7 Costly Mistakes Schools Make in Higher Education PPC Campaigns
Higher Education Marketing

7 Costly Mistakes Schools Make in Higher Education PPC Campaigns

Date posted: June 20, 2018

higher education marketing ppc

When managed well, Pay per Click (PPC) campaigns can be an ideal student recruitment tool. Working on the principle that you only pay for results, PPC essentially presents organizations with a win-win situation, ensuring that their budget is only spent on ads that attract seriously interested prospects.

In practice, though, it isn’t quite that simple. Failure to properly set up, target, and manage your PPC efforts correctly can result in ineffective campaigns, ads that attract the wrong audience, or even overspending.

If you suspect something might be amiss in your school’s PPC campaigns, keep reading to learn about some of the most common mistakes you could be making.

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1. Not Defining Clear Goals for Your Higher Education PPC Efforts

One of the biggest mistakes you can make when developing PPC campaigns is failing to start with clear goals in mind. Too often, a school will embark on a PPC initiative without a well-defined direction. The result can be ads that target the wrong locations, bid on keywords that are too general, or simply don’t speak to your target audience.

To combat this, your team should sit down before you begin a campaign and try to outline as specific an objective as possible. What course are you looking to promote? Are you aiming to attract a certain amount of leads? Are you targeting a particular location? What timeframe do you have to achieve your objectives?

Answering these kinds of questions before you begin is a simple but solid step in the right direction. With a clear shared objective in mind, your team can work towards your goal with more purpose, and create ads, landing page content, and a budget and strategy designed with this in mind.

2. Not Aligning Campaigns With Your School’s Goals 

Once you have defined clear goals for your higher education PPC efforts, it’s important to align them properly with your campaigns.  This means carefully considering who you are targeting (and where), what kind of keywords they are most likely to be searching, and what sort of budget you are likely to require to reach your objective.

Google AdWords, the most commonly used PPC platform, offers three basic criteria in terms of targeting:

  • Location
  • Device type
  • Time

You should think about how each of these options can be used to give you the best chance of reaching your goals. Geotargeting your campaigns by location will ensure that your ads are served to the correct audience, while considering the types of device and time of day they are most likely to be online will also help maximize your potential return.

In addition, Google also introduced demographic targeting options last year, meaning you can now target users based on age and gender, too. Advertisers also have the option to exclude certain demographic categories, which could be very valuable for schools whose programs are likely to appeal only to specific groups.

If you are looking to appeal to prospective students who have already shown interest in your school, you might also consider remarketing campaigns, which will allow you to reach unique users based on a number of parameters. If you find that a remarketing campaign is successful, using the Similar Audiences option might also be a good approach, allowing you to find prospects who share the characteristics of your existing leads.

While targeting is a big part of aligning your PPC campaigns with your goals, it is also worth considering your chosen keywords with this in mind, too. Conducting keyword research within your target markets will help you pinpoint the highest potential searches to bid on, and weed out any keywords that are unlikely to yield results.  

Finally, ad copy is also crucial to ensuring your campaigns are optimized to reach their goals. Because PPC ads are limited to three lines of short text, schools often fail to give their copy the attention it warrants. Take some time to consider your student personas and what sort of language and messaging is likely to appeal to them, and tailor your ads accordingly.

Example: This ad from Taft University for an online MBA is a good example of simple but effective PPC copy. It offers all the information prospective students require, with a strong CTA to encourage clicks through.

higher education pay per click

3. Not Creating Custom Landing Pages for Your Higher Ed PPC Ads

Another important element of aligning your PPC campaigns with your goals is making sure that the page prospective students land on when they click on your ad drives them towards those goals as efficiently as possible. Simply linking your ad to your homepage could lead to web users browsing your site aimlessly without converting, resulting in missed opportunities to connect with seriously interested prospects.

Creating customized landing pages for your campaigns helps you to avoid this problem. A good landing page will communicate what you are offering comprehensively but succinctly, with few if any options for the user to navigate away. It will also usually include an online form for prospective students to register their details in order to receive more information.

Example: This effort from the Presbyterian College, Montreal’s Bachelor of Theology program is a good example of a well-structured landing page. Note how it doesn’t offer navigation away from the page, instead providing a concise description of the course. It also drives users towards conversion by encouraging them to fill in the form to download a brochure.

higher ed ppc

Creating customized landing pages is especially important if you are conducting multilingual ad campaigns. Prospective students who click on an ad presented in their native language will usually expect the web page they land on to be in the same language. By creating landing pages for each language you advertise in, you maximize your chances of encouraging international students to convert.

