Today’s students expect their educational institutions to match the digital experience they receive from other service providers. Meeting these expectations can mean achieving your student enrollment goals in record time. Not doing so, however, can result in fewer enrollments and an audience that’s less enthusiastic about your program.

Leverage Technology to Improve the Student Experience

Online media channels are a smorgasbord of opportunity for those correctly running paid advertising campaigns. Unfortunately, not all organizations do so. It’s one thing to pay for ads and another to analyze and use the lead data to optimize the campaigns.

To do so, there are three interlinking components you should focus on.

Website Forms

When you invest in paid advertising, it’s important to make sure the website forms you send leads to will encourage conversions. If you wouldn’t want to fill out the form, chances are, your leads won’t want to either. Pay particular attention to the length and layout of your form. Is it exhaustive and difficult or simple and intuitive to fill out? If it’s exhaustive, figure out which parts are performing and use that data to optimize the rest of the fields.

Once you’ve optimized the experience, your conversion rate will increase and more prospective students will begin filling out the form. Be sure to send your leads to the correct form and set expectations for what they will get out of it. Doing this will enable you to get accurate lead data from each form submission.

CRM Tracking

Another important aspect of your paid media advertising campaigns is your CRM tracking. Choosing the right CRM software for your campaign is critical if you want to make the smoothest possible connection between your paid advertisements, form submissions, and the admissions CRM. Make sure to consolidate your lead journey and stages under one roof using only one CRM. If you don’t, you will experience lead data inconsistency later in the funnel. Some institutions use one CRM for their lead nurturing and one CRM after leads submit their application. In this case, all the activities after application submission will be disconnected from the original paid campaign, making it very difficult to attribute the enrollments to a paid media campaign.

Lead and Campaign Tracking

The final component you should focus on when analyzing your lead data is your lead and campaign tracking. Make sure you correctly set up the UTM codes for each social channel you advertise on. You should also separate leads based on their application status and the specific campaign they’re brought in with. Doing this will help you understand what channel and what campaign is producing more applicants and students. You will also be better able to optimize your paid advertising campaigns moving forward.

70/20/10 PPC Budgeting

The next step toward achieving your student enrollment goals with paid media advertising is budgeting. Deciding how much to allocate for paid ads and which channels to focus the most effort on can be difficult, which is why we recommend considering the 70/20/10 budgeting rule. This isn’t a hard and fast rule that will work for every higher education institution; instead, it’s a guideline that can help you navigate your advertising budget now and in the future.


This section of the budgeting rule contains your sure bets that have proven successful in the past and are practically guaranteed to work. Often called your “evergreen campaigns”, these sure bets should always be running and should have clearly defined KPIs. Even if you know what your evergreen campaigns are, make sure you list them out so every dollar has a clear destination and an expected outcome.


Paid advertising campaigns that should receive 20% of your advertising budget are opportunities that are very likely to drive more student enrollments or leads. This portion of your budget can include anything from expanding search campaigns to expanding onto a new media platform. No matter what you choose to do, make sure to define a timeline, KPIs, and campaign specifics.


This final section of the 70/20/10 PPC budgeting rule should be made up of the “fun” campaigns that test out new ideas and strategies. The campaigns receiving this percentage of the budget have no guarantee of driving conversions, but it’s still important to set KPIs for determining whether they’re successful and worth bumping up to the 20% tier.

Google Ads

If you’re reading this, you’ve likely found our website through Google. After all, the answer to almost any question is now just a Google search away.

Google still generates the highest quality leads of any paid advertising platform, and your potential students are likely to use it to find their perfect school. You want your program to be the first (and best) they see when those Google SERPs pop up. To make that dream a reality, follow these steps.

Tag your URL with the appropriate utm code

It’s practically impossible to rank anywhere near the first page of Google if you can’t analyze your website and click data. UTM codes enable you to see what links you’re receiving the highest amount of traffic from and make changes to your ads based on that information. When making these changes, you should also pay special attention to the meta tags and meta descriptions on your website. This will demonstrate to Google that your brand is worthy of ranking.

