Word of mouth is the primary way most schools reach prospective parents. This works well if that parent has a network of people that currently attend your school. But what about the parent that doesn’t? Where do they go to learn about your school?
We are all familiar with review sites like Yelp for restaurants, Trip Advisor for travel and Amazon for reviews about products. Online reviews are increasing in importance for many companies and industries, as well as schools and day care centers. They have become a critical source of information when customers are beginning to research buying a product or service. Social Media Today reports that almost 70 percent of consumers use online reviews when researching a product.
And they are trusted. In an article from Small Business Trends, they report that 84 percent of customers trust online reviews.
And this is even more important for the millennial generation (your target customer). According to Adweek, 93 percent of millennials say they rely on blogs and user/consumer reviews before making a purchase.
Generally, a prospective parent will visit your website first to gather information. However, they will also want to hear directly from other parents to see what their experiences have been like at your school. As a prime source for parents to learn about your school, it is important for your school’s information to be accurately represented on these online review sites and for your reviews to be positive and timely.
The good news is that you probably have a number of your current parents who would be happy to leave a positive online review, but you need to ask them to do so. Human nature being what it is, people are often more motivated to complain online rather than recommend. It is important to actively ask your satisfied parents to provide positive reviews.
There are four main sites that you should target for increasing the number of online reviews about your school. The good news is that most of these sites are already listing your school. The bad news is that a lot of times the information listed is inaccurate or incomplete (especially on Greatschools.org). Make sure that you are making the effort to clean up their description of your school first before you start to submit your good reviews.
Obviously, this is the big daddy in digital. It’s probably no surprise that over 77 percent of all searches are done through Google. It is very easy for a parent to put a review on Google. If a parent does a Google search for your school, information about your school will appear on the right side of the page. Encourage parents to leave a couple of sentences describing why they like your school. The best reviews are more than just the number of stars.
When you did a Google search, did you notice any reviews from GreatSchools.org in their listing? Or, if you are in the market for a house and you visited Realtor.com you probably noticed reviews from Greatschools.org talking about the schools in the neighborhood that you were researching. GreatSchools.org is one of the larger school review sites, and since it feeds into other sites like Google or Realtor, it is important to have a strong base of reviews there. For a parent to leave a review on Greatschools.org, they merely search for your school on the site, register, and leave a review.
This is an easy win for you if you have an engaged parental base and a Facebook page. You will need to enable the review feature on your business page, but that only takes about 5 minutes. Facebook is typically not the first-place people go when researching a school, so the impact of reviews here are more limited, but you shouldn’t ignore this channel.
Niche is strong in some markets and not very prominent in others, but it is worth the effort to have some reviews on there. Pull up the profile of your school and on the left side of the page is the option to place a review. They also get some good press on providing rankings; “Best Catholic High School in X state, etc.” so you need to be present on their site.
You should aim for at least five to nine reviews a year on each of these sites. And this is something that you need to update quarterly. Encourage your parents and faculty to leave reviews every few months, so the reviews are fresh and not stale.
If you’re going to encourage parents to do reviews, make sure that they are going to leave good comments! If you find that you are seeing a lot of bad evaluations, then there are other issues that you need to solve first before focusing on getting additional reviews.
Online reviews are a quick, easy, and free way to increase the awareness of your school. They will never be a cornerstone of your recruitment strategy, but they should be considered a part of your overall communication strategy to potential parents.