How to Successfully Utilize Brand Elements Within Creative Assets

Creative assets that successfully include the brand elements of a client can lead to improved overall success. Within higher education, a simple logo can be used on everything from print collateral to football jerseys. A graphic is much more impressionable than plain text and can be used in various sizes and transparencies. Brand elements from the general logo can help market a school without having to repeat the name and serve as a key component in the story. 

How to Retrieve Brand Elements

Most schools have what is called either a “style guide” or “brand guidelines.” Usually a guide can be found under the keywords “marketing materials,” but if that is not easily found then searching “[School Name]’s style guide” on a search engine can also help. Some guides are more refined and thorough than others, but they should include the same basic materials in order to keep their marketing consistent whether the creative is coming from someone working for the university or an outside company.

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The creative guide should include:

  • Logo variations (color, stacked, text-only, etc)
  • Font choices (main text, subtext, and/or paragraph text)
  • Color choices (color codes, primary colors, secondary colors)
  • Photography style
  • Example of print collateral

If these are not available, there is usually an email address that you can contact. Make sure to state why you need the graphics and what you intend to use them for.

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Follow the Brand Guidelines

This style guide offers a broken up version of their shield logo for use in marketing. They also include restrictions that they have on the graphic element so that they can keep control of the appearance.

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I created a landing page for this client and included the broken up shield in white with a low transparency. This added interest into the page without distracting too much from the image, and because it was on brand, there was no need to receive approval for the styling.

tulane_extraheaders_14Some schools can be very strict with their logo use and how they like their graphic elements to look. Always discuss with your contact at the school if it’s okay to alter the element’s color, size, or shape.

Don’t Overdo it

If you overuse the brand element, it may distract from the logo and overload the viewer with the school’s branding. It’s best to keep the graphic simple and something the viewer might only see subconsciously. It can also be useful to experiment with abstraction. You don’t need to show the entire brand element to communicate the brand especially if the logo is also being used.

SoPA concept_v1-2

An image I created for a program here uses just the outline of the shield graphic. For someone who has seen the graphics many times before, this does not come off as overpowering but serves as a reminder. For someone who has never seen the graphics or does not know of the university, this is something they will remember for its unique shape. When this viewer comes across the logo or other marketing ads, they will feel a sense of familiarity.

Try to keep a contrast in size between the logo and the brand element. They should not compete for attention. In my skyscraper ads for the client I included the complete shield icon in large scale while keeping the logo (which included the icon) in a small scale. This works best for ads of this shape since the bold, loud graphic should catch people’s attention.

skyscraper ads_newest-08


In order to keep your design concise you should make sure the brand element is not distracting and doesn’t move your eye to an area of the design that is least important to the hierarchy. In other words, try out transparencies and cutting the graphic off from the edge so that it gives only a hint of the branding. Play around with the different graphics at your disposal instead of simply just placing it in a corner (which might not look bad either). It’s better to play around with the different ways to use it than to place it in one spot for every ad or landing page. Consistency is good, but spontaneity with the graphic can keep things interesting.


meGabrielle Brambila is a graphic designer for Circa Interactive. She is a recent graduate from San Diego State University with experience working as a designer for an on-campus entrepreneurship organization. Her passion for illustration and photography inspire her to create something new and unique every day.

5 Qualities of High-Converting College Websites

At Circa Interactive we’re fortunate to work with a few outstanding partners. Below, our friends over at Finalsite put together five useful tips to increase the conversion rate on your institution’s website. Enjoy!


The term “conversions” covers a wide landscape of actions happening on your college or university’s website. It can mean a prospect did something as small as subscribing to your bi-weekly newsletter, or something as big as applying. It is the term used when a current student purchases a ticket for an upcoming football game, when a parent orders some swag, and when alumni make donations. In short, a conversion happens every time a form is submitted on your website.

When someone makes the decision to submit a form, it means that the perceived value of what you’re offering them is greater than giving you their personal information, their most prized possession in today’s world of sponsored posts and spam.


Therefore, a high-converting website has five main components:


  1. A website that drives qualified website traffic: The first part of getting conversions is getting qualified visitors to specific pages of your site.
  2. A semi-controlled website experience: You want certain visitors to go to certain pages and forms, so guide them there.
  3. Content that influences a conversion: Use visual and textual storytelling to appeal to the logos, ethos, and pathos of your target audience.
  4. Forms that facilitate a conversion: Your form length should vary based on what the user is receiving in exchange.
  5. Follow-up campaigns that engage a recent conversion, and nurture a future one: When someone converts, it means they’re interested in something — so never lose out on an opportunity to capitalize on that momentum.


