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 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?

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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

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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.

Why a Multi-Channel Digital Marketing Approach is Crucial to Student Generation

In the current competitive climate of higher education, having a cohesive, comprehensive, and diversified marketing approach is essential in digital marketing. While each marketing avenue or strategy has its own unique method of accomplishing client end-goals of student enrollment, brand awareness, lead generation, and market research, it’s the combined effort of all of them working together that fosters the most effective and all-encompassing solution. It is therefore imperative that those involved in higher education marketing understand how all of these components work together and independently to capture prospective students at every stage of the decision making process. Here at Circa Interactive, the overarching divisions of our company that help to accomplish our clients’ goals include Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Pay-per-click (PPC), and Social Media.

 

How Do They Work Independently? 

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

SEO is a crucial piece of the marketing puzzle, considering that 75% of prospective students start their research on a search engine. With so many competing programs and schools, it’s incredibly important to rank organically for relevant keywords in order to be visible to prospective students who are actively searching for related programs. There are several functions of our company that contribute to our SEO end-goals. The main off-page ones, which I will highlight here, are Digital PR and infographic creation and distribution.

Our goal in digital PR is to establish thought leadership, expand brand awareness, define program differentiators, and build quality backlinks for SEO that influence search rankings. We accomplish this by leveraging the expertise of faculty members and getting them and their respective programs placed in internationally recognized publications as well as in industry-specific verticals. On the other hand, infographics largely contribute to our SEO end-goals by generating backlinks through the creation and distribution of sharable content, which tells important stories within the larger narratives in the media.

Digital PR and infographics aid our SEO and brand recognition efforts by creating trustworthy and reputable backlinks to the programs that we represent, which in turn helps with organic rankings. These media placements also position our programs and professors as thought leaders in the industry, which is critical when trying to grow a brand and program. While PR links tend to be higher in quality, there is a tradeoff for this, which is quantity of links. While having our professors and programs included in nationally recognized publications is extremely valuable on a number of levels, more of our backlinks come through infographic distribution, where we have a broader reach due to our inclusion of smaller media outlets and blogs. Both strategies lend themselves to the same goals but accomplish them in different ways, which is why having both strategies in place is essential to achieving our larger SEO goals.

Pay-per-click (PPC)

Pay-per-click (PPC) can be an effective strategy for quickly driving targeted traffic to a website or landing page. This can be accomplished through keyword-based search advertising, display advertising in the Google and Bing Display networks, social media advertising (e.g. Facebook and LinkedIn), and remarketing, where you target prospective students who have already visited your website but have yet to convert. It’s also the most effective method for measuring return-on-investment (ROI). Since it’s easy to analyze and monitor results as you go with PPC, it has the added benefit of being able to adjust strategies according to the success of various channels. While SEO can be a more long-term and involved process, paid search has the ability to immediately get in front of prospective students and begin to generate leads. It’s crucial to have accurate and appealing messaging for PPC, because it could be the first encounter that a prospective student has with a brand or program.

Social Media

Social media is an important tool for higher education marketing considering that 57% of students will use social media to research universities. Although it’s very difficult to measure ROI on social media marketing, it’s a channel that should be integrated into every marketing strategy in order to have a well-rounded and consistent online presence. It’s also a great place to foster a sense of community and keep current, former, and prospective students engaged and up-to-date on university news.

How Do They Work Together? 

While I’ve explained how each of these digital marketing strategies operates independently, it’s just as important to understand how they intersect and why being visible and consistent across all potential touchpoints is essential to converting prospective students and amplifying brand awareness. A prospective student can encounter a brand in many different ways, but marketers will often only focus on the final campaign, search, or ad that the user interacted with to convert. However, as the multi-channel funnels reports in Google Analytics shows, there are typically many other interactions and touchpoints that the prospective student encountered in the process before converting. This further exemplifies the importance of having a diversified marketing approach that allows for interactions and cohesiveness across all potential channels.
One beneficial intersection between strategies is between PPC and digital PR. Since most people are aware when they are being targeted with an ad, PPC can come off as being disingenuous or less credible than organic results, which is why digital PR can be beneficial in adding another layer of credibility to a program. For students who are actively researching a program, seeing a program featured in various reputable publications can be important and, ultimately, help push them along in the admissions funnel.

