The Complete Guide to Google AdWords for Montessori Schools
Marketing a Montessori School is difficult. How is that for the understatement of the century?
One of the questions we get most often is, simply, “Where do I start?”
What marketing avenues actually move the needle? And, what marketing channels provide the most reliable returns on your investment?
The answer, in our years of experience marketing our own Montessori schools, has consistently been Google AdWords.
Google AdWords, sometimes also referred to as Pay-Per-Click or PPC, has consistently been one of the most powerful marketing channels for Bergamo Schools.
The real power in using Google AdWords is in the fact that you are positioning yourself to be found by people that have expressed interest in solving a problem that you have a solution for. It is the near-perfect intersection between consumer intent and value proposition.
In case you’re not familiar, when you become a Google AdWords advertiser, you are creating advertisements that appear in the Google search results when a Google user performs a search for a keyword or phrase that you deem valuable.
For example, when I search for “Montessori school Scottsdale,” here are the results I get:
I have labeled each of the three primary sections of the search results so I can explain them in sequence.
1: Paid ad results
Schools that appear here are using Google Adwords in order to advertise. In fact, you’ll notice that Google identifies them as advertisements by placing a subtle, green box with the word “Ad” next to each result.
If I were to click on their ad (which would take me to their website or landing page), then they would pay a certain amount of money for that click. Hence the name “pay-per-click advertising.” They are quite literally paying for every website click.
Google AdWords is set up like an auction so you’re actually bidding against other advertisers. The amount of money you pay for each click is going to depend upon how competitive your individual market is.
2: Google local results
This section is commonly referred to as the Google local results or Google places results. The majority of these listings are organic. An “organic” result means it is not paid placement; schools appear in the order that Google has deemed their relevance according to what you searched for and what Google knows about you specifically.
While the majority of these listings are organic results, you’ll notice there is one paid placement at the very beginning of the list. You’ll also notice that this same school, the Natural Choice Academy, appeared in the paid results in section 1.
This is because the Google local results draw from a separate database within the Google ecosystem. This database is called Google My Business, a free directory service provided by Google.
You can sign up for a Google listing by visiting Google My Business. For Nido Marketing subscribers, we have a full training course on how to build out this profile along with some of the tips and best practices that have worked well for our own Montessori schools in Sacramento.
3: Organic results
These results are called the organic results because they are the results that Google deems most relevant to the search term based upon a broad array of ranking factors. This is not a paid placement, which means the schools that appear in the organic results don’t pay anything for this traffic.
Achieving a high organic rank for your most important key phrases can be an extremely important marketing tool for Montessori schools. However, it can also be exceptionally difficult depending upon how competitive your market is.
Top Google ranking requires a significant investment in time, typically through content creation, as well as some technical expertise. It is a worthy investment, but one that not every school can afford to make. That’s part of what makes using Google AdWords so attractive.
Best Practices for Montessori Schools
In running Google AdWords for our own Montessori schools, we developed a wealth of knowledge in terms of what works, what doesn’t work, and how Montessori schools should approach the management of their paid advertising campaigns.
I’m excited to share this information with you. Before I do, please allow a brief disclaimer: Every school is different, and every market is different. What worked for us in Sacramento might not work exactly the same way in Albuquerque or London.
I still believe that our learning lessons are of immense value. However, you may simply need to contextualize them in a manner that’s most appropriate for your target demographic. With that said, let's dive in!
Understanding keyword strategy
Keyword strategy is one of the foundational building blocks of Google AdWords. This simply refers to the keywords (terms and phrases) that you choose to bid on in your marketing campaign.
Remember, Google AdWords is an auction. You are choosing keywords and telling Google you’re willing to pay (up to a threshold that you define) in order for your ads to be seen by anyone searching for those keywords.
So, if someone searches for “Montessori school” it stands to reason that you would want to appear in their results. That’s a relatively straightforward path to visibility. You will want to make sure you define as many keywords as you can that speak directly to people looking for Montessori programs.
However, your strategy can get much more creative. For instance, one of the phrases that we have been bidding on for a long time centers around the word “nanny.”
Anyone who is looking for a nanny has the resources to afford our program and they’re clearly in need of higher-level childcare. This is a perfect opportunity to pivot to a Montessori narrative.
Oftentimes, you’ll find that parents simply haven’t considered Montessori as an option. It isn’t that they aren’t interested, it is simply that it isn’t a part of the mainstream narrative.
