From the start, Granular has been a trusted digital marketing partner for colleges and universities around the country and tapped to help drive enrollment, improve efficiency, and bring new students in a measurable and scalable way.
We’ve worked with for-profit and non-profit institutions ranging from small regional colleges to large universities. We have also worked with private parochial schools, professional trade, and certificate programs. We have a track record for delivering the results that matter most to enrollment and marketing teams. We’re quick, nimble, down to earth, and deliver an incredible value to our partners.
In our recent webinar, Granular + Google EDU Webinar, we discussed the 4 Keys to Successful Google Ad Campaigns for Higher Ed Marketers:
- Don’t Sleep on Google Search Ads
- Getting Attribution Right
- Team Collaboration
- COVID Response
For those of you who missed the event, or would just like to reference it again, I have included the recording here.
If you have any questions you can contact us.
Steve: So all right. I just wanted to welcome everyone. Thanks for taking time out of your morning, or afternoon depending on where you’re located, joining Granular for this presentation. We are going to cover a lot of content, and we’ll try and be quick here but as comprehensive as possible.
Steve: The topic here is Four Keys to Successful Google ad campaigns for higher ed marketers. On this webinar, the three hosts you have here are Jordon Meyer, our president and our founder; John Chan, who’s an agency developer manager for Google, who is going to be able to shed insight and share his expertise from the Google side; and then myself, Steve Kroll, the vice president here at Granular.
Steve: So the agenda, we’re going to just talk very briefly about how we work with universities and schools, Jordon’s background, and then we’re going to jump right into the content, and we’re going to wrap up. We do have a lot of content to cover, but in the event that we do have time, we will try and answer any questions. You can ask questions at any point throughout the webinar. You can go ahead and use the Q and A feature or in the chat if you want to ask your questions. In the event we are not able to answer your questions, we will absolutely make sure we can follow up with you. If you have any technical difficulties, we have our colleague, Jaime Meyer. She is on this as well. If something happens, you can email her at Jaime@granularmarketing.com.
Steve: So I’m going to turn it over to Jordon just to talk about how we work with universities and schools.
Jordon: All right. Thanks, Steve. One of the reasons we’re here talking about higher ed is because of my background. I’ve been in paid search my entire career. I started out in-house on the e-commerce side, and then I went to a few agencies, got a broad range of experience there, and then back in-house for a few stints, and I finally started Granular. That’s the short story.
Jordon: Part of the story I do want to zoom in and highlight on though is when I was in-house a few years ago, I got the opportunity to work for a couple of for-profit colleges and universities up in the Twin Cities. My first higher ed stint, I was actually brought in to fire an agency oddly enough. I was at Best Buy, had a good gig, but I wanted some more autonomy. I wanted to control the search strategy a little more, and this college had all the right things for me. So I got in, kicked out the agency that was charging them $30,000 a month just to manage their accounts, and within a few months broke records and did a phenomenal job there, so much so that they were pretty mad when I left and went to a larger university system up there where I was able to manage six college and university brands under their system. It included some traditional schools but also some vocational training schools as well. So I got a lot of good experience there.
Jordon: The cool thing about working in-house for a college or university was that I was able to speak to admissions weekly. I met with financial aid often. I even worked to develop new degrees and find new campus locations. And we were able to do that. We were able to help the deans and the leaders on the educational side of the college, the academic side, based on a lot of the data that we were able to get from our own research but also from Google’s research to really sniff out what degrees are up and coming, what the school should develop, and then even find the new campus locations based on demand and potential students. So that was phenomenal.
Jordon: I also had the luxury of working with some very large budgets, a million a quarter, upwards of three million a quarter, spent on digital. The wild thing about that was we were still hitting budget caps. So it’s really cool to see how much demand is out there for schools and how much you can capture even if your budget’s huge. We weren’t able to capture all the demand out there. I mean, we were generating a hundred, hundred and fifty leads a day, getting multiple people to enroll every day, and that was pretty phenomenal. And to know that there’s bigger colleges out there like Phoenix and those huge systems just shows that people are out there using Google looking for colleges to attend, and if you do it right, you can really capture them pretty easily.
Jordon: So after that, while I was working at the university, rather than jumping around again and being a bad employee, I decided to start Granular full-time. And we’re here. We’ve been here for six years in Milwaukee. We work with companies around the world, e-commerce, B2B, but higher ed is a passion of mine. While working in-house at these colleges and universities, I was really able to understand even though we were for profit, I was able to see us change some lives and really fulfill people’s goals of getting a degree. So while paid search is passion number one of mine, higher ed is a close second, and that’s why we built this practice in Granular.
