The Essentials of Pay-Per-Click Marketing in Higher Ed – Part Five: Keep Your Eye on the Prize


By: Michael Flores Aug 04, 2017

If you’d like to learn more about how EducationDynamics manages our schools’ marketing campaigns, download the recent webinar Managing Your Digital Marketing Portfolio: Optimizing Your Marketing Mix for Enrollment Growth.

Our Pay Per Click Marketing five-part blog series distills the EducationDynamics approach to Paid Search. These are the practices that put us consistently #1 in Auction Insights for EDU. You might like some concepts and you may disagree with some. Either way, this overview will help demystify PPC for you, and aid in making better decisions with your media spend moving forward. To dig in deeper on each topic in our five sections you can download the full eBook: The Essentials of PPC Marketing in Higher Ed now!.

Part Five: Keep Your Eye on the Prize

To this point we’ve largely discussed “leads” and costs associated with the Search Engine Results Page. However, as per the first blog in this series, the ultimate goal is alignment of interests. That’s because your true business interest doesn’t lie in minimizing your leads cost. You are in business to maximize the number of students you cost effectively drive into classes via Google or other search engines. This final part seeks to synergize all this with that goal in mind. Let’s start with two KPIs you may know about:

  • Start Rate
  • Cost Per Start

You can replace “start” here with whatever your institution likes to track: applications, enrollments, or tuition. Starts are fairly common in their use and presuppose applications and enrollments, so that’s our example. Contrast these two funnel processes: If we’re getting a 1% clickthrough rate on 1,000,000 impressions, that means we’re generating 10,000 clicks. For our purposes, at $5 per click, all media costs are captured in the ensuing $50,000. Here we stipulate a 45% contact rate of all 600 leads. This assumes about 10% of the folks we contact apply, about half of those enroll, and half of the enrolled actually start. So the “start rate .05” is half of 13.5, not half of 600. The highlighted $50,000 (10,000 $5 clicks) represents all media costs. We’ve already paid our bills to Google at the click level before converting a single inquiry. So, what happens if we jazz up our lead form and upgrade a 6% conversion rate to a 25% conversion rate? We simply improved one process. And a 25% conversion rate from a landing page is aggressive, but achievable, by the way. Just this one tweak ripped our cost per start from almost $7,500 to under $2,000. Every time you reach a customer you have an opportunity to leverage your performance. Another way to look at these two data sets is for the same 1,000,000 impressions, you paid $83 per lead in the first case but only $20 per lead in the second case. Both cases assume a 2.25% Enrollment Rate, which is exceptional. But part of that assumes strong performance in the contact center. If you followed our 2017 Digital Marketing Trends eBook, you know 49-57% of students in 2016 enrolled at the first institution that contacted them. So, that 45% contact rate we quoted in both cases above is crucial to understand in context. It’s excellent to contact nearly half your potential prospects but speed is also a potential driver.

Complex Systems Can Yield Better Results

Creating a complex funnel with levers gives you the largest opportunities for excellence, performance, and success. We’ve already shown that levering up just one process can increase totals. That’s one reason Paid Search marketing can be so effective for EDU. Every keyword has its own economics. For instance, the auctions for online colleges are critically different from the auctions for grants for single moms. There are enrollments everywhere, but different keywords have different enrollment rates. One clear example is that lower performing keywords often have cheaper CPCs. We talked early on about buying “200 leads” from one partner or another. If your costs are fixed, you don’t have to worry about conversion rate. You also needn’t worry about variable CPCs because you’re not paying CPCs but for leads themselves. But you just get this one thing: a lead, along with less opportunity to improve your performance. The difference with Paid Search is that if you don’t like the enrollment rate of a keyword, whatever the cost, you can choose not to buy it. Or if there’s a high-performing keyword you can put more of your budget against it. That increases the CPCs to lever up your volume there. You can also build specific landing pages to drive up conversion, as in our example. Check out more illustrative examples of acquiring students—and not just leads—in PPC Marketing by downloading our full, free ebook here.