Why do you (and your higher education marketing agency) still need to seek direct relationships with publishers?


By: Christopher Tashjian Sep 14, 2017

The short answer is: you’re going to beat your competition to high intent prospects that you won’t find on the “traditional” ad networks like Google, Bing, and Facebook. Approaching publishers that attract your audience is easy and can be very rewarding towards your enrollment efforts. Say you have a degree program in a relatively niche market like Aviation, Special Education, Turf Management, or Unmanned Systems. It’s as easy as finding their rate card or contact info and introducing yourself to get started. Be sure to ask and also do your own research on the sources and types of traffic they attract. Following that, all that needs to be done is negotiating your rates, timing, and putting together good creative like banners and landing pages. Finding the publishers in your space can be a fun learning process. Just hop on Google and search for your top performing keywords; focus on sites that are getting the most traffic. Alternatively, reach out to your program directors, deans or other subject matter experts to find out what blogs and forums they frequent. It’s always a good plan to involve the future professors of your prospective students. On each site, you should be able to find a rate card or contact form toward the bottom of the page. Simply reach out stating that you are trying to grow the interest in your school and degree. 99% of the time, the publisher will be eager to help since they are also interested in the subject at hand. As always, negotiate the pricing and format to fit your marketing strategy. Now, why should you go through this effort putting resources towards this often-overlooked channel in higher education marketing and media buying?

Here are my top 3 reasons:

1) Stay ahead of your competition on search and social networks by hedging your budget against risk media on CPC or CPM channels like Google and Facebook. (Don’t forget all of the pay per lead channels that you should also investigate to build out your marketing portfolio!) Hedging your risk against competition and runaway click bids is always a smart idea as you will never pay more than the original agreed upon rate. Assuming your research is good and you are targeting the right audience, even zero inquiries can rollover into some branding value depending on the amount of traffic the publisher receives. In the case of most one-off, targeted display buys, you pay a flat monthly fee to deliver your ads across the publisher’s site network. The cost is generally based on traffic, site rank, and competition. You can pay per ad unit, buy multiple ad placements, do a full site takeover, and just about anything else in between that you and the publisher agree on.

Once, you agree upon the costs and begin displaying ads, every inquiry from here on serves to blend down your cost per lead. For example, you land on an $800 per month rate, 10 prospects on the month ends up being an $80 CPL. If you get a high traffic month and end up at 20 leads it quickly drops down to a $40 cost per inquiry. For highly competitive or niche graduate programs where the average paid search cost per lead is in the $250+ range, these display inquiries will assist in blending down your marketing mix. 2) Niche markets and degree programs is where this channel and effort really pays off. Every prospective student knows how to search Google to find information on popular online MBA programs or RN to BSN programs (Download our Free eBook on how to beat out competition for these popular degrees). Now what happens when you launch an obscure (and awesome) program like a Master’s in Unmanned Systems? That’s essentially a drone technology degree minus the flying of drones that focuses on agriculture, construction, government, real estate and tourism applications. Our challenge was finding users with the right intent across all of our networks. What do people search for? Do people know this degree even exists? How much are we paying for leads that come in that don’t really know the outcomes of the program? During the second and third quarter of 2017, we’ve spent about $4,100 in AdWords and Bing while bringing 31 leads for a very reasonable $132 cost per lead. During the same period we spent $4,750 on display ads and content promotions that converted 62 leads for a $76 CPL. Now, that’s all good to bring in efficient leads but what about the down funnel conversions like applications and enrollments? Paid search delivered 2 applications for a 6.5% app rate. Display usually converts at a lower rate, however the niche audience of this program allowed us to take advantage of scale while keeping a phenomenal 7.4% app rate.

In this specific case, the one to one blog publisher agreements really were the highlight of the campaign and provided us the scale necessary to get a fair number of applications. Even for your less niche programs, you can still take advantage of this channel to be seen where your competition is not.

3) Go viral! Publishers that have communities and forums allow for a viral or earned media affect. As you’d expect, a lot of these blogs and forums are built around communities that have a shared interest in your subject or group of subjects. Most of the blogs will also have their own social media presence to disseminate content on their sites. These are great for giving you added exposure at no incremental cost. Visitors will share and discuss your programs with other members that they think may find it interesting or helpful. This can also have a negative affect though so make sure your information is reliable and applicable to those that you are presenting it too. As you go through this process of seeking out publishers in your space and launching campaigns with them, you’ll be able to fine tune your marketing strategy. Does certain creative provide a higher conversion rate? Are specific ad placements clicked on more often? Do certain traffic sources provide more engaged prospects than others? Your ability to collect the data and put resources towards optimizing these campaigns is what is going make the difference in running a successful campaign. Do you have any specific questions or ideas to run by our team here at EducationDynamics? Feel free to reach out at anytime. * EducationDynamics Clicks Marketing is a high enrolling marketing product that displays targeted brand and program level ads across our network of properties.