Let’s dive into a little more detail on each of these five qualities:

1. A website that drives qualified traffic.

83% of search query paths (AKA, a simple Google search) begin with an

unbranded term such as “best colleges in Georgia for chemistry,” or “affordable liberal arts colleges.” This means that less than 20% of searches include a specific college or university name.

While this data may be a sign word-of-mouth-marketing (WOMM) may be dead, it’s also a sign that getting qualified traffic to your website is harder than ever. In addition to the mass amount of website traffic stemming from unbranded

searches, 60% of all organic clicks go to the top three search results. (Top of

the page means top of mind for lazy, quick-to-make-a-decision high school students.)

So how exactly do you combat this to drive qualified website traffic and boost your conversion rate? You have two main options:

  1. You can implement an SEO strategy to earn your website and its pages a Page 1 presence. This is a critical long-term strategy, but doesn’t always yield the best short-term results due to its complexity and time it takes to earn authority.
  2. You can invest ad dollars into a Pay-Per-Click (PPC) ad or social media ad strategy. These strategies often yield to best and most immediate results as you have more control over the journey the website visitor takes. For example, when someone searches for “best liberal arts colleges in MA,” you can pay to direct them to a landing page about your school’s liberal arts programs with a form to learn more.


A combination of SEO and PPC will be most successful, but if you’re looking for an immediate fix to drive new conversions, go with PPC.

Pro tip: When you send a searcher to a specific landing page on your website with a form, be sure to remove the primary navigation to further “force” a conversion. You can include your navigation on the “thank you” page.


2. A semi-controlled website experience.

The website experience can begin in search, but when it begins (or progresses) to your website, you’re also going to want control. This comes in two main forms: Calls-to-Action (CTAs) and specific landing pages.

A good first step to a successful CTA strategy usually begins by placing 2-3 CTAs right above the footer, as the bottom of the page is one of the highest-converting locations. However, the CTAs used on each page should vary based on the content and end-goal. For example, admission pages should have CTAs that drive traffic to inquiry and open house forms, while athletic pages should have CTAs that drive traffic to pages where they can read athletic success stories or meet with a coach.

While CTAs can be used to drive traffic virtually anywhere on your website, you’ll want to use them to drive traffic to specific landing page. Landing pages are where you earn your conversions.

A different landing page should be made for every type of conversion on your website. These pages include a form, as well as compelling content that influences them to fill out that form. When you build a landing page, it is a best practice to have the following content:

  • A value proposition
  • Photos or a video
  • Testimonials and social proof


3. Content that influences a conversion.

Take a quick moment and do a role reversal: If you were a prospective student who just did a broad search in Google, and you were sent to a plain page with a form, would you fill it out? Or, if you were an alumni who just received an email to give back, and were sent to that same type of page, would you give back? Chances are, that’s a resounding “no.”

Conversions require content. And lots of it. Your school’s homepage, interior pages, and landing pages all require content that engages a particular target audience. Content should appeal to all stages of the applicant’s journey through awareness, consideration, and decision.

As you build out your content and website pages, ask yourself:

  • Who would find this content useful or interesting?
  • When should we share it?
  • How should we share this content?
  • Where should this content live?
  • What happens next?

Content is a broad term, but the most effective forms of content are social and authentic — meaning look to student testimonials, a student-run blog, and social media to serve as your primary source of content.

4. Forms that facilitate a conversion.

Forms may appear to be the easiest part of a high-converting page, as they are the tool used to gather information. But for that exact reason, they are complex.

Forms need to appeal to two very different types of website visitors:

  • Low-Commitment Visitors: These individuals are just shopping and browsing. Therefore, they are less likely to give you a lot of personal information. Forms for low-commitment visitors include pieces of content (like an informative whitepaper) or a newsletter subscription. Keep the form only 3-4 form fields in length for optimal conversion rates.
  • High-Commitment Visitors: These individuals already know and love your school. It doesn’t matter how long your forms are, or how hard they are to find, they’re ready to fill them out.

