How Higher Education Can Adapt Digital Marketing Approaches

How Higher Education Can Adapt Digital Marketing Approaches

Marketing

COVID-19 has affected businesses across every vertical in different ways. Some are finding it nearly impossible to keep up with the demand for staple goods such as toilet paper and health-related products such as hand sanitizers and face masks. Others, ranging from hotels to restaurants, are struggling to find ways to keep employees on the payroll. The higher education industry is being affected as well. Let’s take a closer look based on our observations and client work.

Challenges for Higher Education

This pandemic has created several challenges for the higher education industry – some for which many were prepared for, and others which have left colleges and universities scrambling to adapt. Many of our higher education clients have robust online class offerings. In fact, many offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees that are 100 percent online. Those clients have experienced minimal disruption to their class schedules.

With that said, when we dig deeper into the data and examine marketing trends closely, we see some revealing details, such as:

  • When it comes graduate-level healthcare related degrees, we have seen a steep drop in overall demand (impressions and clicks are down significantly in Google) as well as a reduction in the number of people completing lead forms seeking more information about a degree program. These results are not surprising. We have all witnessed the heroic efforts of our healthcare workers over the past weeks, devoting countless hours to the point of exhaustion. They understandably need to put the rest of their lives on hold.
  • Conversely, we have seen a 5 percent lift in conversion rates from February to April for master’s in education programs offered by our higher education clients. Those programs are for people who possess education degrees and are looking to earn an advanced degree such as a master’s in education or a master’s in early childhood education. As K-12 classrooms around the country have turned to an abbreviated school day utilizing virtual learning, teachers are reclaiming a few extra hours of their day, and appear to be spending time looking for opportunities to further their own education and advance their careers.

Because of the vast difference in conversion rates between higher education degree programs, it is important to tailor your marketing approach. Now may be a great time to ramp up pay-per-click (PPC) spend for graduate-level teaching degrees, while pulling back on PPC spend for healthcare degrees.

Why Higher Education Needs to Stay Engaged Online

Although higher education is in a unique position with many already offering online learning prior to the pandemic, clearly there is still much disruption in campus programs. Colleges are struggling to complete the 2019-20 year in a virtual format. Many are offering pass/fail options versus a standard letter grade. There are virtual graduation ceremonies in the works,  and some are choosing to delay graduation until a later date in hopes there can be an in-person ceremony.

And a bigger question looms: will campuses will open on schedule this fall, and if they do, how many students will feel comfortable returning? This USA Today article speaks to the conflict being reported widely throughout the news media: students and their parents are going to be tempted take the 2020-21 school year off rather than return to an online format, especially if colleges and universities charge normal tuition rates for an online experience.

In this uncertain climate, all higher education providers must use digital to stay closely connected to current and prospective students as well as their parents. Doing so is especially important now as colleges and universities try to attract students to an experience that is radically different than the one that students signed up for. Right now, many schools are wisely investing more dollars in social platforms to keep students in isolation engaged during the 2019-20 year. They will need to do even more as the uncertain 2020-21 year approaches.

Be Ready to Pivot

Amid uncertainty, we are sure to see online learning play an even bigger role in higher education. Colleges and universities need to be ready to tackle the challenge. Competition is already strong resulting in high cost-per-clicks (CPCs). Currently we have seen CPCs range as high as $90 or more. As more and more colleges enter the online market, we should expect to see those CPCs increase further, and smaller colleges with limited budgets may be forced out by bigger players.

Contact True Interactive

It will become increasingly important to take full advantage of targeting options including geographic, household income, age, and interests to help make the most of your advertising dollars. The one-size-fits-all approach will quickly lead to failure. At True Interactive, we have extensive experience in the higher education field. We are happy to review your current marketing plan and work with you to ensure you are on the path to success. Contact us to get started.

Photo by Matt Ragland on Unsplash

Tips for Promoting Higher Education on Instagram

Tips for Promoting Higher Education on Instagram

Marketing

Some recently published statistics demonstrate the rising influence of Instagram. For instance:

These statistics are surely music to the ears of higher education institutions looking to reach their target markets.  Most colleges have Instagram accounts, which help them gain an organic following with visual content. In addition, Instagram offers a paid ad format to target people based on a number of factors, such as whether someone has shown previous interest in a school through a website visit. With Instagram advertising, institutes of higher learning can also target an audience based on interests, behaviors, age, gender, and education level as well as a variety of other socio-economic factors.  Let’s take a closer look at Instagram advertising.

