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Launching a paid ads campaign can be a big step for many schools, but feeling the need to master Google Ads can hold many schools back from getting started. There are various platform settings and strategies to consider, which can leave school marketers feeling overwhelmed or indecisive.

By reviewing our curated list of top Google Ads tips and targeting tricks, you can feel more confident about getting started with your school’s first paid ad campaign. Read on to discover what you can do to launch paid ads on the right foot!

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1. Target Urban Areas Instead of Countries

Ad targeting is the art of choosing where ads are placed to boost your visibility and “clickability,” helping you reach customers based on various demographic and psychographic criteria. It’s critical because it ensures that your ads appear to people who are interested in what you have to offer and ready to engage the moment they see your ads.  

To be sure your targeting is on point, schools seeking to advertise internationally should target urban areas rather than countries. For instance, instead of targeting India as a whole, schools might benefit more from targeting areas like New Delhi or Mumbai. This is especially the case when advertising in developing countries. 

As Alexander Nachaj, HEM’s Director of Paid Ads & Analytics, explains, “This is because most people in developing countries have access to the internet via mobile phones and will get the ads but not necessarily have the language skills, economic possibilities, etc. to actually be serious candidates for a course abroad in English, unlike people in cities which have higher concentrations of middle-class households.” 

When it comes to location targeting, there are additional best practices and Google Ads tips that your school should consider:

  • If you’re working with a limited advertising budget and are advertising nationally, then focus on areas where your marketing initiatives perform best. You can consult your marketing analytics to identify these areas and expand once you have a bigger budget. 
  • If you’re running offline ads, such as TV or print ads, in specific areas, consider choosing the same areas for your online ads. This will create an integrated marketing experience for your prospects and enable them to find you more easily after viewing an offline ad. 
  • If you’re running numerous campaigns in different countries, segment them into different regions. Make a separate campaign for each country you’re marketing to, especially if there are different target languages and ad copy involved. This can also be applied when targeting different states. By segmenting your campaign, you can view your performance at a more nuanced level and more easily change your bid for each location.  
  • When setting up your targeting, choose “presence” over “interest or presence.” That’s because choosing “presence” allows you to target prospects that are in the location, while choosing “interest” can serve your ads to people who are interested in the location and are outside the country.

2. Aim to Reach Your Target Audience Instead of Only Showing Up on the SERP 

Appearing at the top of Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) is important, but making it clear that you understand your target audience can significantly pay off. To do this, you’ll need to conduct thorough market research and develop accurate student personas. These personas can be viewed as semi-fictional representations of your ideal prospect, giving you a realistic profile of the students you are targeting based on your school’s data and research. 

With this information, you can create more compelling ads that speak to your personas. For example, if your school is targeting the parents of international students, then your ad will likely focus on specific motivations and concerns—and these key factors will likely differ if you were to target college students. By understanding who your prospects are through market research and personas, you can begin tailoring your ads to resonate with your audience. 

Example: This persona of a young student living in Vancouver clearly establishes key background information while also covering relevant motivations and concerns. A school using this persona can rely on this information to shape its future messaging with this target audience:

For even better results, your school should have a firm grasp of its prospects’ intent before creating its ads. User intent can be defined as the reason and goal behind a search query. Intent can be informational, transactional, or navigational. For instance, prospects may type in specific keywords to learn about a new subject, make a purchase, or find and visit a specific website. Once you understand your prospect’s goal as they input their specific keywords, you can begin personalizing your content to suit their intent and needs. This can help you actually reach your target audience instead of just appearing on their search engine results page (SERP).

Pro Tip: Many prospects search for courses and programs at all hours. As a result, you don’t want to set limits on the times of the day when your ads run. In Alexander’s view, the exception to this rule is if your data shows a sharp decline in the quality of leads coming at specific times, such as weekends or during the night. 

3. Use Keywords to their Full Potential as One of Many Key Google Ads Tips

One of the most important Google Ads tips is to get started with keyword research, the process of determining which search terms prospects use when searching for things on Google. You can use this process to select effective keywords and keyword phrases that are relevant to your school and are frequently used by your prospects. 

