If you’ve been working in digital marketing for student recruitment for a while, you’re probably well aware of the potential value of paid advertising as a promotional channel. Both search and social media advertising can help schools of all kinds create highly targeted campaigns that will generate quality leads for a relatively low financial outlay.
But what do you do if your own advertising efforts don’t live up to this? Many schools find that the cost, traction, and lead quality they see from their campaigns do not quite reach the heights promised by the experts.
If this is your situation, a paid advertising audit could be the perfect solution. By putting every aspect of your campaigns under the microscope, experienced advertising professionals can help you identify what you’re doing wrong. Keep reading to find out how.
1. Analyze and Benchmark Your School’s Advertising KPIs
The first thing you should look at when auditing your paid advertising efforts are your results. Looking at your performance will give you a sense of how much improvement needs to be made, and where it needs to happen.
When analyzing past campaigns, identify the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) you should be assessing. These are metrics which are indicative of the overall health of your advertising strategy. Depending on the platforms you are using, important KPIs could include:
- Click Through Rate (CTR)
- Cost Per Click (CPC)
- Cost Per Impression (CPM)
- Conversion rate
- Cost Per Conversion or Action (CPA)
- Quality or Relevancy Score
- Engagement Rate Ranking
- Conversion Rate Ranking
Each of these metrics can tell you something different about your campaigns. A low relevancy score, for example, might point to issues with the targeting of your campaigns. A poor conversion rate, on the other hand, might mean that you should be reviewing your landing pages, particularly if your CTR is good.
If your audit is being completed by higher education advertising experts, they will have a good sense of which KPIs are most relevant to the campaigns you are running. They will also have knowledge of industry benchmarks – the average results of campaigns. This will help them tell you whether your campaigns are performing well or falling short.
Keep in mind that KPI benchmarks within the education sector might differ from those across other industries. After all, the nature of your audience and your advertising objectives are wildly different from say, a clothing store, so you shouldn’t be expecting the same success rates.
Example: According to WordStream, the average CPC across all industries is USD$1.68. However, the ‘Jobs and Education’ sector is significantly higher, at USD$2.11 a click. Other industries, such as ‘Food & Drink’ and ‘Pets & Animals,’ enjoy a much cheaper CPC.
In addition to looking at industry benchmarks, you should be sure to benchmark your results against previous campaigns. If your ads performed better in the past, you can look at what you might have changed in your more recent campaigns that could have caused results to slip.
Lastly, you should measure your campaign performance against your school’s goals. Are they delivering on their objectives? Is your budget sufficient to meet those objectives when taking industry benchmarks and your past performance into account? Being clear about what exactly it is you are trying to improve will help give your audit focus and direction.
2. Refine Your Education Advertising Creative Strategy
In an increasingly noisy marketplace, your ads need to stand out in your prospects’ feeds and search results. That’s why it’s more important than ever that your ad creative is on point.
During an audit, it’s incredibly worthwhile to review the copy and design of your ads and consider whether or not you are taking the right approach. Does your creative stand out and really engage users, or is it a bit generic? Is your copy consistent with your offer and messaging, or is it muddled and incoherent? Are your ad designs tailored to their placements, or do you create one design and have it automatically fitted to different placements across a platform?
Example: A side by side comparison of two ad designs for Cumberland College in the Stories format. The ad on the left has been tailored specifically to fit the placement, while the ad on the right is a News Feed ad design which has been automatically fitted by Facebook.
As you can see, the ad on the left is much more visually striking and impactful.
This should apply just as much to search ads as to social media or display campaigns. While you don’t have the same variety of formats or design options, you should still analyze your ad copy to see what can be improved, and how you can make it stand out within the restraints of the format.
3. Review the Performance of Your School’s Ads by Placement
As mentioned in the previous section, it’s important to ensure that your ad creative fits within the placements you have selected for your campaigns. When looking at your placements, you should also consider whether your selections are going to deliver the best results.
Many schools make the mistake of selecting all placements when building a campaign and allowing ad platforms to select where their ads are shown. This can lead to your ad being served where prospects are less likely to be actively looking for schools (such as Facebook Marketplace, for example), which can hurt your chances of conversion.
If you want to discern the best placement options for your ads, analyze the results of your previous campaigns and see which placements have been attracting the most clicks and conversions. By focusing on those placements in your future efforts, you will stand a better chance of seeing a good ROI.
