Opt-In Marketing: A School's Starter Guide

February 20, 2018 Emily Cretella

How wonderful would it be if a user left your school website thinking, “Wow, that was really HELPFUL.”?

Pretty great, right? That’s the ultimate goal for most marketers who are navigating today’s digital landscape: to stand out in a way that pleases your audience. To make your website visitors’ lives (and their decisions) easier. To be remembered for offering something more. And to do all of that while achieving your own marketing and admissions goals.

It’s a hefty order, sure. But it’s possible. One tactic that can help make it happen: opt-in marketing.

What is "Opt-In" Marketing?

As marketers, we’ve all heard the term, but what exactly is “opt-in” marketing and how can we use it to help promote our schools?

The term opt-in marketing is at once buzzwordy and straightforward. It simply means getting permission from a website visitor to add them to your email or marketing list, which is why some people also call this “permission” marketing.

So why would someone willingly join a marketing list? Often, it’s because of an incentive—a piece of content, an offer, a product—that prompts visitors to opt, or choose, to join. They do so because the incentive is so appealing, and seems so valuable, that it is worth providing their personal information (for example, their email address) to access it.

So what’s the trick? There is one critical word in that description: valuable.

An opt-in incentive only works if the target audience finds it valuable enough to trade for their information. Today’s online browsers are smart: they know that when they provide their email in exchange for content, they are going to receive marketing emails. The benefits of “opting-in” must outweigh the cons.

Why Should Your School Use Opt-In Marketing?

By creating compelling content that connects with your target audience and gets them to actively join in on their own, you’re successfully beginning a relationship with them that will last longer than any website visit.

Once a visitor is on your email list, you can communicate with them in a way that serves you both. You can provide them with helpful resources and messaging that moves them along in their decision-making process, positioning your school as a trusted source of information.

Remember, your website is the hello—not the conversation. Opt-in marketing keeps that conversation going.

What Makes a Good Opt-In Incentive?

Opt-in incentives can take many formats, but they all have one thing in common: the incentive should relate to the content that the website visitor is currently consuming.

The goal is to capture your audience’s attention on the free page they are on (think: a web page, a blog article, a landing page, etc.) and intrigue them enough with the content that they want more.

Your opt-in can provide the next level of information—one step deeper or more helpful than the free, public content. For example, on your Tuition page, an opt-in could be a guide that simplifies the financial aid process. Or, you could provide a checklist of important questions to ask an Admissions department about school tuition.

Whatever you choose, make sure it actually provides additional value over what is offered through your free content.

Need an example of how this works? Check out Blackbaud’s School Website Landscaping Checklist. You’ll need to enter your email to gain access (unless you've already done so).

Here are some opt-in incentive formats to consider:

  • A checklist that offers next steps to take
  • A workbook that helps readers take action on the content they’ve just consumed
  • An on-demand webinar that provides more in-depth information
  • A live Q&A session or online training that is happening in the near future
  • An ebook that acts as a complete guide to an important topic  

How Do You Set Up Your Opt-In Incentive?

While the technical aspects depend on your website platform and its capabilities, the general flow of opt-in marketing works like this:

  1. A user lands on a free, public page of content.
  2. You hook them with the content on the page—a compelling headline and story, the benefits of the opt-in incentive, testimonials, etc.
  3. You ask them to take ONE action—sign up—and that’s it.
  4. You capture their information and, once submitted, you automatically deliver the incentive. (Remember: the less information you ask for on your opt-in form, the more likely someone will be to fill it out.)  

Opt-in marketing doesn’t have to be complicated. By creating one strong incentive that you know will benefit your audience, and positioning it on your website using interesting content and a compelling call-to-action, you can begin to grow your email database while becoming a valuable resource for your audience.

Do you have an opt-in incentive on your school website? Share a link to it in the comments below -- and get more school storytelling tips on the Cursive Content Marketing blog, or tweet us at @emilycretella / @blackbaudK12.


About the Author

Emily Cretella

Emily Cretella is a marketing strategist and copywriter who helps her clients create and share stories that make audiences take action. As owner of Cursive Content Marketing, Emily provides consulting, copywriting services and workshops to independent schools and higher education. Read her stories at cursivecontent.com.

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