Universities, colleges, and schools consistently seek creative recruitment strategies to streamline existing marketing channels and deliver better ROI. 

Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising has long remained one of the most important Higher education trends for edtech providers to keep their brand top of mind among online audiences. Multiple researchers have now identified that 

  • 75% of surveyed users click PPC ads for authentic & relevant information 
  • Compared to organic site visitors, PPC traffic converts at a 50% higher rate.

Today’s article looks at PPC advertising tips for higher education. It is one of the most significant of digital advertising strategies. We will look at examples of how to improve their engagement & conversion rates successfully.

10 Actionable PPC Strategies for Universities, Colleges, and Schools

Pay-per-click advertising is a highly customer-focused strategy, i.e., it requires bidding on the exact phrase and broad keywords that potential customers are looking for. PPC strategies can be very dynamic, given the number of factors influencing their success. 

From audience characteristics to focusing on the correct keywords, here are ten fantastic pay-per-click advertising tips for colleges to improve their marketing ROI.  

1. Maximize Your PPC Success with Demographic Targeting & In-depth Reporting

Paid marketing professionals identify that utilizing the targeting and reporting features of Google Ads has become increasingly important. Understanding potential visitor trends and demographics allows both increasing ROI and the success rate of marketing campaigns for universities.  

Lynn Langmade, a digital marketing leader, discusses that Adword audience targeting is not by focusing on the most relevant keywords but, more importantly, targeting based on intent. Additionally, the entire user experience, including keywords, ad copies, landing pages, CTAs, etc., should also be consistent with the stage of their buyer journey. 

There are 3 core categories of search intent keywords, as Langmade discusses that when applied to higher education, PPC strategies can improve visitor relevance:

  • Transactional — students who want to enroll immediately 
  • Informational — prospective students who wish to learn more about courses and careers 
  • Navigational — general visitors who are looking to access a particular page or resource

Ideally, a university cannot bid on keywords across all categories; it is, therefore, essential to 

identify the right target audience through real-time reporting for more accuracy. 

A great example comes from an interview with Adam Higgins, Marketing Manager at Fisher College Boston. Higgins discusses that since keywords are expensive and budgets are limited, he had to target a more targeted audience demographic to ensure his PPC campaigns were profitable.

By changing his target audience from high school graduates to continuing education applicants, Adam claims it was so feasible that he shifted the entire pay-per-click strategy towards that demographic. He also established that the few ads he runs for high school students have a completely different buyer journey than the continuing ed buyer persona.   

2. Concentrate on keywords that demonstrate High performance:

Our second PPC advertising tip for universities involves focusing on high-performing keywords based on user intent. Again, the most straightforward technique is to research your competitors with tools like SEMRush & Ahrefs or take assistance from a higher ed marketing agency that generally has this information readily available.

Professional higher education marketers discuss that to attract the most relevant leads who are more likely to convert, colleges and universities must structure their PPC strategies around the programs they offer. 

Adam Higgins explains that bidding on general terms like “MBA and bachelor’s degree” leads to wasting precious budgets. This is because students are not searching for general terms but looking for specific niches like “financial analyst degree” or “data analyst program.” 

High-performance keywords are sometimes unrelated to the general keyword type like MBA. Since the keyword is user search intent focused (e.g., data science degree), it is from a more concentrated keyword category or niche. 

PPC Geeks senior client manager Stephen Browne explains that identifying long-tail keywords with a proper intent brings more success, but fewer businesses utilize this technique. This is because long-tail keywords are cheaper, have clear search intent, and have less competition bidding for the same traffic.

3. Evaluate your Bidding Strategies

One popular PPC tactic for higher education professionals to agree on is evaluating and updating your pay-per-click campaign routinely, every quarter, half-yearly, etc. For example, Tom Sangers of Metric Hub comments that he adds rules to accounts, and the best-performing bids are leveraged to decrease cost per click. 

