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The Top 10 Ways to Generate Traffic and Leads for an Online Degree Program

By July 26, 2013 No Comments

The following top 10 list analyzes a variety of different ways to drive traffic and leads for an online degree program. The options were scored based on four different factors: cost, quality, volume, and ease of implementation. Every program is slightly different, and while this list is meant to be a general guideline for prioritizing traffic opportunities, some of these strategies might work better than others depending on your programs situation.

10. Traditional Advertising

Now it really is tough to put traditional advertising at #10 on this list, but if you are looking for an online program wouldn’t you expect to be marketed to via an online channel? I am not saying that traditional advertising (direct mail/magazine Ad) cannot work for an online program, especially if you are a larger brand. I have seen this type of advertising be successful as a touch point for brands and programs with very large budgets. But at the end of the day, the effectiveness of traditional advertising is extremely hard to measure and tends to be very expensive.
Cost: Generally High
Quality: Medium
Volume: Generally Low
Ease of Implementation: Medium

9. Social Media Campaign

Social Media is such a hot topic nowadays, how can it be so low on this list?? Well this list is focused on driving traffic and leads, which social media generally doesn’t do (unless you are using paid ads within social networks). Social Media is fantastic as a branding tool for a university or program, but is it going to directly generate leads? Unfortunately most of the time the answer is no. Social Media strategies and campaigns also tend to be pretty pricey, as large amounts of high quality content and different types of incentives have to be used to generate any type of user interaction. If you are a new program trying to drive revenue for your program, I recommend holding off on social media until you are more established.
Cost: Generally High
Quality: Low-Medium
Volume: Generally Low
Ease of Implementation: Low

7(tie). Email Buy

So tied at #7 on this list is the purchase or renting of a targeted email list. For some programs, highly targeted email buys can work extremely well. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of email blasts has slowly decreased over the last ten years or so, with lists becoming more spammed and less targeted. Individuals also do not trust email advertising like they used to, and many people utilize a totally different email account (which they rarely check) for any email lists and sign up opportunities. While some programs that offer highly specialized programs might find a golden opportunity through a targeted list, most online programs generally are going to invest a lot of money and receive a limited return.
Cost: Medium-High
Quality: Low-Medium (higher if more specialized)
Volume: Medium (but can wildly fluctuate depending on specialization and list quality)
Ease of Implementation: Medium-High

7(tie). Targeted Display (non CPC model)

So the reason targeted display that is sold on a non CPC model is at #7 is due to the risk involved with purchasing this type of online placement. You might put in some good time and find a site that seems to fit your programs target market, and pay a flat fee for a 3-month placement contract (guaranteeing a certain number of impressions) on that site, but receive next to nothing in return. That is why we recommend that generally if you are going to implement a display campaign you do so through a third party like Google Display or Doubleclick where you are in control if traffic is non-existant. Sometimes this advertising can work wonderfully, and you can drive a large amount of highly targeted traffic extremely cheaply, but generally if you are on a tight budget it’s a good idea to stay away.
Cost: Medium
Quality: Low-Medium (higher if specialized)
Volume: Medium (can fluctuate)
Ease of Implementation: Medium-High

6. Google Remarketing

Google Remarketing is a fantastic opportunity for programs to create customized lists of users that they can display targeted advertisements to. This is a great way to try and re-interest them in a program, especially if they originally arrived at an asset that wasn’t optimized for conversion. We have our own customized strategy for utilizing remarketing for our clients,  but every program should at least be building a list off of individuals who visit their homepage.
Cost: Low
Quality: Medium
Volume: Medium (can be higher depending on list size)
Ease of Implementation: Medium-High

5. Targeted Display: Google Display/Facebook Ads/LinkedIn Ads

Display advertising on a CPC model can be somewhat hit or miss, depending on a programs target audience. If you have a defined program audience, and have created different personas for this audience, then Facebook and LinkedIn are great avenues for hitting that market. The Google Display network is also massive, and if you put in the time to research different sites that offer advertising opportunities, you can experience extremely high ROI’s.
Cost: Low-Medium (you pay what you want)
Quality: Medium
Volume: Medium (you drive what you want)
Ease of Implementation: Medium-High

4. Google Adwords/Bing Ads Keyword Based Search

So most of the time, Google Adwords is extremely expensive, but it is by far the best place to find individuals who are interested in a degree program who might not be familiar with your brand. If someone is searching for an online MPA program, and you are marketing one, then what better way to drive targeted traffic than by having your brand show up at the top of the results. Bing also tends to be slightly less expensive then Google, and will not drive near the volume, but is a great complement and should be always be setup. One thing that is essential for the success of this traffic source is optimized landing pages.
Cost: Medium (bid on the long-tail, you pay for as many clicks as you want)
Quality: High
Volume: Medium (you drive what you want)
Ease of Implementation: Medium

3. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

The reason SEO comes in at #3 is because if you are able to get your program ranking high for a targeted keyword, you get all the benefits that Adwords offers except you don’t pay per click…. SEO is a no-brainer, but implementing a campaign around a highly competitive term can be very expensive. Finding a highly specialized firm of hiring an expert in the realm of SEO is mandatory if you are looking to succeed. The main benefit to SEO is while the costs up-front may be high, once you have attained a position you most likely are staying there for the long-term.
Cost: Medium-High
Quality: High
Volume: Medium-High (depending on the keywords you rank for)
Ease of Implementation: Low (you pretty much have to outsource)

2. Cultivate Your Existing Database

Wow this is at #2??? Well you would be surprised how many universities we work with who are sitting on a database of 100k potential students who never thought to let those individuals know that they are launching an online version of the program that they were originally interested in enrolling in on-campus. If you are about to launch an online program, why not let as many people know about it as possible, and drive the ones that are interested to a highly customized landing page that provides a unique offer to them. Politics can sometimes get in the way here, but at the end of the day this is a fantastic opportunity to quickly generate high quality leads.
Cost: Low
Quality: High
Volume: Medium (depending on your database)
Ease of Implementation: High

1. Redirect Internal Traffic

This somewhat piggy backs on #2, but why not target individuals who are already familiar with your brand, are looking at similar programs, and are ready to enroll now? If you offer an on-campus Masters in Computer Science, then why don’t you build a link from the on-campus page to the online page as an alternative? That is only the tip of the iceberg, get access to a universities analytics and use Google search operators to find what you are looking for.
Cost: Low
Quality: Very High
Volume: Medium-High
Ease of Implementation: High
The above list is vague for a reason; it is an overview of my organizations strategy for success when launching an online program. If you are interested in digging a little deeper, get in contact with us here.

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