Lead Generation

Should I Use My Marketing Budget to Buy Leads from Education Portals or Directories?

By April 25, 2013 No Comments

One of the toughest questions to answer when marketers search for places to invest their degree program budgets is whether or not leads should be purchased directly from aggregators. This is a very hard question to answer, and our response tends to differ from client to client.
Well, What is an Education Portal/Directory/Lead Aggregator/Affiliate/etc.?
First off, I have found that everyone calls them something different, but they all in essence serve the same purpose (generate degree leads). The major players in the market are eLearners, GradSchools.com, CollegeDegrees.com, OnlineSchools, and many more. These sites differ from some of the other major brands in the higher education market (phoenix.edu, snhu.edu, kaplan.edu) in that they sell the leads they generate rather than market degree programs to them directly. The main negative aspect to these organizations is that lead quality can fluctuate and sometimes individuals will request information from more than one school at one time.
Where Do Their Leads Come From?
I spent a few years with a large organization that helped universities market their degree programs, and it was surprising to hear that most people didn’t actually understand how these lead portals worked. They were just viewed as companies that we would give money to who would then turn around and provide us with leads. As long as they kept selling us leads, and the quality was alright, we kept paying them.
The first way in which these organizations generate traffic and leads is through SEO or some other type of paid Internet marketing. Each organization works a little differently, with some relying totally on SEO, some on paid, and some on a blend. One thing to keep in mind is that these organizations have to be selling these leads for more than they are paying to generate them, which sometimes totally eliminates paid advertising from the equation. Many of these websites are also 10+ years old with extremely high domain authorities and strong backlink profiles- which means as long as their on-page SEO is good they should naturally rank for a large number of keywords. Here is what shows up for the keyword “online schools”:
online schools
….a blend of aggregators and for-profit schools dominate the results.
The second way they generate traffic and leads is through the use of affiliates or third party websites. They approach webmasters who own domains that rank well for certain keywords and either offer to purchase the domains or request that the webmasters act as affiliates through the introduction of feeds and links on their domains. This is an example of a site that works with eLearners: http://mswonlineprograms.org/ – see the links and lead form that directs the user to a subdomain off of eLearners.com.
As you can see, these aggregators generally let a user select what programs they want to “Request Information” from, but certain universities tend to be listed higher than others and sometimes an individual will be driven directly to a specific program. On the third party websites, the webmaster gets to select what university they want to show up top. On the lead provider websites, the provider lists the program based off of some combination of program demand and revenue generated per lead.
The good thing is that the lead that is generated has requested information specifically from your university, not just information on general masters in social work programs . They are already most likely familiar with your brand and program, which is definitely a good thing.
One of the downsides to purchasing leads through these aggregators is that once an individual has requested information from one organization, they are enticed to check out others. So sometimes a user will request Information from multiple universities at the same time, which obviously decreases the value of the lead.
How Much Do These Leads Cost?
Well they can fluctuate wildly based on demand. If you are in the Online MBA space, then look for a lead to cost well over a $100 a pop, as these tend to be the most coveted. For programs that aren’t as competitive, I have seen leads cost as little as $30, but I’m sure obscure programs can go even lower than that.
The Catch-22
So here is the predicament:

  1. My program needs leads otherwise it’s not going to be able to produce enough students to be successful
  2. While leads from these aggregators are expensive, and so-so quality, we don’t have the expertise in-house to generate higher quality leads at a cheaper rate
  3. But…. if I purchase leads from these aggregators they are going to turn around and reinvest that money into strengthening their own sites, making it harder for me to get my own program to rank organically while also driving up the cost of paid advertising

So Should I Purchase Leads from These Organizations?
Generally it doesn’t make sense for universities to invest a large amount of their marketing budget on purchasing leads from these aggregators unless they absolutely have to. In the long run, it is much cheaper to either hire an internal employee who can implement Internet marketing campaigns for you or hire an outside consultant. There are major differences between hiring a consultant and an internal employee, and both have their unique benefits, but either way you go, its still cheaper in the long run than relying solely on vendor leads.
While you should not rely heavily on vendor leads, they can be a good addition to your program lead mix. A few vendor leads to help you achieve your monthly lead goal can also be good for your programs brand, especially when utilized as part of a broad marketing strategy. Most individuals generally need to experience a brand a few different times before making a buying decision (these are called touch points). So for example a user might be driven to your landing page through a Google search, but not convert. Then they could complete a few more searches and see your brand on one of these aggregator sites, but still not convert. Finally they could run into a remarketing ad introducing a new cool offer from your brand in which they finally decide to pull the trigger.
One other benefit to working with vendor leads is you only generally pay for what you buy, so you can flip them on during months that you really want to push lead flow, and take them down during months that you might have a lower budget.
Whether or not you rely heavily on these leads, you should still complete an analysis after you have a large enough sample size to figure out if they are worth the investment. Cost of the lead divided by the conversion rate to student will give you the cost per enrollment….Are you paying more to enroll these students then the revenue you are generating from them? You would be surprised how many marketers will pay astronomical amounts of money for junk leads just to hit a lead goal rather than actually taking a step back and figuring out what’s best for their organization/school.
Each organization is going to have a different experience with vendor leads, and they can be a good moderate addition to any lead generation strategy. While the cost and quality of these leads can vary, each vendor is a little different. It’s worth testing vendors to figure out which, if any, of these vendors can produce a quality lead at a fair price that’s going to help you achieve your programs goals.

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