Higher education student enrollments

Geo-targeting Essentials for Higher Education Paid Search

by Colleen Keilers –

The cost of higher education paid search has gone up. Google reports CPCs have risen 16% across the category (Q4 2014). The market is only getting more competitive. So how do institutions compete with flat or lower advertising budgets as prices climb? One essential step is customized geo-targeting definitions and geo-targeting techniques to connect with your most crucial audience – those most likely to end up in your classrooms.

Sync the Data

Start with CRM data on where current students live by state, city and zip code. Dig into the cross-sections: Can you find a radius for your target area? Is it different by degree or program? For schools with multiple campuses, does it differ by campus? Next, translate how these insights work in paid search, and customize an online geo-targeting strategy for your institution. Explore integrations between your CRM and bid management tool. Salesforce has turn-key connections already built out with many of the top tools. Turn on connectivity between enrollment data and your campaigns to open up the testing possibilities.

Location, Location, Location

Geographic insights on the ground aren’t slam dunk translations into geo-targeting online, because IP addresses often don’t match someone’s home address. People conduct searches outside of their homes. However, the rise of mobile means online geo-targeting is directed more and more by GPS rather than IP addresses.

geo-targeting radius circlesFor professional schools or city colleges, the most important eyeballs tend to be people who live closest to school campuses. Graduate programs typically reach city-wide or regionally. Four-year colleges and universities can cast a net regionally or nationally. On top of defining your online geographic boundaries, strong results can be achieved by layering bid increase radii on top of your geo-targeting, centering on your core location(s).

Test bidding up on three different radii – for example, 5 miles, 25 miles, and 50 miles – with the center of the radius being a city center or campus location. The campus location is especially convenient if your Google Places account is linked to Adwords. For graduate or professional schools, strong results have been achieved by testing the following: set the bid modifier highest on the smallest radius, moderately high on the second-largest radius, and lowest on the largest radius of them all. The goal is to position your ad highest for searches closest to your school. Make sure your campaigns are segmented by brand and non-brand. Apply the three radii to all campaigns. Test for a full enrollment period before making decisions. Be sure that the ultimate measure of success is enrollments, and draw your insights for both brand and non-brand distinctly. People who are already looking for you convert at much different rates than those who are only looking for your general programs.

Location Keywords, Targeted Nationally

If you are an institution with a regional marketplace, test a campaign of geo-modified brand keywords targeting the entire nation vs. core brand keywords without any location modifiers targeting the territory of your current students. Again, judge the results based on enrollments, not leads. See who ends up traveling to visit the school and ultimately makes their career at your institution. Geo-modified keywords tend to have lower volume, but are more affordable at a national level.

Online Boundaries

Institutions are rolling out more and more programs online. As a result, the paid search marketplace for online education programs is costly. So how do you limit online boundaries to focus spend where people will convert? Targeting the entire US isn’t always realistic for the budgets. Start by geo-targeting the state where you have the strongest brand awareness. Modify all keywords with “online” for a distinct auction from your core account. To ensure that people searching on keywords without modifiers still have the option of looking into online programs, add sitelinks to your core campaigns that advertise the online programs and land on the online pages. This will allow you to talk to “core” program keywords at cheaper prices.

Getting Results

Customized geo-targeting will help your higher education institution increase enrollments without blowing your paid search budget. The key to developing a strategy that works for your individual school is testing. By utilizing the methods above, you’ll be well on your way to maximizing enrollments for your given budget.

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