How Colleges and Universities Can Score “Free” PPC

Carnegie Higher Ed Aug 16, 2016 Carnegie Higher Ed Persona The Visionary Frontrunner

Checking into a hotel recently, I realized I forgot to bring toothpaste. I went to the little market they have, grabbed a tube, and went to purchase it at the front desk. However, the nice person working there went in the back, got me a complimentary tube, and told me it cost “free.99”(get it? instead of $3.99). I laughed out loud, I’m sorry to admit, as I had never heard that one before, and I’m a sucker for corny word plays.

So what does this have to do with Pay Per Click strategies for colleges and universities?  Well there are ways you can apply Pay Per Click for your institution that you would normally think you’ll pay money for, but you get a lot of the advertising and exposure for free.  Kind of like thinking you’ll pay for a tube of tooth paste, and then getting it for free. 

Pay Per Click’s model is right in its name: you pay for the click. After constructing a keyword strategy and campaign plan, the goal is to have your ads appear when people within your geographic targets are searching for those terms. What colleges and universities may not realize, however, is the opportunity Pay Per Click offers to do time-based, event-based, and campaign-specific messaging in those ads.

Unlike organic search, you can be very defined with the timeframes of your Pay-Per-Click campaign. So while someone may be searching for “best Catholic colleges in the northeast,” your institution can be right there at the top of the paid search results—while also promoting the open house you have coming up in two weeks.

So how can it be free? Most clicks in search results happen down in the organic results. The magic formula is getting both the SEO and Pay-Per-Click strategy right for your college or university. This is most easily accomplished with “branded” keyword terms and strategies. Here’s an example:

  1. Prospective transfer student searches for “transfer to xyz university.”
  2. Being “xyz university,” your hope is that your institution comes up at the top of the organic search results.
  3. By implementing a “branded” Pay-Per-Click strategy on your school’s name and keywords like “transfer,” you also come up in the paid search results.
  4. Instead of just repeating what is in the organic results, you can use the paid search messaging as an opportunity to promote your Transfer Decision Day coming up or an application deadline.

The results:

  1. You’ve accomplished the time-based and potentially conversion-based messaging right at the top of the (paid) search results.
  2. You’ve ensured your competitors are not appearing in those results and in that limited real estate.
  3. Assuming your SEO is in good shape, you’ve owned as much space on the search results page, with distinct and different content, by appearing in both the organic and paid search results.
  4. With most of the clicks happening down in the organic results, that person is likely not going to click on the paid search ad. However, you’ve still accomplished everything above. And you’ve advertised the time-based priority you have without paying for anyone that doesn’t click on it. There you have it: FREE PPC.

This may be a small tip for colleges and universities, but every time I mention it in a conference presentation, it’s something I see people taking a bunch of notes on. So while I may be helping to avoid bad news at my next dental checkup by scoring some new toothpaste for free, perhaps how you’re performing and appearing in search results can use a quick checkup with this tip in mind. 

Follow Mark on Twitter @Cunningham527

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