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By Sam Silverman, Senior Account Manager

Marketing for your school is a lot like recruiting for a job. You’re not just trying to get potential candidates through the door. You want a real-life employee that fits with your company mission and culture. Likewise, in higher education marketing, you don’t just want to drive “leads” and “application submits.” You are looking for qualified applicants who will be accepted to your programs and reflect the successful student body that makes up your college brand.

But how can you find and effectively spend marketing budget on just these types of prospective students and not waste spend on leads that won’t convert?

Start with Paid Media Campaign Parameters

The first thing to do is to create a set of parameters based on your minimum criteria for acceptance to your programs. This makes sure everyone is on the same page as to what defines a “quality candidate.”

Let us say you are looking to enroll candidates to an online MBA program. You will need to choose parameters based on your institution and its unique MBA program, but you’ll also want to consider a few general criteria, such as:

  • Age
  • Years of Work Experience
  • Required Degree (Minimum Bachelor’s Degree)
  • Excluded Degrees (Overqualified Ph.D.)
  • Grade Point Average
  • Previous School Quality
  • Essay Quality
  • Letter of Recommendation

These are all potential criteria from which to find your quality applicants. However, you’ll also want to consider where you need to be restrictive and where you can be a little bit more flexible. How much control you have over this will depend on which marketing channels you utilize.

Where to Be Restrictive with Paid Media Campaigns

Any minimum requirement is a place to be restrictive. From the parameters list above, that would include conditions like:

  • Age
  • Years of Work Experience
  • Required degree (e.g. bachelor’s degree before graduate degree).
  • Overqualified people (CEOs, applicants who already have the degree, etc.)

But how can you include these restrictions in your campaign targeting? It depends on the channel. Let’s look at how this plays out in Google Ads, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

What Paid Media Channels to Utilize with Your Campaigns

Google Ads: You can set parameters for Google Ads based on age…. theoretically. However, a common misconception is that there is full demographic data available for everyone on Google just like LinkedIn and Facebook. This is not necessarily the case. You can say that you don’t want to send ads to 15-24-year-olds, but Google does not know everyone’s age accurately. If you put in this constraint, you may cut off a significant portion of your potential audience. So, while we know you do not want to target a 15-year-old kid, if your option is to have some unqualified candidates in the mix so you don’t miss out on potentially qualified candidates, it is best to choose the former.

Parameters like Years of Work Experience, Required Degree, and Overqualifications—these are all not typically requirements you want to put in Google Ads. These are much better explained through ad copy, landing pages, or even during the application process.

LinkedIn & Facebook: Facebook and LinkedIn are social media advertising channels that are built upon demographic data. Contrary to Google’s keyword and search strategy, these channels use campaign structure that is built around targeting for demographically relevant users.

So, can you use the required degree parameters for LinkedIn and Facebook, right?

Yes and no. Again, the answer is technically yes, but with several caveats.

Facebook users are not always known to give full, up-to-date, accurate personal information on the site. For example, if users do not include their high school, then the Facebook algorithm assumes they don’t have a high school diploma. Depending on users’ publicly available information and privacy settings, accuracy can vary wildly.

On the other hand, LinkedIn users are much more heavily incentivized to have accurate, relevant personal and career information since the site functions as a place to build a professional network. Degrees on LinkedIn are usually relatively accurate. You may choose degree here as to restrict and qualify your audience. That said, sometimes a better way to target than by degree is with “years of work experience.” This allows you to make sure the person has been working for 2-12 years before applying to your graduate school.

So, even if these are great potential ways to qualify students, it’s still channel-dependent on how they can be effectively implemented.

Where Not to Be Restrictive with Paid Media Campaigns

If minimum restrictions are tricky on Paid Media channels, that means that other parameters are even more difficult to incorporate.

  • Application Quality
  • Grade Point Average
  • Letter of Recommendation Quality
  • …anything you have wiggle room on

These are not targeting parameters you can choose on any major marketing channel, but they are certainly considerations for your internal team and should be communicated throughout other parts of the funnel.

You can use landing page to stress the requirements of your program and preferred qualities of applicants. This helps students self-select before filling in the request for information form on the page. Based on their actions—or inaction—your marketing channels will machine learn to find more users like those who convert. So, in a way, even putting these requirements on the landing page is improving your paid marketing channels efforts and efficiencies.

Importance of Paid Media Strategy

At the end of the day, it’s not possible to only market to perfectly qualified candidates with your Paid Media team. However, you should always be striving toward bringing in as many “qualified leads” as possible.

The best thing to do is make both your school and your agency as aware as possible about the program requirements and attributes of your ideal candidate. From there, appropriate learnings and parameters can be put into individual marketing channels that will work together with the down funnel processes of Admissions, culminating in the best crop of students your program can have.


If you’d like to learn more about the paid media strategies that help schools find students who start at click and stay to graduation, contact the search marketing experts at Cloud Control Media today.