Most of your website visitors — especially those in the awareness phase of their journey — will fall into the low-commitment visitor category. It’s important to have a mix of forms that appeal to low-commitment and high-commitment website visitors to fill your admissions funnel. For example, a newsletter sign up form with 1-2 form fields will help fill the top of your funnel, while a longer open house visit form that is 6-8 form fields will help fill the middle of your admission funnel.


5. Follow-up campaigns.

When someone makes a conversion, that’s their way of raising their hand and saying “hey, I’m interested!” And, you should use every digital opportunity you can to spark another conversion. Here are some good tools to have handy:

  • A Thank-You Page: This is the page that comes after the form submission. Here, it is a best practice to have the content/information related to the form submission, as well as other similar content they may be interested in.
  • A Page Pop: Putting a PagePop on a thank you page provides you real estate to drive traffic to a specific page or form to move your user further down the funnel.
  • A Follow-Up E-mail: Whenever someone submits a form, there should always be a follow-up email with the information requested, and additional information.
  • Email Campaigns: Based on form submissions, build different email campaigns. For example, individuals who have only filled out your inquiry form, but have never attended an open house, should receive nurture emails to spark a conversion on that form. Another example is alumni who have signed up to volunteer but haven’t donated money. Today’s consumer requires specific, personalized content to move them down the funnel.
  • Social Media Campaigns: Instagram and Facebook are two great social media networks where you can go after those who have converted on your website. In this case you can remarket to them and drive them to new pages on your website on which they may be interested, and where you can garner another conversion.

For more tips and strategies for a high-converting website, download Finalsite’s eBook “The Ultimate Website Guide for Colleges and Universities.”

Tips on Becoming a Web-Analyst for Online Higher Ed

Beginning to analyze a school website can be a daunting task, but in the world of higher education online it’s a fundamental part of achieving and maintaining your desired performance goals. It takes more than a discerning eye to do it effectively—and even after rendering your judgments and deciding the best plan is moving forward, there’s always this epic hurdle: providing actionable insight. The insight you draw from your website data from Google Analytics should not only make your action plan look desirable, but should continuously define it—and moreover, prove that it will work.

Already sound like you’re biting off more than you can chew? Have no fear. These two key metrics (and one grouping) will make on-the-fly analysis for your school website a walk in the park. Monitoring these metrics daily, while also comparing date ranges to establish trends, will give you insight to make continuous changes that will gradually increase your conversion rate to your desired goal. Let’s start with your most important metric.

1) Goal Completions (aka Conversions)

Through and through, Goals are the most fundamental metric to look for no matter what the objective of your online presence is. Use this metric to measure the instances that someone uses your site and completes an action you desire them to do. You can set up and customize these in Google Analytics, just be sure to verify these are set up correctly before diving into the data.

Here are some ideas for goals to help you measure the efficacy of your website:

  • application submissions
  • requests for more information (lead forms)
  • email/newsletter sign-ups
  • blog subscriptions
  • visit duration greater than ‘x’ minutes.

By definition, goals measure your website’s objective—they are the baseline for measuring the success of your initiatives, the work you’re putting forth, and the site as a whole.

2) Conversion Rate

Conversion rates represent the frequency of your goal completions. Monitoring these will tell you what’s working, and in turn inform you on what you can emphasize to the benefit of increasing Goal Completions. A poor conversion rate will alert you to what isn’t working. Determining what is a good—or bad—conversion rate should be relative to your site’s current performance. The best place to start is with your current average for each of your dimensions in Google Analytics; use that as a baseline for your improvement.

Remember, proactive web analysis is a game of inches. If you see a dimension in Analytics has a declining conversion rate—but it’s also carrying the weight of your site’s goal completions—drill-down inside of that dimension so you can find and eliminate what is bringing it down. In paid search analysis I look at individual campaigns to make sure they’re holding a conversion rate at or above average to their designated marketing channels.

3) Technology

We live in a multi-device world, so fluency between devices is a must if you’re going to capitalize on user experience. Knowing which devices your prospective students are using to connect and discover your institution online is a key insight that can be easily found in Google Analytics under Mobile > Overview in the Audience tab. Keep an eye on which platforms (desktop, tablet or mobile) have the highest conversion rate, and consider an audit of the platform with the lowest conversion rate.