Start with Local targeting (the closest to the school)

Since people who live near your school’s location more than likely already know about your brand, they are much more likely to convert into students. Name recognition is a big part of the conversion process.

Bid on branded keywords

When advertising on Google, it’s important to make sure you have a separate campaign and bid on all the branded keywords (School Name + Program) that correspond with your school. This is to ensure you receive top of the page ranking for the branded keywords, rather than a rival school or website that has nothing to do with your program.

Utilize ad extensions

Doing this will help you gain more real estate on the top of Google’s search page. Keep in mind, though, that adding extensions to your ads without rhyme or reason is guaranteed to reduce your CTR and negatively affect your bottom-line. If you use ad extensions correctly, though, you can expect massive increases in CTR. These can include anything from callout extensions to sitelink extensions. When you want to only link to a single landing page, you’ll want to use callouts, rather than sitelinks. Doing so will enable you to showcase value points and additional information about your program without having to link to anything other than your homepage.

Use Google’s Targeted CPA

Use this to control your Cost Per Lead (CPL). If you’d prefer to automate your Google advertising as much as possible (we recommend doing so), then Google’s Target CPA bidding is a must-have. With this tool, you set a cost-per-action (CPA) that you want to have for your campaigns. It will then automatically determine an optimal bid each time your ad is eligible to appear on a Google SERP. Although some bids will be more and some less than your target CPA, the average will generally match the limit you set.

Facebook Ads

When creating Facebook Ad campaigns, having a solid understanding of your target personas is critical. If you want to advertise successfully, you will need to create relevant personas to target.

If you’re struggling to develop a target persona, ask yourself what your current students look like, then create a list of your current students and build a lookalike audience to target with your ads. Individuals who are similar to your current student body are much more likely to enroll than those who have less in common.

If you already have personas in mind, target them individually and assign an appropriate budget for each campaign. You’ll also want to target each persona based on their interests, field of study, and current job title.

Once you’ve put together your personas and their corresponding campaigns, add an appropriate UTM code to the URLs. This will help you differentiate between ads when examining click data.

Your final step when putting together Facebook paid advertising campaigns should be to establish a retargeting campaign. You cannot rely on a single ad touch to always convert leads into students or form submissions. In fact, prospects often need multiple touchpoints to convert. This is where retargeting can have a huge impact on your bottom-line.

LinkedIn Ads

Our final recommendation for achieving your student enrollment goals with paid advertising is to invest in LinkedIn Ads. LinkedIn is a huge platform for anyone looking to get ahead professionally, and college students are no exception.

With LinkedIn Ads, you can create multiple types of campaigns, including website visits, text ads, and sponsor ads. Text ads are much cheaper than sponsor ads, and using them can help offset the higher CPC for sponsor ads.

When developing personas, you can target based on their job title, skills, field of study, and interests. Although you can’t target based on age, you can filter “years of experience” to ensure your ads are shown to the correct age group. And as with all the other paid advertising options, having proper UTM parameters on the URL is necessary for tracking.

Retargeting for LinkedIn can be done the same way as with Facebook, but you can also create an InMail campaign and retarget your landing page visitors through InMail messages. Remember the multiple touches we mentioned? These InMail messages help with that, while also providing a more “human” face to your higher education program.

Start Investing in PPC

No matter what media platforms you decide to do paid advertising on, it’s necessary to establish clear KPIs, detailed personas, unique UTM codes, and thoughtful retargeting campaigns. If you’re struggling with developing any of those, please contact us. We help higher education programs like you reach their enrollment goals every day, and we would be happy to do so for you.

About the Author
Farzin Espahani is the director of paid media at Circa Interactive with over 12 years of performance marketing experience. He is obsessed with data driven conversion rate optimization and a healthy balance between cost per lead and cost per enrolled student. He has been working on the media analysis and budget management for Tulane University, American University, Harvard Kennedy School, University of San Diego, University of Pennsylvania and LSU Online.

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