Example:  US language school Language Systems developed landing pages in Spanish for their international PPC campaigns.

ppc for higher education

4. Not Bidding on Your School’s Name

Many schools make the mistake of thinking there’s no need to bid on their own branded keywords. After all, it’s likely that your institution shows up first in searches for its own name, so why spend money to get an ad on the same page?

While this logic is understandable, it can be a costly error for some institutions. The issue with failing to bid on your own branded searches is that if you don’t, your competitors just might. A school which engages in this kind of ‘guerilla marketing’ approach is likely to offer similar programs and offerings to yours, and could potentially siphon off extremely valuable potential leads.

Example: This search for the University of Queensland brings up an ad for its competitor, Edith Cowan University, which is shown above the organic results. By targeting branded searches like this, the school may just encourage prospective students to consider it as an alternative.

education PPC

Any prospective student who searches for your school by name is likely to do so because they already have some familiarity with your brand and what they offer, so you don’t want to let them go without a fight.

5. Not Using Negative Keywords

The negative keywords option offered by most PPC platforms allows you to exclude certain search terms that aren’t a good match for the product or service you are advertising. In the context of PPC for higher education, this can be an extremely valuable tool.

Education keywords are such that even with today’s complex search algorithms there is still a lot of potential for confusion. Without negative keywords, for example, an ad for a nursing course could easily show up in a search by a qualified professional seeking nursing jobs. Assigning jobs, positions, and other variants to your negative keywords list could help prevent this mistake.

Likewise, negative keywords can allow you to mitigate against the potential issues that arise with words with double meanings. A search for ‘accounting programs’, for instance, might be carried out by a user seeking computer software rather than a course.

Schools might also use negative keywords to stop ads from showing up in searches with terms like ‘free.’ Since web users will often try to find free education options online, including this term in your negative keyword list will help ensure your ads aren’t shown to low value prospects.

Example: This search for free engineering college courses brings up an ad for a paid online course from MIT.

higher ed marketing PPC

6. Not Measuring Your School’s PPC Efforts Correctly

Measuring the results of your PPC campaigns correctly is crucial. It can be easy to look at a campaign which outwardly appears to be doing well based on clicks, for example, but on closer inspection isn’t converting prospective students into leads. Likewise, a high converting campaign may not be attracting quality, suitable applicants.

As a starting point, it is important to ensure that you analyze a few basic key metrics in all your PPC campaigns:

Conversions- This is the amount of leads you have generated from a given campaign, and will give you an idea of how close you are to reaching your predefined goals.

Cost per click- The amount you are paying for each click on your ads.

Conversion rate- This is the percentage of leads that went on to convert after clicking through to your landing page by completing the desired action you specified (filling out a form, downloading a brochure etc.). This metric will help you measure the quality of leads you are attracting and the effectiveness of your offers.

Cost per conversion- This is the total amount you are paying for each lead you generate. It is calculated by dividing the total cost of your campaign by the total amount of leads, and is key to determining your ROI.

Quality score- This is a measure of how relevant AdWords considers your ads to be to your targeted keywords. It is calculated based on a number of factors, including your landing page quality, keyword relevance, and click through rate. Your quality score will determine your ad position and how much you need to pay to bid on a specific keyword, meaning working to improve it will make your campaigns cheaper over time.

In addition to measuring your data, some qualitative analysis may also be required to judge your results. An ad that is underperforming may be doing so due to incorrect targeting, poor choice of keywords, bad ad copy, or any other number of factors. Likewise, poor conversion rates might be a result of targeting or keyword problems, but it may also be down to the content of your design or landing page.

Having the foresight to recognize each of the potential issues that could be holding your campaigns back will make it easier to continuously refine and adjust different elements until you perfect a winning formula.

7. Not Working to Improve Your PPC Campaigns

Above all else, it’s important to remember that higher education pay per click campaigns need to be constantly managed and improved to really get results. Many schools will set their budget, run time, and targeting and think that their work is done. In reality, however, an unattended campaign can waste your budget.

To guard against this, it is recommended that a member of your team be tasked with the following on a weekly or even daily basis:

  1. Reviewing your active keywords
  2. Reviewing your average position
  3. Reviewing the number of leads generated by each keyword
  4. Calculating cost per lead (CPL)  by keyword
  5. Filtering negative keywords
  6. Filtering out ads that are not producing leads

Doing this will allow you to turn your campaign management into a process of continuous improvement and optimization. Your school can catch problems early, spot new opportunities, and adjust its bids, budget, and campaign elements for optimum efficiency and cost-effectiveness. 

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