How PPC, SEO & Retargeting Capture Students

Think back to the time when you applied for college. You probably didn’t have the luxury of hopping online, researching programs that fit your criteria and then submitting an application online. Nope. It’s very possible that the Internet wasn’t even around when you applied for college! But today’s college-bound students have it much different. From the convenience of their computer or tablet, they can fulfill the entire college process without leaving home. If you’re not there to show off your school and meet student demands, you won’t get very far. You need to keep up.

This is where tools like PPC, SEO and retargeting come in handy. Yes, we know they can be difficult to understand, but they are actually here to help you, not confuse you. Let’s discuss how things like PPC and retargeting fit into your online marketing strategy and how you should be using them to capture students and turn visitors into qualified leads for your higher institution!

Bid on the Right Keywords

Education is something that is needed to thrive in the real world. You can just imagine how many people search for education terms like “business degree” or “nursing program.” This is what makes keywords expensive. With demand comes competition, and you’ll pay a pretty penny to rank for these keywords.

A recent Wordstream study showed that MBA-related keywords are some of the highest priced keywords in the industry, costing around $60 a click. If you’re going to spend this kind of money, you want to make sure it’s worth it.

The best approach is to focus on the audience that you’re most likely to gain a profit from. Some schools have admitted that the obvious high school graduate isn’t the best persona to market to. These students tend to have information being delivered directly to them, and they research schools that friends, parents or counselors have recommended. Adults returning to school, however, often start the research phase online, having no idea where to begin.

Focus on Your Specific Degree Programs

Another way to improve search marketing for your higher institution is to structure your PPC ads around the degree programs you offer. Rather than wasting money on generic terms like “bachelor’s degree” or “MBA program,” be specific. Users won’t be searching for these basic terms anyway. They’ll be looking for specific areas of study such as “bachelor’s degree in nursing.”

A nursing campaign may also contain ad groups such as “nursing program” or “pediatrics nursing program.” Each ad group should then have a small set of keywords that relate to that theme, with corresponding ads and landing pages.

Reach Users at the Top of the Funnel

It’s important that you cater your PPC strategy to people at the top of the funnel, which is done through keyword bidding, ad copy and landing page strategy. Top-of-the-funnel marketing is designed to bring people to your website, whereas the middle of the funnel is for nurturing leads and the bottom of the funnel is for making a sale. Some of the best ways to cater to this audience is by being active on social media, providing quality content and practicing good PPC and SEO to show up in the search results.

Knowing where your audience is in the funnel also keeps your expectations realistic. For instance, users at the top of the funnel probably won’t be willing to fill out a long form. They’re just warming up to you, so it’s smart to keep their interactions simple. As they move down the funnel, however, you can request a bit more on their part, such as subscribing to your email or downloading an ebook.

Still, just because a person is interested in your school doesn’t mean that you can throw a lot at them. People get scared off easily, so it’s best to ask for only what’s necessary such as a name, email address and area of study.

Follow the Best Practices for SEO

PPC is just one branch of SEO, so be sure to keep the other practices in mind as well. For instance, there’s no excuse not to have a mobile-friendly website at this point in the game. A large chunk of traffic comes from mobile devices, so you want to make sure that you are offering these users a pleasant experience.

Pull up your college website on your tablet or smartphone and move through the pages. How does the site feel? Is it smooth and easy to follow, or is it clunky and slow to load? Are you having to do a lot of zooming or squinting? Or does the text show up beautifully and is comfortable to read? Anything that can be done to improve the mobile experience – DO IT!

Not only should your website look and feel great on mobile devices, but also the content should be optimized for mobile users. This means quick, direct copy, appropriate ad extensions and forms that are easy to fill out. Your website should be an extension of your digital footprint, so don’t forget to align it with your social media profiles. All content should have social sharing buttons as well.

Retarget Prospects

Choosing a college is not like buying a waffle iron. It’s one of the biggest investments that people make in their lifetime. Selecting a college takes time, which is why retargeting is an important tool for higher ed marketing. A prospect who visits your website may take months or even years to convert. If you don’t retarget them, they may forget about your school and move onto another.

Retargeting keeps track of the people who visit your website but don’t convert, which will be the vast majority of visitors. As they go about their research and visit other schools, they will be shown ads from your school. Basically, anywhere they go online, your school will be there.

While you may think that this could be a bit annoying, retargeting has high success rates. You’re not forcing anyone to click on your ads. They’re simply put there to gain traction and recognition, and prospects can come back to your school whenever they’re ready. Consider it the right ads, shown at the right time, to the right people. Plus, you can segment your audiences so that the ads are tailored to each group and contain an appropriate CTA.


Now that it’s 2016, it’s time to refresh your higher ed search marketing strategy so that you can be one step ahead of your competitors. With the right balance of PPC, SEO and retargeting, you can successfully capture students and be in a position to work with a qualified group of prospects that will enhance and enrich your school.