Are Bid Tools Pulling Their Weight in Higher Education?

Are Bid Tools Pulling Their Weight in Higher Education?


Advertisers in higher education spend a lot of money on paid search, and they want the best possible bid tools to drive leads and keep costs in check. But are advertisers in higher education getting their money’s worth with bid tools?

Branded keywords typically drive the most volume, and they’re usually pretty easy to manage. Put another way, staying in Position One in search results doesn’t take a lot of technology horsepower to accomplish. Now, if you are an advertiser in higher education, you typically buy a lot of degree-related keywords — both branded and non-branded, and both long- and short-tail. Naturally, you want to be able to set up some rules and let your bid tool do the work. Your bid tool is smarter than you — so you should turn it on and be amazed by the results, right?


Here’s the problem with bid management tools in the higher education space for a lot of advertisers: lack of volume (clicks and leads) on non-branded keywords, or even branded keywords combined with a degree type. Higher education isn’t retail, where the sheer volume and complexity of an account makes it a perfect fit for a bid management tool.

We find that up to 85 percent of your keywords don’t generate enough click volume in a week or in a month to justify adjusting your bids for non-branded keywords. Yes, you can set up click or lead thresholds and parameters to dictate when the bid management tool should adjust the bid. You can establish position rules as well. But the point is this: if the bid management tool doesn’t have enough click volume to make sound decisions, is it worth the monthly fee?

Furthermore, you know how expensive some of these cost per clicks are. If you advertise for an MBA program you know what I mean! What you don’t need is a bid tool moving you out of a Top Four position just because you didn’t get enough volume in a particular week.

So for higher education advertisers, bid tools may be ineffective because there isn’t enough volume in those keywords for bid tools to to use their algorithms to adjust bids. (The exception occurs with branded keywords and a handful of tried-and-true program/degree keywords.)

Is this the case for all .Edu advertisers? No. But my advice to higher education advertisers is to look carefully at what you’re spending on bid management tools and what you’re getting from them – especially when you get outside of top performers.

So what should you use to manage your keyword bidding? Search engines have come a long way with their (free) bidding capabilities, and my recommendation to several clients has been to start with the free bidding capabilities available from search engines such as Google and evaluate their performance after three months. We’ve used that approach and combined some scripts that we’ve created to eliminate not only cost, but also many of the headaches associated with plugging low-volume keywords into bid tools that need high volume to work well.

Meanwhile, feel free to contact me ( to share your insights.

Lead image source: Dave Meier (

Data for Marketers: 5 Must-Have Analytics KPIs for Paid Search


Numbers -keywordfirst-Numbers. They’re everywhere. And more than ever before, so-called softer disciplines like marketing are becoming more measurable and, simultaneously, more accountable to information sitting on a server 500 miles away. Oh, how the world has changed.

How did data become such a central player in the world of digital marketing? And what are the most important tools for marketers measuring paid-search campaigns?

Data for digital marketing success come from a variety of sources. ERP and CRM systems store essential sales-related data, helping companies understand their customers. Marketing automation platforms can offer a view into campaign performance for webinars, emails, digital downloads and the like. But in the niched world of paid-search advertising, one tool is a mainstay – web analytics.

Web analytics tools, such as Google Analytics, use tracking code to see a user’s activity across your site. This includes the pages visited (and the order of those pages), their session duration, form conversions and lots of other useful information. This data is of particular interest to paid-search managers, as often it is rolled up in the same suite of tools that they use to manage their campaigns.

Last post, I covered how this data contributes to a buyer’s journey. Now let’s delve into five must-know metrics for any digital marketer measuring the effectiveness of paid-search campaigns:

  • Bounce Rate – How do you know if your landing page is really relevant for the audiences that redirect there? One obvious metric is the bounce rate – the percentage of visitors that drop off the buyer path.
  • Session Duration – The length of time a user is on your site is a measure of how relevant and interesting your content is. The more minutes people are spending, the more likely it is that you’re attracting the right audience and your content is good.
  • Pages Visited – One useful way of seeing the customer conversion journey is through the pages they visit. Google offers a breakdown of the order of pages, but also a quick overview of the average number of pages visited.
  • Conversion Rate – Depending on what goals are set in the tool, conversion rates in your web analytics platform can measure the funnel for signing up for a demo, making a purchase or registering for an email newsletter. On a highly conversion-driven website, this may be the metric of note.
  • Cross-Platform Performance – With Google’s universal rollout of Universal Analytics last year, marketers have more robust device-specific information than before and can see when multiple devices are associated with the same user’s session. This allows marketers to customize their site for the way buyers are actually using it.

To get more ingrained into your web analytics, consider educating yourself with free material like Google’s Analytics Academy, which can help you design and implement the KPIs you need for ultimate paid search performance.

