How We Operate
From the beginning of Exceed, our key tactic has been to ensure that our clients are found at the moment when individuals are in their greatest need and searching for help. In general, people seeking a rehab or a therapeutic boarding school will not go around asking their friends for their recommendations, and especially not on social media. They are embarrassed by their situation and don’t want to broadcast it to the world. They will generally go online to search for help, quietly, and on their own.
So, our key approach has been to provide our clients with a strong organic and paid online search presence — to be there when people need them. It continues to be the most powerful and least costly method. We call these efforts “Time of Need Tactics” (TNT). The individuals who therefore land on our clients’ websites prequalify themselves by the search terms they use, their location, their demographics, etc. The ad copy or organic listing information that they saw before clicking through to the site further qualifies them. We therefore get the most targeted individuals visiting our clients’ websites, versus the shotgun approach of general advertising.
Of course, when TNT helps individuals find our clients, they must also have supporting information and credibility in order for the searcher to go to the next step of inquiring. While we make great websites, searchers won’t trust the website or what its says anymore, so if the website at all interested them, they then back up and look at what others are saying about the client. If bad or marginal things are said about the organization, or if nothing is said online, they will not inquire.
That’s why we put a lot of emphasis on gaining positive reviews and have built an online tool that helps make this happen for our clients. Today, we focus a lot of effort on building a “Credible Online Persona” (COP) for each client. This includes improving what is on social media, gaining press coverage via press releases and articles, and through affiliations with other credible groups. Such third party recommendations are very powerful.
Exceed has been involved in search engine marketing since 2001. We were a charter member of and participated in the 2002 formational meeting of the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO.org) trade group in San Jose, CA. Our tactics are aggressive and edgy, but always kept within the confines of what search engines would consider “white hat” practices. As a result, no site that we have ever worked with has been delisted or penalized by the search engines. We regularly attend search engine conferences and maintain ongoing training in regard to best practices, always striving to create or use every tool and tactic available to us to gain top rankings for our clients, who depend on leads from organic search to fill their own programs.
Why an Entirely New Website is Often Created By Us
To achieve top rankings (to be found), websites must be set up in a way that works best with the search engines. That isn’t easy to do. We cannot tell a search engine what search keywords should find our client, nor can we force the search engines to put our clients’ sites higher in the results. But we DO have the ability and knowledge to make that happen. We spend a lot of time and expense each year keeping up on what it takes to stay at the top of search results and often (as many as 4 times each year) retool our client sites behind the scenes to keep their top rankings, without them knowing about it.
To improve inquiries, our client sites are superbly focused, with a special focus on what is unique about the residential program. If the current website contains either too much or too little information, it will never achieve top rankings in the search engines. Marketing websites are most effective if they are thought of as being a brochure, not a manual or newsletter. Exceed create websites that any client will be proud of, but more importantly, they generate leads. All sites are created on the WordPress platform, the world’s most popular online system, so if a client wishes to take over their own site after the first year, they can do so easily.
How We Got Involved in Marketing Therapeutic Schools and Programs
For over 30 years, David Bolthouse has been a marketing consultant to many firms and nonprofits. He has founded and operated three advertising agencies. When his teenage son got into trouble with self-destructive behavior, the boy’s counselor said he needed to be placed in a residential program. That counselor recommended a local program, which turned out to be disastrous. Two weeks after enrolling, his son was attacked and nearly killed on campus. So, while recuperating, a lot of research was undertaken to find the best program in the nation.
What David eventually found was a small, mostly unknown program in Texas, called Heartlight. After visiting there and also enrolling his son there, David was so impressed with the program and the staff that he started to help Heartlight with his professional marketing tactics. His goal — to help that program grow nationally. But after a great deal of national promotion that was producing hundreds of inquiries daily, the program surprisingly changed their minds about expansion, and instead chose to stay with just the one facility in Texas. In the meantime, other residential programs had taken notice of the explosive growth of Heartlight, and started contacting David to ask for his help. So, Exceed Marketing Solutions LLC was formed. Later, Exceed moved its offices from Texas to Los Angeles, and in 2018 it moved to Colorado Springs.
