What is inbound marketing?

Inbound marketing is a method of attracting, engaging, and delighting people to grow a business that provides value and builds trust. The theory behind inbound marketing is that, by publishing and sharing the right content in the right place at the right time, your marketing becomes relevant and helpful, rather than disruptive.

All prospective families and students fall into one of three “buckets” along the applicant's journey: awareness, consideration, and decision.

  • Awareness: At this stage, the prospect is aware of their current situation, whether it is a problem, need, or desire. Then, the research comes in to begin finding a remedy to these obstacles.
  • Consideration: At this point, the prospect has clearly defined their exact obstacle and begins to research solutions.
  • Decision: At this stage in the applicant journey, the prospect has decided on a few schools that would be their solution, but does additional research before making their final decision.

Schools will get applicants in their pipeline at all points. Regardless, it's your job to have a plan in place for anyone who enters your pipeline at any given time.


Inbound marketing starts with personas. A persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal applicant, parent, student, etc. based on research and data about your currently enrolled students and alumni. Identifying these personas will help you shape all of your marketing content: emails, tweets, social ads and, most importantly, your website content.

Keep in mind that you're going to have many different personas. To get started, consider the top four or five different types of families you would like to enroll. Personas can be shaped around backgrounds, demographics, personality, goals, challenges, common objections, budgets, interests, age, academics, etc. — or a combination of them all.

Your goal is to craft all of your marketing messaging to appeal to your personas’ goals and interests, while alleviating their common objections or challenges. Check out our Personas Worksheet (PDF) to get started now.

Applicant journey

Each persona will take an applicant journey. Within each applicant's journey, four actions typically take place:

  • You turn strangers into website visitors.
  • You turn website visitors into inquiries or applicants.
  • You turn inquiries/applicants into enrolled students.
  • You turn enrolled students into engaged alumni.

To be successful at each one of these stages, you need to equip yourself with the proper tools.

1. Turning strangers into website visitors

A billboard or magazine ads might turn into a few website visitors. However, there are many other amazing tools at your fingertips.

  • Search engine optimization (SEO): Most prospective families begin their search for a private school with a search engine: Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. Optimizing your school's website for keywords that they're looking for will help your search performance. Also consider other SEO factors, like responsive design.
  • Pay per click (PPC): If you want to be at the top of the page in every search that matters, invest in a pay-per-click advertising campaign that uses top keywords related to your school to generate new traffic.
  • Blogging: Blogs are a completely free way to provide your school with more website traffic, as well as an inside look to life at your school.
  • Social media: Social media may be essential at every stage in the applicant journey, but it is particularly vital at this stage. Social media is the platform on which you can share your blogs, news stories, upcoming events, photos, videos, and other content that can attract completely new prospective families, as well as engage current families and alumni.
  • Website: It's always important to put your best face forward. If you're optimizing your website for search, investing in PPC, writing a blog, and sharing everything on social, you need to have a website that sets you apart.

2. Turning website visitors into inquiries or applicants

Now that you’ve got the applicant on your website, it's time to convert them. The following are some vital tools.

  • Forms: Make forms easy to find and fill out for an improved user experience. While some schools opt to use the long inquiry forms provided by their student information system, we suggest making inquiry forms much shorter to inspire more prospects to fill them out.
  • Calls to action (CTA): Users like to be told what to do next, so be sure to always provide them with a quick and easy next step to guide them down the path to exactly where you want them to go.
  • Landing pages: When a website visitor clicks on a call to action, they should be brought to a landing page, where the CTA promised can be fulfilled.
  • Automated Email workflows: Once someone has visited your website, you’ve hopefully gotten them to convert! Once you’ve earned the conversion, you should begin nurturing them with automated workflows.

3. Turning inquiries/applicants into enrolled students

Next, you're only going to need a couple of basic tools to turn all those inquiries or applicants into enrolled students.

  • Email: Using a platform like Messages and/or Workflows allows you to segment, target, and personalize email communications for your applicants.
  • Data: Run reports and analyze Google Analytics to figure out which strategies are working best to recruit the most qualified applicants, and pursue those.

4. Turning enrolled students into engaged alumni

Finally, your school community depends on alumni engagement, so it is essential to make them happy when they are on campus. Use the following tools to do so.

  • Social media: Engage your community when they're on campus and after they have left. Listen to what they're saying, and appeal to their needs in your marketing.
  • Portals: Top-notch communications are key to maintaining a happy community.Password-protected portals are an effective way to always communicate with the right audience at the right time, with personalized content that's just for them. Create portals for parents, students, and alumni to ensure they only see what's necessary for them.
  • Online forms and surveys: Make it easy to stay connected with your community with online forms and surveys. Whether you're looking for volunteers for an upcoming event or want feedback on last year's homecoming, making it easy to give money, time, or an opinion will foster an engaged community.


The inbound marketing methodology is becoming increasingly popular among independent schools due to its affordability and effectiveness. Prospective families no longer want to be marketed to, but they want to become informed and enjoy their applicant journey.


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