Now, let’s step back and take a holistic look at the user experience…

  • Is the webpage rendering properly in different browser versions (Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, etc.)?
  • Does it render properly on mobile devices and tablets?
  • Is the lead form clearly visible on the page without necessitating the user scroll down to find it?
  • Is the site asking for personal information from the user?
    • If so, make sure your privacy policy is clearly visible, and linked to the form with a verifiable icon that assures users of your website security.

Consider whether the lead form begs too much of the user. If you’re focused on just lead-generation or building a wide list of prospective students, you shouldn’t have many more questions other than Name, Email, and perhaps a set of check-boxes that denotes the nature of their interest. Whatever the case, try to limit your lead forms to no more than 3 steps. Any more may have the undesirable effect of discouraging a user to proceed further down your funnel-path towards becoming a student.

That’s all folks!

Looking for more info on how to leverage Google Analytics? Check out our previous Analytics post: Using Google Analytics in Higher Education to Influence Marketing Decisions

Interested in learning more about Circa Interactive's Higher Education Marketing Services? Fill out the form below:

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Landing Page Conversion Formula in Higher Ed Part 3: Incentives, Friction, and Anxiety

During our first post we were introduced to the Conversion Formula, a heuristic created by Marketing Sherpa, and we focused specifically on Motivation. Our second post was dedicated to V, or the “clarity of the value proposition,” which is an extremely important aspect when creating landing pages within Higher Education. Today we are going to finish up the rest of the landing page heuristic and review Incentives, Friction, and Anxiety.

C = 4M + 3V + 2(I-F) – 2A

Looking at the multiplier in front of the values, you would assume that Friction and Anxiety are much less important than Motivation and Value. While this can be true in some instances, having high Friction and Anxiety levels that are not offset by a user Incentive can have a detrimental affect on the success of any landing page.

Friction is something that always exists on a landing page, as the purpose of a landing page is to drive a user to take an action. Whether it be to sign up for email updates or fill out a form, you are always going to ask a user to take an action that they probably don’t want to do. The trick to getting the maximum number of users to take this desired action is to minimize Friction and increase the Incentive.

The following form is an example of how not to design a lead form for your program’s landing page. I would be surprised if the conversion rate to lead on this landing page was anything over 2%, which means that the organization is probably paying upwards of $300 per lead.


First off, there are entirely too many fields. Combine first and last name, remove “Confirm Email”, and you have already deleted two fields. Why do you need a mailing address? Don’t you think it’s worth having your enrollment team at least talk to the person before sending them a packet of information on your program? Remove everything there apart from the zip (leave country if you have a lot of international traffic) and your form already looks much more manageable.

For the next section, “Select a program that interests you” The landing page is dedicated to one program so there is no need to ask them what program they are interested in. Also, remove “Graduate”, this is information that can be asked later.

Another issue with this form is that Anxiety, or “A” in the heuristic, is probably very high. Anxiety represents the fear associated with completing a goal or task, and in this case, it has to do with a user providing their personal information within a web-based form. The form has no privacy policy and is not secure, and a savvy web user might think that their personal information could be sold to the highest bidder. Anxiety really comes into play during online transactions (when credit card information is being requested) but can still play a large part in the conversion rate of a simple four-field form.

Even if you shorten your form to four fields, and make sure the appropriate Privacy Policy and secure connection icon are displayed, you are still asking a user to complete a task in which they probably don’t want to do. One way to help to push them into filling out the form is by offering an incentive, such as a video or brochure. Whatever you offer, its perceived value must be higher than what you are asking the user to do. Here is an example of an extremely simple form that gets right to the point:


Brochures are great incentives as they make the user feel as though they are receiving something tangible, which has a higher perceived value then something web based (even though you might just supply a link to download a PDF version). Additional incentives that can work well in Higher Ed are Application Instructions as well as Application Fee Waivers, which can be a great way to increase and speed up applications towards the end of an enrollment period.

Introducing an effective landing page that speaks to your target audience’s Motivation, clearly displays the program’s Value Proposition, introduces an Incentive that outweighs the page’s Friction, and keeps Anxiety low can produce leads at a relatively low CPL, even if your traffic sources are expensive. But generating leads is only half the equation; if you don’t have an effective recruitment process in place, many individuals will lose interest or opt for another program. For recommendations and best practices when it comes to putting together a highly productive marketing team, check out Is Your Admission Team Ready for a Digital Marketing Campaign.