Keep in mind that when you’re bidding on a keyphrase like “nanny,” your quality score (the score Google assigns to your ads based upon your relevance) is going to be much lower than when you bid on Montessori-specific terms.
This loss in quality score makes sense because our marketing doesn’t perfectly match the user’s intent. They were looking for nannies and we showed them a Montessori school. When you lose quality score you typically rank lower in the ad results and can often pay more.
These are reasonable concessions when you consider the fact that you’re being given the opportunity to market to a group of people that simply never would have thought about you otherwise.
In addition to “nanny,” I would also recommend bidding on keywords like “preschool,” “childcare,” and “daycare.” Remember, not everyone will be familiar with Montessori specifically but that doesn’t mean they won’t be a potentially qualified Montessori parent.
I think the best way to be successful with keyword strategy is to simply consider the user’s intent. What would someone search for when they’re trying to solve the problem that you have a solution for?
My favorite example is Southwest Airlines. Of course, they will bid on all of the obvious keywords, such as “cheap flights to Mexico.” But they also bid on keywords that you wouldn’t necessarily consider obvious; an example: “Greyhound bus to El Paso.”
Someone searching for a bus simply wants to get from one place to another; they aren’t necessarily dedicated to busses as a mode of transport. Southwest gets the opportunity to pivot the narrative and offer a flight that may cost close to the same amount and save them immense amounts of time.
I realize this example is far removed from Montessori schools, but the lesson is a good one. What value are you providing to your parents? When you consider that value, what keywords can you bid on that will help bridge the gap between what people really want (their intent) and what they actually searched for.
Bidding on your own brand
In addition to the generic keywords you have come up with (i.e. “Montessori school near me”) you may also want to bid on your school’s name. This strategy may seem counterintuitive since you are paying for traffic that is headed directly for you. Why pay to advertise to someone who is already looking for you?
Bidding on your brand is a way to ensure that you receive all of the traffic that is intended for you. We can’t always define exactly how we are seen in the Google search results. In addition, we can’t define how users decide to engage with those results.
Even though you are probably in the top spot when someone searches for you by name, there’s no guarantee that they’ll click on your listing. They may begin the search by looking for you but get distracted by the myriad other semi-relevant results that Google provides.
Taking that a step further, other schools can bid on relevant keywords that could result in their ad appearing when someone searches for your school. Keep in mind, there’s nothing malicious about this. They may simply be bidding on anything with the term “Montessori” in it.
Bidding on your name also allows you to protect other advertising dollars. If you have billboards or have sent direct mail, it helps to ensure that people who are looking for you after seeing those other marketing methods are actually able to find you.
The benefit to bidding on your own name is that the clicks tend to be extremely cheap. This is due in large part to how high your quality score will be. Based upon Google’s goal of getting a user exactly what they’re searching for, it’s clear that the user’s intent was to find you specifically, which Google will reward us for.
Bidding on competitive brands and alternatives
This can be an excellent strategy, especially if you’re in a competitive marketplace. You can bid on the names of other schools or alternative options in your marketplace. This gives you the opportunity to show up when someone specifically searches for your competitor.
This is an extremely powerful strategy when you’re dealing with competitors that are flooding the airwaves with their marketing message. Consider the case of some of the “big box preschools” that utilize direct mail, radio, television, and billboards in order to market their services. While they’re using more traditional methods of advertising in order to build brand awareness, the vast majority of the actual engagement they receive comes from the internet.
For example, the radio advertisement is what catalyzes the parent’s initial awareness. However, very few people call or visit a school the moment they hear an ad. Instead, they’ll wait until they are in front of a computer and then they’ll perform a Google search on that school for more information.
This is your opportunity to piggyback on your competitor’s advertising in order to get in front of that parent. Where many Montessori schools don’t have as large of a budget as a franchise daycare center, this strategy allows you to compete with those alternative services where it really matters: when the parent begins to illustrate purchase intent.
Using negative keywords
Negative keywords are words and phrases that you define in your AdWords campaign as indicators that you do not want to bid.
For instance, you may be aggressively bidding on the term “Montessori” since that’s a very relevant search term. However, if someone searches for “Montessori jobs” or “Montessori toys” your ad could potentially come up.
