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The Fundamental PPC Guide for Education Marketers

Produced by the PPC Agency of Experts

Crafting a smart and effective PPC campaign can be a vital ingredient to a successful student enrollment strategy. It can help you reach areas you’ve been wanting to break into, geo-target personalized messages to specific campuses if you have multiple locations, and strategically remarket to those students that may have landed on your site but haven’t converted yet.


In this guide, we’ll go through some general yet essential PPC tips you need to succeed in the education industry, how to use the Google Display Network to your full advantage, tips to improve your ad copy and increase conversions, what reports you need to be using in your marketing strategy, and finally we’ll tell you how one of our clients increased their conversions by 425% with ad customizers.


General but Important Education PPC tips


It is no surprise that in this fast-paced world, users want to continue to further their education and that they start their initial research on the Internet. The educational resources on the Internet are endless and they influence user’s decisions on the route they should take when continuing their education.


Out of all the users that are seeking additional education, per Google, 25% never look outside of the Internet. However, out of all education related searches, only 20% lead to a conversion. With the industry still growing at a rapid pace, advertisers have the daunting task of being as efficient as possible while persuading users to enroll in their courses.


To ensure that you are making an impression in the education industry online, here are 7 tips to increase efficiency and ensure that you are targeting the right and most qualified demographics.




And don’t ignore this tip! You need to ensure that you’re advertising accurate information, so this comes down to checking whether the search query, the ad that users are seeing, and the actual educational offering on the site are all congruent.


This begins with corresponding keywords and ad copy. For example, if a school offers just a nursing certification, they cannot use ad copy that references a nursing degree. Segmenting these ad groups by academic achievement, like diploma, certification or degree, and then using ad copy pertaining specifically to the ad group can avoid these issues.


By confirming that the information provided within your ad copy is offered, you can avoid issues that would ultimately prevent your account from running.




If you’re a small community college and majority of students come from a certain radius, you want to make sure that you are only targeting a specific location to bring in the most qualified traffic. This eliminates spend going toward users who live too far away from campus to attend and allows it to be distributed into other important areas of the account.


On the other hand, if you are a university, you would not necessarily want to target a specific location, since students oftentimes are willing to move long distances to attend classes. You can, however, optimize for specific locations by looking at a location report that lets you see areas that aren’t converting, are spending high or have a low impression share due to competition in the area. By determining these areas, you can then set the proper bid adjustments for over-performing or under-performing areas. The location report can be found on the Predefined reports tab and then you would select Geographic and then User Locations as the view, as shown below.




To go along with location, make sure the location you are targeting reflects what is displayed on the landing page. Congruency is key to bring in conversions and maintain quality score. This means that if your ad says Nursing School in Miami, your landing page should confirm that the location of the school is in Miami.




To guarantee that the proper amount of spends are being allocated to each campus and/or program, segment your campaigns not just by campus, but by program as well.


When campaigns are segmented by campus, it allows you to set the proper location specific settings, but also allows you to include location specific ad extensions, which will be discussed later in tip #7. By going one step further and segmenting by program, you can then allocate the proper amount of spends for programs as well.


For example, if nursing in Atlanta is a program that historically converts, there will be no issue ensuring that not only the nursing program is receiving more spend than other programs but that, specifically, the nursing school in Atlanta is receiving more spend.


Below are some examples of what location and program specific campaigns could potentially look like.


  • Atlanta_Nursing » Budget: $200/day
  • Atlanta_Computer Science » Shared Budget: Atlanta $100/day
  • Atlanta_Business Management » Shared Budget: Atlanta $100/day
  • Chicago_Accounting » Shared Budget: Chicago $100/day
  • Chicago_Computer Science » Shared Budget: Chicago $100/day


You can see that location wise, a shared budget has been allocated for both locations, but then the Nursing campaign in Atlanta has a separate budget to not be limited by the overall budget of the location.




With such high competition in the Education industry, you want to make sure you are being as efficient as possible with your spend throughout the day, week and year. You can analyze this data either in the settings tab under schedule details, or through the dimensions tab and then segment by time frame.




When reviewing this data, look at the metrics that matter most to your business. These may include; click-through-rate, conversion rate, cost/conversion, or impression share. Once you have determined when your account is most efficient and performs the best, you can take actionable steps, by adjusting your ad scheduling or set bid adjustments to bid higher or lower on certain days or even specific hours within the day.


Seasonality should also be considered. Having the same budget every month may not be the most efficient tactic. You want to give the months that have higher conversion rates more opportunity to bring in additional conversions, by having a higher spend than a month that historically has a low conversion rate.




