Mobile PPC for Higher Education: AdWords Call Extensions

In higher education search PPC marketing, call extensions can be a valuable asset, enabling prospective students to speak with an admissions or enrollment advisor with just a single click. Within the modern PPC marketing mix of search and social PPC campaigns, mobile traffic often accounts for the majority of paid-click user sessions; the terminus of this ongoing mass exodus of users, from their desktops to their smartphones, remains to be seen. As our friends at Unbounce put it back in 2015, “[every year] since 2009, it’s been declared that whatever year it was must certainly be the year of mobile.” Nearly a decade later it’s a sure bet, no matter what year it is, now is the time to be revamping your mobile student acquisition strategy. Today’s blog post is part 1 of my series on Mobile PPC for Higher Education: AdWords Call Extensions.

Why should you make call extensions part of your higher ed search PPC strategy?

  • AdWords call extensions would enable users to call directly via your Google Search PPC ads
  • Phone call inquiries can be an indispensable asset in student acquisition, as many would-be students are actively looking for a specific program to enroll in, and speaking to an enrollment advisor at this moment could make or break that individual’s decision
  • The AdWords API likes it when you use every extension you (appropriately) can
  • You can set Call Extensions to show only when your representatives can take calls
  • Conversion tracking is easy to set up

In lieu of these facts, I find it’s usually in the best interest of most higher ed PPC accounts to implement AdWords call Extensions.

One important thing to remember whenever you’re dealing with (any) extensions in AdWords: when there are multiple extensions at different levels (account, campaign, or ad group), AdWords will elect the most specific to be used. In other words, when you add extensions to an ad group, those extensions show instead of your campaign (or account-level) extensions. Similarly, campaign-level extensions override account-level extensions.

Let’s walk through the steps:

  1. Find a suitable number for prospective students to dial when inquiring about the respective program(s) you’re advertising — typically an Enrollment Advisor, or an Admissions Office hotline
  2. Open your AdWords account
  3. Go to Tools and then Conversions. Select +Conversion
  4. Select Phone Calls and opt for the 1st option (“Calls from ads using call extensions or call-only ads”)
  5. Create your Call Conversion Event, naming it something besides “Calls from ads” — as this is the default call reporting conversion metric AdWords has by default (and it will be difficult to discern between them if they have the same name). You do not necessarily need to assign a value to these conversions, but regardless I recommend setting the call length to 30 seconds and opening the conversion window to 60 days; the other settings can remain at their default
  6. Navigate back to your AdWords account home screen and select the campaign (or ad group) from which you’d like to start receiving phone calls from prospective students
  7. Go to the Ad Extensions tab (hint: if you can’t see it, click on the down-arrow to the right of the viewable tabs – you’ll be able to enable it here)
  8. From the View menu, select Call Extensions
  9. Select +Extension
  10. Select +New Phone Number and enter the number you obtained in step 1
  11. Leave Call Reporting as is (“on”), and leave Device preference unchecked (unless you have mobile-dedicated ad groups)
  12. Open the +Advanced options and select +Create custom schedule – populate this with the hours during which your representatives will be available to receive calls
  13. Check Count calls as phone call conversions and select the conversion event you initially set up in step 5
  14. Click Save

You should be ready to start receiving calls from prospective students! Repeat the steps above and add up to 20 call extensions to each account, campaign, or ad group.

 

Andrew croppedA graduate of the University of California, Andrew is our analytics and paid search team lead. He is both Google Analytics and AdWords certified. With an ROI-focused and problem-solving approach, he researches, plans, and manages our clients’ PPC campaigns.

 

How To Appear In Google’s Featured Snippet In 2017 (Knowledge Graph)

In May of 2012, Google announced the launch of their knowledge graph. This is a knowledge base that is used by Google in order to enhance search engine results. Basically, it increases user experience by displaying information from a query directly in Google’s search results without requiring a user to click through to a site.

This may seem like a nightmare for digital marketers since we want users to click through directly to our websites, however, knowledge graph results take up an incredible amount of real estate within organic results. It’s actually hard NOT to click them.

Before we get into how to be featured, let’s look at some examples of the different ways we see the Knowledge Graph in Google’s search results.

Types of Knowledge Graph Results

People

The first type of knowledge graph result is the detailed view of a person. These appear on the right hand side of Google’s results. For example, I did a search for the president of Florida State University. See below:

knowledge base example: people

As you can see, Google pulled much of this information directly from Wikipedia.

