Somewhere near you, there’s a prospective student opening a search engine. They’re looking for where they’re going to attend school in the autumn. They type in the course they’re looking for and hit enter. Does your institution appear in the search results?
One way you can improve the odds of your college appearing is through paid advertising. Otherwise known as pay per click (PPC), it’s a way to step ahead of the pack and increase your enrolments.
The best part is that PPC isn’t just confined to search engines. You can create adverts that appear on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and other platforms where your target audience is active.
So let’s break this down and uncover just what PPC advertising is and how you can use it to get ahead of the competition.
What is PPC advertising?
PPC is exactly what it sounds like: you pay every time someone clicks on your ad. In search engines it increases your chances of appearing at the top of the search results.
Using Google Ads or Microsoft Advertising, you place bids on keywords that relate to what you offer. For example, this could be ‘midwifery course’ or ‘engineering degree’. You can also target people by interests and the types of websites they visit. Depending on whether you’ve opted for search or display, your ads will then begin appearing on search engines and websites.
When a user clicks on your ad, you pay a small fee to the search engine, but it should be less than what the lead is worth. Especially if you optimise your ads to make them relevant with useful landing pages – for this, you’ll be charged less per click.
The same principles apply to social media PPC. However, here you are able to target more specific demographics that you may find useful like location, interests and connections.
9 ways your college can use paid advertising to its advantage
1. Set goals
Before you start any paid advertising campaign for your college or university, you need to know what you want to achieve. Do you want people to come to your open day? Are you after more course enrolments? Do you want to increase your school’s visibility?
Once you have your goal, you can figure out the steps you need to take to get there. This will also help you decide which metrics you should be tracking so you can constantly monitor your progress.
2. Figure out your budget
Once you have your targets set, you need to match them with your budgets to see if they are achievable. One way to find out how much your campaign could cost is HubSpot’s ROI calculator. This will also help you to determine how and where you run your campaigns.
When it comes to spending your budget, remember that optimising your ad copy and landing pages will reduce your cost per click. This is essential for maximising your spend – you’ll get more leads for the same total cost.
3. Find your audience
If you don’t know your target audience, you’re going to struggle to reach your goals. You’ll also probably waste a large portion of your budget.
Understand your prospective students by creating personas. A good place to start with this is analysing your current students. Find out their behaviours and what attracted them to your institution. The commonalities will be a great foundation for your marketing personas.
4. Get the right targeting options
Every advertising platform has its own targeting options. Generally speaking, search engines will use keywords with some level of demographic targeting, while social media allows you to direct ads at specific groups.
If you don’t get your targeting right, that’s money down the drain. Use your personas to figure out which platforms to spend more time on. If your potential art students use Instagram three times as much as Facebook, which would be better to advertise on? Audience research is the key to success.
5. Bid on the right keywords
When it comes to keywords, you might not know where you start. With so many different courses and qualifications, it can be overwhelming.
A good piece of advice to remember is that your keywords shouldn’t be too broad. Bidding on vague phrases like ‘master’s degree’ will waste time, money and leads – three things colleges can’t afford to lose in paid advertising. Prospective students will probably be in the research phase and an enrolment could be months down the line.
To create an effective strategy, you need to know how people search. They’ll be looking for specific programs, so that’s what you should be targeting. Structure your campaigns around the courses you offer and you’ll see your click-through rate increase while your cost per click goes down.
When it comes to bidding on branded keywords, tread carefully. It would usually be worth the investment, but education is a tricky sector for this. There’s a high possibility of existing students clicking on your ads and not converting because they already attend your school, and your cost per click will increase as a result.
You’re also probably already showing up in searches for your branded term. For example, when you type ‘University of Winchester History’, the first result is for the history program at that institution.
If you do decide to bid on branded keywords, keep a close eye on the campaign. Make sure you’re not losing money, and adjust the campaign as needed.
6. Optimise your ads
Want more people to click on your ads? On search campaigns, your copy is the first thing they’ll see – optimise it. Stick to the platform’s guidelines so that your ads don’t get disapproved, and make it enticing.
When it comes to images, pictures of buildings have been proved to perform poorly. Use photographs of people or things relevant to the course you’re advertising.
Most of all, make ads relevant to top-of-the-funnel searchers (those in the research phase). The lower down the funnel prospective students get, the less likely they’ll be using Google or Bing for general searches as they’ll be coming directly to your site.
7. Optimise your landing pages
So a searcher has clicked on your ad – what do they see next? Your landing page. Is it up to scratch? It should be, or your lead has no chance of converting.
The most important action you can take is making your landing page mobile-friendly. Around half of searchers will be using a mobile device, so ensure your website displays properly for them. This will be even more important from March 2021, when Google will roll out mobile-first indexing.
Clear calls to action will also make searchers stick around. Buttons should stand out – colour is a good way to do this – and their copy should be straightforward. People want to know what will happen when they click something, so be direct. ‘Learn more’ is vague but gets the point across, while ‘Similar courses’ or ‘Enrol now’ show a user exactly what will happen when they click.
If there’s one thing you shouldn’t do, it’s that you shouldn’t make users sign up to mailing lists right off the bat. They’ve only just found your site, so it’s too early to pull them further down the funnel. If you do have sign-up form – maybe for an open day – don’t include too many fields. Nothing will turn a prospective student off more than having to fill in ten fields just so you can capture their information.
8. Don’t be afraid to retarget
Retargeting isn’t a bad thing. Don’t be shy about sending content to emails you’ve collected. Some great assets to put in remarketing emails are:
- Information about your institution
- Information about courses
- Student life
- Enrichment activities
- Articles from your blog
Make sure everything you’re sending is relevant to the contact and use this opportunity to nurture the lead.
You can run retargeting ad campaigns, too. Set them up in Google Analytics and run through through Google Ads or Microsoft Advertising to keep your brand fresh in the mind of prospective applicants.
9. Go beyond Google
Most searchers use Google – that’s just a fact. But that doesn’t mean it should be your only channel. Bing is still a major search engine, so use Microsoft Advertising, and Baidu is perfect if you’re targeting Chinese students. Social media is also a great place to use PPC.
PPC can be overwhelming and seem like a difficult advertising space, but it’s not. Universities and colleges need to use paid advertising, so follow the tips above or, even better, hire a PPC agency to help you out. Some companies even offer PPC training so you can get your campaigns off the ground.
If you’re having any problems with your PPC, or if you have tips to share, leave a comment below. You can also find us on Twitter @TeamTillison.