How do your higher ed. institution’s digital advertising efforts stack up? How do your higher ed. institution’s digital advertising efforts stack up?

You already know how competitive and dynamic the higher ed. landscape has become in recent years. The perceived value of a post-secondary education is on the decline. Students regularly choose schools outside their geographic area. And students are opting for short, skills-based training over the traditional four-year degree – and employers are just as happy to recruit them.

It’s incredibly challenging to create effective student recruitment campaigns in this new environment. Long gone are the days when simply having a digital presence was enough. You must also deploy best-in-class paid media promotions on platforms (Google Ads, YouTube, Instagram, and since we’re talking Gen Z, TikTok) to resonate with the digitally savvy and skeptical student

But how do you define ‘best-in-class’? It starts with keeping an eye on your steepest competition so you can see how your digital efforts stack up — and ensure yours earn top marks. Let’s take a look at four simple strategies that do just that.

Audit your higher ed. digital advertising landscape with these 4 methods.

If you’re thinking you can simply hire researchers to assess your school’s paid efforts for you, you’re right. And hiring a research or consulting firm to interview and analyze student trends and brand affinity is extremely valuable when it comes to understanding how your recruitment campaigns will perform. It’s also extremely expensive. Not to mention time-consuming. You might only be able to do that once a year — if that. 

But, there are simpler, quicker ways your own marketing team can analyze your competition’s recruitment ads to see how yours compare. You can also gauge whether your paid media is meeting prospective students’ expectations during their college recruiting experience. 

Bonus: These methods can be used as often as you like — without blowing your budget. 

1. Review your competition’s in-market student recruitment ads.

It’s straightforward enough to get a sense of the ad-to-conversion experience prospective students are getting from other universities. 

Start by figuring out the types of digital advertisements your competition has in-market. You can do so by pulling their ad messaging from various platforms’ ad libraries (try Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and TikTok to start). Categorize your competition’s different ad types. 

You can also get a feel for the way they’re talking to prospective students by reviewing their digital ad landing pages. How are they attempting to get visitors to convert? Do you notice trends in their messaging or the aesthetics of their ads? It’s a good idea to have one of your marketers actually pretend to be a prospective student and go through the steps of converting on an ad. 

With all of this information about your competitors’ ads in front of you, see how yours stack up and optimize from there.

2. Conduct a social media channel audit for your school. 

It’s no secret that YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram are the platforms to use to attract young students to your higher ed. institution. These are the most popular social media channels for Gen Z. But how can you be sure that your messages on those channels are actually reaching them?

By performing a channel audit. Here’s how: first, calculate the proportion of your digital spend your school puts toward each channel you’re active on. Then, calculate the proportion of time your audience spends on various channels. 

In completing a channel audit, you’ll be able to identify gaps where you’re spending too much or too little of your digital media budget. For example, if you’re spending next to nothing on YouTube, you will (more than likely) see that’s a mistake. Your audit will reveal Gen Z spends tons of time there. They can’t get enough of those A.S.M.R. videos

Post-channel audit, you can rest assured that you’re spending your budget wisely on methods that actually reach the people you want to attract to your campus.

3. Complete Google search intent research. 

In addition to making sure you’re spending your money on platforms students are actually on, you want to make sure you’re using the right keywords in your Google ads. Put another way, you want what prospective students are searching for on Google to match the ads you’re creating for Google. 

You can easily check on this by conducting a search intent audit. Download all of the search terms from your previous campaigns and if you have access to them, third-party tools as well. Identify the keywords you are not currently bidding on but should be — then use those words in your ads. 

Search intent research isn’t just good for making your Google ads match searcher intent. It’s also an effective way to spark new ad ideas. Leverage terms you hadn’t thought of before. Use “best nursing programs in Canada” instead of “nursing schools near me,” for example. You can improve your overall ad content to more closely align with how prospects are thinking, speaking, and, of course, searching. 

4. Make your Google ads as competitive as possible. 

As mentioned, conducting search intent research can help you create better Google ads that match what prospective students search. There are other ways to make your Google search campaigns more competitive. Try the following:

  • Find top recruitment keywords by assessing search volumes for important terms.
  • Look up keywords your competitors are bidding on using third-party tools, like Semrush
  • Compare competitor keyword lists to your own bidding efforts. 

Once you have a list of keywords to use from this research, you can get back to work crafting more relevant ads for your higher ed. institution’s recruitment campaigns. 

Last thing: It’s important to understand Google’s quality score metric. Take some time to learn about it. Because if Google likes your college or university’s advertisements, you can win more clicks for less money.

Now you can prove the efficacy of your marketing strategies.  

Let the four audit methods detailed here serve as your temperature check for your higher ed. institution’s digital recruitment campaigns. You can also use the results of these methods to provide rationale for your marketing approaches higher-ups expect to see. 

If you lack the third-party tools or employee resources to conduct these exercises at your end, reach out through our contact form and let’s talk.

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