Exceed is privileged to work with some of America’s top therapeutic boarding schools, military schools, private academies and addiction treatment centers. We focus on marketing via a strong online and search presence, since that is where people look for such residential programs and schools today. Exceed handles all of the marketing and technical aspects for its clients, so that even small facilities can have world-class online marketing and can be found right along with the biggest schools and programs.
Here is how Exceed works with its clients….
FLAT FEE: Our concept from the beginning has been to do almost everything under one flat fee; a fee far less than what most marketing firms charge for this type of work. Exceed clients are never caught off guard by added fees that are typical of most marketing or advertising agencies. Exceed also refuses to hold anyone to a long-term contract. If the client wishes to back out of the relationship after the first year, they can do so and take their website and all we have done with them. Exceed requires at least a full year contract, since it invests many tens thousands of dollars in the first several months of working with any client.
EXPERTISE AND CONNECTIONS: Exceed has built up expertise in the residential therapeutic industries such that its connections and the directories it operates help quickly boost clients to prominence in the search engines, where most prospects go to find such programs.
EXCEED DOES IT ALL: Exceed works from the standpoint of doing whatever is needed to generate good qualified leads and referrals for clients, and to do so with minimal direction from the client. Much of our focus is on making the main marketing website generate many more qualified leads. We create world-class websites that work on all devices and are specifically designed to generate response and top rankings. Our team takes a lot of time up front to learn and understand each client’s standards, positioning, history and terminology. After decades of previous involvement in brand consulting and advertising, we know that brand protection and positioning are important, and we build that into everything we do.
When the Exceed team sees something that is needed to push a client forward, we dive into it with no added cost to the client. When we see a client’s engine rankings slipping or leads are falling off, we are “all hands on deck” to do whatever it takes to turn that around. We spend a great deal of time and expense up front getting each client to be ranked highly nationally and regionally on the major search engines. That also include managing online advertising, which many larger clients need to participate in at times. Exceed makes no kickbacks or royalties from advertising programs, it only charges a small $500/mo. added fee for advertising management.
THE WEBSITE: The marketing website is a key factor in being found online, so we entirely manage and troubleshoot a fully responsive website for our clients. Any changes that need to be made (including photo changes, staff changes, etc.) are done quickly and without added cost. Exceed also manages ancillary sites, social media, directory listings, hosting and email accounts, so no one on the client’s staff has to deal with websites whatsoever. Should a client wish to leave our services, all content created for the client is transferred to the client.
BUILDING TOP “ORGANIC” RANKINGS IS KEY: Exceed’s proprietary systems and custom plugins work with the website to cause it to jump to the top in the search engine rankings, and it regularly reports what keywords the clients are ranking highly for. Ranking is important, because like “location is everything” in terms of a storefront, location in the online search engine results is everything when it comes to a client being found by parents who don’t know what to look for to help their teen; they just type in search terms like: “boarding schools,” “military schools,” “help for my teen,” etc.
Exceed knows search engines and keeps up to date on them; we attend many search marketing conferences each year. We also know what keywords work to bring in qualified leads, either through “organic” search (the natural listing of sites on the search engine) or through “paid” search (or “pay-per-click”). Some residential programs don’t even need online advertising once their rankings are established. However, if they do need advertising, either to boost their momentum or to fill in the gaps, we will set it up and manage it daily, so they don’t lose their shirts on it.
To build long-tail response, over time Exceed also adds hundreds of pages to our clients’ websites, all of which will be feeder pages causing interested individuals to come to the website as they search for answers using various search “localized” terms. These pages are “white hat” and unique enough that they have never been considered “thin content” by the search engines. As a result, Exceed helps clients be found by searchers in the region and all over the country. Most clients achieve a doubling of site traffic from organic search each year for the first 3 years, and more gradual growth thereafter.
