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As colleges and universities move more budget into online recruitment marketing, the question of how to best allocate and balance those activities inevitably comes up for debate.

• Should we invest more into keyword research, on-page optimization and high quality content production to drive organic rankings?

• Should we launch new PPC campaigns to produce leads and drive registrations?

• Should we invest in more social media as a priority to attract and communicate with more prospect students?

The answers to these questions, of course, are that it depends. Here are a few general guidelines and suggestions that can help guide your thinking on how to best proceed.

Organic search results get the vast majority of clicks.

Reports vary a bit on the exact numbers but I think it is safe to say that approximately 70-80% of searches result in a click on a page’s organic search results. Approximately 20-30% of searches result in a click on a page’s PPC ads depending on the keywords. Navigational searches account for some of this difference but it is very clear that the vast majority of people prefer to click on the organic results of their searches. In my mind, this argues very clearly that the first thing that you must prioritize in your online marketing is to get your SEO house in order, and get your fair share of that 70+ % of clicks on organic search results. This is even more important for branded searches.

In a recent study out of the UK, it was reported that 80% of people clicked on the number 1 search result for branded searches, (i.e. a search which would include your institution’s “brand” name). This is low hanging fruit that your pages must be optimized for. If your SEO baseline activity does not give you at least top 3 position for your predefined major and minor keywords, and number 1 position for branded keywords, spend your money on SEO to get there asap.

If you really want to dominate in SEO, also invest in long tail keyword optimization for all pages to ensure that you are getting the lion’s share of traffic from the higher click rate, organic visitor. Building your organic rankings takes time, expertise and hard work but once established, (and of course maintained), these high rankings will give you a big competitive advantage over your less SEO-committed competition.

PPC campaigns deliver timely, highly targeted tactical marketing messages to high priority, prospect segments.

Pay per click campaigns are great tools for tactical marketing. Particularly in the short term. If you need to introduce a new program, promote an event or launch a new recruitment campaign, PPC is an excellent vehicle to get it on to key search term pages, immediately. If new competition is affecting your previously good results and you need to quickly increase leads and registrations for a particular poorly registered program, PPC  ads can help get you there.

Longer term PPC campaigns are often used in highly competitive markets, i.e. online MBAs, to maintain a high profile for your institution and program in a rapidly evolving and competitive online marketplace. Because of its flexibility, PPC lends itself particularly well to ongoing testing and Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) practices. PPC ads and landing pages are best regarded as works in progress, with A/B and multivariable testing methods applied to them in an effort to continuously improve their conversion stats and Return on Investment. If you decide an make the marketing investment in PPC campaigns, also make a commitment to ongoing testing, analytics and ROI analysis for best results.

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Organic leads, (SEO generated), and PPC leads are of different quality and will “convert to student” at different rates.

Leads that come from different sources (ie PPC or SEO) are of different “quality”. Generally speaking, organic leads convert at a higher rate than PPC leads. You need to determine what type of leads you want and in what volume you want them based on your recruitment infrastructure and on the rate at which your team can manage and effectively convert those leads to students.

Manage your lead expectations carefully to make sure that you get the results you want. Ideally, measure your SEO and PPC ROI with a cost per registration metric that you can compare, contrast and then apply to your future decisions on marketing investment in these strategies. Investing in SEO for your website and PPC advertising to generate traffic, leads and registrations are, at the end of the day, complimentary, rather than competing strategies. Finding the optimal balance to meet your school’s needs is the challenge. What’s your mix of investment in SEO vs PPC.

How has it evolved over the last year and how do you expect to see it change in the coming academic year?