This tip can save you money and time. With cost-per-clicks in the education industry so high already, any opportunity to avoid irrelevant traffic can help reduce your overall cost-per-clicks.


This can be achieved by adding embedded negatives to campaigns and ad groups. For example, if you have a brand campaign, add brand terms as negatives to your general campaigns, to direct traffic to your brand campaign. You also want to add irrelevant terms throughout your campaigns that are being generated from users who already have a degree and are job searching. Below are some general terms that can be toxic and sometimes easily missed.


  • “job”
  • “career”
  • “occupation”
  • “…for hire”




Ad extensions are key to ensuring your ad stands out among your competitors. Taking up more ad real estate can potentially be the deciding factor between users coming to your site versus a competitor site. Below is a list of the different sitelinks and how they can be beneficial.


  • Sitelink Extensions: Use these to highlight various degrees offered. They can also be used to highlight more general information regarding the school or program.




  • Location Extensions: Use these to confirm the location of the program of campus.




  • Call Extensions: Use these to show a corresponding phone number if the user prefers to call rather than visiting the site.





  • Callout Extensions: Use these to highlight various offerings like 24-Hour Answering Service, Scholarship Opportunities or High Placement Rates.






Remarketing is key. In the education industry, research is priority before a final decision is made. Majority of the time, users will land on your page, leave and if they never see your name again, the chances of them returning to your site is slim.


By remarketing, you are placing your name in front of users who have previously been to your site and may have never converted. This creates trust and allows your name to be more widely known to users. This can be a general remarketing campaign that shows users either a text or display ad when they are elsewhere on the Internet.


Another method is to utilize a remarketing list for search ads, also known as RLSA. This means that if a user has been to your site, you can layer an audience on top of your search campaign. Then, you can set a bid adjustment that allows you to bid higher when a user actively searches for one of your keywords. In such a highly completive market, this allows you to place your ad in front of users who are already familiar with your brand and are still actively searching.


In the education industry, competition is fierce and you want to bring in the most qualified traffic. To optimize accordingly, the data is at your fingertips and waiting to be utilized as a stepping-stone for your account.





Over the last few years there has been a debate about which type of advertising is more beneficial for lead generation clients: Search or display? Both types of advertising have their perks, but why not combine these two forms of advertising to help push your leads further down the sales funnel? For some lead generation accounts, leads are the main KPI. For other clients lead volume is great, but the focus is on collecting conversions. We will list two different ways where display could help your lead generated clients obtain the leads they deserve.




If you are new to display advertising, a great place to start is by creating a display campaign through Adwords. To use display to its full potential, you need to know your client’s business, audience, and goals. You can use this type of marketing for remarketing, targeting websites, or targeting your client’s ideal audience.


We are going to focus on targeting audiences through interests in the “Topics” tab in Adwords. For my upcoming example, we are going to look at an educational client which is a post-secondary school with programs that involve healthcare, business, and trade skills. For the account structure, we separated the different programs into their own campaigns so we can target different audiences. Once you have set up your display campaign you can add targeting by clicking on the blue edit button.




Afterwards, you can select your ad group you want to add targeting for and you can then browse which topics would benefit your ads. You can also search to find the most relevant audiences and you can add multiple topics to your ads. Below are the search results for “nursing” and Adwords has a few audiences we can try for our new campaign. Just select the audiences and you want to apply and make sure to save any of your changes.




After your campaign has run for a little while, you can optimize the campaign by pulling a “Automatic Placements” report in the Dimensions tab. This report shows you which websites your ads are appearing and if they are performing well for your account. If you noticed there are a few websites you don’t want to be associated with or are not performing well, you can exclude these websites from your display network.




Targeting by topic is a great way to hit several audiences which gravitate towards your client. Now let’s focus on capturing the audience who has already shown interest in our client. As digital marketers, we direct traffic to the lead form page. Does that mean our job is now done? No, not at all – that was only the first part in our conversion equation. Now we should use display advertising to help turn our lead into our next conversion. We are going to remarket to these leads with the help from our client to push them towards the bottom end of the funnel.


We can now use a tool called Customer Match with resources our leads have already given us. Customer Match allows you to upload email addresses and you can then target these specific leads when they are signed into a Google account. Your display ads will then be able to appear on YouTube and in their Gmail inbox.


To use Customer Match, you will need a list of emails from your client. The client has access to the emails from the leads you helped generate. Below is a lead form that captures a whole lot of information from our new lead. Your client will know exactly what information they want to gather from their leads, so their form may have more or less sections to fill out.


You will want to talk to your client about what they want to achieve from the list they provided. If we continue with our educational client example, we need to know what our client considers a lead and a conversion. For this client a lead is anyone who has filled out a lead form on a landing page. What they consider as a conversion is when the lead has scheduled an appointment with the school.




