Do all inquiries have the same properties? Or does the origin of the inquiry impact its time to convert into a start for schools? In an effort to answer this question, we recently conducted an investigation into the conversion cycle of inquiries across different channels, with some very interesting results.
While it’s important to note that our findings are based on a single school, the insights we gained into the PPC conversion cycle could have a significant impact on media spend and optimization, and are worth taking into consideration for any school that runs PPC campaigns.
What We Found
Using a monthly rolling conversion report, we plotted out the starts received each subsequent month from a given month’s media spend. While, anecdotally, a school’s average conversion window from inquiry to start is 90 days, the data for PPC inquiries we examined indicated a noticeably longer timeline.
As the graph illustrates (below), inquiries generated in October 2010 continued to convert to starts six months later. While 80 percent of the total starts came through within expected timeframe (the first 75 to 90 days), a significant number of inquiries were still converting to starts after that window. In fact, we found that on average, it took five months to generate 90 percent of the total starts.
So what does this all mean?
This insight into the PPC conversion cycle signals that the window of data examined when determining the success of a PPC campaign should be expanded. It may also allow for more accuracy when projecting future cost-per-start and inquiry-to-start metrics for a school.
For example, if a client spends $50,000 in January, and has an average CPL of $70 and start rate of 8 percent, we would expect that after five months, 57 starts would be generated. After two months, only 25 starts have been generated, making it appear that the cost per start is $2,000 and the start rate is only 4 percent. So the client decides to cut media spend down to $30,000 the following month. However, by June, 57 total starts have now been generated from the January media spend, bringing that month’s start rate back to the average of 8 percent and the cost per start down to $877.
By cutting media spend for future months, this client could now potentially be missing out on an additional 23 starts per month that could have converted during the longer cycle.
Schools need to be aware of what their timeline to conversion is, taking into consideration the fact that there is a different buying cycle with pay-per-click. This is not surprising, since students searching on a more general keyword may still be fairly far from making a decision at the time of inquiry submission. Only after a few more months of research to narrow down their options are they ready to make the decision to apply and enroll in a given program.
Schools that have specific monthly goals or upcoming start dates need to be aware that the media buying needs to start a good three to five months prior to that date in order to allow for the time it takes these inquiries to fully convert. These findings also allow for a better approximation of the level of media spend that is required to reach a school’s given start goal. Furthermore, this data helps prove that schools looking to test PPC need to commit to a longer period of time, since 30 days is not always sufficient to fully gauge the success of that campaign and the potential enrollments and starts that could come in months later.