When your ad shows up for irrelevant searches, this can have an extremely negative impact on your campaign as you spend money on worthless traffic.
In order to ensure you aren’t paying for these irrelevant searches, you can add terms like “jobs” and “toys” to your negative keyword list in order to ensure your ads aren’t shown for these searches.
It is strongly advisable that you review the keyword searches you’re actually being billed for on a regular basis and add any irrelevant words or phrases to your negative keyword list.
Google AdWords allows you to be very precise in terms of defining your geofence; your geofence is the area you target with your paid advertisements. That means anyone inside of your geofence could potentially see your ads were they to search for a keyword that you’re bidding on.
A well thought-out geofence is critical to the success of your AdWords campaign. If your geofence is too broad, you’ll find yourself paying for clicks from people that are probably too far away to seriously consider your school. If your geofence is too narrow, you’ll be heavily restricting the amount of available traffic your ads can be exposed to.
Consider factors like where your current students live, where their parents work, what their commute paths look like, etc.
If your school is positioned on a heavy commute path then you can probably afford to expand your geofence; parents who live or work further away might still find your location convenient if it’s on their way to work.
Make sure you’re strategic in terms of how you approach this. You might choose to target specific zip codes or even specific neighborhoods if you feel like they’re good options. You can also choose to exclude certain areas if you feel as though they might not yield the most mission-appropriate families.
Because Google AdWords is an auction, you’re being placed in a competitive environment against other people who are also interested in appearing for the same search traffic. This means we need to be strategic about how we approach our bidding!
For example, we have found that first position (meaning the first to show up on the list of ads) isn’t always the most profitable. It can cost you twice as much to show up in position 1 instead of 2. However, that might not mean you’re getting twice as much traffic.
I recommend playing with your bid strategies in order to find out what works best for you. Don’t assume that you need to be in that first position all of the time. In fact, it can actually be more profitable to be a strong second, third, or even fourth! (Remember, there are no more than four ads at the top of each Google search.)
The reason for this is typically tied to your competitive landscape. If you’re in a very competitive market, you may find that you have a handful of competitors that are dumping what we in the PPC world call “dumb money.” This means they aren’t properly optimizing their spend; they’re simply relying on showing up at the top for every single search.
The issue that this causes is that they oversaturate the search results, especially in cases where they might not be quite as relevant a solution. You have probably experienced something similar where you go to Google to find something and can’t seem to get away from the same small handful of companies.
There’s an opportunity here! Parents who are doing research are going to begin ignoring the “dumb money” ads and start looking at subsequent ads for a solution that better suits their specific search. This gives you the opportunity to capture that traffic without having to aggressively bid against your less relevant competitors.
Creating the perfect ad
I could write an entire blog on this topic alone. In fact, someday I might!
One of the most important parts of an effective paid ad strategy (and one of the easiest to overlook) is the creation of your actual advertisement. By that I mean the copy you use as well as some of the technical aspects of the ad’s deployment.
Let’s look at some ad copy best practices...
First, we need to always consider our user’s intent. When you’re writing your ad copy, work to empathize with what it is your target prospect wants. A lazy mistake that a lot of amateurs make is using the same generic ad copy for all of your search terms.
Remember, if someone searches for “nanny” that signals a very different intent than a search for “AMI accredited Montessori school.” In both cases, it’s important that you create ad copy that speaks to why your school is a viable solution.
Also, don’t be afraid to speak to your value! Montessorians are classically humble people, which is a disadvantage in the world of advertising. You only have a few seconds to capture someone’s attention by differentiating yourself from all of the other available search results.
List the number of years you’ve been open, outline any major awards or achievements, include any accreditations and certifications. In just a few words you can make a very clear and compelling case for your school’s prowess.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to attract and repel. Oftentimes, we try to write our ad copy in order to maximize our reach to the broadest possible audience. This can be a mistake, especially if you find yourself getting an influx of inquiries from families who are not mission appropriate.
One example is in the cost of your services. For Montessori schools that are more expensive, it can be beneficial to the campaign to list your pricing directly in the ad. A very subtle inclusion such as, “...starting at $x,xxx a month” can mean that anyone who clicks on the ad has essentially prequalified themselves as being able to afford your services.
Please keep in mind that I don’t recommend doing this out of the gate. However, I do recommend looking to this as a potential solution if you begin seeing an influx of leads that are not what you would consider of high value.
