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Combating A Congested Marketplace: How Paid Search Can Help You Stay On Top

August 4, 2014 Digital Media Solutions

As schools expand their geo-targets to reach more prospective students, higher education marketing is become increasingly competitive. In some markets, like the Boston metropolitan area where there are 60 higher ed institutions, the congestion can at timed feel overwhelming for the smaller or less-well-known schools struggling to compete.

Looking to level the playing field? Paid search campaigns are a perfect first step. Here’s a couple tips to help you create the best ones:

Focus on Quality Score

Regardless of your competition, Quality Score should be a primary focus when building out your paid search campaign.

  • Quality Score, used by Google and Bing, is measured on a scale of 1-10 and determines the actual cost per click (CPC) you will pay when your keyword receives a click.
  • Quality Score is broadly determined by three main factors:
    • Relevancy of the keyword to the ads in its ad group and to the actual search query
    • The keyword’s click through rate (CTR)
    • Landing page quality
  • Relevance can be best achieved by using only one unique keyword (two if the second is the plural version of the first) in each ad group. This allows for the development of headlines and descriptions for each ad group that relate directly to the queried keyword. A campaign built this way results in keyword-rich ads that are rewarded with high keyword Quality Scores.
  • Since keywords are bolded within the ads, relevance also helps ads stand out against the competition. When a searcher sees the bolded keywords, he or she immediately knows that the ad shown is directly related to the search. The resulting click boosts the CTR – also enhancing the Quality Score.
  • Building out numerous ad groups is extremely time consuming, but imperative for the long-term success of a paid search program. Plus, it can result in reduced CPCs – leaving you literally paying less for the same keyword than your competition.

Bid Higher for What You Want

Generally speaking, the closer the searcher is to your campus, the more qualified of a prospect he or she is. Therefore, your paid search campaigns should be structured to maximize close-proximity traffic while backfilling with traffic outside of your targeted geography.

  • Break your campaigns into two “buckets” – the first bucket targets searchers closest to you, while the second bucket extends outside of your primary geo-target. The bucket with the closer proximity should have a higher budget and utilize more aggressive bids to place your ads above your competition. The quality of the traffic in this campaign will result in higher conversion rates to account for the elevated bids.
  • “Proximity bidding” is a simpler option to achieve similar results. With proximity bidding, you can assign a percent multiplier against a desired radius from a location, resulting in aggressive bids within your radius and lower bids the farther away you get from that location. Though easier because it requires only one campaign, this approach does not allow for separate campaign budgets, meaning the clicks from outside of your targeted radius may reduce your ability to maximize clicks from inside your targeted radius.
  • When defining your geo-target, always make sure you’re evaluating actual conversion rates and performance. A straight radius circle can be effective. But strategic, custom geo-targeting based on actual campaign performance can further enhance your conversion rates. To learn more about strategic geo-targeting, download our whitepaper on the topic – The Impact of Distance on Inquiry Generation Campaigns: How Custom Geo-Targeting Can Produce Efficiencies.

Be a Real Estate Hog

Google offers five free ad extensions to advertisers. Take advantage of them to make your ad larger and more prominent than your competition. Enlarging the size of your ad allows your brand taking up valuable real estate on the search engine results page (SERP), pushing your competition down or onto the right rail of results.

  • Research the free ad extensions to determine which best meet your campaign objectives – and select as many as you believe will be of benefit.
    • Location: Shows your address to make it easy for people to find you.
    • Call: Shows your phone number and can lead to inbound calls, especially on mobile where click-to-call technology delivers one-click dialing.
    • SiteLinks: Direct searchers to the most relevant, targeted landing pages on your site to get them to the information they want as quickly as possible.
    • App: Drives engagement by linking searchers directly to your Android app.
    • Review: Includes Google reviews of your service directly in the ad.

Go Mobile

Global mobile traffic is expected to grow 26 times over the next five years, according to Google and Cisco VNI, at which point Google is predicting mobile search will outpace desktop search. Despite these predictions, many advertisers still are not running mobile campaigns leaving those who are a huge advantage – cheap CPCs.

  • Mobile CPCs can be as much as half the price as their more expensive desktop counterparts, despite having comparable conversion rates. Now is the time to take advantage of these low CPCs – once more advertisers adopt mobile search, the prices will start to rise.
  • A mobile-optimized site will help the performance of your mobile search campaign because most mobile website visitors will quickly leave (and never return) to a site that is not friendly for mobile viewing.
  • Keep in mind that the majority of mobile traffic goes to the advertisers in the first two positions – so be aggressive with your bidding to stay on top and maximize your traffic.
  • For more tips on mobile marketing, download our Mobile Marketing Best Practices.

Share the Love

The majority of paid search advertisers are spending their entire budgets on Google and Bing, ignoring the lower-volume “Tier 2” search engines/portals like LookSmart, AdMarketPlace, eZanga, Kontera and more. Because of the reduced competition, the CPCs on these channels are a fraction of the CPCs for Google and Bing – and often less than a dollar per click. Plus, the Tier 2 channels allow you to reach prospects that don’t regularly search on Google and Bing.

  • Most Tier 2 channels publish minimum launch deposit requirements. However, if you present them with a “test budget” that is below the published minimum, they are likely to let you move forward.
  • Before you get started with any channel, ask for a breakout of the traffic sources. Unlike Google and Bing who provide pure search traffic, the majority of Tier 2 channels use a blend of search, display, email and in-text advertising to drive traffic. The higher the proportion of search and in-text, the more qualified traffic you can expect.

With expanded target geographies, competition will continue to increase. If you’re facing a congested marketplace, strategic media planning is your best weapon.

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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