Jordon: It’s not only me with all this experience in higher ed. I’ve also assembled a team that has additional experience working with colleges and universities. You’ll hear from a couple of those guys later on. But it’s been a cool journey, and we really think we can help higher ed get better at their marketing or really discover new ways to find potential students.
Jordon: We just got to plug a little bit of how we help colleges and universities and even private high schools and vocational training. We can do a lot of things. There’s a lot of ways we can help. We can audit, augment or fully manage and lots of things in between, but we work with in-house teams quite often. It’s not a bad thing to bring in an agency to help and to augment and amplify what you’re doing already. We’ve also audited plenty of accounts where we can give a free quick audit, or we can really dive in and produce a 20, 30, 40-page audit that is basically a playbook on how to fix your paid search and how do you improve the results.
Jordon: And then our service ranges all the way up to full management, which we do quite often. That’s our main thing, where we’ll work with schools for years and continuously try to improve month-over-month and year-over-year results by really owning the channels that we manage and taking full responsibility for driving enrollments.
Jordon: I’ll pass this over to Steve to talk a little bit more about how we can help.
Steve: Awesome. Thanks, Jordon. Super helpful background. Jordon, like you alluded to, we’ll have two other colleagues from Granular who will be guest presenting some of their findings. Just two slides here and then we’re going to get into some of these insights I know you guys are interested in.
Steve: So some benefits working with our team, I think Jordon hit on this. We aren’t a group that just has dabbled a little in higher ed pay per click. Because we do have that strong subject matter expertise in pay per click across search, social, video, 20-plus different platforms that we use, we can get very deep, and we can give specific insights into specific degree programs where we can help you. All the different types of geotargeting, geofencing, geoframing, basically anything where you’re looking to target student-specific populations based on their location, based on their intent, we’re going to be able to do that for you.
Steve: While we really think of ourselves as a performance agency. I think John from Google, he may even say that that’s a category of agency that they really look at Granular as being. We are looking at the full-funnel approach. I think Jordon has some slides about that coming up. And you can’t measure what you can’t track. So we are really proud of our practice when it comes to our analytics tag manager, data studio, our ability to work with all the different CRMs that higher ed works with, the well-known ones as well as these very niche ones, and getting it all to speak to your ad platform analytics, getting it to connect to your CRM, and then helping you make sense of that data so you can surface insights.
Steve: So we are in slide one here of the section. Just to let you guys know again, we’re going to cover the four keys to success for hiring marketers. Jordon’s going to go ahead and take key number one here, which is don’t sleep on Google search.
Jordon: Yeah. Thanks, Steve. As Steve mentioned, I mean, we manage well over 20 paid channels, including Connected TV and Programmatic and everything throughout the funnel. But I think it’s really important… And this is based off experience of taking over plenty of accounts and seeing that people tend to sleep on search a little too much. It’s still the number one channel to leverage intent in order to capture demand. You quite literally have people going there to find colleges and degrees and trying to find information about the certain degree programs but also how to apply, and what does it cost, and what are the outcomes? People go to Google and other search engines to do this, and that’s why we spend nearly 80% of our budgets on search ads.
Jordon: How I mentioned that we worked with, or I personally worked with, some of the largest higher ed budgets, that was still a lot of lower funnel search. While we had the luxury of spending on higher funnel channels, we still saw just plenty of demand being captured through search. It’s often where the journey starts. So I think it’s really important to be there when a potential student starts their journey of either going back to school, or if it’s a traditional college, starting to look when they’re in high school or when their parents start to look. Over 50% of those journeys start on mobile, by the way. So it’s hyper critical to be there and to have a good experience because prospective students aren’t just on a desktop at a desk searching for colleges. They’re most likely sitting on the couch streaming TV and also looking at their phone or tablet, and it’s really important to be there when they’re looking.
Jordon: Another reason not to sleep on search is just because it’s so measurable from the click to the visit, to the first conversion, to an actual online application. You can measure every touch point and every micro conversion that leads to an actual student starting. It’s the most measurable channel out there. While we fully believe in terrestrial TV, and radio, and billboards, and bus wraps, it’s all important, but it’s not nearly as measurable or accountable as search.
Jordon: The last bullet point here is that we get so much data back to us that creates this brilliant cycle of testing and optimizing and continuously improving what we’re bidding on, who were the audience that we’re getting in front of, how we’re measuring success. We get so much data to leverage through search that it’s really hard to ignore how powerful it is.
