Pay per click (PPC) is an online advertising option for universities in which you pay to attract more visitors (hopefully potential students) to your website. The ads you buy can either be on a website that targets students (a study abroad site/college rankings site), a social networking platform (Facebook/LinkedIn) or a search engine results page (Google/Bing). There are benefits and drawbacks for each type, but this week we’ll look at how student recruiters can advertise on Google.
The most popular form of PPC advertising is Google AdWords. Since Google has 80% of the world’s search engine marketshare, it’s best to start with them before moving on to Bing or Baidu.
This is how Google AdWords works. When a student searches Google, they are shown about 10 search results on the first page, with a number of sponsored links at the top and on the right side of the page. Advertisers (or universities) create their ads and bid on the keywords that will trigger their ads. The more popular the keyword, the higher the price. You can see the difference between the two terms, “mba” and “master of international relations.” Since “mba” is a pretty generic term and there are a lot of schools bidding on that term, the price to display an ad for that keyword will be very high.
The great thing about AdWords is that you are only charged when someone clicks on your ad (versus buying a display ad on another website where they usually charge a flat fee per month). Bidding on less common terms, also known as “long tail” keywords is the key to running a cost-effective PPC campaign. For example, an ad for the term “financial degree” will cost you a few dollars every time someone clicks on it, while the term “BA accounting and finance in England” will only cost a few cents.
You can set a specified budget per day so you never need to worry about losing control of your spending. After a few weeks, you can measure your results and fine-tune your campaign. You should experiment with new keywords and try out advanced features such as geographic targeting and setting the time of day your ads appear. If you are driving new students to your website and the lifetime value of these students (tuition fees) are less than the cost to acquire new students (AdWords budget) then you know you are running a successful PPC campaign.
Should Universities Advertise Online?
One of the primary concerns universities have with online advertising is reputation management. Some university administrators see it as “cheapening” their brand, just like the perception of advertising on television. While there is a risk that your ad could be listed next to one of those dubious online universities, you shouldn’t worry too much about brand dilution.
Students are smart these days. They can recognize the difference between a quality institution and a diploma mill. Besides, it’s becoming very common for top schools to utilize PPC advertising. In this increasingly competitive education market, you should take every opportunity to capture the student’s attention. Your website might be good enough to convert the prospective student, but you’ve got to get them there first. That is what a PPC ad can do.
Tune back in next week for part 2 of how universities can use Google to recruit students.