Are Bid Tools Pulling Their Weight in Higher Education?

Are Bid Tools Pulling Their Weight in Higher Education?

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Advertisers in higher education spend a lot of money on paid search, and they want the best possible bid tools to drive leads and keep costs in check. But are advertisers in higher education getting their money’s worth with bid tools?

Branded keywords typically drive the most volume, and they’re usually pretty easy to manage. Put another way, staying in Position One in search results doesn’t take a lot of technology horsepower to accomplish. Now, if you are an advertiser in higher education, you typically buy a lot of degree-related keywords — both branded and non-branded, and both long- and short-tail. Naturally, you want to be able to set up some rules and let your bid tool do the work. Your bid tool is smarter than you — so you should turn it on and be amazed by the results, right?

Wrong.

Here’s the problem with bid management tools in the higher education space for a lot of advertisers: lack of volume (clicks and leads) on non-branded keywords, or even branded keywords combined with a degree type. Higher education isn’t retail, where the sheer volume and complexity of an account makes it a perfect fit for a bid management tool.

We find that up to 85 percent of your keywords don’t generate enough click volume in a week or in a month to justify adjusting your bids for non-branded keywords. Yes, you can set up click or lead thresholds and parameters to dictate when the bid management tool should adjust the bid. You can establish position rules as well. But the point is this: if the bid management tool doesn’t have enough click volume to make sound decisions, is it worth the monthly fee?

Furthermore, you know how expensive some of these cost per clicks are. If you advertise for an MBA program you know what I mean! What you don’t need is a bid tool moving you out of a Top Four position just because you didn’t get enough volume in a particular week.

So for higher education advertisers, bid tools may be ineffective because there isn’t enough volume in those keywords for bid tools to to use their algorithms to adjust bids. (The exception occurs with branded keywords and a handful of tried-and-true program/degree keywords.)

Is this the case for all .Edu advertisers? No. But my advice to higher education advertisers is to look carefully at what you’re spending on bid management tools and what you’re getting from them – especially when you get outside of top performers.

So what should you use to manage your keyword bidding? Search engines have come a long way with their (free) bidding capabilities, and my recommendation to several clients has been to start with the free bidding capabilities available from search engines such as Google and evaluate their performance after three months. We’ve used that approach and combined some scripts that we’ve created to eliminate not only cost, but also many of the headaches associated with plugging low-volume keywords into bid tools that need high volume to work well.

Meanwhile, feel free to contact me (mark@keywordfirst.com) to share your insights.

Lead image source: Dave Meier (https://stocksnap.io/author/480)

How to Apply a March Madness Approach to Paid Search

How to Apply a March Madness Approach to Paid Search

Search

I look forward to NCAA March Madness every year. What I do like about March Madness is picking random teams based off either the state, the colors, or just rankings and odds. I love the camaraderie of being in a pool and heckling the other losers, and typically losing my $10 buy-in. Now that I’ve gotten the hang of creating a March Madness bracket year over year, I thought I’d apply the approach of choosing brackets to selecting a winning paid search strategy for 2017, based on my knowledge of search engine marketing.

Getting Started with a Paid Search Bracket

What makes March Madness so fun and exciting is that each tournament is different. The Connecticut Huskies won the championship in 2011 and 2014, yet they aren’t even in the bracket this year. Well, paid search is like March Madness in that regard — you cannot predict the “winning” tactic every year. What worked years ago might not be relevant in 2017. For example, targeting long-tail keywords used to be a best practice. Now the long-tail keyword approach has become obsolete due to the addition of close keyword variation. Now, let’s take a look at 16 important paid search tactics/practices for 2017 and put them in a bracket for consideration. How would you fill out the following bracket?

All of these tactics are important, and, depending on your needs, the results could be different. For example, is your key performance indicator lead generation? Then shopping campaigns wouldn’t apply. Do you have a small budget? I wouldn’t recommend YouTube if you have a small budget and your main goals are return on ad spend or cost per order. But if you are interested in increasing brand awareness, YouTube could be beneficial. The fun part about paid search is that there isn’t a “one size fits all” mentality. The important thing is to learn what works for you each year.

Selecting the Final Four Paid Search Tactics for 2017

Below is my paid search bracket for 2017. I’ve given a brief description about my Final Four and why I think my candidates are pivotal in 2017.

  • Adwords IF Function Ads – We now can modify our ad copy based on device or audience. Doing allows us to change our call to action for those on mobile from “Learn More” to “Call Now” or maybe “Easy Mobile Booking.”
  • Demographic Targeting – We can optimize and gather data based on income, age, gender, and so forth. Do we see that 18-24 year olds aren’t performing as well as 35-44 year olds? Let’s exclude or add a negative bid multiplier on the 18-24 year olds so that we can increase of traffic volume for those demographics that perform well.
  • Attribution – What campaigns help the “last click conversion” with “assisted conversions”? We all know that the brand campaigns have a much higher conversion rate and conversion amount. How much of that outcome comes from assisted conversions? Did our non-branded, dynamic search campaign or display campaigns contribute to the branded conversions?
  • Facebook Lookalike Targeting – Using Facebook’s algorithm to create a new audience based off of a list of past customers. You might find success when using this targeting if you have a smaller budget and target a focused audience size.

The Winner: Demographic targeting! Instead of relying on keyword data for all of our optimizations, we can now optimize off of age, gender, income targeting, and so on. We are now able to add bid modifiers or exclude demographics that don’t fit our target audience. This capability, in turn, can increase our order volume, or improve efficiencies by reducing traffic that isn’t a fit for our clients. Demographic targeting is just in the beginning stages for paid search campaigns and will only improve as Google gains more information.