For this strategy to work successfully we will need to ask our client to filter the list of leads they have obtained with individuals who have not scheduled an appointment. When you have this list you can work on ad copy that focuses on the next step in the conversion process. You will need to make sure you are sending them to a different landing page than before. We don’t want the customer to get stuck in the lead circle. We want this customer to go to a new page and set up an appointment with our school.


Technically these Customer Match lists do not expire in Adwords, but you will want to work with your client on updating your list over time. We want to make sure we are removing the customers who have scheduled an appointment and also to include new leads to this list. Setting up a process with your client from the very beginning will help keep your Customer Match List accurate and will help move more leads through the conversion tunnel.


After you have mastered Customer Match in Adwords you can try using the same technique through other platforms. The current platforms that have this type of advertising are Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and LinkedIn. When advertising on social media platforms, think about which platform fits your target audience. Each platform has a different type of audience and you want to make sure that the platform will be the best fit for your client.




Paid Search has been a staple in PPC advertising for a long time, but now is the perfect time to jump on the display advertising bandwagon and work it into your marketing strategy. Display is not just used for brand awareness or to remarket to your search audiences anymore. Through the “Topics” section of Adwords you can target individuals who share interests that could relate to your client’s services or products. Some clients get worried that display campaigns can spend without much gain. Through the “Automatic Placements” report you can optimize where your ad appears and exclude websites that are spending without reaching your client’s goals.


If you are currently just using display for remarketing, you can step up your remarketing game by targeting interested users through Customer Match. This customer has already trusted you with an email address, they are wanting more information about your client. Take this user to a different landing page and show them the next step in your conversion funnel. If you need your lead to make an appointment to your client’s school, create ad copy suggesting they need to lock down that appointment and connect them to a landing page where you can make that conversion happen.


Display can be the perfect extension to your client’s Paid Search strategy. As a digital marketer, once you nail down how display ads can help motivate leads to push through that sales funnel and become conversions, you will be thrilled to discover how to use display advertising through other platforms as well.


4 Ad Copy Tips You Can’t Live Without


Now that we have a lot about different strategies, let’s specifically talk about ad copy, features, and how to create ads that will stand out to your audience in the most personalized way possible.




You have pulled your reports, done your research, noticed that some cities convert at a higher rate. Instead of writing ad copy and making lots of new ad groups for each location, you can use ad customizers to insert the name of the town into your ad copy. This ad stands out to your user by saying, “Hey you, we know you are in a different town but you can still go to school here!”




Not only can you use ad customizers to make your ads more granular by location, but you can use these customizers to show different ads depending if your user is on a mobile device or on desktop. These IF functions in ads save you from writing two types of ad copy and allows for a different CTA depending on device. The images below show how the CTA changes by how the user found our ad:




Now for my last ad customizer for lead gen pitch: use the countdown function to create urgency for your users. Countdowns are great for e-commerce clients because these ads can show when a promotion is about to end, or the availability of the product you want to buy.

With educational clients, you are selling a program, but you can still use these countdowns to show some urgency about when a program is about to begin or when enrollment for the next semester is about to expire. With countdown ads, you will need at least two active ads in your ad group, one static ad where there is no ad customizer and one ad where you have the ad customizer in place. Once your countdown hits zero these ads will pause, but I would recommend using labels for urgency ads to make sure that these ads turn off at the desired time through automated rules.






Ad congruency is important to stay compliant within Adwords, but it also helps your user see how your ad and landing page fits together to solve the problem your user was originally searching for. Below is an ad that only tells the user that there is more to learn about nursing at Fortis. It is vague and there is room to pack some more verbiage from the landing page.





Here is a section of the landing page that the previous ad sent the user. This would be a better ad by including information about preparing for the NCLEX-PN Exam or including the type of nursing (Vocational Nursing). Below is an ad which uses more language from the landing page and shows consistency from the search to the information section.






  • Once a quarter, check that your ad copy matches your landing pages
  • Use keywords from the landing page in your ad copy
  • Test your ads at the same time as your landing pages if you are implementing CRO
  • Update ads and landing pages at the same time







Isn’t all PPC reporting the same? The basics are, but with education, you don’t just report on the usual KPI’s (spend, conversion, cost per conversion or clicks and impressions). You need to figure out if the money being spent is getting people into the classroom and not just filling out a form. We’ll discuss these two main types of reporting:


  • Reporting to be shared with someone outside the PPC team
  • Internal reporting to help develop tactics


In the education industry, it is all about the starts. Starts is when students enroll in a class after the whole conversion process. What we need to figure out is how many people fill out the lead form and then drop out of the cycle? Enrolled in school and then dropped out of the cycle? Finally, how many people went through the whole conversion process and started at the school? The bottom line of what we really want to know is the percentage of conversions (for the purpose of this guide I will be referring to these as leads) that actually become starts, students starting in class.


