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Higher Education Pay Per Click Best Practices

In January 2010, the average cost per click for a Google Adwords pay-per-click ad (PPC) for “MBA” and “MBA program” searches was $4.00 across most markets in the United States. In October 2014, the average cost per click for the same keyword has skyrocketed to $42. That’s an increase of 900% over the past three years. That increase is merely for a click, not an actual inquiry. This makes PPC campaign management both expensive and difficult to achieve a sustainable ROI.

Because Google’s keyword system works on a bidding structure, prices are escalating as more institutions are advertising and willing to spend big bucks attracting these prospective student searchers. One engine of this “bidding war” is online MBA programs invading new markets. Previously, only a limited number of institutions would be marketing through paid search in any given regional market. Now, every online MBA program in the country is vying for market share across all major markets. In addition to online programs entering other markets, more institutions also appear to have their targeting way off: We see ads in Chicago for part-time programs (mostly commuter) in Arizona, Texas, and Florida. These institutions shouldn’t be advertising in Chicago.

Google is also continuing to dedicate more and more of the search engine real-estate to paid ads, making it more difficult to get visibility using simply search engine optimization. The search window for “mba” in Chicago shows all of the organic results below the fold, making it increasingly difficult for an institution to be seen unless it is running paid search ads.

MBA Search Results

Presuming your institution isn’t made of money, we recommend maximizing your impact by following some best practices we’ve defined at Eduvantis, based on our extensive experience building and managing successful digital strategies for our clients.

Higher Education PPC Best Practices

Define better targeting. Before you start your paid search campaign, you need to determine who your audience is. Make sure you are targeting exactly the people who are likely to convert into an inquiry. Focus on your strengths and restrict targeting to the exact geographic regions where you get your applications. If you want to expand your targeted region, create a separate campaign to do a limited test. Ensure you have properly tested and set your match types (exact, broad, and phrase.) Also, make sure that you are only bidding on the most relevant and targeted keywords. For example, if you have a campaign for your Executive MBA program, don’t bid on general “MBA” keyword searches that are more expensive and less targeted. Spend less money bidding on competitor keywords: They rarely convert, especially if you are bidding against stronger brand names.

Write compelling ad copy. Once you have properly structured your campaigns, it is important that you build out your ad groups and write copy that will encourage your prospects to visit your page. Using Google’s ad preview tool, you can conduct a search for the keywords you’re bidding on and see what types of ads your competitors are serving. Next, you will want to think of what makes your institution stand out against these competitors. Perhaps a particular program was recently ranked highly, or your campus offers something unique that your competition does not. Whatever you believe makes your school distinctive is what you should keep in mind when writing your ad copy.

Make it easier for prospects to convert into an inquiry. It is important to remember that these searchers are real people. They have decided to click on your ad and, once they reach your landing page, this is probably the only opportunity you will have to convert them into an inquiry. Make it easy to inquire: Give prospects enough information about your programs, but encourage them to contact you for more. Always use targeted landing pages that showcase your institution as well as the program’s value proposition. Include a call to action and make it simple. Featuring the call to action in a prominent location with well thought-out messaging can strongly increase your ability to capture leads. Also, offer something of value to inquirers, such as a program brochure comparing programs or customized information.

Use performance data to drive campaign strategy and optimization. Even the best campaign setup can’t fix poor ongoing management. At Eduvantis, we see many paid search accounts that have been set up and then automated, significantly increasing costs, decreasing impact, and limiting performance. In order to be successful at paid search marketing, you must manage your campaigns daily, making real-time choices about how and where to spend your budget. It is crucial to continually review which keywords are triggering your ads in your campaigns. Doing this allows you to determine which keywords you do not want your ads displaying for. Optimizing for negative keywords is a crucial component of daily AdWords management and, if ignored, it can be devastating to your account’s performance. This will give you an edge because most institutions aren’t managing their campaigns this actively and end up spending a lot of money on non-convertible clicks. Identify keywords that drive the most conversions and website engagement.

At Eduvantis, we have collected hundreds of thousands of keywords prospects use when looking for higher education programs and have benchmark performance statistics for each keyword. To learn more about how to more effectively capture prospective student searchers and convert those searchers into inquiries and enrollments through PPC strategy, we would welcome the opportunity to help you get an edge on the competition.