Use Social Media to Promote Unusual Higher Education Degrees

Use Social Media to Promote Unusual Higher Education Degrees

Marketing

What do game design, soil conservation, and theme park engineering have in common? They’re all among the top-paying non-traditional degrees available to college students. But my guess is that many potential students are not even aware that those degrees are offered, which means an institution of higher education will have little success promoting those programs through paid search. Creating keywords for more obscure degrees will fail to drive volume because potential students don’t even know to look for those topics. So how does an .EDU let students know about untraditional degrees offered?

You can find the answer the next time you take public transportation or find yourself in a public space among a crowd of young people. Stop and look around. Notice how many students are glued to their electronic devices scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, and Snapchat, or listening to their favorite music on Spotify or Pandora. These social platforms are where you need to introduce your offering to your potential audience.

Now imagine displaying a colorful, eye-catching ad for a degree in game design on a platform such as Facebook, YouTube, or Instagram — or running an audio spot highlighting your school and programs on Spotify or Pandora. You’ve created awareness in a more effective way than paid search could for a lesser-known degree. And with the relatively low cost of many of these social platforms, you can be pretty efficient with your spend.

As advertising on social platforms continues to grow, so do the features offered on those platforms. In many cases you can target age, gender, income, education, and location as well as more advanced options such as behaviors or intents, interests, travel preferences, app usage, and so on. Testing different targeting methods will help you hone in on the right demographic for your marketing goals and should help boost demand in the paid search channel as well. If you are looking to connect with the college-aged demographic, it’s time plug into social.

You also might want to consider social advertising as a way to complement a paid search campaign for better-known degrees, too. Doing so will increase your chances to reaching students who are unsure about their education goals and need a little prompting to consider something you offer that might benefit them. After all, not everyone lives out our simple kindergarten dreams to be a firefighter or an actor. Sometimes, students need a little help. And social platforms are the places for colleges and universities to do just that.

Image source: Vadim Sherbakov (https://stocksnap.io/author/9)

 

Voice Search Gets Louder

Voice Search Gets Louder

Search

Recently we’ve seen some news developments that underscore how rapidly voice technology is growing as a way for people and brands to accomplish increasingly sophisticated tasks. Companies are evolving their strategies to accommodate the rising popularity of voice. It’s time to take a closer look at adapting your digital marketing for voice search. These examples show how big companies such as Amazon, Google, and Samsung are accommodating the rise of voice:

Voice Assistants Take Hold

Research firm Parks Associates recently announced that the number of voice assistants such as Amazon Echo and Google Home more than doubled from 2015 to 2016. According to Parks Associates, the adoption rate of smart speakers with voice assistants grew from 5 percent of U.S. broadband households in Q4 2015 to 12 percent in Q4 2016. Parks Associates Research Analyst Dina Abdelrazik said, “Voice interfaces are advancing due to continued improvements in machine learning and natural language processing, paired with the prevalence of portable devices. Apple increased consumer familiarity of voice control with its introduction of Siri in 2011, but the later-to-market Amazon Alexa has taken a clear lead in this category.”

Voice assistants are taking hold for a number of reasons, and Parks Associates cites an important one — advancements in forms of artificial intelligence, which make voice assistants more effective at interpreting complex commands. The growth of voice assistants, along with the popularity of mobile devices, is helping fuel a rise in voice search. Voice search has quickly developed from a topic of research to a reality. Consumers, armed with mobile devices, are finding that they can ask for more complex things to buy, find places to go, and decide on things to do with increased sophistication, by searching with more conversational questions such as “When are the Cubs hosting the St. Louis Cardinals next at Wrigley Field?” or “Where can I find deep dish pizza with free parking on Chicago’s north side?”

Samsung Launches Bixby

On March 20, Samsung announced the launch of its own voice assistant, Bixby, which gives Samsung an entree into a field that includes tools such as Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Apple’s Siri. Samsung claims that Bixby will feature a better user interface that combines touch and voice and an improved ability to interpret commands. As Samsung noted in a press release, “Bixby will be smart enough to understand commands with incomplete information and execute the commanded task to the best of its knowledge, and then will prompt users to provide more information and take the execution of the task in piecemeal. This makes the interface much more natural and easier to use.” Samsung will make Bixby available with its Galaxy mobile device and plans to expand Bixby to TVs and other appliances.

