Published on 2016/03/01

Five Reasons To Expand Your Higher Ed Online Marketing Beyond Google Paid Search

The EvoLLLution | Google Ad Words provides universities with a strong base to get in front of prospective students, but there is a range of outlets available that can help institutions drive interest with minimal investment. Five Reasons To Expand Your Higher Ed Online Marketing Beyond Google Paid Search
Google Ad Words provides universities with a strong base to get in front of prospective students, but there is a range of outlets available that can help institutions drive interest with minimal investment.

As competition and revenue goals in the higher ed market continue to escalate, it becomes increasingly important to find cost-effective ways of getting your programs in front of the right people. The non-traditional student, in particular, is doing more research and taking more time to decide, demonstrated by later and later enrollments each year in both credit and non-credit programs.

How do you make sure you are reaching the right target audience with the right messaging and at the right time?

In the past, Google AdWords was the primary way higher ed departments accomplished this goal and for good reason. Google AdWords allows you to create strong campaigns, targeting highly relevant searches with appropriate messaging on a high volume of search engine result pages (SERPs). For a reasonable price, you place your message in front of the prospect who is looking for exactly what you have to offer. Unfortunately, that reasonable price has become less reasonable with increasing competition on Google. In addition, other options have become available and, in some cases, surpassed Google in their ability to reach the right audience with compelling messaging. With that in mind, here are five reasons we think you should be expanding your online marketing beyond Google Paid Search.

1. High CPC’s on Google Paid Search

The idea of high cost was introduced above, but deserves some more attention. In particular, some master’s degrees and popular certificate courses are proving to be quite expensive to market on Google Paid Search. According to Ignition One’s Q1 2015 report on the state of digital marketing, Google costs-per-click (CPCs) were up 23 percent year-over-year in Q1 of 2015. Bing saw an increase during the same period of 15 percent. However, costs on Google were already higher the previous year than Bing costs have ever been. There is simply more competition on Google. To get an idea of the price difference we’re talking about, consider an MBA program we recently marketed. Over a 6-month period, we spent an average of $9.70 per click to achieve an average position of 3.0 across all keywords on Google, but only $6.55 to achieve an average position of 2.25 across all keywords on a nearly identical Bing campaign. In this instance, Google Paid Search cost 48 percent more than Bing on average, and these aren’t even the highest CPCs we’re seeing.

While conversion rates tend to be much higher for paid search in general, performance for Google Paid Search must be highly optimized in order to keep your overall cost per conversion down. Some program marketing budgets can’t support these costs at all. So, how can your department take advantage of the high ROI value of paid search without blowing your entire budget on one platform? Bing is certainly an option.

2. Bing’s Search Market Share Has Increased

While it used to be that Bing’s limited market share limited its value, which is no longer the case. According to the most recent comScore Search Share report, Bing has increased its market share in the U.S. on desktops to a little over 21 percent in December 2015. That leaves Google with only just under 64 percent of desktop searches in the U.S. Therefore, if you are only using Google Paid Search, you’re not only spending at a much higher rate and competing with more people, but you are missing out on a considerable amount of possible traffic. Yahoo sites represent another 12 percent of search traffic, many of which are serviced by Bing ads (although Yahoo is taking back some of this ad market). With all of that in mind, your time may be well spent focusing your energy on Bing campaigns and optimization. Bing even makes it easy, offering an import from Adwords option that only requires a couple small adjustments to your paid search campaigns before you’re up and running.

Of course, paid search is not your only option. Your program marketing will have limited impact if you only reach individuals who are actively searching for educational offerings like yours. What about all of those people who are at the perfect place in their lives to benefit from your degree or professional certificate offering but who aren’t yet researching their options?

3. Increased Reach and Engagement Opportunities on Paid Social

We sometimes hear new clients asking, quite doubtfully, about the viability of digital marketing for higher ed on paid social platforms like Facebook and Twitter. In the early days of Facebook ads, we might have agreed with the hesitation. However, that is no longer the case. Paid social marketing has not only developed significantly and quickly over the past few years, but it has become a highly cost-effective way to raise awareness and initiate conversations with new prospects—in a platform that offers organic reach as well.

In the past, we primarily highlighted the value of Facebook as an awareness platform, and that value still holds today. However, we are now seeing that, in addition to Facebook, social networks like LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter are also driving conversions at an extremely competitive cost per lead. Because of the high ROI these platforms can achieve, we’ve stopped referring to them as awareness platforms. Instead, we now discuss the reach and ROI advertisers can get by using the robust demographic and psychographic targeting available within these networks. If you know just a little bit about your audience, it is easier than ever to target the right people. Let’s say you want to reach women who are returning to the workforce after raising their children, and who want to finish their degrees to better position themselves in the job market. Facebook allows you to target gender, age, parental status, age of children, and even household income or behaviors that might indicate someone fits this description. With Facebook’s recent update called detailed targeting, the options are almost endless, and you, the advertiser, have even more control over the size and granularity of the audience you reach with each message.

In addition to reaching new prospects through demographic and psychographic targeting, the normal functions of a social media network are still at play for sponsored ads. That means people can share your ads with their friends, and comment on or like your ad or your page after seeing an ad. These actions all increase the impact of your organic social media marketing, thus increasing the value of your paid marketing.

4. Retargeting Is Available In Facebook, Twitter and Display

Once you’ve done the work and spent the money to attract visitors to your landing pages and/or your website, you should be doing your best to remain front-of-mind for prospects. The decision cycle for degree programs in particular can be long, and you can’t expect that someone will submit an inquiry form the first time every time. You need to have a mechanism with which to remind people of your value. Retargeting is the best way to do this.

While RLSA (Retargeting lists for search ads) are definitely an option on Google Paid Search, we have found there to be few applications in higher ed that are worth the time and effort it takes to set it up. Google Display, Facebook and Twitter, however, all offer retargeting options that can represent significant value for your department. While the volume of visits from these ads is much lower than the volume from traditionally targeted social or banner ads, the conversion rates tend to be much higher, because the individual seeing and clicking on the ad has already indicated interest by visiting your site or landing page.

5. Digital Marketing Ecosystem

The digital world is made up of several parts that interact in a complex interrelationship. Unlike traditional undergrad prospects, the non-traditional or adult student often follows an unpredictable path to enrollment. As a result, traditional models of representing marketing and recruitment as a funnel that starts with awareness, leads to interest, then engagement, and finally to enrollment really aren’t appropriate for this audience.

Instead, we tend to talk about the online marketing universe as an ecosystem, in which all networks rely upon and support one another. Display in particular has been pointed to as a factor in increasing paid and organic search traffic to websites. The same can be said for paid social. Have you created a marketing plan that delivers your program marketing strategically across multiple placements in a prospect’s online ecosystem? If you’re only on Google paid search, the answer is a resounding “no.”

Between Google’s high cost, Bing’s market share increases, social media platform improvements, retargeting opportunities, and the importance of maintaining a healthy ecosystem, the decision to expand should be a no-brainer. However, we understand that stepping into new territory can be uncomfortable.

Despite that, if you’ve been hesitating to expand beyond the trusty Google Paid Search network, now is the time. Maybe it seems overwhelming to bring all of the platforms mentioned here into your strategy. That’s okay! Pick one and start there. Learn about best practices on your chosen platform and build some good data so you can make a business case for further expansion. Soon, you will have a fully developed marketing ecosystem supplying a steady stream of leads to your program recruiters.

JMH will be running a webinar tomorrow expanding on these ideas and sharing insights into three major develops for online higher education marketing. To learn more, please click here.

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