Another important place to potentially prequalify is in the availability of your program. You might only have openings in your infant program for example. However, when someone searches for “Montessori school” you still want to show up in the results since you don’t yet know the age of their student. You can place qualifiers in the ad copy to ensure they’re aware that this is for the infant program only.
Once you have your ad copy, you aren’t done! Google AdWords allows for some really cool additions to your ads that can really help you stand out.
Ad extensions allow you to insert additional relevant snippets of information about your school. For example, you can include your school’s address so that it shows up directly in your ad! This can be an excellent differentiator, especially if you have an extremely easy location.
Additional ad extensions include your phone number, website pages of high importance (like your tuition page), and your school’s hours. Google has an advanced algorithm that determines when and how extensions are shown which makes it important for you to make as many available as possible.
Below is a great example of the positive use of ad extensions. Of the three ads shown, the first one is easily the most compelling. Not only is the copy better, but it captures far more screen real estate through the use of the additional ad extensions. The address, school hours, and links to various pages put this school at a very distinct advantage.
Finally, when you have crafted your perfect ads, you still aren’t done! Google allows you the opportunity to do what is called “split testing.” This means you can take two ads and run them against each other to see which ad performs the best over time. Google will automatically split the traffic (hence the name) between the ads to see which ad yields the highest result.
Split testing ads can show some truly amazing insight as to what parents are really interested in. It is a constant surprise to see which ads are winning and a lot of fun to participate in! You should never stop split testing your ads. Once a winner has been determined, clone that ad and make a few variations to continue honing your ads.
Using landing pages
One of the biggest mistakes that schools make is sending their paid ad traffic directly to the homepage of their website. It is extremely important that you send your target prospect to a page that is contextually appropriate to their search term.
For example, if someone searches for “infant daycare” their intent and expectations are vastly different than someone who searches for “Montessori primary school.” It is such a catastrophic error to send both of these very high-value prospects to the same place!
Instead, we strongly recommend creating custom landing pages for each of your core offerings. These landing pages will allow you to speak to the specific needs of each of your primary services in a way that allows you to be contextually appropriate to the terms you’re bidding on.
Please don’t let this process intimidate you. Your landing pages don’t need to be fancy. In fact, we have found far more success in keeping these pages very simple and to the point. The most important thing to do when building landing pages is to simply consider your user’s intent.
If someone searches for “nanny” their needs and expectations are vastly different than someone who is searching for “daycare.” If you’re going to bid on both of those key phrases it is important that you have a landing page that can appropriately speak to both types of parent.
Your landing page is your opportunity to really outline the value of your school and even the value of the Montessori Method in general. Use this as your chance to put your best foot forward and explain in strong terms why they should consider your school.
Have a very clear call to action
One of the great catastrophic errors of running paid ads is not telling your target prospect what you want them to do. If your sales cycle starts with a school tour, invite them to schedule a tour. If you conduct in-home interviews, make that your call to action instead.
If the search term doesn’t warrant as direct an approach, you can add softer calls to action. For example, “Fill out this form to receive our tuition rates.” We have found that a very specific call to action outperforms the more generic “Contact us for more information.”
Effective retargeting is an extremely valuable tool in paid advertising. In case you’re not familiar with the tool, retargeting is the process through which you display advertisements to people who have gone to your website in the past.
You have probably experienced something similar to this on an almost daily basis. If you do a search for “airline ticket” you’ll find yourself followed around the internet with advertisements for cheap airfare.
You can use this exact same tactic in order to help increase the brand awareness of your school. It takes repetition before people are generally ready to engage with a brand. Retargeting is an extremely effective tool to ensure that your message stays in front of your prospects until they reach that point.
The best part about retargeting is that you don’t pay anything until someone clicks on your ad! That means all of the brand building you receive is essentially free until your target prospect is ready to click through and learn more.
In our experience, Google AdWords is the highest-performing digital marketing tool for Montessori Schools. However, as you have seen here it requires a commitment in time and strategy. I hope that this article has helped point you in the right direction to get started.
For our Nido Marketing subscribers, we have made our complete list of keywords and negative keywords available in the resources section.
If you’re interested in having Nido Marketing run your AdWords campaigns for you, we have outlined our plans and pricing here. AdWords management is available to fourth plan subscribers.
Thank you for reading and please let me know what you thought of this blog as a resource!