Google Changes AdWords

Recently, Google announced some changes to AdWords exact match close variants, which will affect advertisers’ keyword strategies for voice search. Close variants, which Google introduced in 2012, is a feature that makes it possible for an ad to appear in a search result even for searches that contain misspellings, plurals, and close matches to keywords that an advertiser is bidding on. Now, AdWords is expanding the feature to include variations in word order and to ignore function words such as “in” and “for.”

Google suggests this change will benefit advertisers by decreasing the amount of keywords needed in a pay-per-click (PPC) campaign, which is true. But the expansion of close variants is also Google’s way to accommodate the rise of voice search. Here’s why:

  • Voice searches use more conversational language.
  • Conversational language can include many variations, such as the use of who, what, where, when and why questions.
  • Because of the conversational nature of voice search, campaign managers might feel compelled to over-build their keyword list in their account in order to cover all possible variations of voice searches that fit their brand. But Google has mitigated against over-building keyword lists by making word order and function words irrelevant. A keyword bid will match for “Flights to Chicago,” “flights in Chicago,” “flights for Chicago,” and so on.
  • In other words, now advertisers do not need to worry about building out exact match keywords in a variety of orders or even include every function word. Advertisers still need to focus on conversational questions including what, where, when, and why, as well as long-tailed queries. But the variations in keywords will now be minimized.

It’s obvious brands need to adapt their paid and organic search strategies to accommodate the use of voice search. In a recently published blog post, we discuss some of the key ways that businesses need to adapt their pay-per-click (PPC) strategies for voice search. Check out our post and contact us to discuss how we can help you adapt your digital marketing for voice search.

Image source: Digital Trends

Three Recreational Brands That Rock Visual Storytelling

Three Recreational Brands That Rock Visual Storytelling

Branding

Recreational brands such as Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, and REI sell more than fishing tackle and hiking boots. They sell lifestyles. When you visit a Bass Pro Shop, for instance, you become immersed in an experience that celebrates the joys of fishing, hunting, and camping, which is evident from the woodsy decor, wildlife displays, and workshops and demos. These brands also celebrate outdoor living through visual storytelling. The following examples demonstrate how they do it — and build brand love at the same time:

Cabela’s

When you visit any retailer website, you expect to find a lot of product images and specs on display. Cabela’s delivers on the table stakes but also uses visuals selectively to remind you that Cabela’s products are meant to be used outdoors, as this image of two campers rushing to a tent demonstrates:

There is more than meets the eye in the above image. The two women in the image are obviously excited to be camping as they rush to a tent with their rolled up sleeping bags. But you don’t see their faces. And Cabela’s branding is subtle — you have to look closely for the Cabela’s logo. Cabela’s demonstrates trust in its audience. Cabela’s doesn’t want to distract us with a predictable image of two smiling models. Instead, Cabela’s evokes curiosity and mystery. Where are the two women? How do they know each other? What’s next for their camping trip? Cabela’s trusts us to figure out our own answers. Also, Cabela’s knows it does not need to hit us over the head with branding. The above photo is used on the Cabela’s website; thus, Cabela’s knows it already has our attention. Cabela’s does an excellent job creating mystique with a single image.

Bass Pro Shops

As noted, Bass Pro Shops (which recently agreed to buy Cabela’s) are noted for using the power of visual storytelling to create immersive offline worlds. As these images from different Bass Pro Shops illustrate, Bass Pro Shops really creates Outdoor Worlds, not just stores:

In addition, Bass Pro Shops encourage engagement with frequent product demonstrations and seminars on topics related to fishing and hunting. Clearly, Bass Pro Shops are places to hang out, which is a smart strategy. Creating a welcoming environment for people who hunt and fish encourages them to engage with your products. You might come into a Bass Pro Shop to buy some tackle — and after you get immersed for awhile, you’ll probably walk out with a new rod and reel. And creating the right environment visually is key.

