Your 6 Tips to Excelling at PPC for Higher Education

Doug Education Post
Doug Chang
May 17, 2016

Think back to when you were first applying for college.  Chances are, you extensively researched schools that you were interested in, narrowed down that list to a couple schools, and only after months of research did you decide on a school. You probably weren’t Googling “schools near me” or “top 10 universities.”

Enter 2016. Your college application days are probably long past and the Internet has made the gap between educators and students smaller than ever before. With the Internet revolution, education institutions can reach their prospective students much faster. If you need more convincing as to why it’s time to go digital in your higher education marketing, read this.

However, institutions looking to advertise in search engines need to be cognizant of where they are in the funnel and how they can best market to potential students. It’s important to realize that the conversion funnel for education can be quite long and requires high investment.

Of course, digital marketing plays a bigger role in education than most people think. Educators need to make a solid impression online in order to attract as many potential students to their website.


Your 6 tips to acing PPC for education

Instead of treating PPC as a solution to all of your enrollment needs, treat it as a lead generating source that helps you get prospective students into your funnel. To help you navigate the world of PPC, here are six tips to manage your campaigns.


1) Cater to your target audience

Despite the large volume of education-related searches out there, only 20% become conversions and an even lower percentage of those conversions become students. Like I mentioned, it’s a long, long conversion funnel.

People searching generic terms like “coding school” or “master’s program online” are just entering the customer funnel, but it’s vital to ensure that you can cater to those individuals.

Simplify the initial entry into your conversion funnel.  Make sure you have a compelling ad with a strong call-to-action, get their contact information in a simple landing page form, and don’t bombard them with information until they are deeper in the conversion funnel.

This way, you’ll have all the information you need to reach out to them again when they’re closer to choosing a school—and you won’t be a pest.

2) Identify and leverage your geographic location 

Whether you’re an online programming school, a visual arts college that offers programs in different states, or a state university that has just one location, your location(s) matter for how you move ahead in a PPC strategy.

Let’s use an example. Suppose you’re a commuter trade school with no on-campus housing. You’ll want to target students who live within a certain radius. That way, only individuals who are in the vicinity and can make a daily commute to the campus will see your ads.

AdWords has radius targeting features, so it’s easy to bid up by distance and see how conversion rates differ by varying distances. No matter what your institution’s unique location situation is, there’s a way to make sure that your paid strategy leverages it.


3) Budget appropriately

Keep seasonality in mind. After all, people aren’t going to be searching for schools all year round, so adjust ad scheduling according to what makes sense for you.

Typically, August and January tend to be the two biggest enrollment periods and experience some of the highest web traffic. Make sure your budget reflects your enrollment periods, application periods, and more.


4) Take the time to structure campaigns and target specific keywords

As with every PPC account, it’s always a good rule of thumb to make sure that you structure your campaigns to match the programs you offer. It will make writing ad copy and optimizing the account much easier.

As for keywords, keep in mind that education keywords are going to be expensive since everyone is targeting similar things.

Using specific keywords when possible and including negative keywords into ad groups helps. Also, more descriptive phrases are usually cheaper than broad terms and have higher search intent, so individuals looking for those search queries may be more likely to convert. Additionally, bidding on branded terms can help raise brand awareness.


5) Take advantage of remarketing

There is a psychological phenomenon called the “mere exposure effect” where people tend to develop a preference for things simply due to the fact that they are more familiar with them.

Since it’s proven in science, why not take advantage of the phenomenon with remarketing? People tend to research education options extensively before a final decision. Frequent remarketing ensures individuals won’t forget your name.  

By using remarketing lists for search ads (RLSA) as well as remarketing for display, your brand can reach the people who are familiar with your name but are still shopping around. Make your brand more familiar—and the mere exposure effect could help them prefer your institution.


6) Use ad extensions

Filling up ad real estate can sway decision makers one way or another. Ad extensions can provide way more information to viewers.

Use sitelinks to highlight various course offerings; add a phone number so people can call for more information; incorporate reviews that share positive feedback about the institution. With these extensions, your ad is able to convey a lot more than just your brand and a brief call-to-action. Why not take advantage of them?


Let’s be honest. PPC for the education industry is one of the most competitive markets in the current search landscape. There can be sharp drop offs at every stage of the conversion funnel, so it’s especially important to manage expectations and be patient.

However, if done well, paid search can be a valuable lead source for any education institution. Just look at the case studies for the New York Code + Design Academy and the Columbia School of Social Work. Not to brag or anything, but our team has experience with paid search for education. Learn more about our services here.

Have any tips you’d like to share? Did you use Google to help find a school? Teach us by tweeting us at @Perfect_Search.   

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