Essentially, your keywords are your superpower when refining Google search ads. Once you’ve determined what your audience is looking for, you can use them to boost your own visibility and appear higher in search results for relevant searches. In Google Ads, you have three keyword categories to work with: 

  • Exact match: keywords you bid on that need to be in the same exact phrasing for the ad to be in a user’s search query
  • Phrase match: keywords that have some flexibility. As long as the phrasing is there, even if other words appear before or after it, the ad will show up in the user’s search query
  • Broad match: keywords that allow you to show your ad to anyone who searches for something similar to your keywords—synonyms or misspellings included

Be sure to conduct your keyword research in advance so you can find out which keywords and phrases work best for your school. While you’re at it, explore the Google Ads settings so you can refine your ad targeting even further.

Combine Your Keywords with Demographics for Better Targeting

A great thing about choosing your own keywords is that you can capitalize on your location and demographics. By integrating this information into your keywords, when relevant, you can refine your ad campaign and add an extra level of dimensionality to your keyword targeting. Simply adding the country or city in your keywords can give your school a better chance at reaching more qualified leads. Instead of selecting “MBA degree” or “business school” as your keyword, consider switching to “MBA degree in Switzerland” or “business school in Toronto” as an example.

Generally speaking, these types of keywords have a lower monthly search volume, which can make them slightly easier to rank for due to less competition. To refine your keywords even further, you can rely on online tools, like Google Trends, to identify interest over time as well as related topics and queries within your target country. 

Here’s an example of the information the tool displays when searching for trends around the term “business schools” in Canada:

Gauging the interest levels over time and keeping track of relevant searches around your keywords can help you redirect the focus of your efforts or time your ad just right so that they produce better results. 

Avoid Choosing Overly Broad Keywords in Your Ad Campaign

Your instinct may be to target as much as possible with your bid by selecting broad match keywords. While there’s logic in this reasoning, doing so can harm your ad performance. You may end up using short keywords that have a high monthly search volume but unclear intent. In this case, you’ll have high competition, and you may not even end up targeting an audience with the right intent, potentially getting clicks from users who are irrelevant to your targeting efforts.

To avoid this problem and improve your return on investment, you’ll want to focus your keywords around highly relevant topics with clear intent that matches your school’s ad. You can use a wide range of online keyword research tools to identify the cost and monthly search volume of your keywords, along with their intent. Google Ads Keyword Planner, Moz Keyword Explorer, and the Semrush Keyword Overview tool are just some of the many tools you can explore.

Here’s what using the Semrush Keyword Overview tool looks like. The keyword “french courses in Montreal” is shown alongside key information, such as the volume, keyword difficulty, intent, and cost per click (CPC):

Source: Semrush

Pro Tip: Another of Alexander’s handy Google Ads tips for schools is limiting the number of keywords per adgroup to around 10 to 12. “If you have more keywords, create more adgroups, revolving around a shared root word, such as ‘courses’ or ‘programs,’” he advises. “This makes optimization and segmenting your campaign easier.”

Extra Google Ads Tips: Don’t Forget to Use Negative Keywords and Brand Keywords

Negative keywords are especially handy for schools looking to refine their keyword-targeting efforts. By using them, schools can control where and how their ads appear, making sure they don’t show up for irrelevant queries. By going into your settings, you can add those keywords you don’t want your ad to be associated with.

Alexander recommends blocking the word ‘free’ since users searching for “free” courses or programs are likely hoping to find informational videos and tutorials instead of earning a college certificate. “If your course is in person, block the word ‘online’ as Google might still show ads to people searching for online courses,” he adds.

It’s also a good idea to consider bidding for brand keywords since your school’s competitors may aim for them. If they do and you haven’t bid on them, prospects searching for your school may encounter a competitor first and click on their ad since it would be higher up on their SERP. 

Example: Prospects searching for “Vancouver Film School programs” are able to view the school’s ad as the first listing. However, right below is another ad by the Toronto Film School, which may attract the same audience:

4. Use “Maximize Clicks” Bidding when Launching a New Ad Campaign for Your School

Keyword bidding can be complicated, but one of our top Google Ads tips for schools launching a new campaign is to focus on “maximize clicks” bidding. By choosing “maximize clicks” bidding, “Google Ads will focus on gaining traffic at an affordable pace, rather than starting with maximize conversions which often performs poorly when the campaign doesn’t have enough prior data,” explains Alexander.

This type of bidding strategy is automated, setting your bids in a way that helps you get as many clicks as possible within your budget. It’s also considered the simplest way to bid for clicks, where Google Ads does most of the heavy lifting. All you need to do is set an average daily budget. 

