How PPC Helps Higher Ed Rank

With so much content being published online, colleges and universities are finding it harder to stand out and get their content into the right hands. By using pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, higher education can target potential students who are actively searching for certain keywords such as “psychology bachelor’s degree program”. PPC can also help push content to the top of the page for keywords that are not ranking organically.

Happily, colleges and universities are having luck with PPC on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and even LinkedIn. However, there are certain components that need to be included to make the most of the ad model. Assuming that your college isn’t made of money, we suggest maximizing your impact using the following strategies.

Improved Targeting

Ad platforms conveniently include many targeting features that allow you to reach specific groups of students that match your ideal audience. For instance, if you want to attract older students who are pursuing a master’s degree, you don’t need to show your ads to students interested in a bachelor’s program. With targeting options that include things like location, age, gender, interests and behavior, you can maximize your reach.

What’s the best way to do this?

Start by determining who your audience is for each paid search campaign. Properly test and set your match types (exact, broad and phrase). Also make sure you are bidding on the most relevant and targeted keywords. This way, you’re not bidding on high-competition keywords that are more expensive and less targeted. Also refrain from bidding on competitor keywords since they usually don’t convert, especially if you’ll be bidding against stronger universities.

Better Ad Content

Once your campaigns are properly set up, you can start building your ad groups and writing compelling content for them. This content is intended to create interest and get your prospects to visit your page. With Google’s ad preview tool, you can perform a search for the keywords that you’re bidding on and see what types of keywords your competitors are using. You can then build a strategy for how you plan to stand out against your competitors. What unique offerings does your institutions have? What makes your school distinct? Maybe you have a strong program for international students or freeze tuition for 2 years.

Also make sure that your ad copy is written for your audience. Generic copy that can be written to anyone won’t help prospects feel connected to your school. Instead, draw students in by showing them that you understand their journey. For example, if it’s older students you’re trying to reach, assure them that you’re programs are flexible and can be pursued even with a full-time job and family.

Easy Conversions

When you have a prospect who lands on your ad, what do you want them to do? Convert of course! To help nudge them along, make it easy for them to inquire about your school. If you ask too many questions or have lengthy form fields to fill out, it’s likely that they will be intimidated and close out of the page. Instead, keep your landing pages simple and include a direct CTA.

In most cases, all you need to provide a lead with more information about your college or university is an email address. It’s okay to ask for a name and area of study so you can better personalize your emails and send program-specific information. It’s also okay to sweeten the deal by offering something in exchange for their email, such as a program brochure or infographic.

Seasonal Campaigns

One of the easiest ways to keep your marketing strategies fresh is by levering the seasons. For instance, leading up to the admissions season, offer valuable content such as tips for selecting a college or questions to ask on a school tour. During break times, provide students with entertaining blog posts about how to survive living at home or ideas for part-time work. In the early spring, dish out a financial aid checklist. This keeps your content fresh, relevant and meaningful for your audience.

Remember that your seasonal campaigns, if you choose to do them, shouldn’t be limited to a couple of ads for specific items of content. It also needs to embrace the overall efforts of blogging, social posting and email marketing.

Tracking and Reporting

Even the best structured campaigns can fail if they aren’t properly monitored and adjusted. Some marketers automate their ads, which only ends up leading to increased costs, decreased impact and limited performance. Though automation can be good for some things, you shouldn’t leave your campaigns to manage themselves. They need to be tracked daily to be successful.

Some of the things to look for include which keywords are triggering your ads, number of conversions and the landing page that your leads are coming from. This information helps with real-time choices that will make the most of your ads, drive more conversions and increase engagement.

Smart Budgeting

You can only budget accordingly if you track your data and metrics. This way, you can determine where you should be investing your money and where you shouldn’t. If you see that one ad performs well in terms of reach, clicks and conversions compared to another, you’ll know which ad is deserving of your budget. You’ll also want to consider where your competitors are spending money so that your budget remains competitive.


Capturing students has some element of trial and error. You need to show your audience ads that you think they will like and act on. Some will be successful, some will not. When you identify which ads are generating interest, you can put more of your ad budget into them and successfully reach qualified prospects. In the meantime, work diligently to ensure that you’re using the right keywords to drive conversions and engagement. PPC can be tricky to understand, but it works, so don’t get discouraged or give up.