4. Review the Landing Pages That Link to Your School’s Ads
Landing pages are essential to a successful education advertising strategy. They allow your school to present what it is offering in concise, comprehensive, and persuasive terms, and offer prospects an immediate chance to convert by completing a form.
With that in mind, if you haven’t been using landing pages for your ads, it’s likely to be one of the first recommendations you receive in a digital advertising audit. Creating them in your future campaigns could make a dramatic difference to your conversion rates.
If you have been using landing pages, your audit will be an opportunity to examine their effectiveness, and whether or not they follow best practices. Could your template design and copy be improved? Are you limiting navigation by removing menus and links? Are your forms overlong, or asking for irrelevant information? All of these elements could harm your ability to convert leads from your ads.
5. Audit Your Education Advertising Targeting Strategy
Search, display, and social media advertising platforms all offer very useful but very different targeting options, and your targeting strategies should be formulated to make the most out of each channel.
In search advertising, your auditors should be reviewing the keywords you are targeting in campaigns and assessing whether they are delivering enough value. It may be the case, for instance, that you could get better ROI by targeting less competitive longtail keywords rather than high value searches that require expensive bids. Your school may also want to analyze its demographic targeting strategies, which can often be overlooked when putting together a search campaign.
Display targeting is more complicated, with several different types of contextual and audience targeting tactics your school can employ. This is where having an audit by marketing professionals can be extremely valuable, helping you to home in on an approach that will give you a good chance of getting a return.
Social media advertising targeting options can vary depending on which platform you are using, but most social networks offer a range of options in both demographic and behavioural targeting. During an audit, experts can help you create more detailed audiences which closely match your student personas.
6. Ensure You Are Tracking Your School’s Ad Campaigns Properly
Implementing accurate tracking can be vital for your ad campaigns. If your tracking is not set up correctly, you might be getting a false impression of your results.
During an audit, your tracking should be reviewed to ensure you have an optimal setup in place. Experts will check that Google Tag Manager codes, Facebook Pixels and other UTM codes are set up on your landing and thank you pages, as well as any other pages on your website.
Tracking for your campaigns also needs to be configured correctly on your ad platforms, Google Analytics account, and your CRM and marketing automation system if it has that functionality.
Example: Mautic by HEM allows schools to track the number of leads they are generating through both Google and Facebook ad campaigns.
You may also need to review your attribution models, conversion events, and conversion windows to ensure you have the right settings in place for your school. For example, the default conversion windows in Google Ads – which count conversions up to 30 days from clicking on an ad and up to 24 hours after seeing an ad if leads don’t click but later convert – are generally best for most schools unless you have a specific reason to change them. If you have longer or shorter conversion windows, your conversion numbers may not be an accurate reflection of your campaigns.
Reviewing these elements is especially important right now in Facebook Ads, in light of the changes to attribution the platform has implemented as a result of the iOS 14 update. If you are doing a paid advertising audit in the near future, this should be at the top of your list for things to review.
7. Analyze Your Campaign Management Tactics
While reviewing all of these areas is important, it’s also crucial not to forget the human element of digital advertising. To maximize success in search, social media, and display campaigns, you need to manage and optimize them regularly.
Whether you are managing your own ads or using an external agency, someone should be on hand to review and adjust your budgets, targeting, placements, and creative as your campaigns are running. This allows you to identify what’s working and what isn’t and make changes to maximize your ROI.
With that in mind, an audit can be a chance to assess your campaign management process. You may find that your team isn’t reviewing your ads regularly enough to identify optimization opportunities. Alternatively, they may be too quick to make changes to campaigns, and are not letting them run long enough for the ad platform’s own algorithms to optimize them for success.
8. Determine the Value of Advertising on Different Channels for Your School
Lastly, one of the biggest benefits of auditing your advertising efforts is that it gives you a big-picture analysis of the value of your campaigns across different channels. This can help you take stock of which platforms are bringing you a better ROI, and which may not be right for your school.
A school advertising on both Google and Facebook, for example, may find that they are attracting far more conversions at a lower cost on the search engine. It could then decide to move more of its budget to Google Ads, or even pause its Facebook campaigns altogether.
Your audit might also help you identify opportunities on channels you are not currently using. For instance, if your school is targeting younger students, auditors might suggest you run campaigns on TikTok. If you are looking to recruit older professionals, LinkedIn could be put forward as an option.
Whatever your findings, the result will be a more streamlined, efficient, and ultimately more effective advertising strategy for your school.