Was the internet around when you applied for college? Don’t worry. You don’t have to answer that one aloud.

Even if the internet was available, it definitely wasn’t where it is today. Students still needed to look through magazines and books to research colleges and determine which ones were the right fit.

Today’s students have it much easier. All they have to do is type in something like “liberal arts colleges near me” and they’re presented with pages of helpful results. While this is certainly advantageous to the college research phase, it can make things more overwhelming.

To narrow down their results, students will search for more targeted keywords such as “liberal arts colleges with financial aid” or “nursing program near me.” This way, they can weed out some of the schools that won’t be a good fit and focus on the ones that have what they want.

Targeted searches are also beneficial for colleges and universities because they align them with the right students. If your school offers a strong nursing program, you’re going to want to attract students interested in this career path over those interested in engineering, right?

What makes this all work – students and colleges connecting with each on the internet – is PPC.

With fall approaching faster than we would probably like, we thought it would useful to do a refresher on education PPC. A few changes to your pay per click campaign can have a significant impact on the students you reach.

Keywords Don’t Come Cheap

Few things are inexpensive these days, and that counts for keywords. It’s hard to believe that higher education institutions will pay thousands of dollars just to rank for a keyword, but that just goes to show what good placement can do for an institution’s bottom line.

When it comes to the education sector, the field is quite vast. You may not know how to narrow down your keywords, but trust me, you’re going to want to. Because education is a universal desire, people from all ends of the earth search for education-related terms.

In one WordStream study, it was found that MBA-related keywords ranked as the 8th highest costing category of keywords in Bing. Searches such as “best MBA program” and “MBA in marketing” can cost as much as $60 a click. If you’re going to be paying anything close to that, you better make sure that your investment is worth it.

So how can you ensure that what you do bid on keywords is going to bring you the targeted traffic you want? We discuss this in the sections below.

Recognize the Full Cycle

Choosing a college is not like choosing a pair of jeans. This is one decision that takes a very long time to make and is heavily influenced by peers, parents and guidance counselors. You probably remember your own experience and how Dad wanted you to pursue a Big Ten school, Mom wanted you staying close to home and your friends wanted you rushing for the same fraternity.

With this in mind, you must understand that being #1 in the SERPs isn’t a golden ticket to qualified applicants. There are many influences that prospects are going to have throughout their journey, and some of their “criteria” may not be something that you want your school to be known for (i.e., best party school).

While search is certainly an important consideration, do remember that reputation, positive press, local events and brand ambassadors (alumni) can also help spread the word.

Know Google’s Best Practices

As little as 5 years ago, you could put just about any keyword that you wanted to in your content and see improved rankings for it. Today, this is not the case. If you aren’t familiar with Google’s best practices, now is the time to educate yourself. If Google thinks that you are trying to be manipulative, you can be penalized and hurt your search rankings.

For example, Google no longer allows colleges and universities to use employment-related keywords because it doesn’t want to mislead students thinking that a degree program comes with guaranteed employment. Therefore, using a lot of job-related lingo in your content can get you into trouble these days, so know your stuff.

Bid Smart

When making bids on keywords, many PPC experts will tell you to bid on your branded terms. In the education sector, things are a little different.

Bidding on branded terms can help you dominate the SERPs, but when you have current students and staff using Google to get to your site, you’re going to end up paying for clicks that have already converted. You don’t need to waste your ad dollars here, so avoid bidding on branded keywords.

Focus on Your Target Student

What type of prospective student do you think is the most likely to be interested in your program? The more specific you can be, the better you can target your ads to connect with the right prospects.

Interestingly, many colleges and universities choose not to market to the typical high school senior. These students are typically doing general research at this point, and so branded searches are more common. Many higher education institutions find that their PPC campaigns are much more effective when they focus on a specific group such as continuing education students who are looking for very specific degree programs.

It’s also worth pointing out that your messaging is probably going to be very different when speaking to a high school senior vs a continuing ed student. Younger students are interested in campus life, the surrounding community and having fun, while older students are more interested in completing a degree quickly and economically.

Advertise Specific Programs

Another helpful piece of advice is to focus on specific programs rather than general keywords. Most prospects are not searching for broad terms like “bachelor’s degree,” so you don’t want to waste any money on unspecific keywords. Instead, focus on the programs you offer that may be drawing your target audience in such as “nursing program.”

Within your campaign, you can add specific ad groups such as “pediatrics nursing program” or “hospice nurse.” Each ad group can then have a certain number of keywords related to that theme, as well as matching landing pages.


August is one of the highest traffic months for higher education institutions. Whether it’s parents looking at schools for their children or prospective college students conducting their own research, everyone has education on their minds. By planning ahead for a competitive PPC strategy and bidding on the right keywords, you can be front and center when your target audience starts their search.