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Does word-of-mouth advertising fall on deaf ears? Seven web essentials for marketing

Word-of-mouth is often accurately touted as the best way to market piano lessons. But the concept of word-of-mouth has changed tremendously in the last ten years, both in how it works and what it really is.1 Consequently, word-of-mouth is starting to fall short in effectiveness and conversion for those who do not have some essential components on their website.

Here is a typical scenario. Alissa, a twenty-eight-year-old mother of two, asks Amber, a thirty-three-year-old mother of three, if she knows any good piano teachers in the area. Amber enthusiastically tells Alissa about you and your studio. Alissa, who subtly believes that all reputable businesses will be on the web, immediately Googles your name on her smartphone to pull up your website. But alas, you do not have a website (or perhaps you haven't updated it in a long time).

Unable to investigate your studio, Alissa starts clicking the top search results in Google and finds piano teachers who have great sites that are mobile-friendly. She subconsciously assumes that the teachers who own these sites will connect better with her young children, since they know the importance of a web presence. She intuitively decides that even though she has a recommendation for your studio and might check on that later, she'll first check into these apparently more dynamic and up-to-date studios.

Alissa may also ask her friends on Facebook and Snapchat if they know of any good piano teachers in the area. Her friends, who because of smart phones don't memorize phone numbers any more, will instead search for or type in the website addresses of teachers they know with great studios. For them, actually looking up your phone number and getting it to Alissa will be too much effort.

Of course all of this subconscious evaluation seems unfair, but it is the way many of your potential studio parents operate in this busy age. This is partly due to the fact that adults who are parents are now Gen X-ers and Millennials. These generations grew up with technology and do not know a world without it. They rarely memorize phone numbers, would rather chat, text, or email than talk on the phone, and they expect that all information relevant to them will be on the web when they search for it. 

So yes, Amber may use word-of-mouth to spread the word about your studio, but Alissa, the consumer looking for lessons, is more likely to be drawn to the attractive, mobile-friendly websites of the top piano teacher listings on Google, and she may not make the effort to track down your phone number and call you. 

Given these current tendencies of parents, it's important to make certain that you actually do have a website, and that it contains the following minimum criteria to capture the interest of visitors, connect with their needs, and make it easy for them to sign up.

1. Attractive, professional photos or a short video with emotional appeal

There are skilled, amateur photographers around every corner these days and professional-looking, high-quality photos are easy to obtain. Consider hiring one of these hobbyist or professional photographers to take pictures at your group lessons to capture students having fun, appearing interested, smiling, and showing positive emotions. Yes, your list of offerings will be important in sealing the deal, but these emotionally appealing photos that should be in prominent places on your site will be important in communicating the emotional results of your service, and they will capture the interest of prospective students and parents.

2. Short descriptions of your offerings with an emphasis on the benefits and results for the student

Everyone skims when they read online. Therefore, you should be concise in the description of your services. While including such things as recitals, competitions, group lessons, summer camps, duet opportunities, and incentive programs may be important, it is more important that you emphasize how these benefit your students rather than how wonderful you are for offering them. For example, instead of saying "Lessons include recitals, group lessons, and incentive programs," consider saying, "Students have the opportunity to participate in

• Recitals (which give students goals that help them progress faster)

• Group lessons (which develop camaraderie and inspiration for students)

• Incentive programs (which emphasize learning more music, rewards for diligent practice, and development of life-long character skills such as self-discipline)"2

3. An emphasis on your particular strengths and unique offerings

Do you have a knack for engaging beginners with kinesthetic games? Do you have a track record of helping students win competitions? Can you also teach composition? Do you emphasize creativity in every lesson? If you specialize in anything, make this your selling point!

4. An "About" page that makes a personal connection

Remember that you can continue to assure readers that you understand their needs and can help them even while you are giving your credentials. For example, instead of saying, "Sammy is a member of MTNA and KCMTA," try something more personal such as, "I am an active member of the Music Teachers National Association and participate in my local music teaching organization. This gives my students both fun and competitive performance opportunities and helps me keep my teaching skills sharp and creative." While this is more wordy, it actually means something to readers and connects with their needs.

5. A platform that is mobile friendly

Approximately eighty-five percent of young adults now own smartphones, and seven percent of smartphone users do not even have broadband service at home.3 As an example of this shift, an overwhelming majority of teachers are accessing the website through a smartphone, but, just two years ago, a majority accessed it through a desktop! Because of this, it is paramount that your website is created on a template or platform that can immediately and automatically adjust to a small screen (typically called "responsive design") rather than requiring users to enlarge the screen with their fingers.

6. Multiple links and opportunities for visitors to contact you

Include a call to action such as "Sign up here" or "Learn more" in many pages of your site, including the About page, your Home page, your sidebar, and any page where parents may visit to learn more about lessons. In addition, it is important to include a "Contact" page in your menu, as this is expected on all websites.

7. Testimonials

Short, one- or two-sentence testimonies from those who have experienced lessons from you (also known as "social proof") on major pages is an extremely effective method of persuasion. These statements help prospective students imagine what it would be like to study with you and can help you make a stronger impression.

There are many other things that could be included on your site that might make applying for lessons easier for everyone, including your policies, enrollment forms, FAQs (frequently asked questions), a studio calendar, and more, but these are not crucial to converting visitors to paying customers. In the next issue, we will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of posting your rates online. In the meantime, send me an email (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.), and let me know what you have learned in having or not having a website. Please feel free to email questions that you'd like to see addressed in a future issue.

1 See by Kevin Kao.

2 Notice that this example uses bullets, which makes longer text easier to "skim."


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