Jordon: Another reason here is it’s a low barrier to entry. Not that it’s necessarily cheap or easy, but the barrier is so low. Of course, we see people just fire up new ad accounts and mismanage them, and that’s why we’re here to make things better. But the real key to what I’m trying to get across here is that… You can have the three colleges on the right here, just a quick example, just a raw search that I did the other day. A nursing degree is a very valuable thing to a college, and to show here that there’s three very different colleges advertising for the same degree, and we know that there’s three very different levels of budget that they have to spend within Google or Bing or just on marketing in general.
Jordon: But the budget isn’t what counts on this example on the right. It’s really about the bid. It’s about getting granular with the targeting, making sure that you’re playing within your own geography, or you’re playing within a small enough geography to afford it. You have a good message. You have well-crafted ads. You have well-crafted landing page experience after the fact. It’s a low barrier to entry because a smaller college can play with the big guys, and you can show up for the exact same search as they are. That’s the rule within Google. Right? You don’t have to spend a million dollars a quarter to be here. But if you’re good, if you’re smart, if you’re measuring what success actually looks like, you can play in as big a category as you want. And that’s the really cool thing about search.
Jordon: Another thing to keep in mind is while search can and PPC can take a lot of credit for conversions, we’re not Target. Right? Every time you walk into Target, you walk out with something. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a Target without buying something. They have a near 100% conversion rate. It’s a beautiful thing. Unfortunately, our websites, your college and university website isn’t the same. Most of the visits don’t result in a conversion, but the important thing to keep in mind is, and the important thing of having a partner like us that actually understands the student journey, is that it takes multiple visits and multiple brand engagements to really lock in on this potential student, bring them back time and time again to your site, hit them with good content, and be where they are on whatever device they’re on so that search can close the deal. Because we often do see paid search start and end the journey, but it’s really important to consider what’s in the middle. I’ll touch a bit on that on the next slide.
Jordon: So to close out my section here, I think it’s really important that you don’t sleep on search because we need to stop treating it like it is the first and last engagement. There’s a lot that goes in the middle. This is just an example that I came up with, but it’s very similar to things that are true out there. Someone might from their couch search on general branded or non-brand college. Right? How do I go back to college? Can I go back to college as an adult? Or if I’m a 15-year-old, how do I apply to college? What’s in it for me?
Jordon: So now they might go to your site. They educate themselves on what’s available. They see an interesting degree, but now they’re curious who else offers that degree? Is there a college I don’t know of? Is there a college that’s more convenient or more affordable? So now they might know your brand, they might know the degree they want, but there are so many things in between. How do I pay for this? What’s the admissions process? What’s the graduation rate? Does this school just bring a bunch of students in and never graduate them? What’s the earning potential of this degree I’m looking at? There are so many questions to answer, and search is where people find their answers oftentimes.
Jordon: So it’s really important to not only be that first touch for awareness and that last touch to get an application and a new student, it’s really important to cover the middle as well. I think that’s what sets good paid search marketers apart from rookies or just not experienced. You have to understand the full life cycle, the full funnel of a new student, and that’s what we try to do here. Obviously, you can bid and capture a lot of lower funnel stuff, but if you don’t go up that funnel, you’re not going to capture a larger student base, you’re not going to grow the university, and especially now, when it’s so competitive with COVID and everyone looking to learn online, it’s even more important to cover that middle funnel now and budget for it and measure it.
Jordon: Thanks for listening to me talk a lot. We’ve got some good stuff coming up. John’s going to inform us a little bit about attribution.
Steve: Thanks, Jordon. Like you mentioned, we’re going to go ahead and hand it off to John Chan, and he’s going to talk about getting attribution right. I know that makes it seems like, hey, there will be a definitive solution. That’s really not what we’re looking to do here. I think it’ll be good to hear from John to talk about what to take into consideration. Take it away, John.
John: Yeah. Thanks, Jordon. Appreciate it. My name is John Chan. As Steve mentioned earlier, I’m the agency development manager for Granular. I’m just a small part of Granular’s team that works with Google. The reason that we have this team, or the reason that I have a job, is because I think… We don’t disclose it publicly, but the latest number that I could get was from 2015, and Google had at that time external research that we had four million advertisers on our ad platforms. I’m sure that number has grown, but as you can imagine, we cannot have direct relationships with each of our advertisers because there’s too many. So agencies like Granular allow us to scale the support that we bring through our product. They are the experts, and our premier partners are the experts in search display and YouTube.
John: Just to give you a little bit more background on the program, they are the experts, and to be a premier partner, we require them to keep up their certification, to keep up their performance and best practices. But the advantages of that to Granular, and to all of our premier partners and the advertisers that they work with, they get early access to betas and some of our latest products so that they become experts and can use them. I think Ian’s going to talk about responsive ads a little further down the line, some of the things the Granular team had access to before it was rolled out to the rest of the public. And a couple of the other things we’re going to talk about are the data and research that Google does. So that’s part of my job is bringing those resources to our premier partners.