Available Formats

There are currently four available ad formats:

  • Photo ads (Single photos available in square or landscape format).
  • Video ads (Up to 60 seconds in length).
  • Carousel ads (users can swipe to view additional photos or videos).
  • Stories ads (complement your feed content with ads on Instagram Stories).

Canvas ads (A full-screen ad experience) are currently available in Facebook and should be offered in Instagram in the future.

Instagram continues to revise its targeting options. We recommend ongoing testing of audience performance as a best practice.

Advertising Tips

While it is important that the ads/videos used on Instagram remain generally consistent with the design and feel of other marketing campaigns to maintain brand identity, keep in mind that Instagram is a social platform. So tailor your ads to align with the more laid back lifestyle feel of Instagram. Be sure to include a logo. And use images that are interesting and visually appealing, as many users view Instagram as an inspirational platform.

Instagram can be an effective outlet for showcasing the best features of your institution to potential students.  Well-conceived imagery can help students easily visualize what it would be like to attend your place of learning. Here are some tips for getting the most out of Instagram ads:

  • Promote your faculty by using images along with a personal quote or an endorsement from a current student. If a quote is pulled from a relevant article, it can be linked through the post itself or via the Instagram bio.
  • Feature campus sponsored-activities throughout the year – for example, images from move-in day, picnics, concerts, prominent speakers.
  • Highlight your campus community by including promotions about clubs, intramural sports, Greek life, and so forth.
  • Reach out to sports enthusiasts with ads promoting your various collegiate teams and information about upcoming games or highlights from key wins.
  • Consider testing a story ad that follows a day in the life of a current student to profile the student experience.
  • Put the beauty of your campus on full display through a video or series of images. Highlight those features that would be most appealing to potential students – high-tech classrooms; well-appointed dorms; favorite gathering areas such as the student union and campus quad; or a sports arena that’s filled with students supporting school teams.

The key to successfully engaging with a target audience is to help them envision themselves being a part of your school, whether it’s sitting in a classroom, walking across the quad, cheering in the stands at a sporting event, or being a part of a fraternity or sorority. And, don’t forget to include a call to action button in your ads such as “Learn More,” or “Contact Us” to ease the communication process.  A picture is worth a thousand words — so incorporate Instagram and create a visual marketing punch. Contact True Interactive for more insight into using Instagram to reach your audience.

 

Use Social Media to Promote Unusual Higher Education Degrees

Use Social Media to Promote Unusual Higher Education Degrees

Marketing

What do game design, soil conservation, and theme park engineering have in common? They’re all among the top-paying non-traditional degrees available to college students. But my guess is that many potential students are not even aware that those degrees are offered, which means an institution of higher education will have little success promoting those programs through paid search. Creating keywords for more obscure degrees will fail to drive volume because potential students don’t even know to look for those topics. So how does an .EDU let students know about untraditional degrees offered?

You can find the answer the next time you take public transportation or find yourself in a public space among a crowd of young people. Stop and look around. Notice how many students are glued to their electronic devices scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, and Snapchat, or listening to their favorite music on Spotify or Pandora. These social platforms are where you need to introduce your offering to your potential audience.

Now imagine displaying a colorful, eye-catching ad for a degree in game design on a platform such as Facebook, YouTube, or Instagram — or running an audio spot highlighting your school and programs on Spotify or Pandora. You’ve created awareness in a more effective way than paid search could for a lesser-known degree. And with the relatively low cost of many of these social platforms, you can be pretty efficient with your spend.

As advertising on social platforms continues to grow, so do the features offered on those platforms. In many cases you can target age, gender, income, education, and location as well as more advanced options such as behaviors or intents, interests, travel preferences, app usage, and so on. Testing different targeting methods will help you hone in on the right demographic for your marketing goals and should help boost demand in the paid search channel as well. If you are looking to connect with the college-aged demographic, it’s time plug into social.

You also might want to consider social advertising as a way to complement a paid search campaign for better-known degrees, too. Doing so will increase your chances to reaching students who are unsure about their education goals and need a little prompting to consider something you offer that might benefit them. After all, not everyone lives out our simple kindergarten dreams to be a firefighter or an actor. Sometimes, students need a little help. And social platforms are the places for colleges and universities to do just that.

Image source: Vadim Sherbakov (https://stocksnap.io/author/9)

 

Are Bid Tools Pulling Their Weight in Higher Education?

Are Bid Tools Pulling Their Weight in Higher Education?

Search

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?

Wrong.

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 (mark@trueinteractive.com) to share your insights.

Lead image source: Dave Meier (https://stocksnap.io/author/480)