it with social share buttons. They actively promote it to new potential communities of interest.

People, Process and Technology

Because content is the lifeblood of great websites, brands and Google rankings, three things are needed to manage a health content ecosystem: people, processes and frameworks. Key components of a content ecosystem include Keyword Guide, Writing Style Guide, Content Governance Guide and Tools. These must be managed periodically, rationally and systematically. They must cultivate the content habit.

Writers

Your team of content creators, editors and designers should embody both an investigative mindset that discovers and uncovers brand evidence and proofs, and imaginative mindset that infuses brand romance to create persuasive content.

Keyword Guide

Craft a Keyword Lexicon that contains clusters of keywords and phrases spanning your academic programs, brand ideals, and areas of thought leadership, innovation and intellectual capital. Laying claim to the keywords begins with an intentional plan. Categories in the lexicon should include academic program keywords, brand positioning keywords, reputation keywords, decisioning keywords, and location keywords.

Know that prospects use different clusters of keywords at each phase of the decision funnel. e.g. they’ll use reputation keywords during the awareness phase, category keywords during the consideration phase and branded keywords during the preference/purchase phase.

Keyword Lexicon

Editorial Calendar

Editorial Calendar spells out content types and formats, publishing dates, content themes and topics, target audience, primary and secondary keywords, editorial guidelines, reference sources and more.

Writing Style Guide

Writing Style Guide spells out appropriate use of college name, degree names, acronyms and abbreviations, style and tone guidelines, inclusive language, words to use and avoid, spelling and capitalizations, when to deviate from AP style, citations and references, and brand promise, values, pillars, line and statements, etc.

Content Governance Guide

Content Governance Guide recommends what content should be updated by various team members to ensure the website, social media, journals and university magazine remain fresh and current.

Tools

Defines acceptable use of AI writing tools.

Measuring Impact

As management guru Peter Drucker said “What you can’t measure, you can’t manage.” Effective content marketing strategy mandates you measure the impact of your efforts via dashboards and KPIs. Essential metrics worth measuring include:

  • Views and popularity
  • Bounce rate or time spent on a content asset
  • Number of shares
  • Google page one rankings
  • Impact on inquiries, enrolls, melt rates and retention rates
  • Impact on giving rate and donations
  • Number of new partnerships formed



Content Marketing Strategy Best Practices

Listed below are seven best practices for higher education content marketing strategy we follow:

  1. Connect communication efforts with broader strategic enrollment, reputation, and advancement goals.
  2. Set aside any turf battles or territorial claims and convene your counterparts in enrollment, advancement, marketing/communications, and the president’s office and make a pact — to better understand how content productivity can change the institution’s destiny.
  3. Ask each representative to make a list of five non-branded keyword phrases that would be of strategic value (non-branded meaning phrases that do not use any iteration of your name or derivatives of your name). Formalize this into an Institutional Keyword Guide.
  4. Begin an inventory of all existing/archived content, and its potential for digital productivity.
  5. Avoid posting your flagship publications as PDFs and embeddable flipbooks.
  6. Democratize knowledge. Be positive, real, helpful, accessible, insightful, professional and knowledgeable. Avoid jargon. Educate, engage and serve people.
  7. Quantify the impact of your content on essential metrics.

If you are seeking an inspired content marketing agency for your organization, consider partnering with us.