There is usually a breakdown that goes something like this:

  • % of leads that convert to enrollments
  • % of enrollments that convert to starts


Once you hone in on a percentage, you can start reporting. This reporting will help you stay on top of, not only leads, but spend and cost per lead (CPL). Don’t forget, you will need to get all of this accomplished by staying within budget at a CPL that falls into your parameters.






This report will be important to make sure you are staying on budget. Not only total spend but also to make sure you are allocating the right amount of money to the proper places. If you have multiple locations, there will be budgets for each. Tracking daily helps to eliminate runaway spend at any one location. You probably won’t share this report to anyone outside of your own team, but it can be utilized at a moment’s notice if anyone needs clarification.




This report helps keep tabs on how many leads are coming from each campus. It is key to

understanding if that specific campus is profitable. You also want to dive in a little deeper. How is Search working versus Display? Gathering all this information helps you to determine performance from multiple angles that can lead to discoveries of wins to capitalize on and losses to cut. The table below is an example of Search and Display spend with corresponding leads followed by total CPL.



Breaking the data out this way makes it clear on what spend is producing how many leads and what the overall CPL looks like per campus.




Finally, looking at programs by campus can also offer insight. Maybe you are told that a certain program at your campus in Indiana needs more enrollees, but the unknown factor is if the leads should come from PPC or some other platform. Based on the budget at the campus level and what you forecast from pulling this report, you can figure out how many leads can come from PPC. This will, in turn, help calculate how many leads are required from other sources.




It is more than likely that you will be garnering phone calls as well as form submission leads. You need to have a plan as to how those will be tracked or reported. Does the client report it from a back-end system or is it set up as a conversion type in AdWords? Linking the phone calls to campaigns will also guide optimizations. The end goal of these optimizations would be an increase in leads while maintaining or improving CPL. The details will be determined based on individual client needs.




The monthly report is where you tie it all together. Are these leads generating enrollment and starts? With information from the backend, we can tie in whether our campaigns are successful or not. There will need to be an analysis of data going back probably 90 days, or longer if it takes for a lead to become a start. As mentioned previously, knowing the percentage that become enrollments and then starts is important for this month’s data to be able to extrapolate what the future will hold.


For example, if you convert 8% of your leads and usually 50% of the enrollments start, your numbers will look like below. You won’t have your actual starts for a few months. The actual starts column can be updated every month.



Now that you have dissected the spend and the leads, let’s look at what we can do to improve performance by reviewing reporting.




There isn’t a button inside different platforms that says, “report for education industry.” The type of reports you decide to pull is up to you. Two reports we find most helpful are device-targeting and geo-targeting. The device targeting report can help you break down information regarding which device is leading to enrollments. And not only leading to enrollments, but which device(s) is leading to enrollments at a higher rate. Enrollments can be up overall but flat in desktop and up in mobile.


Knowing this information helps determine where budget should be allocated to, not only to get leads, but which leads are more likely to turn into enrollments and in turn, starts.


The geo-targeting report is used in the same way. If you go into the settings tab of a campaign and look at locations by city, postal code, neighborhood, etc, you can get a good idea where your leads are coming from. Using the data to see where the leads are coming from can help you tighten or loosen spend, based on that information. Again, what is leading to enrollments and in turn, starts.


Students in seats at schools, or starts, are the biggest indicator of success in the education industry. Pulling reports that help with targeting by geographic location and device, help in making decisions to tweak campaigns. By reviewing the data gathered daily, weekly and monthly, you can be enlightened as to whether you are making an impact.


CASE STUDY: How EA Used Ad Customizers to Increase Conversions by 425%


With our client, Education Affiliates, we needed to create urgency in a historically low month to encourage prospective students to begin the application process and thus increase conversions.


To do this, we used Google’s countdown ad functionality and tested ad customizer ads alongside a static ad, and the results were extremely successful:






With such a successful test, countdown ads can be implemented for every enrollment deadline throughout the year and for any other events that are appropriate.




So, education marketers, if you are not taking advantage of ad customizers, you could be seriously missing out during those historically low months of yours!


Whether you’re struggling on different strategies to try, fresh new ad copy to craft, reporting, or display tactics, we hope this guide has inspired you and will continue to be a resource for you to look back on as you succeed in the education marketing world.