John: As you know, I don’t have to tell anybody here that that journey from exploration and fact-finding to the application start, to the enrollment, to class starting and eventually and hopefully graduation is very complicated. Jordon alluded to it a little bit earlier, but there is a ton of data, and there’s a large messy middle from that very first search into becoming a leader or completing that application.
John: A few years ago, Google did a longitudinal study for seven months that included thousands of students in surveys, hundreds of discussion groups, and then some voluntary click stream data, so tracking, people that opted in into having their journey tracked and reported on. So when we talk about the messy middle, this is a little bit of an extreme, but in this particular case study from this research, single mother, 35 years old, looking into a business degree… 132 Google searches that had to do with higher education, 764 school page visits, 116 career or financial aid page visits… So understanding what the impact of that degree could possibly be in addition to how do I pay for this? Then something that we’ve seen continue to grow is the role in YouTube and video when it comes to deciding upon where or getting ideas where to apply to schools… and 76 social page visits.
John: Understanding that complex journey… It’s impossible for us to go down the rabbit hole of understanding each of these individual user journeys, but that is why Google exists, and we bring our technology to the forefront with our Google Ads products. So we use that to measure and make better decisions on reaching the potential students for you.
John: So in that, we’re going to talk a little bit about attribution. We talked about a very extreme user journey there. For a typical Google user, if they were to convert on an e-commerce site, typically clicking on about four ads. So we’re going use a very basic model here to talk about attribution.
John: Last-click attribution is someone who searches for your school, they come to the application page, they land on that application page from an ad. That’s awesome. You got the lead. But last-click attribution is saying all of that, that ad is 100% responsible for that application. That’s the equal of saying if you go into a store and buy something, and you see the sign from across the parking lot, that 100% of the reason that you went into that store is because of that big sign. Are you going to dump in all of your marketing resources into getting a bigger and bigger sign for your store? No. We do it across many different ways.
John: So the next model is thinking about what we call rule-based or, in this case, a linear attribution model. This allows us to subjectively attribute credit across all touch points. In this case, linear, everything is created equal, which again, it’s better because we are attributing multiple stages in that consumer journey to get to that lead. To further the store example, we are equally attributing credit to the TV ad, the newspaper ad, the radio spot, and then finally, they get to the address, they look across that parking lot, and you see the sign. Now you’re splitting all of your marketing dollars across each of those touch points. That makes a little more sense than having a giant sign, but again, we’re at the point where we can use data to drive our decisions.
John: So today, what the gold standard is, is data-driven attribution, what we call DDA. Now DDA relies on Google’s algorithms and machine learning to determine how much credit to apply to all of these touch points. As we’ve mentioned before, it’s not just four. Especially when it comes to higher ed, it’s multiple touch points, potentially thousands across months. This is objective data. So in the linear, rules-based model, we are choosing the model in which we attribute things. With Google and the algorithm that we have, we take into account the different paths that each of these people take with the clicks that they have and which lead to an actual conversion, but we also take into account conversely the paths that don’t lead to a conversion. So that is feeding into our data-driven model that is updated constantly, and that eventually helps us to bid more efficiently.
John: To close out my very tortured store analogy, if somebody comes in and buys something in the store after all of those touch points, they fill out a comprehensive survey of how did they first find out about the store? What ad did they see? How did they get there? How prominent was the sign? Not only that, data-drive attribution also understands all of the people that were thinking about going to your store but ended up not going there as well. So you get both sides of that information.
John: So it’s a complex journey, and it requires complex technology and the people that know how to handle it and bid effectively so that you can get to your perspective students effectively and efficiently.
Steve: Perfect. Thanks, John. I think that’s a great segue. So to move away from your store analogy model, if we’re talking the world where… From our experience, if you ask individuals who engage with your ads or your website to fill out a form how you heard about us, we typically don’t trust what they tell you. So instead, we make sure that we track everything that we can.
Steve: I talked about this earlier, that we really push hard to make sure we’ve got a really strong practice when it comes to tagging and tracking in Google Tag Manager, Google Analytics, making sure that phone calls, form submissions, those are no-brainers to track. But we can track engagements on the website, people who are clicking through photo galleries, who are looking at videos, who are engaging with chatbots. There’s the technological know-how. We definitely could do that. We have a whole blog post our colleague, Mark, wrote, which is very popular. The main Google Analytics Twitter profile retweeted it. They shared it because they thought it was such a good article. It’s been crazy from an attention standpoint.