Successful higher education advertising requires setting ideal key performance indicators to accurately evaluate, track and measure the effectiveness of different bids of your PPC campaigns. We must remember that it is a common higher education marketing mistake to keep enforcing the same strategies instead of reevaluating campaigns based on available data.

4. Use Ad Extensions: 

Ad Extensions, also known as assets, are a convenient method to add more information about your institution and courses. Blue Water Marketing writes that Ad extensions can increase CTR, visibility, and qualified clicks while displaying more benefits, techniques, landing pages, and details of your higher education institution. 

Max Trotter mentions in his article that Ad extensions can help improve both click-through and overall conversion rates. Research has already proven that the more relevant ads are to user search intent, the more likely they are to convert. 

Trotter also establishes that adding more site links through Ad extensions can improve conversions by guiding users through a shorter buyer journey to transformation. 

For example, a student searching for data analytics degrees. They can find a relevant site while performing a long tail search, like data science degrees in California, simply by adding related courses in your ad description. Popular ad extensions include those for:

  • Adding Sitelinks 
  • Displaying Location Information 
  • Enabling Phone Calls 
  • App Downloads  
  • Reviews & Ratings 
  • Callouts for added text 

5. Focus on Relevant Audience

For higher education, PPC advertising focusing on the relevant audience is critical to obtaining a better ROI. Professional marketers discuss focusing on top-of-the-funnel visitors; students who are researching degrees & courses should be the primary focus. 

The top-of-the-funnel audience seeks valuable content & information. Therefore it is ideal for sharing eBooks, infographics, videos, whitepapers, press releases, etc., with them instead of a call to action for your higher education website enrollment pages.  

6. Track your success and optimization.

A great PPC advertising tip for colleges to measure success is tracking ad clicks, conversion rates, ad impressions, the average cost per click, conversions, customer acquisition costs, and much more. Google Analytics offers a dedicated Ads dashboard to gauge spending, profitability, and other aspects of your PPC campaigns. 

Various multi-feature PPC bid optimization software, including HubSpot, HotJar, AhRefs, SEMRush, etc., can help marketing teams measure bids across different platforms. 

This may sound overwhelming, but PPC is a complex, dynamic, and focused function. However, consulting with dedicated marketing specialists for your higher education branding can automate and streamline the PPC advertising strategy.     

7. Embracing Automation

One of the most recommended PPC advertising tips for universities is embracing innovation through automation. Professionals agree that manual PPC bidding strategies were great, but Google’s vast automation features are the future. 

Mobile has dramatically impacted almost every industry, including higher education. Smartphones are prospective students’ most popular devices to search for and learn more about universities and colleges. 

For Universities, the PPC advertising tip, invest in a mobile-optimized buyer journey. Customize PPC ads to display better on mobile screens, as almost 61% of all web traffic comes from a mobile device.  

8. Conduct A/B testing of PPC Elements.

ABTasty discovered that it takes 5000 unique visitors to make the statistical significance of A/B testing campaigns. The idea of A/B testing is to compare two variables, in our case, two different PPC ad copies or landing pages. By measuring the two variables in the same ad group, you can determine if A is the optimal variable or B is. 

Here are some crucial best practices identified by Neil Patel’s blog:

  • Test ad variants at the same time to avoid compromising the results 
  • Consider only testing one variable in each copy to prevent inconsistencies in the results 
  • Remember, test early and test different PPC ads often. 
  • Make data-driven decisions, avoid personal gut instincts
  • Run your PPC advertising campaigns long enough to yield enough meaningful results needed for accurate analysis

Here is a list of variables that marketing campaigns for universities can test in their ads:

  • The actual ad copy
  • Variable buyer personas and audience targets.
  • Uniquely crafted landing pages
  • Varying calls to action.
  • Different visual elements 
  • Personalized emails
  • Differing buyer journeys

9. Recognize the Conversion Funnel

Higher education marketers need to focus on the conversion funnel, as we already discussed the top of the funnel earlier. 