MARKETING AND SALES HELP AND REFERRALS: Exceed also helps client get better in the form of handling and managing leads. We have built a custom Lead Manager System that our clients use to manage and follow-up with leads and referrals. This system is forever free to our clients, even if they cancel our services.
Exceed Helps Clients Build Momentum
Search engine rankings and resulting traffic to a client’s site build or fall off based on various factors that the search engines build into their algorithms and now with Google’s “RankBrain” machine learning. They put websites higher in search results based on their momentum. Contextually relevant links from other similar sites and site traffic are major factors to achieving top rankings and more traffic. The greater the momentum, the more people will be visiting your website and for less cost.
It is paramount to be found in the search engines and by the right keywords. If you are not found in the way that people search for such programs today — by the Internet — you will not fill your beds. And that is can be especially true if your facility is located in a remote area. Fact is, you may not be able to depend on attracting any more than a handful of enrollments from your local area each year. Instead, you need to be able to cast a much wider net to catch the attention of people all over the nation. Furthermore, if your program or school is not especially low in cost — nor highly desired due to its reputation, location, campus, or special services — it will be difficult to pull in residents from a distance of 250 miles away or more (more than driving distance).
Over a number of years, new programs can build up their brand, reputation and name recognition, but to get started they will need to do a lot of “shouting” to get people’s attention, and that is incredibly costly on a national level. One way to keep costs in line is to gain “organic” (free) rankings in the search engines for important keywords (search terms) that people use to find such programs or schools. These free listings in Google, Bing and Yahoo are difficult to gain for the most important terms, since the competition is fierce and Google favors older websites. But Exceed has legal and ethical methods of doing so that are unique in the industry. One of many tactics we employ for our clients is that we link all of them together in a way that individual’s never see, and since we have so many clients in the same industry, the search engines look at that as a mark of approval on each website in that network, even if a site has no history and has had little traffic so far.
So, why is it important to gain top rankings in the search engines? First, because with each drop in the position that a site shows up in the search engine results for any particular search phrase or keyword, far fewer people will find or click through to your website. The numbers of click-thru’s drop quite dramatically from search results position (SERP) #1 to #10, and then more gradually from #11 (second page of search results) down to #30. If your site in not found in the top 20 results for major related keywords, people will generally not find your program and not visit your website.
Secondly, rankings are important because the search engines apply a “relevancy factor” to the keywords that are bid for with online ads (called “pay per click” advertising). A highly SEO-optimized website will have both strong organic rankings and least costly pay per click bids. The cost per click is a bidding process and those bids can vary widely depending on how relevant the term is to your website. This keeps advertisers who have deep pockets from monopolizing the entire web and putting their ads everywhere, regardless of how relevant their product is to the searcher. That would make for a bad search experience for the user, and the search engine’s reputation would be damaged, so relevancy is critical.
So, both SEO (search engine optimization) and PPC (pay per click advertising) are often required in order for people to find a residential program’s website, when they otherwise do not know the brand name. They will search with phrases like “boarding schools for girls” or “residential treatment centers for teens” or “rehabs for women”, and unless your program is found by those terms (either organically or via paid ads where we bid on these key phrases), you will not get leads.
With your each client’s participation with Exceed, you also gain free featured listings in our growing number of highly ranked directories, including:
- MilitarySchoolUSA.com – #1 military school site
- BoardingSchools.us – A top boarding school directory
Other directories are in development.
But that’s not all…a number of streams must be cultivated for generating leads in addition to your online presence and online marketing. These other streams include: referral services, loan sources, counselors/therapists, schools, government officials, juvenile authorities, and social media. For the most part, national advertising venues will be too costly for most programs, but every effort should be made to gain free publicity locally, regionally and nationally.
We stand ready and able to take your residential program to the next level — and that is for every bed to be full. Our history has shown that after a few months of hard work, our clients evolve from their old state of struggling, to the happier state of stability, prosperity and growth.
David P. Bolthouse
Marketing Services for Residential Schools and Programs