Case Study: How One Degree Program Increased Their Lead-Flow by 902%

Over the past few years working in higher education marketing, one thing’s become clear: too many universities are throwing insane amounts of money into marketing initiatives and getting absolutely nothing for it.  Lack of knowledge, lack of resources, and lack of oversight are to blame, especially in the private, non-profit sector.  The individuals in charge of managing such a large marketing budget are almost always understaffed, and simply don’t have the knowledge to successfully implement a marketing strategy that is effective and efficient.

We’ve run into this scenario more often than not, and having the opportunity to help these schools increase lead flow and decrease costs is a major reason why we find our jobs so fulfilling.

Case in point: we began working with a private, non-profit university last year based out of California that was in this exact situation.  As we began to go through the initial stages of engagement, we quickly realized that across one degree program they were spending tens of thousands of dollars per month and only generating 50 or so leads per month, if they were lucky.

The individual in charge of this massive marketing budget had no support staff, and his knowledge of internet marketing was very limited.  Needless to say he needed some help.

What I really want to stress in this post is how painless it was to quickly turn this program into a lead generating machine.  It did require a great amount of work and maneuvering to facilitate our strategy, but overall the bulk of our strategy is not that complicated.  In fact, there was nothing cutting-edge about what we were trying to do.  In reality most of what we implemented should have already been in place, but you’d be surprised to see how many colleges and universities are totally missing the boat and have no clue about these basic digital marketing practices.

Keeping in mind that this is the abbreviated version, I’ll quickly walk you through our strategy:

Landing Page Creation/Optimization

  • Complete redesign (no external links)
  • Utilized conversion formula: C = 4M + 3V + 2(I-f) – 2A
  • Sent all paid traffic to targeted landing pages
  • Conducted regular A/B testing to refine conversion metrics


  • Conducted extensive keyword research, created keyword map for existing website
  • Optimized each existing page for highest relevancy/volume keywords
  • Audited entire subdomain for crawl errors and other spider issues
  • Implemented internal linking best practices

Paid search

  • Complete rebuild of Google Adwords campaign
  • Complete rebuild of Bing Ad campaign
  • Launched LinkedIn ads and sponsored updates
  • Individual ads for each specialization, focusing on target segments
  • Assisted university in the creation of content for sponsored updates (whitepapers, eBooks)
  • Launched Facebook campaign

While the campaign rebuilds and implementation of new marketing channels accounted for a huge increase in traffic and thus leads, I truly believe the landing pages were the difference.  The results prove that with a well thought out and designed landing page, you can almost instantly increase the number of leads you’re generating.  With the help of Marketing Sherpa’s conversion formula (which we live by), the new landing pages were outperforming their old paid search pages by 383%!  Robert has a mini-series covering the conversion formula in-depth if you’d like more info – you can check part one out here and part two here.

In the two months after launching the landing pages, and implementing SEO and paid search best practices, here were the results compared to the same period prior in the months before the new strategy implementation:

Visits: 9,224 (up 269%)
New Visits: 7,718 (up 309%)
Leads: 413 (up 902%)
Blended Conversion Rate to Lead: 8.45% (up 383%)
Paid Ad Impressions: 14,102,354
Organic Conversion Rate: 7.28%

Total Visits:


Aggregate Lead Flow:


Organic Traffic:


Organic Leads:





While these drastic results aren’t typical for all clients, they do effectively illustrate the importance of sticking to the basics when it comes to marketing strategy and implementation (and focusing on conversion!).  And no, this wasn’t a major national brand, nor was it a top-ranked program.  These results are possible for just about anyone when implemented correctly.

By simply implementing best practices and focusing on efficiency, we were able to help inject the lead volume they had desperately needed and saved them tens of thousands of dollars in the process.  Are you facing a similar situation?  If so we’d love to help you do the same – contact us here!

4 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Landing Pages – Higher Education Edition

When we begin working with a degree program, we often get asked “what can we do right now to improve the performance of our marketing campaigns?”  Surprisingly, 75% of the time our first response is to build and implement landing pages.  Some programs are utilizing them for their paid search campaigns, but many are not.

Whether you’re running a targeted email campaign, or you’re investing in a paid search campaign via Adwords, Facebook, and/or LinkedIn, landing pages are a must.  Looking to increase your conversion rate and generate more leads for your admissions team?  Use a landing page.

