The Best PPC Tools For Colleges & Universities

Higher Education, Paid Media Advertising

There are a lot of new and exciting tools in today’s version of Google Ads but in all cases, the most important tools focus on your audience. Any pool of potential leads has behavioral tendencies and your success relies on targeting and measuring performance based on those tendencies.

In this article, you will discover some of the most powerful tools to cultivate and convert leads based on the audience searching for college and university programs. To start, let’s discuss some of the factors that make this audience unique.

Long Lead Cycles

A product like an extension cord is bought in a single click but a university lead may take dozens. Users will visit your site multiple times over the course of weeks and months as they research and compare their options. This means that your site traffic will include users at various stages of their decision-making process.

This is important for your lead cultivation process since users who visit your site more than once are more likely to convert as a lead. The challenge with your lead cycle is that you need to manage your budget across multiple clicks from new and returning users.

Single Leads From Multiple Users

Users who engaged with your site may be part of a group focused on one individual lead for your organization. Applicants (high school or returning students) may conduct their own research along with their parents or family – any one of these users may take part in a key conversion action.

All interactions from these groups are important but one single session will lead to a completed application. Since you don’t know which session will add value to your college or university, you need to focus on users throughout the entire research and discovery phase of their journey.

Multi-Step Leads

Your potential leads will sign-up for newsletters, request information, and schedule tours before they apply for admission. Ultimately, the only conversion action that is important to your administration is the number of applications but that should not minimize to the weight of each of these steps.

Your success in cultivating leads through your conversion process will rely on your ability to track conversion goals effectively. We will discuss the importance of tracking your goals individually so that you can weight your focus on the areas that bring the most value to your organization.

Use Remarketing Audiences

A user is more likely to complete one of your conversion actions once they have already interacted with your site. They may have conducted research on their first click, consulted a family member on their second click, explored tuition on their third click, and then completed a contact form on their fourth click. This user becomes more valuable to you, and your competitors, as they continue to interact with your site.

Since you have a long lead cycle, you need to spread your budget over the course of a user’s journey. To do this, set up remarketing audiences to pool users that have already interacted with your site so that you can increase your focus on returning users.

Tier Your Bids

A user may search “Oregon Colleges Near Me” and visit your site for the first time. When that same user searches “Oregon Colleges With BLANK Degree,” Google Ads can identify the returning user and increase your bids. This way you can choose to set your bids to ten, twenty, or even one hundred percent greater than your bids for first-time visitors.

By creating this funnel, with higher bids for users that have interacted with your site before, you can reduce your cost per click for the lower converting, new users. You’ll find that the same budget will bring in more leads at a lower cost per lead. To learn more about the lead generation funnel and how you can leverage returning users, read How to Use Keyword Research at Every Stage of the Sales Funnel.

Other Remarketing Audiences

The potential for remarketing audiences to improve your ability to tailor your ads and control your bids is nearly limitless. Since you set up the audiences based on site interaction, you could set up a remarketing audience for users that:

  • Visited your contact page but did not submit a form
  • Spent time on a certain program page that is very valuable to you
  • Visited your page in the last 7, 15, 30, 60, or 90 days

All of these audiences can be used to improve your performance with your existing budget.

Apply Google’s In-Market Audiences

When Google developed display campaigns, they needed a method to target portions of the internet likely to be interested in specific products or services. In order to provide this targeting, Google used large sums of data to create audiences based around web traffic behavior.

A user that visits cooking blogs on a regular basis is more likely to sign up for a cooking class. This is where Google’s in-market audiences come in which allow you to target users based on their interests and behavior.

Post-Secondary Education In-Market Audience

This audience is defined by users that have shown intent to apply for a college or university program and can be applied to your campaigns. Once applied, you can make the adjustments discussed in the remarketing audiences section and increase your allowable bid for specific users.

Someone searching for “Oregon’s Best Universities” could be a graduate of an Oregon school looking up the current standings. Although the keyword that the searcher used is pretty good, it still has shortcomings that are difficult to correct. With the Post-Secondary Degree in-market audience, you can increase your bids for these users when they search for your keywords. This will attribute more of your budget to searches from users that have shown Google intent to apply to a college or university.

Other In-Market Audiences

It’s worth exploring the many in-market audiences that Google created to see if any overlap with your programs. Food lovers engage better on sites for culinary school’s, interior design enthusiasts interact better with interior design program pages, and there are many other audiences that lend themselves to one of your programs.

You can view the historical performance for all in-market audiences in your Google Analytics account. This data can take the guesswork out of audience identification since you can compare conversion rates and cost per conversions. If you see positive performance for an audience that is related to your program then consider using it.

Track Your Conversions Independently

It’s common to see college and university Google Ads users set up conversions for newsletter subscriptions, campus tours, and application submissions only to pool these interactions together. Since these conversion actions occur at different stages of the decision process for a student, this can be problematic.

Total conversions may improve month-over-month while application submissions decrease. Although your aggregated conversion metrics would look like they are improving, your college or university may be receiving fewer leads. It is key that you monitor conversions independently and there are two different tools that you can use to do this.

Segment Your Conversions

There is a simple tool in Google Ads will allow you to compare different conversions in one place. Google Ads has a segment feature that you can use to separate each conversion by name and see the distribution of your conversions. Assuming that your conversions are named something like, “Newsletter Sign-Up,” the segmentation tool will allow you to see the actions that your users completed and ensure that your budget is generating your targeted results.

Create Custom Columns

You’ll notice gaps in conversion data with the segment tool. A more demanding way to keep track of the specific conversion actions is to create custom columns. This is a more advanced tool but it will give you additional data that will help you understand each of your conversion actions.

Compare your conversion actions independently to discover your true performance and ensure that you increase your total number of leads while you improve engagement across multiple areas in your lead cultivation. If you are looking for more information on results-oriented metrics, read What Your PPC Team Should Report On.

Time To Get Started With PPC For Your University

The tools in this article are not the newest or most exciting for many pay-per-click professionals, but they are tried and true for colleges and universities because they focus on the behaviors associated with your target audience. By using these tools, you will make better use of your budget and offer your applicants a better experience along the way.

There are many articles that will outline best practices for the implementation of remarketing audiences, Google Audiences, and custom conversion tracking but if you have any questions we are always happy to discuss your specific digital marketing objectives. If you want to learn about the benefits of partnering with a digital marketing firm, explore When To Partner With An Agency.

About the Author

Nick Footer

Nick Footer is an entrepreneur and founder of Intuitive Digital, a national award-winning digital marketing agency in Portland, Oregon. With over 15 years of experience, he has helped hundreds of businesses improve their online presence through search engine optimization, paid advertising, and website design.

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