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PPC for higher education has become a standard means to attract and enroll new students. But with the cost of keywords continually escalating, it’s important to get every penny’s worth out of your investment dollars. You need to develop effective PPC tactics and execute a sound strategy that you will continually optimize for improved results. Whether you use search, display or social media advertising—or some combination of all three—will depend on your audience and goals. Who’s your target audience and what do you want them to do?

Choose Search Marketing First

For many industries, search is a critical component for bottom of the funnel conversions. Users who actively search on the internet have higher intent than those who catch a glimpse of ads as they scroll through their favorite news feed or social media site. And because they know what they want, when a company shows up for the keywords they search, those users are more likely to convert.

Higher education is different.

Search is what you want to use to interact with users as they begin to research where they might attend school. But whether it’s for a four-year program straight out of high school, certificate or career training, or an MBA, it’s unlikely that they’ll search, click, apply and enroll. That’s why your keywords should also focus on top-of-the-funnel. Answer their questions. Become an expert advisor as they search.

How to Make the Most of Search Advertising for Higher Education

Most clients understand that if they want to show up at the top of a search engine results page, they’ll need to pay heftily for the privilege. What they often don’t fully comprehend is that deep pockets alone won’t always garner a first-place ranking. Your quality score will determine where your ad ranks and how much you pay for it.
But whether your ads result in conversions has a lot to do with how you structure your accounts, choose keywords and target your audience. Here are some basics to consider:

Use Google Parameters to Target Search Campaigns

Although you can get granular in your targeting, because much of what you’ll see in Google data is in that “unknown” category, focus first on your search terms. Then target by geographical location and device.

Structure Campaigns Around Programs, Not Degrees

To attract an audience that will convert, you need to be as specific as possible. Don’t choose broad degree terms like associate, bachelor’s, or even MBA. They’ll cost you clicks and money without providing you a positive return on your investment.

Pick the Right Higher Education Keywords

There are several tools that can help you choose, add and refine your keywords. But start with personas to get into the minds of the people most likely to convert. Build from a base of logical words and be sure to add negative keywords.

Be Discerning with Your Copy

Because search ads are text only, every word counts if you want someone to click. And if you want them to actually convert on your landing page your ad needs to fully align with the copy there. Not only is this critical from a user experience perspective; it can also impact your quality score.

Pay Attention to Time and Results

Because it’s easy to blow through spend, make sure to think strategically. If initial results indicate that no one clicks over the weekend, pause the campaigns then. Especially in higher education, seasonality can create a boon or a bust. Spend when it makes the most sense to spend.

How to Do Display Ads for Higher Education

Display ads will reach a much broader audience and have the potential to generate more traffic than search. And because they combine visuals and text, they can be powerful branding tools. On the other hand, there are millions of ads on the internet. How will you stand out from the crowd and avoid being blocked?

If you want to engage with an audience that is interested in what you offer, build ads that follow a few best practices:

  • Pull Messaging from Successful Text Ads
  • Create Customized Images that Engage
  • Use Clear, Concise Copy with Compelling Headlines
  • Match Your Ad Messaging to Your Landing Page
  • Make Sure Your Ads Are Responsive
  • Create Three to Four Per Ad Group

PPC Targeting for Higher Education

Digital data abound. Take advantage of them. Use student personas to target by location, age, gender, device, affinities, intent and lookalikes. You can also allow Google to target for you based on contextual references garnered from your keywords. However, there are more than two million sites on the Google Display Network. If you want better results at an affordable spend, opt for managed placements and choose specific sites, videos and apps where you think your users go.

How to Leverage Social Media for Higher Education Marketing

Your future students are on social media. You should be too. But before you blanket every social media site out there with a one-size-fits-all campaign strategy, stop. You already know that the platforms have their own unique feel. LinkedIn is not Instagram and can’t be treated as such.

That said, here are some general rules you can apply across media:

Know and Obey the Search Marketing Rules

Each platform has its own rules about what and how you can advertise. For example, LinkedIn has a long list of what you can’t advertise. Tobacco, nope. Politics, nope. And if you want to advertise your fortune-telling prowess, you’ll need to find another social media outlet.

Stay Up to Date with Search Trends

Social media sites are constantly changing their rules. In an effort to revert back to its origins, Facebook places less value on pages and more on organic person-to-person interactions. Many advertisers struggling to attract that organic traffic are now turning to paid media, thus increasing the competition. Unless you stay current, you won’t know what works and what doesn’t—and what you may need to spend.

Build Great Content

Even if you have no dreams of going viral, every piece of content that you put on social media should be relevant, informative, engaging. It needs to grab the user’s attention in a way that is authentic. It should have variety in its style and format. An engagement image, a video, a link to a blog post. Whatever you promote should be part of a larger strategy but with the understanding that the small details matter.

Integrate Search Marketing with Social Media

Social media sites serve as valuable amplification tools for your content, your brand, and everything your school stands for. It should be integrated into all your marketing efforts.


Does all this PPC stuff sound a bit complicated? It is. But when you live and breathe it like we do at CloudControlMedia, it’s as routine as our daily ZOOM calls. Let us help you use PPC and all our digital marketing tools to find and enroll your future students.


~Linda Emma