Digital Advertising Strategy Guide Overview for Higher Education

By Heidi Smith | Nov 7, 2017
More Articles by Heidi


university-workbook-fullDigital advertising continues to grow at a rapid pace in the United States – making up 37% of total media spend in the US in 2016 according to eMarketer. Higher education marketing is no different, with marketers in that space reporting 9-12% of their revenues going to digital advertising.

However, digital advertising for higher education is not the same as digital advertising for eCommerce, B2B or even B2C; it calls for a strategy and formula all its own. This is why we set out to put together a comprehensive higher education strategy guide that can help you tackle common issues and implement innovative strategies to maximize your efforts. Here, we will highlight over-arching themes; to get in-depth strategy tips, ideas on how to bypass common higher education issues, and detailed insights and instructions that can help your digital advertising progress to the next level, be sure to download the full guide!

Common Issues

  • Marketing integration is a challenge for many marketers today in part because roles and responsibilities are often addressed in silos. At a university, the “silo” structure is particularly evident, as individual degree programs, departments, and schools may operate somewhat independently. This can translate to multiple marketing technology selections and varying degrees of adoption, which can create data silos that make consistent reporting difficult.
  • Many universities unfortunately do not have the staff bandwidth or resources for advanced analytics, in-depth reporting or marketing automation tools. Fully tracking the ROI of digital advertising from beginning to end is difficult, as is measuring the impact advertising has on your enrollment numbers.
  • A 2016 Brightfunnel study found that on average it takes 16 marketing touches to close a sale in the United States – double the touches required in other countries around the world. Higher education marketers have their work cut out for them when recruiting students, whether it is achieving repeat engagement or receiving completed applications.

Find and Understand Your Target Student

Before you can begin your advertising, you need to understand who your prospective student is for each program, and determine what your ideal student looks like by your standards. You can accomplish this in a number of ways, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Analyzing current student demographics and psychographics
  • Conduct surveys
  • Evaluate degree program elements
  • Independent third-party studies

Once the prospective student personas are complete, the task of finding out how to reach that audience will fall to you. Determining the sweet spot between intent, illustrated through search engines when a user enters a query (i.e. ”online mba degree”), and identity, which is provided to us through users entering personal information via social networks (i.e. 25 year old female living in Virginia who received her undergrad Marketing degree in 2014), is the key.

search engine intent vs social media identity

Key Focus Areas

Integration: The silo barrier doesn’t just exist from an organizational perspective. Often, advertising efforts are segmented as well. To achieve maximum results you want to integrate the search (intent) and social (identity) together. Marketers tend to rely on paid search because it is what they know. However, you can reach prospective students on a whole other level of granularity if you utilize social as well. Put the two together and you will be unstoppable!

Engagement: You need to connect with users past the initial site visit to reach your end goal of completed applications, request for information submissions, information session RSVPs, or whatever your goals may be. Remarketing and customer match can help, both of which are available on multiple platforms including AdWords, Facebook and LinkedIn. There are several steps needed to set it up and strategize correctly, but it will be worth it when you see higher application conversion rates and lower cost per applicant.

Mobile First: For the first time ever, 2016 saw mobile searches surpass desktop searches in the United States. Higher education institutions who want to compete for the growing mobile audience need to consider their paid search mobile visibility and how mobile website visitors interact with their site. Evaluating your site’s mobile friendliness and advertising performance by device are two ways to get started.

Website Optimization: The goal for higher education advertisers is not to just drive website traffic, but ultimately to increase the qualified applicant pool and program applications. That begins with initial and repeat engagement. Website calls-to-action, landing page optimization, and ad testing are critical tools to increase engagement and lead rates.

Measurement and Goals: No strategy or tactic you implement is going to mean anything if you aren’t measuring their impact and tracking goals important to your organization. Determine upfront what type of goals you want to track, why they are important, how you are going to track them, and who is going to manage the third-party analytics tool you have chosen to do the heavy lifting.


Want to get more details on strategy ideas, setting up remarketing, integrating search with social, and how to measure the right metrics while navigating analytics tools?

Download the full version of our Digital Advertising Strategy Guide for Higher Education to get all of that and more!

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