Nov 22, 2018

An Educator’s Complete Guide to Digital Advertising

by Digital Marketing Institute

The digital advertising industry has spawned into a multi-billion-dollar enterprise, with the industry flocking to programmatic advertising in recent years.

Digital advertising allows marketers to leverage data and technology to target customers with relevant messages at relevant times. To attract the best students to your university, college or training provider, having such strategies in an ever-evolving market could drive engagement, boost brand awareness and increase revenue.

In this article we look at how programmatic advertising works and how to go about integrating it as part of your digital marketing strategy.

Programmatic display spend is expected to reach $39 billion this year - eMarketer

Key Challenges in the Higher Education Sector

Enrollment in the U.S.

The ever-growing demands faced by the higher education sector have led to challenges ranging from falling enrollments to driving qualified applicants to websites. There's also less visibility regarding marketing budgets due to reduced funding and increased competition along with the need to promote awareness about programs, certifications, and degrees.

One of the most significant challenges is knowing how to consolidate budgets between building awareness and driving enrollments. Many institutions do not possess the staff bandwidth or resources needed for advanced analytics, in-depth reporting, or costly marketing automation tools. Tracking the return on investment (ROI) of digital advertising from start to finish can be difficult as well as measuring the impact on enrollment numbers.

To make things more complicated, potential students are becoming savvier due to technology and leveraging the research tools at their disposal to decide whether or not an institution meets their needs. Many prospective students will have some understanding of what your college, university or training providers offers before you even reach out to them.

The timeframe from building awareness to getting in touch to actual enrollment is long, much longer than in other industries, which can make marketing efforts costly if they are not effective.

As a result, digital advertising is an effective and efficient way to get on a student's radar and offer solutions to their questions or concerns.

Know& Understand Your Target Student

Before putting any digital advertising plan into action, it's key to understand who you are trying to attract.

This makes it crucial to get a better understanding of the 'ideal' student by analyzing student demographics and psychographics, evaluating degree program elements, independent third-party studies, and conducting surveys.

After determining the student persona that fits your institution work is needed to figure out how to appeal to this audience. It will be key to examine intent and online presence of ideal prospective students.

How Programmatic Advertising Works

How Programmatic Advertising Works

Programmatic is a broad term for automated technology infrastructures that buys media to help boost digital advertising potential.

Knowledge about programmatic advertising varies, depending on the industry in question. In the higher education industry, questions will arise about costs, brand safety, efficiency, and its general role within the digital ecosystem. Even if you already have a digital media plan set in stone, there are programmatic strategies that solve various problems within the educational sector.

It's key to know your target students are before engaging in any digital advertising strategy and be aware of the program and curriculums are being directed at a specific consumer base. Developing and scaling leads to more data that can be used for optimization. Using algorithms as well as lookalike modeling helps solidify such data and target efforts. Programmatic advertising also uses videos via social media networks and analyzes the insights that come from interactions.

Tip: Align with your most relevant content by utilizing contextual or search retargeting to embed digital ads next to niche keywords specific to your college or university. Build custom audiences or focus on people visiting certain locations so you can provide content that will suit your audience.

Download Special Report: The Evolving Student: What Role Can Digital Play?

Don’t Waste Impressions

A digital advertising strategy can't be maximized if marketing investment dollars is not aligned to measurable business results. Testing and optimizing impressions can go a long way and even if the strategy isn't perfect it can be adjusted over time.

Conduct analysis and establish patterns based on your audience. This means studying traits that your advertising campaign should be capitalizing on while gathering data or insights highlighting student trends. Engage student candidates and direct them to specific URL's as they move down the path to conversion, whether via research and consideration through inquiry to application and enrollment.

Set Key Performance Indicators (KPI) benchmarks upfront so all digital partners know what the common goals are and what efficiency levels you're trying to achieve. By tracking online conversions you will come to understand which stages of the online enrollment process you want to mark as successful milestones. From there, you can consolidate budgets and monitor regularly between key enrollment periods for the best results.

Tip: It's also possible to reconnect with users after their first site visit. Remarketing and customer match are extremely helpful to remind prospects that they are interested in what your institution has to offer which are available on platforms such as Facebook, Google Ads, and LinkedIn.

Be Creative and Integrate Advertising Efforts

Though you’re using a technology-driven process to drive digital advertising, the messaging is crucial to drive engagement. There should be a balance between data-driven tech and dynamic, personalized creative pieces to develop the most effective campaign possible.

Create program-specific calls to action (CTA) to drive direct traffic to your program's enrollment page. It's easier to have creatives for each program as opposed to wording that spans all programs. When consolidating budget, you want to do so knowing that each program is addressed in its unique way. That adds a more personal touch to the student interested in a particular subject.

Part of your ongoing communication with prospective students or remarketing efforts should include any recent accolades as well as university rankings, which tend to lead to stronger engagement.

Tip: Weave a digital campaign within the broader communications plan, advertising in a way that builds familiarity before the enrollment process begins. Don't confine ads to driving conversions, unlock the creative potential so it can gauge familiarity, increase fluency, and boost brand metrics.Try different fonts, colors, and slogans to build a lasting memory of your brand to make an impression.

Be Mobile First

This point is a no-brainer considering how mobile-focused the higher education audience will be in 2019.

Mobile searches have now surpassed desktop searches for the first time ever in the United States. This makes it paramount for higher education institutions who want to compete for the growing mobile audience to make their campaigns as mobile-centric and friendly as possible.

Consider the mobile visibility paid searches and how mobile website visitors interact with your website. Optimize the mobile version of the site to be as compatible as possible and integrating promotions via apps is also a great idea to grow your consumer base.

Never Limit Your Options

Since prospective students are searching across several sites, advertising efforts must go beyond Facebook, Instagram, and Google to promote your brand. Test new search targeting products and capabilities including site link extensions and the site links themselves, CRM targeting, and day-parting.

Bridge all the different channels available by utilizing search retargeting to align paid search and display efforts. And, remain open to testing new platforms by going beyond the traditional laptop, desktop, and mobile devices associated with digital marketing.

Tip: Explore what out-of-home digital channels could suit you brand e.g. mall screens to sports stadiums as well as airport wi-fi connections and many more.


When it come to digital advertising it's important to determine goals and never be afraid to change them as student demands and behaviors evolve. The tech world is too unpredictable at times to stay in one lane.

In addition, define and refine goals so that every part that relates to your digital advertising strategy can be successful and attract the students you need.

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