To successfully leverage a landing page, there are a lot of things that need to be in place and a lot of questions that need to be answered.  I know it can be quite daunting and a little overwhelming.  My biggest advice: don’t over complicate it – keep it simple and ensure the page you create answers the most important questions, concerns, fears, and needs that a perspective student may have.

Below I’ve listed four things I personally feel help create a great landing page, specific to higher ed.  Yes, there is a lot more to creating a landing page – these four are just scratching the surface. But, if you ensure these four tips are in place I can bet you’ll get a lot more out of your landing pages.

1) Research and develop student personas first

To create an effective landing page, you must first start with a deep dive look into your target audience and create personas.  This is pretty basic, widely known stuff but you’d be surprised how many programs fail to do this correctly or do it at all.  While you most likely have a solid understanding of who you’re target audience is, developing personas will help you uncover concerns, needs, and wants that you previously may not have thought of.  Fact is, everything you do from a marketing standpoint will most likely be fundamentally  flawed if you don’t create personas – so be sure to use them across all of your marketing efforts.

When creating personas, be sure to include:

  • age
  • level of education
  • what they like?
  • what they don’t like?
  • what they’re afraid of?
  • what would make their life easier?
  • what problems you can solve for them?
  • how they consume data/information?
  • what content they’re seeking?
  • what are their social media habits?

Once you’ve created your personas use them to:

  • select landing page images
  • create landing page copy
  • create an enticing call-to-action (CTA)

Keep in mind that you may have multiple personas for your target student, so you may need to consider building multiple landing pages in order to speak to those unique audiences.

2) Optimize landing page for SEO

This is an area that many fail to take advantage of.  You’ve done the work to create a persona driven, conversion optimized landing page for your paid search accounts, so why not make use of it organically as well?  We do this for a number of universities and have seen outstanding results, with some experiencing an increase of more than 10% in their conversion rate.

You can utilize a landing page organically to eat up additional SERP real estate, or to target keywords that produce high quality leads but may be lighter on the volume of traffic.  Even a slight increase in the conversion rate for these keywords can result in big gains when it comes to enrollments for the next term.

3) Utilize a multi-step lead form

As a marketer in higher ed, what’s the one question you probably hear more than anything?  For me, it’s “how can we improve lead quality?”. One solution to improve lead quality is to use a landing page.  Once you’re using a landing page, you can implement a multi-step lead form, like the one you see below that Norwich University’s Masters of Science in Nursing utilizes.


Yes, multi-step lead forms are a little tougher to build but when implemented they allow you to:

  • improve lead quality by pre-qualifying leads (if they don’t have a bachelors they can’t enroll in a masters program, for example)
  • utilize the same landing page form for multiple specializations (if the specializations appeal to the same persona or target audience)

4) Have a short promotional video?  Use it!

Any time you can utilize video on a landing page, do it!  A recent study by Eye View Digital revealed that landing pages with video can increase conversion by 80%.  Need I say more?

If you’re not sure about how your specific video will perform or if your audience will respond to video, run a test!  With tools like Google’s Content Experiments, you can cheaply and effectively run A/B tests to get a sense of how video performs for you.

My only caution here: ensure the video is as high quality as possible.  That doesn’t mean you need to hire a big expensive firm to create one for you – it can still be done in-house.  Just ensure the message matches your target audience, and keep it short and sweet.

Here are a few universities who have landing pages down pat – take some notes!

Norwich University’s Online Master of Arts in Military History


Why I like it:

– Optimized for Higher Education SEO (Title tags, copy)
– Multi-step lead form

University of Alabama-Birmingham’s Online Information Management Systems programs


Why I like it:

– They do a great job of optimizing for two different degrees utilizing the same landing page
– Multi-step lead form with multiple program options
– Clearly illustrate trust factors (ranking, accreditations)
– Optimized for SEO

University of Cincinnati’s Master of Education Online


Not sure if you noticed, but this isn’t a true landing page, but I still like a lot about it.  If you don’t have the internal resources to build a landing page, this may be a good option for you.

Why I like it:

– Maintains a strong landing page feel
– Short and sweet
– Clear CTA
– Optimized for SEO (ranks for a number of keywords, so I’m sure their conversion rate is stellar)

For those of you already using landing pages, take note of these four tips and do a quick audit of your existing pages.  Is there room for improvement?

If you’re not utilizing landing pages for your program, let these four tips serve as the foundation to your future landing page success.

