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Remarketing is a powerful and effective digital marketing tactic for reaching your target prospective student. Many colleges and universities are using remarketing to great effect in their lead generation efforts, reaching out and touching prospects with branding and direct response ads across the lengthy sales cycle of the average higher ed student. Let’s take a look at what remarketing is, how it works and why you should consider adding it to your recruitment mix.

Let’s talk definitions for a minute, before we get into the details. “Remarketing” has a number of different names depending on who you are speaking with. Remarketing, Retargeting, and Re-messaging are all terms generally used to refer to what is essentially the same thing. I prefer the term remarketing, (and that’s what Google uses), so we will stick to that going forward. Some people use the term behavioral retargeting  to generally refer to all types of retargeting but for the sake of simplicity in this post, I have used it to indicate retargeting types other than Search or Site-based.

Remarketing involves advertising to an individual who has 1) previously visited your site, 2) searched on keywords that are important to your site or 3) taken a specific action online that you think profiles them as a potential prospect. Recognize that these three different types of remarketing address different points across the engagement or recruitment funnel. It is also important to understand that two of these target groups may not have actually seen your site before, so don’t make the common error of assuming that remarketing only involves advertising to people who already know you. Yes, this is counter intuitive but it is the case.


Site Remarketing Based on High Priority Recruitment Pages

Site remarketing is the most commonly used of the three types of remarketing and is defined as targeting visitors to your web site for additional advertising. This involves inserting a tracking tag, (also known as a cookie), on all the pages of your site. Visitors pick up your cookie when on your pages and then when they visit other web pages assoicated with an ad network that you are advertising one, (for example the Google Adwords network), your ad will appears on their search results or display page. The stats suggest that using remarketing, on average, you’ll be able to connect with 84% of the people you tag, 10-18 times per month.

ninety six percentSource

So let’s translate this into a very practical example. A prospective student is considering attending your institution and visits a number of program and related pages on your site, including your main registration page. The student comes back a number of times but does not ever identify themselves to you in any way. A remarketing campaign allows you to tag this individual, and then present to them additional ads (embedded in their Google search engine results pages for example), gently reminding them of your brand or more aggressively offering a specific call to action. This process allows you to re-engage with individuals who bounced or abandoned your pages and convince some percentage of them to become leads.

Remarketing, like PPC advertising,  is most effective when you create highly targeted campaigns for very specific audiences. For example you might want to create an ad and landing page that was specifically targeted prospective students who have interacting with your financial aid calculator. That is likely a very different ad and landing page from a campaign to individuals who visited your “life on campus” pages. The two segments are looking for very different types of information and your remarketing campaign should address these differences. (A lot of begining remarketers make the mistake of targeting all visitors to a site with one ad and one landing page. Don’t expect great results with this approach. It is way too general to be very effective.)

Search Remarketing Based on Branded or Program Keywords

Search remarketing is a tactic that is aimed at prospects who are higher up in the recruitment funnel than individuals who have actually visited your site. Consider a prospect who may have searched on “International Finance MBA Toronto”. The search engine results page presents you with six of the top business schools in Canada – Schulich, Rotman, Sauder, Queens, McGill and Laurier. As a prospect I might then decide to research Schulich and Rotman more closely, (both being in Toronto), ignoring the rest and going on to apply to both. These are both top notch schools that are very difficult to get into and in the end I might get turned away. If Laurier, in nearby Waterloo, used a remarketing campaign to target this search query, with follow-up branding and program level ads, I might very well turn there as a plan B for my MBA studies.

Behavioral or Social remarketing involves presenting targeted ads to individuals who have taken a specific online action, for example, liked your institution’s Facebook page. Before using Social Media based remarketing I suggest you get a baseline established with site and search based remarketing. ROI on social media retargeting can be very thin so I recommend that you make sure you have all of your ducks in order before trying this out.

How do Visitors Feel about Being on the Receiving End of Remarketing Campaigns?

Remarketing campaigns have received a bit of a bad rap, over the issue of being invasive or too aggressive. This can certainly be the case but in my opinion this result is usually a reaction to poorly thought out or badly executed campaigns. Generally speaking, as seen below, the stats are actually pretty positive on people’s reactions to remarketing campaigns. And if done well, I am sure the “I don’t like it “ percentage would even be lower.

remarketing feel 2Source

Remarketing is a Good Addition to your Marketing Mix

If you are looking for a way to expand your digital marketing mix, remarketing is a good candidate for your marketing dollars. Remarketing can be a highly effective way to leverage and capitalize on your SEO and content marketing investments to date. But remember, like PPC marketing, you will only get out of it what you put in. Specifically, I mean, carefully research and select the right remarketing platform for your needs, define your campaign settings precisely, sharply segment your target audience, integrate remarketing into a broader campaign and test, test, test your images/copy/landing pages/settings for optimal performance.

Has your institution used remarketing? What remarketing networks have you chosen, and what kind of ROI did you get? What is your best advice to other higher ed marketers just getting info remarketing?