Posted on 12/16/2015 in Business and Strategy

By Dean Dorazio

Many people see the new calendar year as a wealth of opportunities and a chance to change for the better. However, it can be a worrisome time if you work in higher education. You know how hard your institution works to attract, teach, and retain students. It is devastating to hear that all your time, money, and effort go to waste when 1 out of every 3 first-year students don’t return for a second year.

That is not an ideal ROI, and you now need to spend more money recruiting their replacements.

We’ve already explained how digital marketing can increase student retention rates, but did you know the by leveraging organic search, digital marketing can decrease your blended cost per lead?

What Is a Blended Cost Per Lead (CPL) in Higher Education?

First, what is cost per lead? As self-explanatory as it seems, CPL is how much money your school has to spend, either in paid advertising or lead aggregators, to get one interested prospective student.

For sake of example, you spend $10,000 to get 100 possible students. That means you’ve spent $100 on each of those students, making your CPL $100.

When you start dropping thousands of dollars on students regularly, the totals add up quickly. When those students are only prospective applicants because the aggregators have sold those exact same leads to your competition, your odds of enrolling them become smaller.

light of these poor odds, it starts to make more economic sense to measure blended cost per lead. Blended CPLs use a wider view, taking into account paid and organic searches, and lead aggregation as well as their conversion rates while traditional CPL focuses strictly on paid media. It allows your marketing team to understand which routes are most cost-effective when it comes to getting good, interested leads

What draws many to this all-encompassing lens is, with effort, it tends to generate a stronger ROI than traditional paid strategy alone. This post on Search Engine Watch has a good example of diminished costs from a more holistic approach.

How the 3 Points of Blended CPL Work

Now that you have a better understanding of blended cost per leads, here is a description of each point and how they interact.

  • Organic Search – optimizing your webpages by using long-tail keywords and creating valuable content to show up higher on search engine result page
    • This is a long-term strategy that can create great results and garner leads that may not have found or considered your institution otherwise. Organic search often has the highest conversion rate, which can be as much as 20 times the others. This is due to organic search capturing audiences at the moment they are searching for what you offer.
  • Paid Search – buying ad space for specific keyword searches
    • Paid search is the most volatile of efforts. It changes constantly but can offer risk and equal or greater rewards when done correctly. It can have a good conversion rate but is dependent on the market and the popularity of the terms for which you are bidding.
  • Lead Aggregators – websites that collect data on potential students and will sell you that information. They tend to compete with you on paid and organic keywords and have diminished enrollment rates
    • This is the most sure-fire way of getting leads because you buy them. These leads aren’t the best quality because other schools and universities can purchase them. As they compete with you on contacting and converting these leads, the conversion rate is lower. Using lead aggregators successfully requires incredible responsiveness to secure the possibility of enrolling the lead.

Organic search is the purest source for high-quality leads. The effort and cost for it to work is greater as it is a slow process that requires an attack from many angles. However, the leads gathered here are often better as they found you after careful consideration and research which differentiated your site from others’.

Paid search is a strong contender when paired with your branding. You r recognizable name appears in relative ad space to gain leads from searches for which you may not be ranking. Also, the collaboration of paid search and organic search results has been shown to increase your performance in both by as much as 32%.

You benefit from a collaborative approach for both paid and organic search efforts by allowing more budget to be allocated to higher cost terms that can generate more leads that will request information from other sources over a short period of time. All of the effort spent in organic search is well complemented with a solid paid search campaign.

Lead aggregators are not to be ignored. You pay a third party a set amount of money and they provide you with the information you need about leads who are interested in a school like yours. A note about lead aggregators: since they are third parties, even though you purchase their leads, you’re competing with them for the same information. Thus they take up space on top search results and raise the cost for paid ads.

How Organic Search Can Lower Your Blended CPL

Out of the 3, lead aggregators sound like the best way to go. You get the definite number of leads that you want, sometimes for a price cheaper than the other efforts. It’s ideal, right? Not necessarily.

Like previously mentioned, blended CPL takes into account the conversion rate of leads as well as the cost it takes to get each of them. It reveals the ROI for each investment and shows which has the best return rate for you, which when leveraged correctly can be organic search.

Blended CPL acknowledges the advantages digital marketing has to offer: organic search, on/off-page optimization, social media, local strategy, content creation, and paid content distribution. The blended technique is when you strategize to attract customers through the above 3 methods, focusing both paid and free channels.

When you focus on organic, you reach a wider audience. Leads stumble across your website even though they do not know your school or offerings. But the content that you are providing is relevant to what they want and they explore your listing and can be converted by it.

With better ROI coming from organic, you can focus your efforts there. The brand awareness and relevancy that comes from its success boosts paid search as more people become aware of your school and trust it. With this weight, you don’t have to spend as much money on the two paid outlets. You just keep optimizing your site and let the leads come to you.


Organic search has the chance to reduce your blended CPL, but what do you do? Honestly, you go with what works. The best plan of attack is focusing on organic search. It may be more expensive at the beginning, but the ROI is there. Next would be to vie for leads with paid ads on your own page and keywords as well as those of your competitors. Lastly, to meet your lead quota, purchase them from the aggregators as necessary.

If this method isn’t working, adapt. Focus on what works for you and put the money to that method if the ROI is there. Usually, try to take it from lead aggregators first because they have the most liquidity in supply and keep adjusting the budgets of the other efforts to ensure your school is working smoothly and is getting the best true cost per lead.

What do you think? What efforts have been working for your school?

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