Lead image source: Fredrick Kearney Jr. (https://stocksnap.io/author/37926)

How to Improve Paid Search Targeting in Higher Education

How to Improve Paid Search Targeting in Higher Education

Search

Institutes in higher education need to manage paid search campaigns carefully just like organizations in any other industry, and targeting is critical to doing so. But what’s the best way for higher education organizations to target by time of day for paid search? Based on KeywordFirst’s experience in this sector, we find that making small adjustments can lead to big improvements in paid search campaigns for higher education.

We’ve managed more than 250 degree programs from more than 50 universities and colleges over the last several years; so we have a lot of data to draw upon as we help higher education organizations improve paid search. We also analyze our data to examine search behavior. Recently, we wondered, do people searching for MBAs differ in behavior from those searching for an MLS or an MSW degree, or any master’s degree programs for that matter? If so, how can we leverage that data so that our higher education clients constantly achieve the most optimal position in search results at the right time when searches occur?

When we examined the search behaviors of students seeking different higher education degrees, we observed the following:

  • We see distinct changes in search behavior depending on time of day. There emerges from our research an understanding of the peak and off-peak hours for search.
  • People seeking different degrees are all searching at the same time of day. The peak and off-peak search hours are very similar for people seeking MBAs, MLS, and all other categories of master’s degrees.

The findings make intuitive sense. There are only so many hours in a day, and our body clocks are, for the most part, fairly similar regardless of what degree we want to pursue.

Based on our findings, we offer the following advice to institutes of higher education:

  • Implement hourly bid rules in order to improve lead volume and efficiencies. Constructing the right hourly bid rules can improve lead volume by up to 10 percent.
  • Your dayparting strategy may look similar regardless of degree. Seekers of MLS degrees, for example, will be similar for those seeking MBAs because both audiences are searching at the same time of day.

How higher education advertisers manage their bids and budgets through a dayparting strategy depends on a number of factors. Schools with restricted budgets may enter an auction exclusively during certain hours, making them more competitive. Other schools may just increase bids simply because they know those are the best hours and there are more advertisers in the auction.

We recommend that higher education organizations look at their average positions by hour and see what happens when modifiers aren’t used. Then, experiment with modifiers by the hour to maintain their optimal position. Since there are just a few hours of the day when the big volume is coming in, it’s important to get it right, which is why it’s important to make finite adjustments. And we can help higher education advertisers do so. Our models predict the optimal position in search results for your keyword bids. We know where to set the cost per click in the bid. And we understand the optimal bid modifiers for each keyword associated with searches for various degrees in higher education. As a result, we have helped our clients achieve greater lead volume at lower cost per lead levels.

Balancing volume with cost has always been a challenge in higher education lead generation. Understanding how to manipulate your bids during a given day can really help with both volume and efficiency. Feel free to contact me (mark@keywordfirst.com) if you want to validate your assumptions against our data.

Image credit: Sidharth Bhatia (https://unsplash.com/@sidharthbhatia)

Adapting Your PPC Strategy for Voice Search

Adapting Your PPC Strategy for Voice Search

Search Uncategorized

The evolution of artificial intelligence is changing the way people search online. Consumers are constantly connected to devices whether mobile, desktop, or tablet. And people are increasingly using voice search because of the proliferation of personal assistants on these devices such as Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, or Amazon’s Alexa. When utilizing voice search capabilities, consumers are exercising a more natural and conversational language, thus altering their search behavior. Consequently, brands need to alter their own behavior, including their strategies for pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns. Since people do not type and speak in the same manner, digital marketers need to understand how their audience relies on voice search in order to be relevant in the era of voice search.

Unfortunately, Google and Bing do not provide a way to pull data regarding voice searches. Voice searches are translated into text and listed as regular search queries. At times you might see, “Siri, can you . . . ” or “OK Google” before a search term, but that’s not always the case. Brands need not wait for technology to advance in order to adapt their PPC campaigns for voice search. Here are a few strategies to consider:

Evaluate

First, evaluate your search queries and look for conversional text. “Who,” “What,” “Where,” “When,” “Why,” and “How” are great phrases to focus on. Also, pay attention to any long-tail queries that include a natural phrase such as “near me” or “can I get the number for . . . ” Use these queries to understand what consumers want to know about your products or services. You can then gather those learnings to strategize a personal user experience for voice searchers.

People using voice search might seek a different user experience than what you’re providing for text searches. For example, the consumer might be trying to find “a plumber near me” but being driven to a landing page with a list of products on it. Once you know what your audience is looking for, determine if your paid advertisements and landing pages satisfy those searches so that you can improve performance for your PPC campaigns.

Optimize and Customize

Artificial intelligence encourages searchers to use conversational language. When trying to find an Italian restaurant in Chicago, one using voice search might ask: “What is the best Italian restaurant in Chicago?” However, if that same user wanted to search on a keyboard, they might type: “Best Italian restaurants Chicago.” The variation in tone shows that voice searches are looking for an immediate answer while text searches indicates that the consumer is still in the research phase.

Since voice search users are on the go looking for a quick direct answer, it’s important to optimize your content and ad copy to align with all the questions related to your offerings. Customize ad copy and drive traffic to a high-quality content landing page to ensure a better user experience and quality score. It’s also important to incorporate human-like content in your search ads and landing pages to match the natural phrases being searched.

Listen and Learn

Since voice search is becoming more widely adopted, especially for millennials, we can predict that we will see more PPC advancements and features to come focused around artificial intelligence. Even though we cannot track data for voice search yet, take advantage of what we have access to now by creating tests and strategies. Once you understand how your audience is using voice search, you can begin to prepare your PPC campaigns for the growth of artificial intelligence.