Those Shiny New Digital Toys Can Hurt You

Carnegie Higher Ed Nov 08, 2016 Carnegie Higher Ed Persona The Visionary Frontrunner

There’s an old Saturday Night Live sketch where Dan Aykroyd plays a sleazy toy company tycoon (Irwin Mainway) who tries to defend his dangerous toys for the holiday season (Bag O’ Glass, Teddy Chainsaw Bear, etc.).  It’s a sketch that comes to mind for me a lot when I see so many shiny new digital marketing capabilities being thrown around as saviors for admission and higher education marketing.

To be clear, digital marketing for higher education is a primary focus of ours here at Carnegie. The strategies and technologies that are available today do allow for some amazing opportunities for colleges and universities to reach and engage prospective student (and parent) audiences like never before. And as a Google Premier Partner, we’re kept up to the minute on so many new and emerging strategies that are the “what’s next” for digital. Combine that with 30 years of an exclusive focus within higher education, and the result is a vetting and evaluation that considers the value and effectiveness for colleges and universities specifically.

The following are some examples of the more buzzworthy digital opportunities and what to ask yourself as you consider their role for your institution.


At its core, Retargeting is about addressing stealth site visitors and re-engaging audiences that have shown interest and intent by being on your site. It’s also an enormous driver for conversions because you’re focusing on strong levels of intent and customizing the experience and ads based on where they’ve been on your site. Sure, audiences are demonstrating intent by their behaviors elsewhere online, but there are numerous ways to engage them in an efficient way that doesn’t waste efforts on irrelevant audiences.

Top considerations for Retargeting:

  • It’s about the audiences that know you already and are on your site. Keep that in mind as you set your goals and make your Retargeting plan.
  • Make sure the ads reflect who they are and where they’ve been on your site. Don’t do one size fits all.
  • Consider all platforms and opportunities. Beyond standard display Retargeting, consider social media platforms, YouTube, and Paid Search (RLSA) to expand your reach and impact conversions.

IP Targeting

Now a few years in the digital marketing toolkit for higher education, IP Targeting still represents the most aligned strategy with traditional or offline list-based efforts. Its ability to accomplish digital coverage of lists throughout the entire household and across all devices makes IP Targeting a “must consider” for any annual admission marketing plan.

Top considerations for IP Targeting:

  • What is the match rate you’re able to accomplish? Prior versions of IP Targeting resulted in less than 50% of your list being matched for the campaign, which somewhat takes the wind out of the sails. With today’s technologies you should expect north of 85%–90% match rates.
  • What are the minimum list sizes you can work with? While IP Targeting used to involve barriers to entry of list sizes needing to be 10,000 or more, it’s now possible to run campaigns against lists of 3,000 or so. This has enabled schools to apply IP Targeting throughout several stages of the enrollment cycle, right down to yield and accepted student populations.

Geofencing/Mobile Location Targeting

We’ve unfortunately seen this strategy, perhaps one of the “shiniest” new toys, be implemented and run in a number of ways that have been ineffective or not in line with what a school was intending to accomplish.

Top considerations for Geofencing/Mobile Location-Based Targeting:

  • What is the location and who is the audience you’re really trying to reach? Thinking about geofencing hospitals? Consider the patients and their families you’re capturing in addition to staff. Is that the right audience?
  • The longer you can have a fence drawn and build mobile audiences, the better. We’ve heard plenty of stories of schools wanting to geofence a fair or event with varying results. The best options are places where you can gather audiences over extended timeframes, like high schools and community colleges.
  • Make sure to ask if there is any possibility of “look-alike” audiences being included. Specific to geofencing, there are many cases for higher education where look-alike would be completely irrelevant but is applied to reach certain delivery levels.

PPC (Pay Per Click)

Bottom line: students are searching online, and if you’re not there, you don’t exist. While SEO plays an enormous role here, what you’re accomplishing within paid search results is often just as important.

Top considerations for PPC:

  • PPC is advancing constantly. Make sure you’re staying tuned in to the latest ways to optimize your strategy and experience significant improvements, from ad extensions to demographics for search.
  • Always evaluate what you’re doing. From keyword research and account structure to landing page selection and bidding strategies, you should never “set it and forget it,” even for a short period of time.
  • Think all audiences. PPC has often been more heavily focused within the graduate arenas. However, its role for undergraduate, transfer, adult, and more is a necessity due to the behaviors of these audiences.
  • Think mobile. Have you prioritized mobile specifically as it relates to PPC in how you’re crafting your strategy? And have you walked through the entire experience, from landing page to call-to-action completion, from a mobile perspective?

There’s a common phrase I go back to a lot with this: just because you can doesn’t mean you should. While so much of what’s available today represents incredible opportunities to do some “cool” things, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be appropriately evaluated both for higher education in general and for your institution in particular. So in the words of one Mr. Irwin Mainway: “Kid…be careful…broken glass.”

Follow Mark on Twitter @Cunningham527

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