Universities/Organizations

A query for “FSU” returned a similar graph result that offers a ton of information about the university.

fsu knowledge graph

Featured Snippets

Featured snippets are a powerful Knowledge Graph result and will be the main focus of this article. The reason behind this is that we cannot control what is shown in the other knowledge graph results listed above, because the information is often pulled directly from Wikipedia and other larger informational websites. With featured snippets, Google will pull information directly from our website and display it as the first organic result, with a valuable link to your website.

Another great aspect of featured snippets is that you essentially have two organic spots within the results. For example, you may be ranking fifth for your target keyword; however, if the information on your page is structured correctly, Google will show your information as the featured snippet AND keep your original organic ranking. Plus, there’s always the chance that making these on-page changes could help bump you up the search results a few spots.

Here’s an example of a featured snippet from U.S. News:

best online mba featured snippet

Here’s another example from CostHelper:

featured snippet example

Now, let’s dive into how to show up as the featured snippet.

How To Show Up In The Featured Snippet

The most important factor in showing up in the featured snippet is giving clear and direct answers to the search query or keyword. However, in order to show up, your site needs to be ranking on the first page for queries that are showing featured snippets.

If you’ve got some page one rankings, then follow these steps to take over the featured snippet spot. Wondering how to rank on page one? Be sure to check out other articles around our blog, like this one  .

Step 1: Find Which Queries Have Featured Snippets

This is an important step, as you don’t want to commit a bunch of your time trying to show up in the featured snippet for a query that does not have one. The best way to find out which queries have featured snippets is to use the tool SEMRush.

To do this, enter in your website and under “organic research” select “Positions.” You will be brought to this page:

how to find queries that have featured snippets

On the right-hand side under “SERP Features” you will see the “Featured snippet” link. Click that and you will be shown a list of keywords that have a featured snippet. You’ll want to check these keywords and see if you already own that featured snippet. If not, then it may be time to start optimizing around that keyword!

Step 2: Used Structured Markup To Directly Answer Queries

The majority of the featured snippets that you will come across will be pulling information that lives within structured markup. Here are the most common:

Unordered Lists

You will recognize these as the bulleted results you see. Creating unordered lists is simple and just requires basic HTML that looks like this:

<ul>
 <li>List item 1</li>
 <li>List item 2</li>
<li>List item 3</li>
</ul>

Unordered lists would be beneficial when trying to show up for a search term such as “types of business degrees.” Here is how it would show up in the search engine results:

example of an unordered list showing up in googles knowledge graph

Ordered Lists

These are very similar to unordered lists. The only difference is that the information within them is numbered. This is ideal for queries that are ranking degrees or programs. Here is the HTML used to create an ordered list:

<ol>
<li>List item 1</li>
<li>List item 2</li>
<li>List item 3</li>
</ol>

Ordered lists are great for “how to” type queries. For example, let’s look at the search engine results for “how to become a lawyer”:

example of an ordered list showing up in googles featured snippet

Tables

While tables are not as common as the previous two, Google will still occasionally show well-structured tables in the featured snippet. Tables can be a very effective way of showing a matrix of data.

If you are using WordPress, there are table plugins such as Tablepress that Google tends to favor. Otherwise, you can manually create a table using HTML, but be sure to include metadata within these tables. Did you know tables can have a meta description? To learn more about creating tables, check out this resource. Here is an example of a table in the featured snippet:

example of a table shown in the featured snippet

Header Tags

These are essential to showing up in the featured snippet. You will notice that almost every snippet begins with an H2 or H3. They also almost always contain the main keyword that is being searched for. For instance, check out the featured snippet for “best masters degree.” The bolded text that says “Best Master’s Degrees for Finding a Job” is marked up as an H3 on the page.

importance of headers when trying to get into the featured snippet

It’s extremely important that your H2/H3 tag:

  1. Directly precedes the structured markup
  2. Includes the keyword you’re trying to rank for

Step 3: Perfect Your On-Page SEO

Google will reward you for having an exceptionally optimized page. Make sure you hit all of the checkpoints and leave nothing out. This includes things like alt tags, proper use of headers, internal linking, etc. Be sure to read my in-depth guide to on-page SEO .

Note: If a competitor already has the featured snippet, taking your on-page SEO to the next level could help give you a bump and take the featured snippet from them.

Step 4: Include An Image

It’s always a good idea to accompany your structured markup with a well-optimized image. Make sure you use an alt tag as well as an image title here. While writing your alt tags and image titles, make sure you are as descriptive as possible, and don’t simply include the keyword and move on. Additionally, take some time to really describe the image using synonyms of your keyword as this will most likely put you a step above your competitors. As you can see in the examples above, almost all of the featured snippets contain an image.