Steve: But that’s really only one part of the equation. We need to be able to have those conversations with you on what are the behaviors that lead us to believe that they’re indicative of the type of success you’re looking for. Being able to implement the DDA model, that can help surface some of those insights. I think that what’s valuable is you can go through the exercise. We’ve all been through it. But when you’re leaning on that data-driven attribution model, that can really help as a jumping off point to say, hey, here’s what Google is saying, all the different ways that individuals are engaging with you, and it leads to really productive conversations.
Steve: We’ve talked about how important it is to drive leads, but we know that your institutions, you as marketers and those of you working in enrollment, you really are looking beyond the lead. My colleague, Mike, who’s going to be speaking next, is going to talk about that balance. But for us, I alluded to this earlier, as a baseline, we make sure that everything is being tracked in the platforms, Analytics, Tag Manager, but how do we make sure we incorporate your CRM data? How do we bring in your marketing automation data? How do we bring in some of that unstructured data that we can incorporate? That’s something that we’ve really been able to do and we’re really proud of, and it gives that more complete picture of how Google Ads drives enrollments. So that’s something that if you have any questions specific to that, or anything else obviously, we’ll be happy to answer that when we have time.
Steve: I’m going to go ahead and have my colleague, Mike, here go ahead and let him jump in because he’s going to talk about our next key, which is team collaboration. So I’m going to go ahead and turn it over to you, Mike. Mike, you want to go ahead and say something to make sure we can hear you?
Mike: Yes, I’m here.
Steve: All right. Perfect. I’m going to turn it over to you, Mike.
Mike: All right. Thanks, Steve. Yeah. All-important aspect of having successful digital marketing campaigns within higher ed I think is the team collaboration aspect between really three departments in this whole scenario, which is the agency, the marketing department, and enrollment. I think it’s really important for those teams to collaborate at a high level, and the reason for that is especially because of one thing I want to point out, and that’s that all leads aren’t created equal. Right? We already talked about how touch points aren’t equal, and attribution can be different, and going through this research phase and deciding where to go to school can be quite the process. Well, people that go through that process can contact you for more information at any point in that process. Right? So all leads really aren’t created equal.
Mike: The factors that go into that are things like what channel they come from. Right? So when we look at a channel like search, search lends itself more to someone that has an intent, has a need that is more pressing typically, and timing typically tends to be better on average. Now there are still some people, like we said, that will start their journey, their long journey, by doing a search and end it by doing a search.
Mike: But more often than we see from a channel like social, we see someone in search might do a search, get more information, apply and enroll within a very short amount of time. Now certainly, that’s not the majority of people, but it does happen. Overall though, on average, search creates a situation where there’s a quicker consideration cycle. Right? Now that’s a big advantage to enrollment because, hey, they’re more likely to interact with me, they’re more likely to answer my calls, things like that.
Mike: The disadvantage that we see with search, though, is that it can be a mixed audience. Right? You can have a situation where you don’t actually know who’s doing the search. It could be your target prospect. It could be their parents. It could be, like Jordon mentioned, a 15-year-old just wondering about colleges in the area. It could be someone that’s ready to enroll this month. So it’s really a mixed bag.
Mike: When you look at the social channel, it’s the opposite. Right? Your audience tends to be more highly targeted. When you think about a channel like LinkedIn, where if you’re promoting, for example, a master’s of education degree, you can target teachers that don’t have a master’s in education. Right? Perfect audience. The difference with social, though, is that it’s a longer consideration cycle. Right? People get on to social platforms to do things like catch up with their friends or to interact with their networks, their business networks. So you can have a more highly targeted audience, but they’re not necessarily ready to engage with you at a high level yet. So they might want more information and become a lead, but it doesn’t mean they’re ready to apply and enroll. So those consideration cycles are longer in general.
Mike: The thing about social though, like Jordon mentioned previously, 80% of budgets are spent on search. Well, in an auction environment, you can imagine that that creates more expense. Right? Higher costs, things like that. And there’s tremendous ROI in search because of the need and timing aspect. But if you look at it, if you work social leads correctly, you’re definitely going to get a cheaper cost per lead because the competition tends to be lower, but the question then becomes are you going to get a cheaper cost per application, and are you going to get a cheaper cost per enrollment?
Mike: And really, what I’m trying to say in this point is if your teams can collaborate on the right level and understand what channels your prospects and your leads are coming from, and how that might inform how you treat those leads, how you work them and what your expectations are of them, then you can have a cheaper or similar cost per enrollment as you would see in search. So we’re not talking about here one is better than the other. We’re talking about they’re different. Right? All leads aren’t created equal.
