Posted on 1/20/2016 in Digital Marketing

By Dean Dorazio

As a student recruitment manager in higher education marketing, you have a lot of work to do with little time. With budgets as constrained as they are, why would you want to invest your money in methods that don’t work?

Year-over-year your goals become more demanding while your budgets stay the same. That means you need to reduce ad spend on some of your broad term keywords, right? Not necessarily. It means your student recruitment strategy has to grow and become more refined.

Digital marketing can help you create baselines for your school’s marketing efforts, find out where your leads originate and refine your ads to improve lead conversions.

Last-Click Attribution and Its Misleading Data

To market in higher ed successfully, you need more than just acquiring leads. You need to know where those leads originated. To do that you need to leverage lead tracking.

Most institutions rely on “last-click attribution.” This method of lead tracking gives credit for converting the lead to the most recent channel used.

Imagine you’re running a PPC campaign for the keyword phrase “get a culinary degree in Kansas City.” Someone searches for that phrase, clicks on your ad, and fills your form to become a lead. Last click-attribution records “culinary degree in Kansas City” as converting that visitor into a lead. What last-click attribution doesn’t recognize is all of the points of contact that the user had before converting.

The usual progression for any prospective student is not a one-and-done experience. Sorry to say, but they do not visit your university’s page for the first time and then become leads immediately, no matter how good your site. They can become interested in your course material, student life, or blog series. It causes them to remember your college’s brand and then return in the future, possibly multiple times, before converting.

Now, what should be tracked? The keyword that converted or the content that originally got the users on your site? This is why your student recruitment strategy needs a campaign structure that takes assisted conversions into account.

What Are Assisted Conversions and Why They Matter

What Are Assisted Conversion?

Assisted conversions are the interactions prospective students have with your school that lead up to the conversion.

However, they are not the occasions that actually caused the conversion. They are the points of entry that allow prospective students to discover your brand, hear about their offerings, or otherwise become interested in your school. Although “get a culinary degree in Kansas City” is the converting point, “colleges in Kansas City” or even “culinary degrees” could have aided in that lead.

Setting up a Baseline

What you need to do to strengthen your student recruitment strategy is to create baselines for your important keywords. To market intelligently, you need to understand how your ad campaigns affect one another. The reasonable approach is to focus on campaigns that convert and decrease ad spend on those that don’t, right? Here’s where baselines start to debunk this misconception.

To create a baseline for performance you need to track conversions both overall and on a granular level, usually through Google Analytics. Once you get those standards you can begin to A/B or budgetary test your campaigns. Find which ones are not converting well or at all and decrease the ad spend on them. Continue to track and wait. After a few weeks, you will notice a change in your data. This change is the effect that the campaign had on your overall marketing endeavors.

Why This Matters

Your goal is, ultimately, to do more with less, to increase conversions without spending more money. By having these benchmarks and seeing the effects, positive or negative, keywords have, you can tailor your student recruitment strategy to take these into account.

This approach sounds time-consuming and that it would be easier if you were to take money away from the non-converting keywords and call it a day. However, that could actually cost you money. Keywords with a seemingly negative ROI, like “college” or “business degrees,” assist in conversions, but are not given the credit they deserve because of the last-click attribution of most tracking plans.

If not for more robust tracking plans that measure from baseline performance metrics, you cannot gain insight into the impact of these keywords on the origination of interest and awareness of your brand. The most effective way to do more with less is to institute as much clarity and design behind the tracking of your metrics around these broad terms because of their effects on conversions that your baseline testing has discovered.

What you may find is that the broad or general keywords your school targets attract prospective students. They may not have heard of your brand before seeing your ad or banner. They can be people trying to get into school right away or a few years down the road. They might click on your ad or go for a competitor’s. Either way, they learned about your college and, more than likely can recognize your institution’s name.

When it comes time for the prospective students to inquire and apply to universities, they know your name, and when they see your bottom of the funnel ad, they click on it to convert. That specific keyword gets the credit for the conversion when the broader keyword helped it by being the actual point of origination for that lead.

Marketing Automation and Your Campaign Structure

If you’re in higher ed, you have a finite budget dependent on whether you’re a public, private, or community-based institution. As stated earlier, you’re always trying to get more from it. To unlock any untapped potential in your marketing endeavors without needing additional budget, you need to include refined tracking. There are solutions referred to as Marketing Automation that automate this level of tracking as opposed to piling this on top of an already overburdened employee.

Marketing automation tracks the different sources that are generating traffic and conversions for your school. They follow prospective students’ journeys from the original point of contact as a visitor to a lead conversion. They can also automate repetitive tasks to allow employees to concentrate on other responsibilities as well as save crucial budget.

This increased efficiency shows you which keywords are converting and assisting conversions. That way you can remove ad spend from channels that hinder your marketing and put it towards outlets that work, increasing conversion rates without taxing your budget further. In most instances, this is the win/win situation that allows you to accomplish the impossible that your superiors are asking of you without having to be superhuman or overworked.

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