Step 5: Enjoy The Extra Traffic

That’s it! Once your page gets reindexed, you’ll have a MUCH better chance at being the featured snippet. If after all of this you still haven’t taken over the feature snippet spot, don’t panic. Take a look at what the competitor’s doing and see how you can improve on it.

While following these steps will not guarantee results, it will put you in a much better position to steal the featured snipped. Take action today and claim that extra organic real estate.

If you have any questions or comments feel free to comment below!

How Google’s Removal of Right-Side Ads Affects Higher Education PPC Marketing

On February 22nd, Google rolled out one of the biggest changes to its search engine results page (SERP) by taking out right-side ads and adding an extra 4th position above the proverbial fold line and three ads at the bottom of the page after the organic search results. This was a major change in higher education PPC. With the exception of Product Listing Ads (PLAs) and Knowledge Panel Ads, the right side of the SERP will be completely void of text ads, which lends well to e-commerce businesses since it gives them exclusive access to the now hands-off real estate. 

To the majority of the PPC community, this update cued the onslaught of widespread panic with the speculation of higher CPCs, increased competition, and the squeezing out of SMBs to companies with bigger advertising budgets. So what will happen to visibility? How much more budget will be needed to stay above the fold? CTR? Conversion Rate? More importantly to us, what does this mean for higher education digital marketers and how will this affect our programs’ performance?

Picture1

Now that it’s two months past, we finally have some well formulated insights from our internal data and higher education PPC, and they quickly put to rest the reverberating voices of panic and anxiety. We can wipe the sweat from our brows because this change actually works in our favor!

Let’s take a deeper dive:

Parameters of our analysis:

  1. Data acquired are from 12/22-2/22 vs. 2/23-4/22
  2. Google Search Network only
  3. Includes 19 programs

final

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 4.47.54 PM

Before the update, 64% of our ads were amongst the top 3 positions, and 36% were right side ads with no more than 15% going past the 4th position. After the update with the addition of one more top position, the number of our ads that are now above the fold rose to 83%. What’s interesting to note here is that the update essentially moved up 19% of our right-side ads to the top 4th position since most of them were previously wavering before and after the fold line, averaging between the 3rd and 4th positions. The update was the extra push we needed to convert more of our ads to the top positions without actually having to increase bids by much at all.

Now you’re probably thinking that regardless of 19% of our ads moving up to the top 4 positions, performance will still suffer since 17% of our ads are now pushed to the bottom where visibility is less than that of being on the right side. While you and most marketers are right to think that, most of our ads past the 4th position weren’t doing as well to begin with and now that more of them are in the coveted top positions, we reap the extra benefits that outweigh the negatives.

Let’s take a more granular look at each of our programs’ performance and spend metrics to support my previous statements:

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 4.10.04 PMComparing performance metrics from two months before and after the update, our CTR rose by 6.59% with a 4.70% decrease in CPC. This comes as no surprise since right side ads historically did not perform as well as our top placing ads. In marketing higher education, some of our Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) include Cost-Per-Lead (CPL) and the Conversion Rate (CVR). As you can see across the board, our KPIs have improved with a 3.3% decrease in CPL and a 2.3% increase in CVR. Again, with the higher average positions and increased visibility on the SERP, it comes to no surprise that our spend metrics have also improved. Not to mention that our quality scores will most likely increase in the long-run.

It would be naive to think that this update had nothing to do with Google’s bottom line, but whichever way you slice it, it’s looking to be beneficial for many other PPC marketers as well as for Circa Interactive here on the higher education side. With an increased emphasis on Highly Commercial Queries, newly formatted ad extensions, and a less cluttered SERP, it’s a win-win for advertisers and search users alike.

Helen Koh HeadshotHelen Koh recently joined the Circa team bringing digital marketing competencies that include creating and managing PPC campaigns for optimal ROI, experience with various SEM analytical tools, and creative processes of pursuing marketing avenues within higher education. She is currently a senior at University of California at San Diego with business consulting and marketing experience from multiple on-campus projects and organizations.

The Top 4 Qualities of a Digital Marketer in Higher Education

In the Summer of 2011, I left my home state of Missouri and moved to San Diego, California, to pursue my Bachelor in Business Administration from San Diego State University. During my time at SDSU, I recognized my passion for marketing and entrepreneurship, which led me to seek a digital marketing internship in my final year of school. Luckily, I found Circa Interactive, a local digital marketing company started by millennial entrepreneurs and fueled by creative passion. The lessons learned from these leaders in higher education have been invaluable to my professional and personal development. From this experience, I learned about the characteristics and qualities needed to succeed in the digital marketing industry. I have narrowed down a large list of characteristics to the top four qualities that build the successful infrastructure of a digital marketer.

