5 Higher Education Marketing Challenges Solved by SEO and Paid Digital Advertising

October 25th, 2022 by Paula Keller French

Key Insights

  • SEO and paid digital advertising works. And because they are trackable and measurable, we assure you they do.
  • Drive more qualified leads with SEO and paid digital advertising, which will help you capture prospects actively looking for your offerings.
  • Reach your audience at all stages of the funnel with SEO through broader, career-growth topics in the awareness stage and more specific, branded searches in the decision stage.
  • With the flexibility of these tactics, you can quickly adjust your marketing plan when it isn’t working.

Prioritize SEO and paid ads to make the biggest impact on your marketing plan

Education marketing leaders need reliable strategies to drive results. If you don’t know which strategy to favor to meet your enrollment goals, we are here to let you in on something — SEO and paid digital advertising will make the biggest impact on your marketing plan. And because they are trackable and measurable, we assure you they do. (When we refer to paid digital advertising, we mean paid search and display ads. Throughout the rest of the blog post, I’ll refer to paid digital advertising as paid digital ads.)

While marketing leaders see SEO as important, we at Search Influence don’t believe that they have prioritized it as a key part of their strategy. We also know marketing teams spend a lot of money on paid digital ads but believe they don’t optimize their campaigns to their fullest potential because they don’t look at the data from the right angle.

In this post, we’ll detail how SEO and paid digital ads can solve the top five challenges we hear from education marketing leaders. Overall, you’ll see that SEO and paid digital ads address the number one goal of a successful higher education strategy: qualified inquiries (at an acceptable cost) that turn into students.

#1: How Do I Get More Qualified Inquiries?

Most often, higher education marketing plans have both a quantity and quality issue when it comes to inquiries.

  • You don’t have enough new prospects entering the funnel
  • You receive a decent number of inquiries but not enough high-quality inquiries
  • It seems like you receive high-quality inquiries, but you don’t know how to evaluate their quality

SEO and paid digital ads help you capture prospects actively looking for your degrees, programs, and certifications, which means you’ll receive more qualified inquiries.

A comprehensive SEO strategy improves your rankings, which drives more website traffic and more inquiries. When these prospects inquire, you should expect higher quality leads because they got to your site through a search that indicates they are actively considering a solution and want to learn about your educational offerings. Similarly, paid digital ads fuel qualified inquiries in the same way — by driving website traffic from people actively searching for your programs.

Paid display advertising (i.e., Facebook and LinkedIn advertising) helps you drive more qualified inquiries by targeting the RIGHT audience. Other tactics, such as organic social media, could reach a variety of people. However, when you specifically target your audience through paid digital advertising, the data gives you confidence that your messages reach the right people.

Graphic showing magnifying glass over marketing metrics

#2: I Know My Audience Is Out There. How Do I Reach Them?

SEO and paid digital ads help you reach your audience in distinct ways.

When people think about SEO, they usually think about reaching audiences that directly search for your programs. Less often, they think about the impact SEO can have at the top of the funnel — when prospects are not yet aware that education may be their answer.

By writing blog posts about more general topics that your audience may be searching, you can be one of the first organizations to reach them and lead them to consider education. For example, higher funnel topics like “Most Popular Programming Languages for a Career in Web Development” or “How to Launch Your Freelancing Career in 3 Steps” can drive traffic from prospective students who are looking for career growth advice but might not yet have considered a degree. Yes — this is SEO!

Although higher education marketers generally include paid digital ads as part of their strategy, we often hear from them that their campaigns don’t drive enough inquiries. This isn’t a problem with paid digital ads as a tactic. This suggests there’s an opportunity to adjust your campaigns, which means testing your target audience and/or fine-tuning the creative messaging.

Campaign adjustments, through both expert human optimization as well as machine learning optimization, help you better reach your audience. For example, a campaign might drive very few inquiries or the wrong types of inquiries because your campaigns target either too narrow or too broad an audience. By making these types of adjustments, paid digital advertising can drive leads at an appropriate cost.

#3: How Do I Drive Prospects Down the Funnel?

Some higher education marketing leaders are surprised to hear that both SEO and paid digital ads can drive prospects down the funnel.

A robust higher education SEO strategy includes a full-funnel approach to content that speaks to prospects in each stage of their decision-making process. Recommended content for each part of the funnel:

  • Top of the funnel: Career growth topics
  • Middle of the Funnel: Program/degree-specific content
  • Bottom of the funnel: Branded search engine optimization, which allows you to capture searches specific to your school/unit and assure that prospects find their answers quickly — and on your website

Branded SEO is often overlooked and is one of my favorite tactics! Branded searches in the decision phase include application deadlines, reviews, tours, and tuition costs.

Paid digital advertising allows you to tweak your creative messaging to fit your prospect’s place in the marketing funnel. With the proper campaign segmentation, you can:

  • Drive prospects down the funnel towards a deeper conversion
  • Appeal to prospects with different motivators

You can also run multiple ad variations to speak to more people. Over time, you will see which messages work more than others and switch them out.

As you segment your messaging down the funnel, you can create specific messaging you wish your audience knew about. You don’t have to worry about overall/introductory messaging because your audience has already engaged with your institution and knows you. For example, a single ad could focus on:

  • A student’s success story
  • An alumni career achievement stat
  • An award, or special pricing

#4: What Am I Getting for My Budget?

The clear accountability of paid digital ads and SEO is a key reason many have moved the lion’s share of their budget to the digital arena.

SEO and paid digital ads enable you to see the source of the prospect on an inquiry-by-inquiry basis, which means you can track the cost per inquiry and cost per application from each source and overall. Ultimately, this means you can tie ROI back to your campaigns.

These direct metrics enable you to compare your stats to industry benchmarks and to peer organizations which both give you confidence your results stack up and tell you clearly what you get for your budget.

Graphic showing a coin being put into a piggy bank

#5: Can I Quickly Adjust My Marketing When My Plan Isn’t Working?

The beauty of SEO and paid digital ads is that you can make adjustments along the way.

With SEO, you can increase your emphasis on optimizations for a given program or degree if the work so far hasn’t been aggressive enough. If one program outperforms the others, you can pivot your time spent to another program.

Contrary to traditional marketing or longer-term media buys that lock you into a specific time frame, with paid digital ads, you can make adjustments after you have specific data. Optimizations can range from creative/messaging updates to changes to where the ads run to who sees the ads.

If a campaign has not met your goals, you can actually turn it off and reinvest that money into a campaign that drives results at an acceptable cost. For example, if you have campaigns on Facebook and paid search, and the paid search campaign drives quality leads, you can reallocate your budget from Facebook to paid search.

Prioritizing SEO and Paid Digital Ads Will Have an Impact on Your Higher Education Marketing Plan

As a digital marketing agency that started out as a search engine optimization agency, it may not be surprising that we have this point of view. Yet, we think it’s worth repeating: Higher education marketing teams know they should prioritize SEO in their marketing plans, but they often don’t.

We also believe that universities that invest heavily in paid digital ads and don’t see expected results have not leveraged data to make the best optimizations.

If you are ready to learn how SEO and paid digital ads can make the biggest impact on your marketing plan, please reach out to the Search Influence team via our contact us form or give us a call at (504) 208-3900.