Mike: So it’s not just the channel. Right? It’s also how you capture a lead that’s going to affect its quality. Right? On the left side, you see a situation where you might use a landing page, and on that landing page, you’ll have a form that they need to fill out. The call to action of that form is to get more info or apply now. Right? That’s more of a, hey, do business with us type of situation. Well, someone that fills out that form, that goes to that landing page and fills that form out, is going to be much more serious about engaging with you than other people. Then you’ve got the factor of are you requiring a phone number on your form? Right? How are you capturing what you’re requiring? Well, if you require a phone number and they give you their phone number, especially in today’s day and age, that means, wow, they’re really serious. So those leads tend to be higher quality.
Mike: On the opposite side, most digital platforms now are coming out with what’s called lead gen forms. Lead gen forms are basically when they click on your ad on the platform, they come to a form that’s not your landing page. It pops up on the platform; information is already filled in for them, their information that they’ve supplied to the platform; and all they need to do is hit submit. Well, this makes it really, really easy to become a lead or to get more information, which makes your conversion rates go up, makes your lead volume go up. But when it’s so easy to become a lead, people might even not remember they submitted the form. That’s what we hear from some people is we call our leads that fill out these lead gen forms, and some of them say they don’t even remember submitting it. Right? So you might be sacrificing quality to get more volume. Right? If you capture that lead by having a download, it’s not get more information or apply, but it’s a download, and you don’t require a phone number, you’re making it really easy.
Mike: So the point is not only does the channel does someone come from matter in terms of what the quality is and maybe how that lead should be treated, but also the way it’s captured is going to affect that.
Mike: So what happens when your teams… the agency, the marketing department, the enrollment department… When they don’t collaborate together, you get this constant tension when they’re not on the same page. Enrollment’s saying marketing’s giving us bad leads, and enrollment’s looking at the lead source, and if it’s from Google, they’re going to call it right away. If it’s from another platform, they’re going to say, oh, those tend to stink because they don’t enroll right away. So your enrollment counselor’s understanding what should this process be that I should work this lead, and being on the same page is important.
Mike: Then, of course, on the other side, marketing is looking at all the leads they’re driving, but enrollment isn’t converting them at the rate they need to be converting them. So if you’re not on the same page, you’re talking past each other. Right? You’re playing this tug of war with each other, and that’s not productive at all. So collaborating together is really what’s going to create the best results.
Mike: So when you look across these three entities, the areas of collaboration that are important, we all need to be on the same page with what should our strategy be? What channel should we be on? What should our capture methods be? And not only what they should be, but maybe we’re testing multiple channels and multiple ways of capturing. Well, how should we be working those leads? What should we expect from those leads in terms of time decay? How many calls are we putting in? How long are we working these leads? Things like that. What are our enrollment processes?
Mike: Then like was mentioned earlier, circling back around where you get that data, circling back around to the agency and to the marketing department. Okay, what do we do with this data now to inform our strategy? Like Jordon mentioned earlier, it’s a cycle going on of strategy, campaigns, data, communication, collaboration together, how are we working these things, and then cycling back to strategy and tweaking and optimizing.
Mike: So there you have it. Those are some tips. I think team collaboration in these areas is a huge key to success with these digital marketing campaigns.
Steve: Thanks, Mike. Appreciate that. I’m going to go ahead and mute you for now, but we’re going to go ahead and bring you back for the Q and A section here, and we’re going to go ahead and jump into the next session. We originally said, hey, three keys to success. We’re all living with COVID, and this is something I know that is very top of mind for everyone here on this call. So we wanted to have a specific section and talk about what we’ve seen here at Granular and how we’ve adapted with our clients during COVID, and then also John has a contribution as well from the Google side, some useful information. So for this, I’m going to have my colleague, Ian, go ahead and jump in. Ian, can you go ahead and speak to confirm I can hear you?
Steve: Hey. All right. Perfect, Ian. So I’m going to go ahead and turn it over to you.
Ian: Yeah. So in March, around the start of the pandemic, and I think everyone saw this across several accounts, we saw big drops in traffic and with performance. And during those times, I took a little deeper look things and tried to challenge some biases I have, what the team has, to try to see what we’re doing wrong, see if there’s anything that I thought didn’t work before or that I dismissed before and see if that can help things turn around. There were definitely some things that we saw here with responsive ads bidding strategies that I had dismissed before, but I think it’ll turn some of the higher education accounts and have really helped performance.