1. Creativity

Today more content is being produced than ever before. The last problem any marketing team needs is to fall into “group think” — or the concept that everyone agrees to one unified idea. If your team is not creating a constant stream of innovative strategies to get in front of the media, then the relationships will dwindle and the links will be nonexistent. That is one reason why creativity is the most important quality of a digital marketer. It is the starting point for content creation. Whether you’re pitching an editor or trying to create a story through a vivid infographic, you need to differentiate yourself and find ways to keep your content fresh in order to catch the interest of incredibly busy editors and bloggers.

This is why I learned to look creatively for stronger time pegs that are essential for a pitch. In higher education marketing, we create content around the university, their programs and professors. As we sift through news, we use our creative instinct to find relevant time pegs that connect with the uniqueness of each professor and university’s brand. For instance, one of our clients has a professor that is an expert in athletic psychology and injury prevention. As many know, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) — a neurodegenerative brain disease — has been a growing topic over the past couple years, especially in the NFL. When we see trends develop around a subject, in this case brain injuries, that is the time to take immediate action and leverage the expertise of our professor. Mastery of time pegs isn’t easy but it can be the difference between a published article.

2. Confidence

After sending out thousands of pitches to publications and bloggers, the likelihood of getting shot down is absolute. Don’t let these rejections deflate your energy. My biggest lesson of confidence happened after I sent a pitch to Newsweek and received immediate interest in a potential publication of an infographic for a  criminal justice program. After long hard discussions between the client and Newsweek, the publication fell through. I was a bit down, but our Creative Director Joseph Lapin said: “Pitches and outreaches are like throwing spaghetti at a wall.” What he means is that you never know what will stick with the reporters, and you have to send out many pitches and ideas until you find one that sticks. This helped me understand this so called “failure” wasn’t a failure at all. It’s just a part of being a digital marketer.

3. Organization

Without structure life is chaotic. Though it may come to a surprise, this was one of the biggest eye-openers during my internship. I never understood the importance of organization until I entered digital marketing. Before, I was saving everything in my head, whether it was a business meetings or a grocery list. After joining Circa Interactive, this habit had to change. As the work, school and life tasks continued to grow, I now had more responsibility than ever before. My brain couldn’t organize all the tasks, so our Chief Operating Officer Clayton Dean and Joe Lapin recommended a few tools to keep me on track. Here is short list on my favorite organizational tools below.

  • Trello – This is an amazing project management and organizational tool. Trello is great for tracking progress on team projects, creating checklist by due dates and structuring to-dos by niche.
  • Cal – A free and easy Calendar application for your phone. Cal can connect with your Google Calendar and can instantly send emails from the app.
  • Google Applications – Most businesses and students use this organizational tool on a daily basis. While browsing the web you can save pictures and pdfs directly into your drive. Plus, you have the ability to structure everything into folders, spreadsheets or documents.

4. Adaptability

As many already know, the search engine optimization industry changes constantly. According to SEOMoz, while most of these updates are minor, Google changes its algorithm around 500-600 times a year. For instance, ten years ago digital marketers were more focused on building sites with a lot of targeted keywords. Don’t get me wrong, keywords are important but are much lower on the totem pole than content marketing and white-hat link building. This major change shifted the focus from keyword-rich pages to creating relationships with editors and webmasters. The biggest lessons about adaptability came from the observations of CEO Robert Lee and COO Clayton Dean. They taught me how to properly see the difference between each client and how we have to adapt our services to their motives. Using teamwork and adaptability to stay ahead of the pack is one of the biggest ways we can help our clients. As the digital marketing industry revolutionizes, I believe creativity and adaptability will need to be the strongest attributes of any teams’ philosophy.

I am thankful to have an internship opportunity that has helped me expand my creative critical thinking skills, believe in my ideas, think structurally and efficiently, and learn to adapt to client needs and industry trends. Everything I learned in this internship will help me in any future profession. Whether I seek a career in the marketing industry or pursue the life of an entrepreneur, these traits will be anchored within me forever. One more realization I had while working here is not to take a day for granted. If you’re hungry, then there will always be something to learn, and everyone here wants to help you get there and succeed.

Don’t forget: be creative, stay confident, get organized, and adapt quickly or be left behind.

If you want to find out more about Circa Interactive please reach out to us on our contact form or find us on Twitter @CircaSEO.


theandersonidea
Austin Anderson
is a senior at San Diego State University majoring in marketing. He is passionate about entrepreneurship, personal development and the future of big data. Connect with Austin on LinkedIn.