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2013 PPC in Review

January 15, 2014 Digital Media Solutions

As we wrap up 2013 and prepare for the new year ahead, I took some time to reflect on some of the most significant changes and takeaways of 2013:

  • Enhanced Campaigns: One of the biggest changes from the past year was Google’s July upgrade to Enhanced Campaigns. This change eliminated the option to have mobile-only campaigns, as all device targeting is now managed via one campaign. With this change came more robust options for bid adjustments based on device, geo and time of day, as well as additional options for sitelinks.

  • Google’s Auction Insights Reporting: This new reporting allows you to compare the performance of your ads to others who are also eligible to be in the same auctions for keywords you are bidding on. You can compare your average position with competitors and see the number of times your ad shows above them in search results. This helpful report highlights areas where we may need to increase bids to better compete on core terms.

  • Mobile Traffic: Google Enhanced also brought about a push for mobile traffic, as more advertisers began targeting the mobile audience and creating mobile-optimized landing pages tailored for this audience. This has led to increased competition and higher CPCs on mobile devices.

    • The Mobile audience continues to grow by leaps and bounds: Nearly half of prospective students are using Smartphones to research where to get an education and 1 in 4 students would prefer to research on a mobile device over a PC.

  • Ad Layout Changes: Following the Enhanced upgrade this summer, Google also made some changes to the way ads appear on Paid ads now appear with a yellow button indicating that this is an “Ad,” and there is no longer a faint background color to separate paid vs. organic listings.

  • Click-To-Call: Click-to-call has proven to be a very valuable and cost-effective addition to our PPC campaigns, generating high quality phone leads that convert 3X higher than data leads. Click-to-call campaigns present the opportunity for a prospective student to literally click to call a school directly from the search results on their mobile phone, bypassing the inquiry form. 

  • Mobile-Optimized Landing Pages: Having a mobile-optimized landing page is key! Information needs to be readily available to prospective students, with a form that is easy to fill out from a mobile device.

  • Demand Trends: Overall demand for education in the US has been down, with fewer search queries and a decline in education site conversions. Enrollment rates are expected to remain low for the near future, so PPC campaigns need to adapt to this shift in the industry.

  • Canadian Demand Trends: However, demand for education in Canada is actually growing, presenting an opportunity for any Canadian-based school:

    • Education queries in Canada grew 18% YOY

    • Brand searches have grown, while generic, non-brand searches have declined

    • Desktops remain the primary screen used to gain information about schools

  • Ad Extensions: Ad extensions will now factor into Google’s Ad Rank calculation: Up until this past October when the change was announced, Google’s formula for how ads are ranked in the sponsored results was the CPC bid (the most you are willing to pay for a click) multiplied by the Quality Score (which is based on many factors including keyword and ad relevance, account history and landing page quality). Ad extensions will now be factored into this ranking formula. Ad extensions are the extra blue lines that appear at the bottom of the ad, providing additional information and links back to your site. Common extensions include sitelinks, click-to-call extensions for mobile ads, image extensions and location extensions. These are easy to set up and can improve performance, so most clients should have at least some of these implemented already. However, clients who may not be set up to handle in-bound phone calls or who use a stand-alone landing page without other pages to link to, may not have implemented any of these extensions yet, and will be at risk for lower ad rank.

  • Facebook Retargeting: Similar to how non-converting visitors to a client's website can be targeted via Google Remarketing, this audience can also be targeted via Facebook. Newsfeed ads historically are more expensive, with fewer impressions and clicks, but result in more inquiries than social ads. More and more schools are testing Facebook advertising for branding and lead generation, and we expect this trend to continue into 2014.

    2013 was a tough year for the for-profit edu sector, but we are hopeful for 2014. Creative geo-targeting and device targeting strategies can help minimize CPL and CPE. The incorporation of in-bound calls can help grow incremental inquiries and enrollments (not to mention alleviating TCPA concerns), and further testing of Facebook and other 3rd tier networks can help expand reach beyond Google and Bing.

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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