Ian: The first one is with testing responsive ads where you haven’t. So we have a blog post from, well, at the beginning when responsive search ads were rolled out, by one of the other managers talking about responsive search ads and showed that RSAs were just performing worse, 16% worse click-through rate. We saw worse conversion rates across the board, and that was for early 2019. Going back, we’re seeing that since then, especially in the early part of the pandemic, that responsive search ads have been performing 40% better than the expanded text ads. It’s about a 3.7% click-through rate to, I think, about a 2.4% click-through rate, and this would be across all of our higher education accounts.
Ian: Talking about trying to think of reasons why this happened is that the machine learning got better, but also the PPC community has had an extra year to learn how to better leverage responsive search ads, learn what works and how it works differently from expanded text ads, and I think that has been probably the bigger driver for why our responsive search ads have gotten better. The lesson to learn here is that the machine learning, it can help us respond a little faster than the traditional ad formats can without having to write completely new ads, and maybe machine learning will be able to take what we already have, put it in a new way that can perform even better than before.
Ian: And second, with bidding strategies, a lot of this, specifically I looked at cost per click, not cost per acquisition here, even though a lot of the automated bid strategies center around that. The reason for that is all of our higher education accounts, they have different conversion points. Some ask for applications. Some are just leads. Some are just going to an open house. So looking at all the education accounts together from conversions really wasn’t useful, but looking at cost per click always relates directly to your eventual cost per acquisition.
Ian: What we saw with the bidding strategies was that during the beginning of the pandemic, the enhanced CPC and manual CPCs, those nearly doubled year over year during that time. Also, the maximized conversions did as well. But seeing accounts that had target CPA stayed about the same or went down about three, four percentage points. The reasons there were enhanced CPC, it can be slower to implement bid changes depending on how big your account is. You could have thousands of keywords you have to look at to implement bid changes with maximized conversions. I mean, we’re seeing increased competition, and maximized conversion’s a more aggressive type of automated bidding strategy. With increased competition, maximized conversion’s going to drive a lot higher cost per click.
Ian: For example, what I’m talking about with the increased competition is I’m looking back in auction insights reports. In 2018, I’m only seeing five competitors for some of my clients; 2019, I’ll see ten; but within the last six months, I’ll see 17 competitors within my auction insight reports. So I’m trying to be aware with my bidding strategies and trying to pick more of the bidding strategies that are trying to be cost efficient. I’m using more target CPA than maximized conversions for a few of my clients.
Ian: The lesson to learn there is that the machine learning can help you respond quickly, but you still have to think and choose how we leverage and strategize around the different options we have with all of our machine learning options.
Ian: Then third, with diversifying your Google Ads strategy, probably the most significant thing with the COVID response is that there was a huge drop in traffic in March that lasted about two to three weeks, and that leads directly to a drop in leads across the board. That was specifically isolated within search. So we’re getting a lot less traffic, a lot less leads from search. What helps with diversification there is that if we’re able to still stay in front of people and display on YouTube and social, these are the places that aren’t as high intent as Mike talked about before, but those help build up the multiple brand engagements, multiple website visits that people have been talking about. To still stay in front of people, and then that benefits later. It benefits search later so that when people do have higher intent, they’ve still kept engaging with you over that time, and you can capitalize on that later.
Ian: Just remember, if you haven’t yet, test your responsive search ads or keep working on them, adding new assets to them. Check out how your bidding strategies are doing, and just look into adding more channels than just search.
Steve: Awesome. Thanks, Ian. We do have the link to the blog post there. We will be following up with that resource as well as others. Really encourage everyone on this to give that a read.
John: All right. So I’m going to hop back in here. As we know, marketing age-old adage that you need to be the right person at the right time with the right message. So while we’re doing everything when it comes to attribution and bidding and using all of the data, making sure that we are getting the message is still important. So one of the things, again, that Google can bring to our premier partners, and Granular in particular, is some data specifically around COVID. These surveys have been going on quarterly and most recently coming back from September, and this is in the nontraditional student, which is 25 to 54, that most of them or a large portion are rushing to online-only. Most of that is coming from in-person where they were, their enrollment status, but also from the hybrid model as well, mostly into online.
John: And if we could move ahead one. The growth from more of your traditional students from 18 to 24, that growth is coming at a similar rate into online, but in-person is way down from June to September, so dropping 32%, more than twice as fast than the 25 to 24. Across both, what’s crazy, around 20% for the unknown. So those are some of the insights that are helpful in crafting the right messages. There’s a couple of more that I wanted to share briefly. Forty-five percent of students can expect to continue online or hybrid learning. So while we saw the growth of online learning before COVID, that acceleration is more expected to stick than probably first anticipated.