Launching an Online Degree: Where Should I Invest My Online Degree Marketing Budget?

By: Robert Lee, Co-Founder of Circa Interactive

You have proposed your idea for an online degree program, worked tirelessly at getting the right people on board with it, and it has finally been approved. You just know it’s going to be a success, you took your time and completed all the right research and know there is a large market of eager potential students looking for your specific degree program to meet their personal and professional goals.

You have proposed a budget, and while there was a little back-and-forth, it has also finally been approved. But how is this investment by your already cash strapped university going to get your inbox full of leads and the phone ringing?

Taking this budget and allocating it to the right places is an extremely important first step in laying the foundation for program success.

You are marketing an online degree program; the best place to try and target your program’s potential market is online. While direct mail pieces and taking an ad out in a magazine could be supplemental ways to expand your brand and possibly drive more traffic to your site, it cannot be your core source of traffic and leads.

The following list breaks down the top places to invest your budget. The importance of each of these can differ as each program is unique, but the core of your investment must go into some combination of these sources.

1. Landing Page Development

Landing page development?

This might seem like a very strange first place to invest your marketing budget, but it is by far the most valuable and will pay off ten-fold. Traffic that arrives at a website generally converts to lead anywhere between 1-4%. This can fluctuate due to the type of traffic, strength of brand, and the current conversion process of your site.  So what that means is that if 100 people visit your website, you can expect around 2 leads.

Traffic arriving at a fully optimized website can convert anywhere from 3-25%. The 3% would be for lower quality traffic sources (FB display advertising), and 25% would be for extremely high quality sources (internal high quality referral, repeat visitor). So lets say the average conversion rate on a landing page is 8%.

In an effort to show the importance of conversion rate, let’s use Google paid search traffic as an example. Let’s say you are marketing a Masters in Information Systems, with an average cost-per-click in Google of $10.

If you drive 100 visitors to your un-optimized website, your CPL will be:

100 visitors x $10 CPC = $1,000

100 visitors x 2% conversion rate = 2 leads

$1,000 / 2 leads = $500 CPL

And if you drive 100 visitors to your fully optimized landing page, your CPL will be:

100 visitors x $10 CPC = $1,000

100 visitors x 8% conversion rate = 8 leads

$1,000 / 8 leads = $125 CPL

Your CPL will be 5 times higher if you send the traffic to your website instead of an optimized landing page. The critics of the use of landing pages main argument is that the quality of leads will deteriorate with landing pages as a LPs main focus is just to convert a visitor to a lead. Well, I think that argument does have some merit, but landing pages are a great way to move someone who is earlier in the buying process further down the conversion funnel.

For example, if you produce two leads out of 100 visitors from your website, they are most likely relatively high quality.

From a landing page, if you produce eight leads out of your 100 visitors, you probably have 2-3 high quality, 2-3 medium quality, and 2-3 who are just shopping around. But isn’t 4 medium and high quality leads better than just two high quality leads? And then as a bonus you get 4 additional contacts to nurture in your database for future enrollment.

2. Keyword Based Pay-Per-Click (Google Adwords + Bing Ads)


One of the highest quality leads you can produce is through targeting people who are actively searching for your degree program through one of the major search engines.  The three major search engines are Google (approx. 70% U.S. market share) and Yahoo/Bing (approx. 25% U.S. market share). Yahoo and Bing merged and so they share the same algorithm and paid search platform (Bing Ads).

Most degree programs don’t already have an established SEO presence, which means that the only way to drive traffic to your website or landing page via actual keyword- based searches is through paid advertisements.   Pay-Per-Click advertising is also effective in driving leads almost immediately for your degree program, while SEO will take at least four to six months on average.

When launching a Pay-Per-Click campaign, it’s important to keep in mind  that not all keyword-based traffic is the same quality.  Searchers will use certain keywords in their search query, which will be more or less relevant to your degree program offering. For example, if you were marketing an online masters in public administration, then obviously the most relevant keyword for your target market would be “Online Masters in Public Administration”. But from there, you might try and bid on additional keywords like just “Masters of Public Administration” (no online denotation), or “Masters in Public Policy” (a similar degree program).

You need to think about this when setting up your Adwords campaign and more specifically setting bids for your keywords. If you take a step back and look at your budget as a whole, you probably want to spend as much money as you can on these highly relevant keywords, while possibly allocating the money that you could use to target these secondary keywords to other traffic generating opportunities (display advertising, SEO, etc.).

3. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)


SEO is the process of optimizing a website and individual pages for specific keywords so that they rank higher organically in the major search engines, and is extremely important to invest in from a long term perspective. There is a lot of opportunity to drive a large amount of extremely high quality traffic to your website through SEO, but many major keywords tend to be very competitive. An SEO investment tends to work extremely well for programs that fall into the medium competition range, such as a Masters in Social Work or Bachelors in Public Health.

SEO is broken into two parts, with the first being on-page SEO. On-page SEO consists of edits that can be made to a physical website that is trying to rank for certain keywords. On-page SEO must be completed prior to off-page SEO, and generally is a much lower investment than an aggressive off-page SEO or link building strategy.

Off-page SEO (also known as link-building) is the secondary part of any SEO strategy, and can wildly fluctuate in costs depending on the competitiveness of keywords targeted. Content and infographic creation are a major part of the link-building process, as distributing high quality content to webmasters is a great way to build links back to your site.

The main benefit to SEO, and why its ranked so high on this list, is that generally once an initial investment has been made a campaign can float into more of a maintenance mode, which could be as low as $500/month. So if you are able to produce 200 organic visitors to your website, and are only paying $500 per month, your average CPC is $2.50. Your average CPC for paid search is most likely going to be around $10, so from a long-term perspective there are large benefits to SEO.

4. Facebook Paid Ads


While Facebook advertising might not be as cheap as it used to be, and its targeting parameters have actually gotten worse, it is still a great source for driving relevant traffic, especially when targeting a unique market. Individuals include so much personal information within their profiles, and if you really understand your program’s target market then the opportunity is there to create audience personas. You can then use those personas to craft audience segments that can be used to drive targeted traffic to your program’s landing page.

Take for example an Online Masters in Information Systems, with concentrations in Information Security, Networking, and Development. Just based off of the names of the concentrations, you can probably figure out that you might want to target lower level Information Security Managers, Network Architects, and Programmers. You can craft an advertisement that speaks to each audience, and target people based on likes, degree programs, or different IT organizations. This is just the tip of the iceberg though, as you will learn about many different ways to utilize Facebook once you spend enough time in the interface.

5. Google Display Advertising


If you have a generally large budget, then the Google Network is a great way to drive additional traffic to your landing pages. There are three different options when it comes to display advertising within the Google Network, and different types of programs can experience success with each.

Google Contextual Advertising– The Google content network can get kind of complicated so I am not going to get too detailed. The basic idea is that pages that are within their network that include text/content relevant to the keywords you include in your targeting parameters are selected to display your advertisements. So for example if you are marketing an “online mba”, your ad might show up on a site that has an article about online mba’s.

Google Managed Placements- Managed placements let you select exactly what sites you want to target, and can be fantastic if you know the major sites that your potential students visit. Not all sites are part of the Google Network, so there are some limitations, but this can be a great option if you are marketing a Green MBA (target all green/renewable energy sites) or another program that is slightly unique.

Google Remarketing- Google Remarketing is a great way to stay in front of individuals who might have already visited your website or landing page in the past and did not convert. It has been proven that sometimes it takes multiple interactions with a user before they are ready to convert, so this is just another way to nurture the relationship.

6. LinkedIn Advertising


If you have a large budget, and still have not maxed out your spend, then LinkedIn advertising is a good place to test. Sometimes LinkedIn can actually produce higher quality traffic than Facebook, but if you have ever been on LinkedIn, you know the experience is very different then FB. The targeting parameters are very similar to FB, so if you already created user personas or segments you can carry them over. LinkedIn isn’t going to produce anywhere near the volume that Facebook will, so keep that in mind when setting up a budget for it.

In conclusion, each program is going to respond slightly different within each advertising platform. I always recommend that a client implements a landing page and at least a Google paid search campaign just to start building some traffic to their program assets. If your program meets the criteria provided within the “How To Tell What Types of Online Programs Will Be Successful” post, then distributing your budget among the above sources can really help to move your program in the right direction.

About the Author: Robert Lee is the co-founder of Circa Interactive Inc, a San Diego based higher education search marketing and lead generation agency.  Robert is an expert SEM strategist and has worked with dozens of colleges and universities across the US.