Does Increased Paid Search Spending = More Starts?

Sure, allocating more budget to paid search marketing will result in more impressions, clicks, and traffic to your web site. But will those visits translate into more inquiries, and, more importantly, more starts for your school? The results of a new campaign from our paid search team indicate the answer is “YES!” (if managed correctly).

Increasing PPC Spending

Over the past year, our paid search team has been working with one of our schools to gradually increase spend. As a result, they also succeeded in growing inquiry and start volume at a consistent inquiry-start rate of around 10 percent. The school’s media spend in Q1 of 2011 was around $127k, and that grew over 300 percent to $534k by Q1 of 2012. This was accomplished by increasing geo-targeting radii, expanding keyword lists to include more general phrases (e.g. “career school in PA”) to capture users at earlier stages of the search funnel, bidding more aggressively on core program keywords, launching campaigns on the Google Content Network, and testing 3rd tier search channels.

Evaluating Performance

Continual testing throughout the past year has allowed our paid search experts to pinpoint the initiatives that performed well for a given campus location or program category, and adjust from there. Campaigns were optimized as needed to keep the cost-per-inquiry within the school’s expectations. Inquiry volume followed suit, growing approximately 85 percent from Q1 2011 to Q2 2012:

More Bang for the Marketing Buck

The end goal for most schools is to have their PPC inquiries convert to actual starts, at an acceptable cost-per-start. Since paid search inquiries convert at a much higher rate than those from other affiliates, schools can afford to be more aggressive and accept a higher cost-per-inquiry, knowing that the amount of starts generated throughout subsequent months will ensure an acceptable end cost-per-start. With time, our paid search team expects to see those Q1 2012 inquiries convert to starts at a comparable rate, and as the data matures, the overall cost-per-start for that quarter will continue to improve.

Schools need to keep in mind that paid search has a longer conversion cycle. While most schools see the majority of their starts come in within 90 days of the inquiry date, PPC inquiries can continue to convert to starts four, five, and six months later. So it is crucial to review PPC performance on a rolling basis, and look at a large enough date range to account for this longer conversion cycle and ensure that pre-mature data is not skewing the overall results. It is also important to specify an adequate timeframe for testing various initiatives to make sure enough data is accumulated, and potential inquiries are given enough time to convert, before the full value of that test is evaluated.

About the Author

Digital Media Solutions

Founded by a team of lifelong athletes, Digital Media Solutions (DMS) is an industry leader in providing end-to-end customer acquisition solutions that help clients win in their business ventures and realize their marketing goals. 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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