Social media also plays an important role in building a credible online community for a brand. Since most students will research a program on social media sites like Facebook, having an established community of engaged and interested participants on social media platforms is important in getting prospective students excited and interested about a program. Additionally, there is often a link on Facebook paid ads that will be directed to the program’s Facebook page, so it’s important to have a strong social media presence built up when sending prospective students that way. Social media also has a mutually beneficial relationship with digital PR and infographic distribution because it provides another platform to feature this content on. This not only expands the reach of this content, further positioning the program as a thought leader and content creator, but also provides relevant and interesting content to the audience on social media.

As I’ve illustrated here, ensuring that a program or university is visible to prospective students throughout all possible channels and touchpoints that they may encounter is essential to a comprehensive and optimized marketing strategy. As we have seen, there are many ways that prospective students can search for or come in contact with a brand. A diversified approach accomplishes both short and long term marketing goals while more effectively reaching prospective students throughout various stages in the decision making process.

Caroline-Black-and-White-tan-3-4

Caroline brings a wealth of knowledge in communications, marketing, and account management to the Circa Interactive team. Graduating with honors in Business Administration and Marketing from the University of Oregon in 2011, Caroline now plays a key role in Circa Interactive’s digital PR strategy by building long term relationships with internationally recognized media outlets on behalf of our clients.

Five Ways to Target Potential Students with LinkedIn Paid Ads

While LinkedIn’s network of working professionals and job seekers isn’t comparable in size to Facebook, it has introduced an advertising platform that is logical and effective. What LinkedIn lacks in volume, it makes up for in it’s straightforward targeting options and accurate audience segmentation, which, if leveraged correctly, will produce quality and relevant traffic that can turn into excellent leads and students.

LinkedIn is an essential advertising source for any higher education marketer looking to position their program brand in front of potential students. There is a perception that LinkedIn is composed solely of business professionals, but we have found this inaccurate and have produced great results for both our business and non-business focused programs. While cost-per-clicks (CPCs) can be higher in LinkedIn when compared to Facebook or the Google Display Network, traffic relevancy and quality also tends to be higher, which helps to keep your conversion rates to lead high.

There are two different types of advertising options: sidebar ads and sponsored content. Sponsored Ads will take up more real estate on the page and will generally have a higher click-thru-rate (CTR) than sidebar ads. If you have a large and broad audience segment, then sidebar ads can be effective at limiting irrelevant clicks. LinkedIn’s real strengths are in its ability to hone in on potential students through its targeting parameters. Here are five different ways in which you can target potential students using LinkedIn’s preset parameters, starting with the most effective:

  1. Job Titles – Simple and straightforward, LinkedIn provides job title groupings that position it as superior to Facebook when it comes to targeting individuals based on their job titles. This was a very smart move by LinkedIn, as Facebook’s job title targeting has become a jumbled mess composed of “Likes” and random titles. For any job titles that aren’t large enough to warrant their own grouping, LinkedIn will simply group them together with other similar titles in a logical way. While cost-per-clicks (CPCs) can be high, the conversion rate to lead of this traffic can be at 15% or higher, which quickly makes up for the higher click costs.
  2. Field of Study/Degree – A new addition to LinkedIn advertising, Field of Study/Degree targeting is similar to job title targeting in its simplicity and effectiveness. When targeting individuals, it is important to know what they studied in their undergrad, as this insight can greatly affect your messaging when positioning your graduate program. For example, if you wanted to market a master’s in health informatics to an audience segment who had graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, providing copy and imagery that speaks to how a nurse can benefit from an informatics education, while still utilizing their nursing skills, can be very powerful.
  3. Skills – This targeting option is unique to LinkedIn and can be very effective for honing in on potential student personas who might be challenging to target through jobs or degrees. For example, if you have a master’s degree focused on something like leadership, then it can be hard to understand whom to target as a broad array of people could be interested in a leadership degree. Through skills targeting, you can focus on individuals who have skills in executive leadership, or org. leadership/development.
  4. Groups – Targeting individuals who are part of relevant groups or associations can be a nice complement to the prior three targeting options. These can also be powerful for targeting individuals who are part of more niche industries, such as individuals who work with technologies that might not be mainstream. For example, if you were marketing a program that targeted web analysts, then targeting all of the various groups and associations relating to web analytics can be effective.
  5. Company + Industry – LinkedIn has put together broad industry categories that are less targeted but still effective. There are broad categories, such as accounting, that can be very effective for marketing a master’s degree in accounting but not very effective for more niche programs such as medical laboratory science or business analytics. Cost-per-lead (CPL) tends to be higher when utilizing this targeting option as relevancy is lower.