To put it into the simplest terms, there are three essential stages of the PPC marketing funnel, namely:

  • Top of the funnel – Students who need to be made aware of your university and are looking for a school to continue their education.  
  • Middle of the funnel – Students interested in your courses and institution are considering enrolling. 
  • Bottom of the funnel – Students with the highest intent to convert and enroll in your institution. 

Higher education lead-generation campaigns must always focus on nurturing students to make informed decisions. Therefore, every conversion funnel stage will have unique PPC advertising tactics for universities and colleges. 

However, retargeting in higher education remains one of the essential strategies to approach students once they have progressed through the top and middle funnel stages. 

Higher education advertisers can use display ads complemented with a valuable content magnet like an eBook, whitepaper, brochure, webinar, video tour, etc., to attract students to the top of the funnel. It’s also suggestable to use search ads to enhance brand reach to specific audiences, geographical markets, or other niches.

Middle-of-the-funnel students will look for more compelling content like video reviews, student reviews, course outlines & basics, and other value drivers to make a decision. In addition, your middle-of-the-funnel PPC campaigns should reinforce the brand message, or what we call remarketing.

When a student reaches the bottom of the funnel, it’s time to present them with ads that demand a call to enroll, sign up, or join. You can also provide students with final reminder content, like all the unique features of the university, the faculty, future course prospects, etc., as part of your effective student recruitment strategies.  

10. Avoid Filling Out Lengthy Contact Forms:

Professionals have identified that using long contact forms in higher education PPC advertising can be costly. For example, Alan Higgins comments that hard-selling through long-form had a 1% response rate while nurturing the same audience by sharing helpful content got him a 10% response rate for Fisher University ads. 

MailChimp discusses that your forms should contain important and relevant fields. Hence they should be short. In addition, your forms should be clean with preferably white spaces and not contain cluttering text and imagery.  

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Frequently Asked Questions:

What Makes A Good PPC Campaign for Colleges?

A good PPC campaign for colleges and universities must follow a strategic plan to optimize all surrounding aspects of these ad campaigns. These aspects include

  • In-depth keyword research 
  • Integrate user intent-based keywords 
  • Using demographic targeting for ads 
  • Consistently optimizing bidding strategies 
  • Using ad extensions to display more content & details 
  • Evaluating different conversion funnels 
  • Avoiding long contact forms 
  • Conducting A/B testing for ad copies 
  • Deploying automation for ad campaigns

How Can Universities Improve PPC Performance?

The ideal ways to improve the performance of university PPC campaigns are:

  • Optimizing landing pages with value-driven content and superior SEO tactics 
  • Conducting competitor PPC research 
  • Optimizing your website to be mobile friendly 
  • Using long tail keywords 
  • Hiring a higher education marketing agency

What are PPC Best Practices for Higher Ed?

PPC best practices are industry benchmark rules that ensure paid ad campaigns are executed optimally to ensure ROI, CAC, conversion rates, budgets, and other essential KPIs are met compared to planned metrics.

What are PPC tactics for Universities?

PPC tactics are practices employed in paid ad marketing to optimize the performance of different campaigns that improve ROI, reduce customer acquisition costs, enhance conversion rates, reevaluate bidding strategies, and reach more relevant audiences


That’s it; I hope you enjoyed this long but exciting countdown of PPC advertising tips for higher education. While Google ads for higher education have become a core part of the marketing toolkit, it is significant institutions consistently optimize their campaigns routinely for real-time ROI management. 

As we discussed above, there can be multiple factors that your higher ed marketing team can optimize to gradually improve conversions, increase traffic, and enhance return on your PPC investment. 

ThinkOrion, a higher ed marketing agency, offers dedicated assistance to your institution for planning, managing, and executing high-potential PPC advertising campaigns. Our team provides your institution with relevant knowledge, recruitment strategies, PPC insights & strategies, SEO management, and performance marketing services to enhance conversions while lowering CPC.