If you’ve ever searched on Google (if you haven’t you must live under a rock), you would have noticed above and to the right of the search results, Google Ads. For years these have been a staple for businesses to promote their products and services.
Over the past couple years I’ve noticed that more and more higher education institutions using Google Ads to promote their academic programs. Why? Because they can work, if used correctly.
While this isn’t an exhaustive list of the factors contributing to the success or failure of a Google Adwords campaign, they are the key factors.
The primary targeting tool for Google Adwords are keywords. This is one reason why, in my opinion, Google Adwords are more effective than Facebook Ads. The audiences have already pre-qualified themselves for your message by searching for terms like “business degree”, “engineering education” “online MBA”, etc. But I digress. Ensuring you select keywords that target the right people looking for your products is critical.
Blanketing all related keywords or “spraying & praying” is a poor practice that may generate many clicks and easily spend your ad budget, but will not yield conversions or leads. At one point we used an external consultant to develop our Google Ads campaigns. They took the “spray & pray” approach with our keywords. For example, one of our academic programs is heavy equipment technician. Some of the keywords they targeted were “heavy equipment rentals” and “heavy equipment sales.” Shortly after, I removed all unrelated keywords and focused on keywords that included terms like “diploma”, “degree”, “certification”, “education”, etc. After revising all the keywords, we saw a 46% decrease in our ad spend and a 5% increase in lead generations.
There are three great ways to identify which keywords to target:
- Review your site search to see keywords visitors are using to find content on your web site.
- Use your web analytics software to identify keywords visitors use to find your web site organically through search engines.
- Use the Google Keywords Tool to identify potential keywords to target. This tool will make recommendations and indicate the global competition and monthly searches using that keyword phrase.
Casting your Google Adwords net wide through various targeting options may yield further reach, but may not generate leads. There are a number of targeting options:
- Geographic: you can specify your ads to only be displayed to visitors in specific geographic regions. Your ads can also appear to people who have expressed an interest in your geographic region by including geographic terms in their search. For example someone in Boston wouldn’t see your hotels ad if you were only targeting Anaheim. But if they searched “hotels in Anaheim” they could see the ad then.
- Device: you can limit your ad to appear on specific devices like desktop, tablet or mobile. If your landing page experience is not optimized for mobile users, consider excluding mobile devices from your campaign. This will increase your conversion rate and help you strategically spend your ad dollars.
3) Ad Copy
Your ad copy is very important. While targeting the right keywords will get your ad in front of prospective students, crafting the write ad copy will motivate them to investigate further and click the ad. Your ad copy, along with your keywords, have a direct influence on your clickthrough rate (CTR). That is the percentage of people who see the ad that actually click the link.
There are number of ad copy strategies that will improve the effectiveness of your ad:
- Call-to-action: invite your prospective student to take action through words like “Apply Now”, “Register Today.”
- Include keywords: every keyword you target has a quality score. The higher the score, the more often your ad appears and at a lower rate. Include your most important keyword(s) in your ad copy.
- Value proposition: differentiate your product or service from your competitors. Indicate your unique value to your prospective customer.
- Test, test, test: create 2-4 variations of your ad and then review performance. Some ads will perform better. You can then make the better performing ad the default ad.
4) Landing Page
All your effort so far can be easily wasted by directing your prospective students to a web page that is not optimized for lead generation. In some cases, the goal of the Google Adwords campaign may only be brand/product awareness. But without including a conversion (form completion, PDF download, etc.), the full benefit of Google Adwords can’t be realized and there is not an easy way to accurately measure success.
Most public institutions fail to understand the importance of an optimized landing page, resulting in minimal leads. Take for example the screenshot below. This is the web page that I was directed to from a Google Ad for Simon Fraser University’s Graduate Business Diploma. This web page is part of their main website and has all the main features include site search, primary/secondary menu links, etc. There are many opportunities for the prospective student to adjust their click-path and end up somewhere not intended and ultimately loose them. As well there is no clear call-to-action, no invitation.
An optimized landing page looks much different. In fact there is one clear purpose – to enter the prospective student into the sales funnel. That could be through a form completion, white paper download, etc. There are hundreds of articles that speak to strategies for effective landing pages. Here are some things to consider:
- Keep it simple. Avoid the clutter and distractions of your main web site.
- Include at least on call-to action. Make it easy and obvious what next step your prospective student should take.
- Use active language. Your page copy should be in the active voice, encourage participation and instill emotion.
- Provide a phone number. Not only does this instill trust by allowing the prospective student to talk to a “real” person if they want, but it also provides a way for them to reach out should they be having difficulties completing the form.
In the screenshot below, you can see a stark contrast between the SFU landing page and the landing page from Queen’s Executive MBA program. The landing page from Queens’s is simple, to the point and without distractions. It also has a very simple and obvious call-to-action and offers prospective students an opportunity to call directly. I’m not suggesting that this landing page is without fault, but the point is clear that it will perform better than the SFU landing page, if only for the fact that Queen’s can at least measure results. Which brings me to my bonus point.
Spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on Google Adwords a month cannot be maintained without demonstrating a return. There are three main of areas to measure with Google Adswords:
Impressions and clicks are easily tracked through the Google Adwords program, but to track conversions, you need to set up a goal in Google Analytics. If you are not tracking conversions with your Google Adwords campaigns, then you are wasting your money and have no way to connect your ad spend to any form of a return.
There are many other areas to measure in Google Adwords including keyword performance, ad performance, etc. But at a minimum, you need to be measuring conversions.