Targeting technology is advancing every day, and there are many platforms, tools and applications available to advertisers to help reach their target audience in the smartest way possible. But none of that matters if your ad messaging isn’t speaking to your audience effectively.
Education marketers have multiple target audiences and demographics to speak to – from prospective students and their parents, to prospective Nursing students and future MBAs, to full-time undergrads and part-time post-grads.
Reaching them is now easier, but connecting with them is what can make or break a successful campaign.
Getting Your Message Right
It’s no surprise that ad messaging is a key factor in a successful digital marketing campaign. Our team has done extensive work testing various types of messaging in the education space. We have developed best practices that we start with when taking over an education client from another agency or starting new campaigns in an existing account. This is a cumulation of our work in education over our 13-year existence, and is a living, breathing practice with the many continued advancements in digital marketing.
Here are six tips for making sure you are getting your school’s messaging right:
1. Avoid “Too Good To Be True” Advertising
One of the first things we tend to find as we take over an account is what we call “too good to be true” ad copy. An example is a school that offers many different types of bachelor’s degrees but only one or two master’s degrees, but their ad copy within general campaigns – targeting people searching for local schools perhaps – mention their “extensive” bachelor and master degree offerings. The school may be deeming this successful due to a high click-through rate (CTR), but it most likely has a low conversion rate. This also equates to a high overall cost and a high cost-per-lead (CPL). This is due to many unqualified clicks from those interested in master’s degree options the school is advertising but doesn’t actually offer.
Our approach is to be clear in the ad messaging and highlight bachelor’s degrees and the 1-2 master’s degrees, ultimately eliminating clicks from those looking for master’s degrees which aren’t offered. This approach will result in a lower click-through rate, but also a higher conversion rate at a lower cost. We can reallocate that budget to other areas that are successful and need more dollars.
Similar results occur when schools talk about offering a variety of online programs, when they offer just a few. Again, we can deter unqualified clicks by tweaking the ad messaging or adding a variety of extensions to highlight the online programs in a way to attract the right potential student.
2. Leverage Ad Extensions for Promotional Messaging
Promotional messaging in education may mean something a little different than when talking about it in retail, but the same concept on strategically supporting “promotions” applies across both verticals.
Promotions come and go, but your evergreen ad copy is your bread and butter. It’s common and logical to think that updating the headline and descriptions in paid search ad copy would be the most effective strategy to support promotions, because it’s putting the messaging in a more dominant position. But through testing, we’ve found that is typically not the case.
For example, for a college or university, an application deadline would be considered a promotion because it’s changing frequently throughout the quarter and is used to drive urgency. Now imagine that a post-graduate student searches for “mba program” and our ad comes up with a headline saying “Application deadline is 3 days away.” If that user is just starting their post-grad research journey, they’re not ready to commit, and now they’re potentially even discouraged because they may have to wait another 6 months. So they don’t click through to read more information on how application deadlines occur say every 2 months.
While that application deadline messaging works for some, it doesn’t work for all. It can not only deter people from clicking to learn more, but frequently updating ad copy can have a negative effect on your key metrics. It impacts quality score, which can impact CPCs and CTR.
We had a client who ran frequent promotions and often wanted us to support these promotions with new ad copy. We suggested running A/B testing of Promo vs. Non-Promo messaging, and proved the Promo ad copy had an 11% lower CTR than Non-Promo, and its average CPC was 41% higher.
For this reason, we recommend including promotional messaging in either ad extensions or sitelinks, which still allows us to feature messaging, but in a complimentary way that won’t impact ad history.
3. Use Variations of Program Names in Ad Copy
Students often know what general topic they want to study, but not where they want to study. They are very brand agnostic. We say “general topic” because they know the topic, but may not know the exact name of your school’s program. Your degree may be called a Bachelor of Arts in English Writing, but students may search for “writing degree”, “creative writing degree” or simply “English degree”. While advertising to the exact program name is important, we also suggest using variations in the descriptions or in other ad extensions in order to not detract searchers using different language for your program. We often see click-through rates and conversion rates increase by a few percentage points when this tactic is used.
4. Implement Dynamic Deadline Messaging
Creating a sense of urgency as a messaging tactic is universally successful across verticals, channels and media. Education is no exception.
Enrolling and applying to college can be a very emotional process, and for prospective students (and parents), keeping track of dates and deadlines can be overwhelming. For undergrads, missing an application deadline can mean that you’re wait-listed for a semester and sometimes even a year. For post-grads, missing an application deadline may mean they miss out on tuition reimbursement from their employer. Deadlines matter!
Messaging deadlines in a dynamic way is an effective tactic in driving inquiries, applications and enrollments. Implementing countdown ads not only resonates with the prospective student and/or parent by driving urgency, but it also creates a connection and trust with the school because it’s taking the time to update and tailor their messaging.
5. Don’t Ignore Parents in Ad Copy
Colleges and universities often make the terrible mistake of ignoring parents in ad messaging. Consider these stats from a recent survey by Discover Card:
- Nearly 88% of parents reported being either somewhat or very involved in their child’s college search
- Parents are willing to pay a premium for their child to earn a degree, but 74% of parents said they worried about having enough money to cover it
- This is probably why 41% of parents plan to limit their child’s college choices based on price – School type and location affect cost, and 60% of parents feel that public universities and community colleges are good ways to save money on college
- In addition, parents want the college to be a good fit (78%) and a safe environment (75%)
Using ad messaging to highlight differentiators in cost (financial aid, scholarships), campus safety records, activities, events and graduation rates may attract the largest influencers of potential college students – their parents.
6. Personalize Your Ads
Audience lists are increasingly important for marketers, allowing them to build lists of users bucketed by website history, interests, demographics, etc. We mentioned earlier that targeting technology is evolving every day and allowing advertisers to target even more effectively. Most people are now familiar with remarketing lists, which we absolutely utilize. But new technology now allows us to use the combination of these curated audience lists and use if-then messaging directly with already existing campaigns to produce feed-based messaging. This lets us serve personalized ads, directly relevant to the searcher, their interests, and where they are in the funnel.
For example, if we have a prospect search “ABC University”, but based on our list data, we already know that they’ve submitted an inquiry, we can serve them an application-focused ad rather than an inquiry-focused ad, since they’ve already inquired. We’re speaking to them based on where they’re at in the funnel. We’ve been able to utilize tactics like RLSA previously for this, but now we can do it in a more advanced way, without any additional budget and without new campaigns to support.
Education marketers today have many advanced options in targeting their audiences and successfully connecting with them. Getting your message right will ensure all of your other tactics are more successful. At Lever Interactive, we believe that presenting the right message to the right audience at the right time will make a significant difference in your digital marketing success as an education marketer.
If you’re interested in learning more about how we can help you specifically, please contact us.