AdWords is a beast. Powerful, but if you don’t tame it, it will eat you.

“Competing colleges are advertising on Google, so we should, too.” is not a good motivation to start an AdWords campaign.

We’ve observed colleges spending thousands of dollars on Search Engine Marketing, without having a single enquiry to show for it.

That said, with the right strategy in place, search ads become a highly reliable and predictable source of new enquiries.

So, how do you tame the beast?

1. Start with a clear strategy

This should go deeper than looking at what other schools are doing with search advertising. You can always get people to click your ads, but will they further engage and consider to enroll? If you get clicks from the wrong people, 100% of that budget is wasted.

Here are some questions to ask:

  • Which students do we want to recruit?
  • Where are they located? What will they search for?
  • What’s most compelling about our programs for them? How can we make our programs even more compelling for them?
  • See here for more questions.

2. Plan a follow-up path

Generally, the goal of Search Engine Marketing campaigns is to build marketing lists. So the more people you get signed up to your list, the more successful the campaign is considered to be.

But that’s just an intermediate step.

Anyone who has clicked an ad and browsed your institution’s website is much more likely to sign up than your average person. Especially if they left their e-mail address. That warrants ensuring they get to see more of you over the weeks that follow their site website.

Most schools have invested in videos, student stories or blogs and are active on social media. And who doesn’t organise open days?

But for AdWords to drive actual applications, you need to make sure these resources are pushed out to these highly engaged prospects.

Here are a few ways this can be done:

E-mail updates: Any admission staff or anyone who has attended an education fair on behalf of your school will know some questions frequently asked by prospective students. Why not schedule a sequence of a few e-mails that go out, say:

  1. Immediately after a prospective student left their e-mail address
  2. A week later
  3. Three weeks after that
  4. Five weeks after that
  5. Any time 1-2 weeks before you have an event, such as a relevant open day

It’s imporant that these e-mails are to-the-point and answer one question that’s on the prospective student’s mind. Send e-mails to be helpful; not for the sake of sending e-mails.

Retargeting: Only a small percentage of prospective students actually leave their e-mail address. It doesn’t mean they’re not interested. They may just not be ready yet to leave their e-mail address.

But once they’ve landed on your website, you can show banners to them across the web and on Facebook. You can make video testimonials and stories about your current students show up in their Facebook feed and when they watch YouTube.

All of this with the goal to make the student more familiar with your institution and eventually move them to take the next step; e.g. coming to an open day, or leaving their e-mail address for further updates.

To do retargeting, you need to show the ads only to a relatively small audience, which has already expressed some interest. That means you can afford to show them a variety of content over time while keeping your investment in online advertising fairly low.

In short, don’t stop when the e-mail address is in. These people are your highest potential prospects. Make sure they get to see the amazing videos, events, blog posts and other plans that you have.

3. Know what works and what doesn’t

When you use Google AdWords, you pay per click. But it’s not the clicks you’re after. In the end, you’re after in reaching out to a larger group of prospective students, some of whom will eventually get admitted at your institution.

That means that certain keywords or ads could bring a lot of clicks, but are actually not contributing to driving admissions. Conversion tracking (which tracks which ads and keywords have brought in registrations) and a CRM system will allow you to see what works and what doesn’t, and shift your priorities and messaging in an appropriate way.

I personally never run campaigns without a form of conversion tracking installed.

In short

Running a successful Google AdWords campaign requires:

  1. A clear understanding of your ideal target audience
  2. A plan to follow through after a prospective student clicks to your website or leaves an e-mail address
  3. Measurement and a feedback loop so that campaigns can constantly be fine tuned for maximum effectiveness.