Analytics: The Key to Unlocking the Buyer Journey


Americans, on average, spend most of their waking hours in this activity; interacting with digital media. Entire libraries of books, music and movies are replaced with streaming subscription services. Even everyday activities like getting directions or finding recipes frequently are done online. But entertainment and navigation aren’t alone in reorganizing around the infrastructure of the Web. Nearly any decision to buy will start on the Internet.

It is estimated that two-thirds of any purchase decision is completed online. Today, more than ever, it is critical that the digital side of the buyer’s journey be optimized with timely, relevant messaging. To accomplish this, marketers turn increasingly to web analytics packages like Google Analytics.

Analytics platforms unearth insights in a customer’s path to purchase that would otherwise be hidden from view. They can help distinguish buyer profiles and assist in benchmarking for different audiences. They also help in optimizing landing pages, blog copy and page layouts to increase the likelihood a visitor will purchase and streamline the purchasing process.

Considering a buyer’s mind is more than halfway made up by the time they call a seller, leveraging the insights discovered using analytics is a must. Analytics put digital marketers in the driver’s seat for the online portion of a purchasing decision, delivering clues to a buyer’s intent and pointing to content that may satisfy a buyer’s requirements and interests.

Here are four helpful ways analytics packages assist in unlocking the buyer journey:

    • Deliver crucial insights – Marketers can have live data of how users are experiencing their sites. Bounces, pageviews, time per page and more give direction for site improvements.
    • Measure campaign effectiveness – Analytics tools can help marketers determine, in detail, the performance of their campaigns. As soon as traffic hits their site, they can see each step between the first click and the conversion.
    • Integrate with other tools – Beyond organic and paid traffic, analytics tools fuel insights for marketing automation platforms to track the success of emails, webinars and more.
    • Optimize the buyer journey Every step of the buying cycle can be examined in detail, helping digital marketers determine where they are winning or losing an audience and whether they are converting or deterring sales.

If you’re in the dark on your digital traffic, it’s easier than ever to get up to speed on analytics. Tools like Google’s Analytics Academy can help marketers of any skill level learn to use the platform and start tracking performance across their site.

Google Close Variant – A Match Made in Heaven?

Analytics Close Variant Matching

Puzzle_Piece_KWFLast post, we discussed how Google’s matchmaking algorithm Close Variant Matching (CVM) brings search terms and paid ads together at auction as applied to the Phrase Match and Exact Match categories. Recent changes to Google’s ad-serving policy have the digital marketing world asking – Is obligatory CVM a match made in heaven? Or will it end in heartbreak for paid search managers?

Before dissecting pros and cons of Google’s new policies, let’s examine how to capitalize on the latest shift in paid search. Here are a few key takeaways:

  1. Rethink your campaign structure – Is your campaign poised to profit from Close Variant Matching? If not, it’s time for a change. Start by measuring your campaign results and optimizing for CVM’s inclusion of atypical spellings and abbreviations. An aside – Think Google Quality Score when building campaigns, too.
  2. Check your work – and often – Running Search Query Reports (SQRs) frequently can help you stay abreast of performance. The new norm of paid search management is closer monitoring.
  3. Boost your top performers – Find your best key terms and re-add them as “Exact Match” keywords. This will boost traffic on your hottest terms.
  4. Yank irrelevant traffic – Adding negative keywords will sift out irrelevant phrases, minimizing spend for ill-fitting keywords and stimulating your paid search program.

What’s the Verdict?
Now for the debate: Does Google’s mandatory matchmaking policy help or hurt paid search marketers? While not all AdWord auctions are the pairing marketers would hope, the verdict may differ between campaigns.

Most simply won’t notice the change. Why is that? Well, CVM has been around since 2012 and was always the default selection in AdWords. Most marketers had no reason to avoid Close Variant Matching, since it pulled in even more potential eyes to view their content.

The pros? Close Variant Matching could lift campaigns honed on Gen Y searchers, whose abbreviations and SMS acronyms already are the stuff of legend. They are less likely to complete a word or phrase in a search bar versus older citizens of the Web.

Another factor – the speed of communication and commonality of analytics-backed search suggestions are so commonplace, many don’t take the time (or *gasp* may not know how) to spell the names of specialized products correctly. Rather than leaving these queries in ad-serving oblivion, Google’s latest stance on bidding for keywords ensures compatible searches are served relevant ads.

There is a downside to the change as well. With less control comes a greater potential for error. Sometimes a match may ring true to Google, but not represent a qualified lead for your business. The only way to mitigate the impact of this possibility is to monitor closely your paid search campaigns for leaky keyword results.

To dig a little deeper into Close Variant Matching and its implications for your paid search program, be sure to read our last post and check out our in-depth article in Social Media Monthly.

Matchmaker, Matchmaker – How Close Variant Matching Ends in Paid Search Bliss

Analytics Close Variant Matching

Pair_Aces_KWFAs February passes (along with another Valentine’s Day) and Spring approaches (when thoughts “turn to fancy” as the old saying goes), take a moment to consider the big business of matchmaking. Not the trifling $2-billion industry of online dating. No, let’s talk about a really big matchmaking industry, one that’s at least 15 times larger – paid search.

