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A Media Director’s Response to the 2015 Year-End Higher Education Inquiry Generation Review

April 5, 2016 Digital Media Solutions

Pile of Rocks on MountainThe recently published 2015 Year-End Higher Education Inquiry Generation Review states that schools have found a balance between first-party and third-party media sources. Although schools are actively and aggressively searching for incremental first-party volume, in 2015 slightly more than half of all inquiries came from third-party sources. Why? Because scalability is a perpetual challenge for internal (first-party) lead sources. And many of the first-party channels with double-digit conversion rates – inbound phone, website/SEO, referral and offline media – are the hardest to grow.

New first-party opportunities exist, but they tend to complement a longer-term internal branding strategy. Social media is an example that is worth watching this year. That channel’s SOV was up 136% YOY in 2015, in large part due to the opportunities to precisely target a specific advertiser-defined audience. Display advertising is growing for the same reasons. And both of these sources are seeing boosts in their conversion rates. Display converted at a rate of 9.25% in 2015, and the conversion rate for social media was 11.3%. Not too shabby. Look for new lead generation strategies across social media channels like Facebook and LinkedIn this year. 

But as a result of the previously noted scaling issues, along with the continuing need for lead volume, incremental budget increases are typically going to third parties with access to more volume through numerous sources and flexible spending. Tactics like increased exposure with sub-affiliates or the use of shared lead funnels can be executed quickly.

We all know that not all third-party inquiry sources are the same, and those with the highest performance and greatest transparency are in high demand. The average cost per inquiry (CPI) for all third-party leads fell 6.8% from 2014 to 2015, landing at $44.30 for the year. Meanwhile, the average CPI for hot transfers was up 18.8% YOY. The price of these leads was the highest in the last quarter of the year at $110.12 — more than double that of its data compatriot. With a 100% contact rate, hot transfers are an easy choice to boost the performance of a campaign. And schools are willingly paying for that performance.

The 2015 Year-End Review also noted a slow-down in channel optimization as the points of diminishing returns are identified for various sources. Innovation from third-party vendors is being welcomed as a result, and cost-per-click (CPC) campaigns are one example of a relatively new third-party source that is starting to gain in popularity. In fact, the share of voice (SOV) for affiliate cost-per-click (CPC) campaigns was up 45% year over year in 2015.

There’s been a significant amount of contraction in the number of third-party providers; we have about 200 on our roster today, compared to 240 at the start of 2015. But it’s clear there is still a need for third-party inquiries. Performance, compliance and budgets call for schools to partner strategically with the providers that can assist in contributing enrollments, source data, targeting capabilities and consumer data. Therefore, schools still need a great network of partners that are seeking and appreciate long-term relationships.

In today’s inquiry generation atmosphere, most high-quality vendors understand the need for competitive costs per acquisition and want to help lead buyers meet their goals. These vendors are eager to add valuable new products to help schools scale, and higher education institutions seem increasingly enthusiastic to test them. I anticipate this new environment will lead to further development and adoption of innovative strategies throughout 2016 and beyond.

photo credit: natural balance via photopin (license)

About the Author

Digital Media Solutions

Founded by a team of lifelong athletes, Digital Media Solutions (DMS), the fastest-growing independent digital performance marketing company. The company’s set of proprietary assets and capabilities in the world of performance marketing and marketing technology allow clients to meticulously target and acquire the right customers. DMS relentlessly pursues flawless execution for top brands within highly complex and competitive industries including mortgage, education, insurance, consumer brands, careers and automotive.

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