July 11, 2016
The Advocate of Affordable College plans to share its knowledge of content marketing strategies and best practices with entrepreneurial community college leaders and their marketing staffs in the coming months.
Greg Jarboe
Can Content Marketing Increase Community College Enrollment?

We already examined the problem: Students over the age of 24 account for 89 percent of the decline in community college enrollment over the past two years. Let’s take a look at one of the solutions: Content marketing can help community colleges increase enrollment with these students as well as the ones who are about to graduate from high school.

A new report from Ooyala entitled, “State of the Media Industry 2016,” looks at the rapidly changing content environment and sees:

  • Digitally Dominant: Millennials get their news through a mix of digital publications and social media feeds. They’re news junkies who prefer not only visual content but up-to-the-minute, shareable video that one-dimensional print publications can’t offer. Media giant Meredith has recognized this, recently partnering with Unconventional Studios to produce lifestyle videos for its digital magazine targeting millennial women.
  • Generation Next: Serving the under-21 Gen Z is a whole new ballgame. According to the 2015 Nielsen Global Generational Lifestyle Survey, Gen Z’s content consumption habits are different than Millennials in notable ways. For example, they spend more time on smartphones and tablets than Millennials. And Gen Z teens watch twice as many videos on mobile than any other demographic, according to VisionCritical.
  • Mobile First: Recent comScore data shows that desktop internet use might have peaked last year, and is in a steady decline in favor of mobile – particularly on social platforms. And Nielsen's most recent Cross-Platform Report found that Hispanics are spending 39 percent more time than the overall population watching video on their smartphones every month. For example, Univision.com sees 78 percent of its views on mobile devices.

These trends fundamentally change the way community colleges need to market themselves to prospective students. If you want to see this for yourself, go to Google Trends and type in content marketing in the explore topics search box at the top of the page. Here is the interest over time in the United States for this search term:

You can see that content marketing isn’t a new search term. The concept dates back to 1895, when John Deere launched the magazine The Furrow, providing information to farmers on how to become more profitable. But, note the increase in interest in content marketing at the beginning of 2011. There is over five times more search interest in the term today than there was just five years ago.

What is content marketing and why did interest in it take off? According to the Content Marketing Institute, content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action. And interest in the concept took off in early 2011 after Google started rolling out the “Panda” update to its ranking algorithm.

There have actually been a series of 28 “Panda” updates between February 2011 and July 2015. Google’s goal has been to help people find “high-quality” sites in its search results by reducing the rankings of “low-quality” content. How does Google assess the quality of a page or article?

Google hasn’t disclosed the actual ranking signals used in its algorithms because Google doesn't want folks to game its search results. However, Amit Singhal, a Google Fellow, did share “the kinds of questions we ask ourselves as we write algorithms that attempt to assess site quality. Think of it as our take at encoding what we think our users want.”

If you want to step into Google’s mindset, here are a dozen questions that provide some guidance on how Google looks at the issue of quality:

  • Would you trust the information presented in this article?
  • Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
  • Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
  • Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
  • Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
  • Does the article describe both sides of a story?
  • Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?
  • Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
  • Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
  • Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
  • Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
  • Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?

If these look like the questions that might be asked in a communication course, then you can begin to appreciate the surge in interest in content marketing instead of one for search engine optimization. Google has totally rewritten the style guide that community colleges have been using to create content for marketing purposes.

The Advocate of Affordable College plans to share its knowledge of content marketing strategies and best practices with entrepreneurial community college leaders and their marketing staffs in the coming months. Here’s an outline of what we plan to cover:

  • How to create a successful content marketing strategy.
  • How to create a remarkable editorial mission statement.
  • How to target students based on their intent.
  • How to target key influencers who impact a student’s decision making process.
  • How to produce valuable, relevant content consistently.
  • How to produce engaging content more frequently.
  • How to use more effective content marketing tactics.
  • How to use more successful social media platforms.
  • How to help students find the information they seek.
  • How to help influencers impact a student’s decision-making process.
  • How to measure effectiveness using metrics that matter.
  • How to measure return on marketing investment (ROMI).

Why would we do this? It’s consistent with our editorial mission, which is “to find new ways to help even more community college students to afford and attain a bachelor's degree.” If that requires us to help more community colleges increase enrollment with Millennials, Gen Z, and Hispanics, then we’re willing to share what we know about content marketing.

(Greg Jarboe is the editor of The Advocate of Affordable College blog. He’s also the president and co-founder of SEO-PR, an award-winning content marketing agency, as well as the video and content marketing faculty chair at Simplilearn, an instructor in the Rutgers Business School Executive Education program, and the author of YouTube and Video Marketing: An Hour a Day.)