We all want to know that we’re putting in the effort where it’s worth our time and where the payoffs are the biggest.
The challenge is figuring out exactly where that is and while it does take some effort, it doesn’t have to be a herculean task.
To prove that, I’ll show you how to create an effective marketing strategy for language schools based on what works in your business now and what your next step could be. (so you don’t have to reinvent a new angle every time you finish one marketing project).
Creating a marketing strategy for a language school
Building a marketing plan for a language school requires two key concepts.
It doesn’t need to be particularly fancy but it does need to drive students to your language school.
The simplest way to go about it is to focus on a few right things that can lead to big wins and growth.
The big dilemma though is that there are numerous marketing activities you could be doing – and if you unsuspectingly allow people to tell you what to do, they will typically advise that you should be making use of everything all of the time.
That’s pretty exhausting advice in and of itself, but just because it doesn’t work super well, “It’s only because you’re still improving on leveraging every marketing channel and having a go at it can’t hurt, right!”
YES, IT CAN, because you could’ve spent the same amount of time doubling down on your best channel and gotten far better results than being mediocre across seven different ones.
It’s far better to aim as accurately as possible to find when something is working and when it’s not. Only when a proven channel is maxed out we can change our focus and add another on top.
So, let’s keep things simple and effective and just look at two core areas:
1. your best performing channel and 2. what your competitors are up to.
The first is obvious since doubling down can give us disproportionate results – we might double the work but get 5x back – rather than a poor 1:1 ratio when we focus on a little bit of everything.
Secondly, I like to get a quick lay of the land in terms of what competitors are doing, so I know if there is a major channel I might be missing that is working well for my competition.
Analyze current data in analytics to find the best performing channel
Let’s start by understanding which channel is performing the best for bringing in more students to your business.
Assuming you have mainly a website for your language school business, begin by jumping into your Google Analytics > acquisition > source/medium and set the date range to be as long as possible.
If you have an app, you’ll want to compare your data from Google analytics with your data from Firebase (Android) and iTunes Connect (iOS), as it’s likely different from your website numbers.
It’s not uncommon to see that Google search is among the top channels. If that’s the case, I share a few ideas on how to drive more business via that channel here.
On the other hand, if the best channel is, say, a blog that links to your site, you’ll want to contact them and see if you can either sponsor something on their website or write guest content to put on their website.
Now, personally, I like to evaluate the options not only based on the traffic we can get but also the cost of resources involved and the potential timeline.
If, say, Google search is performing well for you but a close second is another website you did a partnership with, it’s worth considering if it will be easy for you to do another partnership with them or someone similar.
The reason is that Google search typically takes a while to build out before you start to see results. So if you have the option to do e.g. 5-10 partnerships quickly, (and you know you are likely to get good results from past experience), you’ll probably benefit from doing that and then prioritizing search after.
I like to make a list of the options that have performed well in the past and then give each a score from 1-5 in terms of; results, timeline, and resources needed. Then combine the scores and rank them based on the total score of each.
This organizes everything so you can simply start from the top and set a goal for how long you’ll work on that channel before you evaluate the performance, (e.g. 3 months).
Although you could just begin working on a channel based on this, I like to add an extra step of looking at the five biggest competitors to understand if I’m missing something major.
A fully-fledged report is typically an overkill at this stage but simple research to get a lay of the land is the right sauce here. If it turns up anything special, I’ll evaluate that as well and add it to my list of channels.
Then it is all about working your way down that list until you reevaluate again later.
A marketing strategy for a language school typically involves evaluating both getting more traffic and conversion points.
If you know your focus is to drive more traffic to your language school online, I’ll show you how to reverse-engineer what your competitors are doing so you can use what works.
How to reverse-engineer your competitors’ digital marketing tactics
Normally, I’m not a big fan of the affiliate marketing industry but I’ve got to hand it to them; many of those who build niche websites are highly skilled at reverse-engineering online marketing tactics and using them for profit.
In fact, I’ve seen a lot of them being more skilled and resourceful than many of “us” who are handling bigger brands and their online marketing. That naturally happens as they tend to focus on a much smaller area of expertise.
When I started my career in digital marketing I was fortunate enough to experience some of their hacks first hand.
I’m talking tactics they used to outmaneuver entire marketing teams and big brands, oftentimes just being a one or two-man operation with the right set of tools and a willingness to move fast.. Really fast!
Let’s dive into how you can reverse engineer a competitor’s online marketing activities – we obviously can’t get a perfect replica but we can get a good idea about what they are doing.
There are so many tools and hacks out there and the tactics change all the time so consider this a place to get you started while covering the essentials. – (Instead of an exhaustive list of activities like our misguided friends who will try and leverage everything at once.)
Researching your competition
In this example, I’ll be looking at FluentIn3Months.com.
What I like to do first is take a quick look at their stats on similarweb.com to get an overview.
Below you can see an estimated traffic overview for desktop – I’ve found it to be mostly citing the numbers higher than in reality but I’ve also seen cases of the opposite, so it differs.
I like to use this only for getting a quick overview of how large the site is, e.g. is it a major, medium or tiny site.
Next, I like to get an idea of where their traffic is coming from, (keep in mind that it’s desktop only), to get an idea about the relationship between the different channels e.g. search and social.
