PPC for Higher Education

NOTE: This is another in a series of posts dedicated to online marketing strategies for higher education.

The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” — Socrates

Change is a constant in the digital world, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the realm of marketing for higher education.

Gone are the days when prospective students call an institution asking to be mailed its glossy institutional viewbook. Today’s students communicate virtually – frequently on a mobile device and through social media.

As a result, interactions need to be focused, immediate, and responsive…so it should come as no surprise that Pay Per Click (PPC) plays a role in today’s marketing for higher education.

PPC for higher education presents some unique hurdles for marketers, but nothing that cannot be easily overcome by keeping the following points in mind:

Planning: laying out your PPC campaign for Higher Ed

All effective PPC campaigns have one thing in common: planning. Just as 75% of painting a house is pre-paint scraping, so too is pre-campaign planning a large part of the actual campaign.

Begin by considering your yearlong budget. Depending on historical performance or typical cycles in the prospect cycle, budgets can be shifted by day of the week, week, month or quarter based on peaks and valleys in interest.

For example, undergraduate programs may want to increase spending during the fall (when prospective students are getting to know what you have to offer) and spring (when accepted students are deciding where they’d like to commit). On the other hand, online courses that have start dates throughout the year may want to increase spending in the weeks before the next course begins.

What makes you stand out from the crowd?

It’s important to define your institution’s or specific program’s key differentiators during the planning stages.

Because PPC higher education campaigns are so competitive, it’s important to know and communicate key differentiators. What makes you stand out? Is it a flexible schedule? Saturday classes? No GMAT required?

These differentiators will be used not only in ad copy and ad extensions, but will be repeated on the landing page to enforce your message. As a result, a PPC campaign is possibly the best way to get what makes you special in front of your prospective students.

Shape your budget

Because of the high cost of keywords for higher education, it’s imperative to sort and communicate your priorities and goals during the planning stages.

For example, do you have a target cost per lead? If you are advertising more than one type of program within the same budget, is there a priority program that should receive a larger share of the overall budget?

Keywords: development and campaign structure

Keywords for higher education are very competitive and therefore expensive. Consequently, it’s important for you to focus your keywords as much as possible by deploying tight match types.

Keep in mind that many higher education prospects already know which kind of program or degree they are looking for, so it’s equally important to use specific and targeted key terms that apply to particular programs instead of broad terms that are general in nature. For example, instead of “graduate school in Boston”, include the specific program that is being promoted such as “computer science master’s degree in Boston”.

Another helpful aspect in developing the keyword set is to think about the desired outcome of the prospective student and use that to develop your keyword phrase.  For example, if someone wants to get an actuarial degree, you might choose “how to become an actuary” for an Actuarial Master’s Degree program because that is a term your prospects might search on.

Because of the high cost of many of these keywords, it’s especially important to send only qualified leads to the landing page.

(Note: for more on choosing keywords be sure to read, Understanding AdWords Quality Scores.)

Ad Copy: the first impression

Those key benefits that you chose during the planning stage come to life in your ad copy writing, which also serves as a quick first impression. Ad copy A/B testing is important and useful for discovering which type of program messaging (differentiators, benefits, etc.) or call-to-action generates the most qualified traffic.

Be sure to make use of all of Google’s ad extensions, specific site link and call out extensions. Doing so will allow you to convey additional information about your program or institution, improve your ad’s visibility and help improve clickthrough rates (more clickthroughs means more potential student traffic and higher Quality Scores)

What action do you want your searchers to take? Be specific and make sure your conversion action is as enticing as possible. Communicate your call-to-action in the ad copy or within the ad extensions. Immediate gratification works as an enticing CTA. Making a course catalog or more information immediately downloadable or viewable is ideal.

Landing Pages: take advantage of prospective student interest

Landing pages are where you bring your pitch home to your prospects. Be sure to repeat what makes your program or degree different, and make sure it’s consistent with your ad copy. You don’t want your ad to suggest one offer and your landing page another.

Remember a PPC campaign is one of the best ways to get your unique message in front of prospective students. Take advantage of their interest.

Also, consider what your prospective students should give you in return for that conversion. VONT recommends a short contact information form in return for something like a program brochure download, info session sign up, or course catalog.

Optimize your landing pages for mobile

According to Noel-Levitz’ most recent e-Expectations Report: The Online Preferences of College-Bound High School Seniors and Their Parents, over 70% of college-bound students had looked at a college website on their mobile, while 51% said they would like college sites to adapt to mobile.

Given that those numbers will only increase, it’s important that the landing pages for your PPC campaign be mobile-friendly. (Read Mobile: The Biggest Technological Change Facing Higher Ed Marketing for more on mobile challenges.)

Putting it all together

A PPC campaign is a nuanced, ever-changing entity. Continually refining keywords, ad copy and landing pages depending on results will help pinpoint the most effective combination. Be sure to track which PPC leads turn into enrolled students. Doing so will help you measure and continue to optimize your campaigns.

The takeaway

Higher education PPC campaigns can be competitive and expensive, and therefore a targeted lead generation strategy is key. Remember, sound and clear goals result in the most successful campaigns.  Take the time to plan your budget, calendar, keywords, landing pages, and conversions, and the rest will follow.

About VONT Performance Digital Marketing

At VONT we believe that change is the only constant in the digital world – and that excites us. Over the years, digital marketing has played an ever-growing role in higher education recruitment. From lead generation for inquiries, campus visits, and applications to increasing brand awareness and student yield – digital marketing and ongoing optimizations can have a significant impact on the objectives that confront today’s higher ed marketer.

We believe in this idea of continual fine-tuning so much that we named our company VONT, which means to achieve exponential improvement in incremental steps. It is our core belief, and the reason why we are not simply a web design company or simply a digital advertising agency, but rather a long-term, single source partner providing a comprehensive array of web development and digital marketing capabilities for higher education clients.

In short, we’re here so that our clients achieve success in the ever-changing digital world. If you’d like to learn more about VONT and the work we’ve done with our higher education clients, visit our Work page. Or, if you have a question, contact us. We’ll get right back to you!

Heidi McInerney
Written By

Heidi McInerney

UX Writer | Digital Content