John: The next thing, 34% of students say that the quality of online programs are negatively impacting their education. So messaging around positive student engagement with online or if you had an online program beforehand and you have that expertise, that’s the type of thing that I would encourage you to explore that messaging because it matters to students.
John: One more bit to that piece, 53% of students lacked engagement from teachers that has negatively impacted their education. So if you have some great professor reviews, things that you can highlight in your messaging, not just in search or in anything across the board, it’s something that we would encourage as well.
John: Then finally, 55% of prospective students’ parents believe that COVID has impacted their ability to support their client. That’s a very sad stat, and I hope that we can move in a positive direction with supporting students and those parents. But again, when it comes to messaging around financial aid and being able to pay for school, that’s another thing that might be good to highlight at this time.
John: These surveys are ongoing with the types of research that we can bring to Granular. So hopefully, that’s something you can use.
Jordon: Cool. Thanks a lot, John, Ian, and Mike. I think we delivered some awesome content. With the few minutes left, we do have a question that I want to answer from Nathan. He asked, “What are some key components to consider when trying to increase quality scores of keywords you’re bidding on?”
Jordon: Quality score’s definitely getting in the weeds. It’s getting granular, something that we love. We don’t talk too much about it with clients until we’re really sophisticated with educating them on what’s important, but I can answer that for you now. Look, the biggest things that Google talks about with quality score are the keyword relevance, the ad relevance, and the landing page experience, which means is it also relevant? Does it load quickly? Is it mobile-friendly? Is it a good experience?
Jordon: There have been hunches that there are over 200 other factors that are not published, things like bounce rate, account structure, campaign history, match types, bid strategy. There’s a lot that goes into quality score. What I would suggest as just a quick test is to build out a SKAG, which is a single-keyword ad group, for one of your troubled lower quality score keywords and really hone in on the ad quality and make sure that landing page is absolutely on point with that keyword you’re bidding on. You should see an improvement in quality score there.
Jordon: Then just a last tip on tracking quality score improvements. If you go into your ad area within Google Ads and select a dimension that shows what keywords showed up for what ad, and you can actually have quality score as a column. So you can see this keyword actually had a lower quality score with this ad versus the other ad. That’ll steer you in the right direction on how to improve your ad copy for quality score purposes.
Steve: Awesome. Thanks, Jordon. We do have a couple more questions from the chat. We’ll answer this question first just because it’s a little more straightforward, “What CRMs have you worked with?”
Steve: What haven’t we worked with? So the traditional CRMs, your Salesforces, your HubSpots, SugarCRMs, but then all of the higher ed-specific CRMs. And again, Ian, and Mike, and Jordon can probably jump in there, but your Slates. Ian and Mike, you guys can probably talk to some other ones.
Ian: Blackbaud is one.
Steve: Blackbaud. Pretty much any CRM. What we see is the higher ed industry attracts a lot of specialty software providers, including CRMs. So we’ve had to figure out how to work with pretty much all of them.
Steve: Then we do have another question here, “Can you chat through how you address strategy for competing clients, especially as far as geographic market overlap?”
Jordon: I mean, we’ve definitely run into this. Right? If we’re known as paid search experts or higher ed experts, we’ve definitely had competing clients. We really try to respect that privacy, and we don’t talk about who those are to each client. We don’t say, “Hey, we’re working with your competitor.” We keep it really quiet typically, and we try to distribute that evenly amongst the team. So we really try not to have the same account manager manage two competing schools and just really try to stay above board with the ethics there.
Jordon: But also it’s interesting that we see how important brand is, how much brand equity plays into cost per click and conversion rate. I had a firsthand example of working at a competitor and then going to their competitor, and I saw vastly different performance. Everything about it was different even though we competed in the same geography, we offered the same degree. There’s just different ways to approach each school.
Jordon: So I guess the last thing I would say is we don’t have a copy/paste approach with anyone. Every school is handled differently. Every geography is handled differently. So it’s really a unique experience even if there are overlapping offerings within our colleges we work with.
Steve: Perfect, Jordon. And that takes us right up to time here. For those of you who didn’t have a question you asked here but maybe you want to ask us, we will be sending a follow-up email for those of you who attended. And then our emails are on the screen there, Jordon’s email and my email, if you want to reach out to us direct. You can always go to Granularmarketing.com and fill out the form there or chat with us if you prefer. We look forward to chatting with you if we do connect. Otherwise, thank you for attending. Thank you to all of our panelists… Jordon, John, Mike and Ian… and we’re going to go ahead and finish up here.
Steve: Thanks everyone.
John: Thanks everyone.