While we always recommend a diversified approach to marketing your program, LinkedIn is a platform that I would dedicate at least 30% of your budget. Coupled with an effective landing page, LinkedIn can be relied upon as a good source of mid-priced but high quality leads for an array of graduate programs.

Robert LeeRobert Lee is the CEO of Circa Interactive. He offers a decade of demonstrated search engine marketing expertise, working as an analyst, team lead and manager. Before founding Circa Interactive, Robert worked with higher education marketer Embanet

PPC in Higher Education: The Potential Benefits of Pinterest & Promoted Pins

At the beginning of 2015, Pinterest made their promoted pins accessible to all advertisers, and now digital marketers are scrambling to figure out the benefits this service can provide to their clients. Like we have seen with suggested posts on Facebook, Promoted Pins are a pay-per click form of advertising, and with the introduction of this feature, Pinterest is poised to unlock the doors to a new frontier within one of the most used social platforms. But is this enticing offer ready to stand up to the needs of higher education marketers?

The potential benefits seem vast when one considers the massive audience that Pinterest has accrued, but the platform has yet to display that it can compete with the complex targeting capabilities of competitors like Facebook or LinkedIn ads. Nate Elliott, Vice President & Principal Analyst at Forrester Research, recently published an article on Forbes.com (read “The Pinterest Conundrum“) stating that: “Marketers can’t tap into most of Pinterest’s fantastic user data … Pinterest’s marketing value lies more in the future than in the present.”

I’m inclined to agree. Without a niche target audience, how can you have faith that your promoted pins will reach your desired demographic? From a pay-per-click (and budget-balancing) perspective, there is a lot of non-relevant traffic and, even worse, the prospect of wasted spend. Here are some similar responses from Twitter:


Although promoted pins have been shown to yield an increase in both impressions as well as traffic, neither of these promising metrics can guarantee the conversion rate implicit of a viable marketing strategy…yet. That’s why, in an effort to bring to fruition their continued rise in the paid social sphere, Pinterest has recently acquired the ad tech startup Kosei, a data firm which specializes in data science and recommendation engines.

So far I’ve come across nothing quite newsworthy on what specific targeting features are on the brink for Pinterest Ads, but Twitter is alight with references to the recent acquisition of Kosei, and promises of a bright future are in the wake of Promoted Pins’ woeful introduction.

While we await these enhanced targeting features, higher education marketers should not forget that Pinterest can be an outstanding tool for humanizing higher education to prospective students. In one of my favorite articles I came across during my research for Pinterest’s potential for Higher Education (“Why Pinterest in Higher Education Can Work“), Sheri Lehman writes: “I like to think of it as a retention tool, not a recruitment tool.”

For the time being, my recommendation is to use Pinterest itself (minus the ads) to work toward establishing a relatable online presence and to wait and see what promoted pins have to offer next. Promoted Pins still have an enormous amount of room to grow in order to merit significant investment, but I will continue to provide updates as we see these enhanced targeting features take shape.

Andrew is an analytics and paid search expert that researches, plans, and manages Circa Interactive‘s client PPC campaigns. He is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and is both Google Adwords and Analytics Certified. 

Circa Interactive is the premier digital marketing agency in higher education. Since opening in 2009, Circa Interactive has helped more than 60 university programs increase lead flow, build brand awareness, and generate more students. By combining creative and analytical solutions, Circa Interactive provides services in SEO, paid search, digital PR, content marketing, social media, and analytics. 
For more information, visit www.circainteractiveseo.com. (Circa Interactive: Generate. Search. Convert.)