Arbor Montessori School’s Journey with Nido Marketing

About Arbor Montessori School

Since 1970, Arbor Montessori, an AMI accredited school, has been a flagship of Montessori education in Atlanta. They are one of the largest Montessori schools in the Southeast and regarded as a benchmark for Montessori education worldwide.

Arbor’s programs include Toddler, Primary, Elementary, and an Adolescent Program. Their two campuses also offer summer camps, before & after care, and a host of other extracurricular activities.

Joining Nido Marketing

We were thrilled to have Arbor join Nido Marketing as a Fourth Plane member in the middle of 2018. At the time, Arbor was looking for a strong solution to the ever-evolving question: How do we grow our admissions?

After hearing about the success Bergamo Montessori experienced with Google Ads and the Nido Marketing model, the team leaders at Arbor decided to test the waters themselves.

First, we updated their website using the template. By changing the logo, updating the colors, and using their images, we were able to make the site their own. Arbor’s previous site wasn’t bad, but didn’t effectively articulate their unique value. It was also difficult for them to manage internally.

Arbor took Nido’s advice and began using, a free tool that allows prospective parents to book a tour online. This has proven to be an excellent resource! Finally, we built and launched their targeted Google Ads campaign using the proprietary Nido Marketing Google PPC Strategy developed by Matt Hillis.

Google Ads Success

It takes time to build a high performing Google Ads campaign. After launch, monitor the traffic patterns, gather data, and measure the “key performance indicators” that allow us to define success and failure. Then, we make adjustments and optimizations using what we’ve learned, and we do it all over again. The process never ends!

The Arbor Montessori Google Ads campaign is an excellent example of how that process works and what a school can expect from an ongoing Google Ads campaign. In the campaign’s first month (August 2018), they only received one qualified lead after spending $350. Obviously, that isn’t viable or scalable.

However, the information we gathered and lessons we learned from that month enabled us to make the changes necessary to improve the campaign. In September, Arbor spent $970 and received 8 qualified leads for a total “cost per lead” of $121.37. That is already amazing!

In the private school space, a target cost per lead tends to hover around $150. We were only in Arbor’s second month and were already able to achieve and surpass that ambitious goal.

A lot of our early successes with schools stem from the fact that our campaigns are built using an already high-performing “template” created alongside Matt Hillis at Bergamo Montessori. We know what works for Matt’s school, so we’re able to take those learning lessons, apply them, and tailor to suit our members’ unique online ecosystems.

However, we weren’t quite done with Arbor just yet.

In October, Arbor’s cost per lead dropped to nearly half of the previous month. They spent $860 and received 14 qualified leads for a cost per lead of $64. And keep in mind, they’re in one of the most competitive regions we have ever seen! What happened the following month is an excellent lesson in the realm of Google Ads. Arbor’s cost per lead increased slightly from $64 to almost $78.

There are quite a few factors that can influence “cost per lead.” A competitor can decide to increase their bid, which causes the price that we’re paying for traffic to increase. Search trends may change as people begin phasing in or out of a buying cycle. New competitors can enter or exit the market.

While it’s impossible to say exactly what happened to increase the cost per lead in this particular case, it’s important to note that this is why Google Ads requires ongoing maintenance, management, and optimization.

The entire system is based on a competitive auction model, so it is important that schools have an advocate on their side who understands their unique needs and who can help properly manage that auction in real time.

Here’s a breakdown of their success, month over month.

 * Fractions are shown to represent “partial conversions” which means a prospect engaged with our ads earlier in the campaign’s lifecycle and then converted in a subsequent time period.

If you want to know how much you should aim for spending on your ad budget, read more here in our blog post "What Should a Montessori School Spend on Paid Advertising Channels?".

Understanding “The Golden Ratio”

A term we use often in the Google Ads business is “golden ratio.” It refers to the question, “for every dollar I put into marketing, how many dollars am I getting out?”

In order to know if your marketing is successful, you must understand this ratio. We’ll use Arbor as an example. Please keep in mind, the formula we build here has no real reflection on Arbor’s actual numbers.

Let’s assume that their cost per lead remains below $100, which we would deem a success, and averages around $80. They need to take that $80 cost per lead and then determine what that investment actually yields. So…

  • It costs $80 to get a qualified prospect to visit their school.
  • Assuming only one in two prospects is actually “mission appropriate.”
    • It costs $160 to attract a “mission appropriate” family.
    • Assuming only one in two of these families applies to the school.
    • It costs $320 to earn an application from a mission appropriate family.
    • Now, let’s assume only one in two of these families is accepted.
    • That means an enrolled student costs $620.
    • At an annual tuition number of $10,000 for easy math, assuming each student stays an average of 1.5 years.
    • That puts the “lifetime value” of a new student at $15,000.

This puts their “golden ratio” at $620 to $15,000 or 1:24. For every $1 they put into marketing, they receive $24 back.

This is an excellent golden ratio!

Before we get carried away, we understand completely that there are other considerations like hard costs, cashflow, etc. This exercise isn’t the cornerstone on which we build the business component of our school. However, it is the perfect monitor of campaign health and longevity.

Now, if the leads were more expensive and the closing ratios were lower, we would start to see the golden ratio slim down into a region that is no longer viable. This is why the golden ratio is important to track, to know that the marketing is working.

Marketing is only the beginning 

As you can probably intuit from the customer lifecycle outlined above, the marketing campaign is only one piece of the puzzle that needs to be managed. You may have an amazing marketing campaign and still find yourself with an inadequate golden ratio. One example: if you are generating high-value, mission appropriate prospects, but your school fails at properly scheduling them and getting them into the school.

There are multiple fail points that can disrupt a school’s admissions and hurt the golden ratio. The nice thing about understanding the entire lifecycle is that you now have the ability to troubleshoot.

  • Do you have an adequate “cost per lead”? If so…
  • Are the leads mission appropriate? If so…
  • Is your Admissions Director doing a good job of scheduling and following up? If so…
  • Is your process for providing tours as “optimized” as it can be? If so…
  • Are you getting to the applications quick enough and making the right decisions?
  • And so on.

By properly tracking your golden ratio, you’ll be in a position to diagnose any problems with your sales funnel. While there are no magic wands, we have found that a dedicated Google Ads campaign, coupled with a very well-crafted admissions process, has proven to be the absolute best method for attracting new, mission appropriate families.

As you can see from the case study with Arbor Montessori, it takes time and patience. But once you have built “the machine” you should find yourself in a position where you can reliably produce new admissions and have a very good idea of what they’ll cost you and what you’ll make in return over time.


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