Should campuses add to or expand their paid interactive ads online?

Michael Lofstead

October 23, 2013

Even if you are unfamiliar with the term “paid interactive advertising,” you have almost certainly encountered this type of advertising online. Two of the most common forms are sponsored Google AdWords ads that appear at the top or right of Google search results, and the ads on Facebook that run along the right column or in your news feed. Paid interactive ads are growing in popularity, and for good reason, as they provide a highly targeted and cost-effective way to generate awareness and trackable leads. I often recommend them to campuses as a way to attract prospective students and bump an institution into view for key SEO terms and the school’s name.

More often than one may think, I encounter resistance to recommendations to invest in paid interactive advertising from campus members who are incredulous that anyone would click on such an ad. There seems to be a universal dubiousness from that one person in the room who believes, because he or she would never click on such an ad, no one else would either.

However, recent data on prospective students tell us otherwise. In the 2013 E-Expectations Report , 30 percent of the respondents said they had clicked on an online ad for a college.

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(Download the full 2013 E-Expectations Report)

Notice that half of those who clicked on an ad did so while searching in Google. Google AdWords may also become more important in light of Google making all searches secure. Campuses will no longer be able to see the search terms that are bringing students to their Web site, but those data will remain available for Google AdWords searches—but only for those campuses that leverage AdWords in their marketing tool kit.

Paid interactive ads can not only help campuses generate leads for key search terms, but their highly visible placement can raise awareness about a campus, specific academic programs, or other key factors that could lead to a student enrolling. They can often be especially effective for colleges and universities because they do not have as much search overlap as businesses in other industries may have, and campuses can often get a lot of advertising impact for a modest investment.

If you are not currently using paid interactive ads, I highly recommend looking into them. If you are, be sure that you combine your placement with strong landing page strategies so that you can continue to engage students after they have clicked on your ads. Content-matched ads and landing pages—matching the ad’s offer very closely with the content found on the landing page—are essential for any contemporary paid interactive marketing approach. Long gone are the days when an ad click could safely lead a respondent to an institution’s home page or the start page for one of its colleges and have any chance of being effective for lead generation.

Please feel free to send me any questions you have about using paid interactive advertising for student recruitment, or leave a question in the comments below.

2013 Marketing and Student Recruitment Practices Benchmark Report

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