For greater control, your school can set a limit to prevent bids from exceeding a specific amount. Although this can provide you with more control, it can also limit your ad position and the number of clicks that your school’s ad would receive. It’s also worth noting that this bidding strategy isn’t available for Display Network campaigns with the marketing objective “engage with content” or for App campaigns. It’s also unavailable for bid adjustments based on day and time.

5. Ensure that Your School’s Ad Directs Prospects to a Targeted Landing Page

You only have a few seconds to appeal to your target audience and convince them to stay on your website once they click your ad. This is why having a targeted landing page is so important; it allows users to visit a page that speaks directly to them, resonating and motivating them to complete the desired action and fill out a form. Otherwise, if they’re sent to a program page or a homepage, they won’t have a clear direction and are likely to click away. 

To make the most of your Google Ads and avoid Google Ads problems down the line, you’ll want to focus your time and resources on factors that will drive conversions—and your landing page is a big one. In addition to creating unique and targeted landing pages for each of your different ad campaigns, which would feature different programs and keywords, your school should also consider applying industry best practices. These include:

  • Making sure your content and messaging match what you promise in the ad
  • Adding compelling images or videos and text
  • Removing navigation and other potential distractions
  • Creating a single and clear call to action (CTA)
  • Placing the most important elements above the fold

Example: To attract prospects who have searched for a “civil engineering program in London,” Imperial College London has created a targeted landing page with compelling copy and a clear CTA above the fold of the website:

Source: Imperial College London

This messaging will likely resonate with students interested in learning more about this type of program, motivating them to fill out an easily accessible form and provide their contact details, turning them into qualified leads ready to enter their enrollment journey with the school. Ultimately, it’s these efforts that will make your Google Ads successful. 

If you’re looking to apply one of our Google Ads tips, consider this. Our team of industry experts can help you create compelling messaging, along with accurate student personas and well-designed landing pages. We also offer full-service ad campaign management, including campaign creation, keyword research, specific geo-targeting, and campaign optimization. Reach out to our team for personalized Google Ads support to help you effectively reach and connect with your prospects! 

6. Maximize the Performance of Your School’s Ads via Ad Assets 

To boost your chances of getting clicks, you’ll want to make your ads as compelling as possible. This is where Google Ads assets can come in handy. These assets refer to any content that adds more information about your school and gives prospects more options to interact with. They include anything from headlines and descriptions to sitelinks and call buttons. You can even use them to add images that make your ad all the more compelling. All of this can be done at no extra cost.

To do this, create assets by navigating to the “Ads and Asset” menu in your Google Ads account. It’s a good idea to have all assets relevant to your business set up—some can be manually set up, while others are added automatically. That’s because Google Ads chooses which assets to show users in response to their search query. By adding this content to your Google Ads campaign, you can boost your visibility and bump up your prominence on the SERP, which allows you to maximize the value of your ad. Besides, these assets can potentially increase the number of clicks on your ad as they give prospects more ways to engage with and reach you.

Example: The Google Ad shown below features required assets, like the headline and description, as well as an additional asset: sitelinks. This way, prospects can read the headline and scan the description to gauge relevancy as well as click on the handy links below, quickly accessing valuable information like tuition, start dates, and the application page: 

7. Run A/B Tests to Optimize Your Ad Campaign Results

It’s easy to focus much of your energy on getting the targeting and bidding settings of your campaign just right. You may even get lost in the details and forget about the actual ad itself—and whether it’s at its best to perform in the most effective way possible. This is why it’s important to A/B test your ads. 

You don’t want to run just one ad per ad group and hope for the best. Instead, you’ll want to run different variations per ad group and A/B test different elements to discover which ones are the most effective. Through this process, you may test your headline, ad copy, and even accompanying images. 

On top of these Google Ads tips, you can even “run A/B tests whenever you want to switch bidding strategies,” adds Alexander. “Use Google’s experiments option to test a new bidding strategy, such as ‘maximize clicks’ vs. ‘maximize conversions,’ to see which performs best [and] give at least two weeks to gather data before comparing results.” 

This will give you the insights you need to optimize your ad’s conversion rate and decrease your cost per click, allowing you to figure out why your Google ads are not working well for your school and optimize. By running these tests, you can gather data that can even help shape your paid advertising strategy moving forward.

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