REI

Just about all the major outdoor retailers support their social spaces well with effective visuals. But REI gets a shout-out for really rocking its Facebook page. Like many retailers, the company relies on Facebook to announce product deals. But REI also lets pictures do the talking, as this dramatic Facebook banner photo shows:

REI also gets its Facebook visitors involved in visual storytelling. The company recently invited the REI Facebook community to share a photo of someone in their lives who introduced them to the great outdoors, resulting in charming submissions like this one:

Note also the story that the user submitted with the photo — makes you wonder about that old blue REI ice ax that once saved someone’s life.

REI does not foist its products upon you with these images. Rather, REI celebrates outdoor life through the people who use its products.

What You Can Learn

These outdoor retailers clearly know how to play to the emotional value of lifestyle branding. When you sell a lifestyle, you appeal to human desire. We might want to buy a new pair of hiking boots, a kayak or a tent, but we really desire time away. Time away to explore a new trail, river or just camp in the woods. These brands create desire in their own ways — Cabela’s through the power of mystique and suggestion, Bass Pro Shops by creating immersive worlds, and REI by giving you a slice of life outdoors while online.

Incorporating visual storytelling into your branding and media efforts is paramount. Driving traffic to an experience that isn’t everything it can be is just that . . . driving traffic. Make sure you connect emotionally and get the most out of every interaction you have with your customer or prospect.

How do you apply visual storytelling? What lessons have you learned?

Three Women Who Define Success in Digital Marketing

Three Women Who Define Success in Digital Marketing

Marketing

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, KeywordFirst has taken the time to appreciate all the women that have etched their mark in history. We have also looked to the women who are currently making history in our industry, digital marketing. The women detailed below can be looked at as pioneers in the evolving world of digital, and their contributions help us daily to grow our techniques and mold our future strategy.

Leslie Berland

As Twitter’s first CMO Leslie Berland faced the difficult challenge of branding Twitter in a way that would appeal to the masses, but also satisfy their user base that already loved the platform. In 2016, she led a rebrand of Twitter as not only a social media engine but also a news source. She brought a new perspective to Twitter and challenged marketers to create content that differs from our normal social approaches. In turn, her major focus on the “live” nature of Twitter has allowed marketers to create instant posts that can be a quicker gauge on new advertising initiatives. We are excited to see Berland’s efforts taking hold and look forward to all future progress she makes not only with the engine, but with women in leadership roles.

Marina Cockenberg

Marina Cockenberg, the director of Digital for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, was recently named in Forbes list of 30 under 30 in marketing advertising. She has transformed the way a nightly show interacts with their audience by live tweeting the program each evening. Her work has garnered an Emmy for Outstanding Creative in interactive media and has helped grow their digital audience from 5 million to 32 million. Her witty interactions and content have created a new style and form for TV shows to delve into the world of social media, which we find fascinating. With YouTube views of late night material surging, a rebirth of this content has occurred. Cockenberg’s work has helped transform the space she is in, and for doing so we applaud her.

Susan Wojcicki

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki has paved the way for future female digital marketers. Wojcicki was one of Google’s first employees and at that time even housed some of the operations in her own garage. In 1999 she became Google’s first marketing manager and continued to make influential strides with the company. From there she was promoted to senior vice president of Advertising & Commerce where she led the product advertisement and analytics for notable advertising products such as AdWords, AdSense, DoubleClick, and Google Analytics. These tools have now become gospel for any digital advertiser. However, Wojcicki didn’t stop there and urged her superiors to consider purchasing YouTube, which led to its ultimate acquisition. Now YouTube is valued at an estimated $70 billion, and Wojcicki oversees the entire development of the platform. She truly sailed in unchartered territory, and her work has inspired all of us in digital marketing.

There are many more women making huge strides in our field including in our own office. We value all of their contributions and celebrate them not only in this month but every month of the year. Our team is energized by such strong female role models for us to look to for inspiration. We foresee many more advancements in the very near future.

Are Bid Tools Pulling Their Weight in Higher Education?

Are Bid Tools Pulling Their Weight in Higher Education?

Search

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)