And in the business of paid search, the predominant matchmaker is Google, of course. The most popular search engine in the world by nearly 3 times its nearest rival, Google arguably is the most successful matchmaker of all times – That is, when it comes to bringing keywords and searches together.

But as many of us know, there’s more to a successful relationship than connecting similar parties. So, when it comes to matching buyers and sellers, Google’s algorithms take into account nuances of semantics to connect search queries and keywords at an AdWords Auction.

Here’s a primer covering the options Google offers marketers pursuing paid search campaigns:

  • The shotgun approach, Broad Match includes misspellings, abbreviations, stems, and related terms. It covers the gamut of potential customer searches.
  • If you select Phrase Match, only searches containing your specific phrase will show. No one will see your “gluten-free recipes” ad when searching “free recipes”.
  • If you’ve honed your keywords to perfection, Exact Match is your best bet. Use it when no other words will do.
  • Google lets you “subtract” keywords, too. Among other things, Negative Match can save you from advertising wedding rings to those seeking show times for “The Wedding Ringer”.

Introduced in 2012 and applying only to the Phrase Match and Exact Match categories, Google’s Close Variant Matching actually simplifies your paid search campaigns. Using fewer keywords, Close Variant Matching can rope in more search terms. By including errant, misspelled results into your campaign, impressions can increase 7% or more.

A good analogy for Close Variant Matching is autocorrect. By guessing sender intent, your cell phone makes hasty messages appear legible (and bad spellers, intelligent). In the same way, Google Close Variant Matching improves paid search results by guessing searcher intent.

The downside, you ask? Some might argue the algorithm also shares autocorrect’s downfall: lack of user control. While digital marketers could previously opt out of Close Variant Matching, Google made it mandatory last fall.

For a better play-by-play analysis, read our recently published article in Social Media Monthly. While you’re at it, watch for our next post tackling pros and cons of Google’s decision – Is Google really the matchmaker it claims to be?

3 Pivotal Reasons to Manage Your Google Quality Score

Quality Score Retail Analytics

Depositphotos_14004354_originalWell into the first quarter of 2015, the frenzy of the holidays is all but forgotten. Shoppers and retailers alike have returned to their normal routine. There is one lesson, however, that retailers shouldn’t forget from 2014. Shopping habits appear to be making a strong shift from the storefront to the World Wide Web.

While this past year’s in-store Black Friday numbers disappointed some analysts, online shoppers have spent more than $42 billion during the peak holiday season for an increase of 15% over the previous year.  A sea change in shopping behavior is afoot. Purchases are moving from brick-and-mortar stores to handheld devices, establishing the mobile browser as a crucial point-of-purchase front. This has digital marketing execs looking with fresh eyes at their paid search performance.

But what should they be examining? The answer is Google’s Quality Score. There’s a Quality Score for every keyword in a retailer’s AdWords account, and it estimates the quality of a retailer’s digital ads and landing pages triggered by that keyword. Having a high Quality Score means that Google’s systems think an ad and landing page are relevant and useful to searchers viewing the ad.

Google isn’t just looking at bid size when selecting keyword-specific ads. For the benefit of searchers and ad publishers, Google wants the highest quality ads to appear rather than high-paying, poorly targeted ads. That’s one reason relevance indicators such as Quality Score are pertinent to a great ad placement. These measures are critical to beating out thousands of similar bids for the choicest spots on Google.

Here are three reasons managing Quality Score should be a critical component of your paid search campaign:

  1. Make the Cut – As a baseline, Quality Score is one measure Google uses to get the most relevant content in front of searchers. A poor grade could mean fewer eyes see your ad. For cutthroat keywords, a low score could mean no one sees your ad at all. To justify your program, keeping your Quality Score above a minimum threshold is a must.
  2. Spend Less, Get Better Placements – Not only is Quality Score a benchmark for ad eligibility, but high scores slash CPC and first-page placement estimates. The thrifty can get more out of their digital marketing budget by improving the Quality Score of ad-related content. This is everything from the offer on your landing page to the ad copy itself. Every piece of the conversion puzzle is worth improving if you want to get the most out of paid search.
  3. Compete With Ease At an auction, the way Google assigns ads to a specific search, Quality Score is a key determining factor for which ads appear where on the page. Google tracks searcher behavior with every single query. If a curious searcher clicks on your ad and converts on your landing page, it weighs in your favor through the Quality Score Google assigns. The constant measurement means your score will change over time with searcher behavior. No passive paid search managers will attain first-rate ad placements on desirable keywords. The reward to the diligent, however, is better representation on Google than competitors.

As purchase behavior wanders deeper onto the web, marketers cannot afford to fall behind. If your digital marketing metrics need help, you are not alone. Many marketers are still relying on an outdated last-click attribution model. Many are spending, but not optimizing their paid search campaigns. Get on track and educate yourself by reading our Google Quality Score and attribution modeling methods blog posts.