I wouldn’t count on it entirely, and I do like to double-check with other tools, (in this case, the traffic analytics feature in SEMrush), to get a better understanding of the lay of the land.
I like to use SEMrush’s “Traffic Analytics” but it is a paid feature and there are other tools available out there – although I’m not aware of any free ones that can help.
Scroll down until you see this…
If we start with social media, it’s much harder to understand if they have any significant engagement without actually looking.
So, when looking at their social media, I simply go to their channels and see what they are doing, what kind of engagement they are getting along with how ‘good’ the comments are.
What I mean by that is looking at the intent behind them. A comment just saying something generic like “good” doesn’t carry much intent. However, a lengthy comment describing pains or desires in detail is much better.
Next, I like to look at whether it appears that they are focused on paid or organic marketing.
As you can see in the screenshot of the channels above, SEMrush shows that they are not paying for Google ads. Let’s double-check with Facebook as well, since that is a popular ads channel nowadays:
Go to https://www.facebook.com/ads/library, type in the name and wait for the suggestion to show up:
Then change the filter by country to ‘all’.
In this case, there happen to not be any ads.
With Youtube, it is a bit trickier since I’m not aware of any tool to easily see if a channel uses ads:
To get around that, I’ll look through their videos to see if some have a significantly higher number of views than others. Keep in mind, it could be because that one went viral or was shared by another popular channel.
Here we can see that one video has 85.000 views, whereas every other video has mostly 3.000 views or so on average – (except for a few outliers at 16.000).
Looking at the content in that specific video alone, you’ll typically know that it has been used for ads if it is a promo or explainer video since no one will usually share them to the point where they get so many more views than the other videos.
We still don’t know for sure but we have an educated guess.
For this particular video, I can see that Benny has someone else on board and looking at the description, I see the two have done other content together in the past.
Two out of the three links didn’t help but the last one gives us a hint:
Since the other guy in the video has over 1 million subscribers, it’s reasonable to assume that he might have shared Benny’s video and that’s why it has so many views – (so, not from ads).
Continuing to look at the videos the pattern is similar – most of the videos have the same number of views with a few outliers here and there.
We can’t rule out that he has run ads in the past but it doesn’t appear to be part of his long-term strategy.
It’s possible to use more tools and look at more channels but I like to look at the popular ones first since most businesses will typically use those before they use obscure ones.
Now that we’ve looked at social media and ads it might also just be that they are using organic traffic instead.
Research search traffic
For SEO, I prefer to use SEMrush to look at data. There are many great tools out there and people who work with SEO a lot typically have a particular tool they swear by.
You don’t have to use SEMrush but I’m using it for demonstration in this guide. (The approach would be similar if you have another preferred tool, like Ahrefs, Moz, Buzzsumo, etc).
Looking at “Organic Search Traffic”, (SEMrush’s estimate of how much total a site is getting), this site appears to be getting roughly a million visitors monthly.
If you then go to their site you’ll find they are showing the visitors different options to learn more but most of the time they want us to sign up for their newsletter.
So when calculating how many email subscribers they might get each month, we know that some people come via the blog while others come via the front page/homepage or other pages.
Looking at the front page we can see that it is optimized for converting visitors to subscribers much better than the blog posts.
If you arrive via the blog posts, the reader has to read through the whole thing to find an opt-in box and subscribe.
Of course, there are popups and unique opt-in boxes on certain pages compared to others, (that convert differently).
Looking at the search traffic by keyword we can imagine, (based on the keywords and topics), that these are probably pages from his blog.
We could also manually open all the pages that rank for each keyword to double-check, but that’s a bit overkill at this point.
So now we can fairly assume that most of the traffic to his site comes from organic searches and clicks to the blog.
This is obviously an oversimplification but it works well at this stage because we are looking for an overview – the 80/20 – not the most perfect assessment of all time.
Based on my experience, a fair guesstimate is that the blog posts might convert 2% of the traffic into email subscribers, on average. That means he should be getting somewhere around 20,000 subscribers monthly from his “organic search traffic”.
If your competitor has a mobile app, you can use most of the same process to check-in on its performance as well. And sometimes affiliates are used to promo it too.
Checking if affiliates are part of their strategy
Some years back, when mobile apps were the ‘new thing’ it was all the craze to promote them as affiliates with scammy tactics – for example claiming a prize or a voucher for downloading an app.
The brands themselves didn’t know about it and customers were lied to, which often resulted in many angry reviews on the app stores – hence why I like to check this to get an idea of whether they have been using that marketing channel in the past.
Another way to see if they have used such channels is to search for the brand name on oDigger.com, Offervault.com or clickbank.com – (websites that act as libraries for different affiliate opportunities).
Some companies offer private affiliate programs instead, which can usually be found in the footer of their website.
Where does it leave you?
By focusing on the two key parts we just went through we can identify where our efforts would be worthwhile in a marketing strategy for your language school.
By analyzing our current data and avoid guessing at a swarm of other marketing channels that we wouldn’t really know how to leverage right now – or even if they work well at all for our business.
In addition, we also have a qualified overview and estimate of how our competition is driving results and what other channels would be worth pursuing once we’re done optimizing the one that’s working best for us, right now.