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What I Learned by Monitoring Competitors in Higher Education

By | September 12, 2014

My post, below, was also published by The Search Monitor on September 4, 2014.

When it comes to paid search, every college and university wants the same thing: more leads at a lower cost per lead. Although competitor monitoring is one small piece to the puzzle, it’s an aspect of paid search that will help you increase your market share. During the peak season, we do a lot of competitor monitoring. Below are 5 things I’ve learned from The Search Monitor (TSM) to help increase leads and decrease cost per leads during this time. To understand what some of these tools are, review my post, How to Use The Search Monitor in Higher-Education Advertising.

 1. Trademark Violators:

TSM makes this easy with its setup automated emails you can use to submit your trademark violations directly to the engines for faster processing. Not only does this target ad copy violators, but it also lets you know who is bidding on your terms in the space. In most cases, I will notify the competitors of their bidding and ask them to stop. You can do some more research on Trademark Monitoring.

2. Market Share Reports:

Breakout your keyword sets by categories – this is key. I like to use this simultaneously with a CRM to find out which programs we’re losing leads with. This helps explain who owns more market share in that program space, and it gives you reasoning to increase or decrease bids. It’s extremely helpful during the peak months when you know you need to gain as many leads as possible.

 Rank by Day Part Report:

Day parting is one of the easiest ways to cut spend, lower CPCs, and bring down your CPL. I love this tool because it gives me the ability to filter by program offerings and find out the times of the day and days of the week my competitors are bidding heavily. I’ve found that most higher-education advertisers’ increase in the beginning of the week and decrease as the week goes on.

 4. Ad Copy Details Report:

Although you don’t know the conversions of your competitors, you can assume an ad is converting better based on its “times seen” number. The more “times seen” an ad has, the more you know they are spending and/or are in a higher position. It’s interesting to look at what they are using in their copy and try to replicate or test some of the wording they’re using. Maybe they’re using a catchy call to action that you haven’t tested yet.

 5. Rank Report:

Do you have program offerings broken out? With Rank Report, you can not only see the “times seen” here but also the average rank each advertiser sees on that particular keyword set. Need even more detail? Click on the individual keywords to see which ones your competitors are heavily bidding on compared to you.

Keep up with what competitors are doing in the space, especially during your peak seasons. We were recently in our peak last month, and we did all the monitoring mentioned above to maintain CPL’s and increase leads. Monitoring competitors in higher education is time-consuming but well worth it at the end of the month. What are you doing during peak months to gain market share for your university?

Happy Monitoring!

Get deep analysis and take advantage of the latest marketing trends in higher education:

Edu Standard, 2nd Edition

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Digital Marketing Strategy for Launching New Products & Services

By | September 5, 2014

Businesses launch exciting new products and services every day, but not all of them succeed. One of the many unfortunate facts of life is that some investments simply fail to generate a positive ROI despite the amount of effort put in.

Ironically, the difference between a successful and failed launch often has absolutely nothing to do with the new offering itself. Just like great marketing will sell products faster than a company can stock the shelves, poor marketing will result in negligible sales and a whole lot of frustration.

Fortunately, there is a tried and true digital marketing strategy that we at Fathom use regularly to give our clients’ new product and service launches the best shot at success.

I like to call it the ‘Diversification Strategy.’ The core component of this strategy is the employment of diversified tactics so that overall success isn’t dependent upon a single avenue of digital marketing – in other words, failure takes more than one thing to go wrong.

Defining the Diversification Strategy

It’s all about spreading budget across multiple advertising channels, platforms, and networks. At Fathom, we usually engage in paid advertising, search engine optimization, or email marketing on any number of the following for a new product or service launch:

  1. Search Engines (Google, Bing, & Yahoo)
  2. Social Media Networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+)
  3. Industry-Specific Media Sources (Relevant News Websites, Popular E-Newsletters, etc.)

By diversifying marketing and advertising activities, companies allow more people and a greater variety of audiences to view their latest products and services. This strategy effectively tests instead of assumes which markets and audiences will convert well, ultimately reducing the risk of no sales at all and increasing the chance of striking a gold mine.

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Avoiding Dynamic Disaster: Google Launches Dynamic Sitelinks

By | August 5, 2014

While I usually welcome Google’s AdWords updates with open arms, its most recent change had me a little worried.  For highly regulated industries like education, finance and insurance, compliance is one of the biggest hurdles we have to face in online marketing. Ads, keywords and copy often must go through an extensive approval process, so having Google dynamically insert something into your ads could get you into a lot of trouble if you’re in education or a similarly monitored industry.

Google defines its new automated sitelinks as:

Automatically generated sitelinks that appear below your ad text, connecting potential customers to relevant pages on your website more easily.


Google also states that the sitelinks you put in your account will still show up most of the time, and that the dynamic links will only show when it thinks they are most relevant.  Another bright spot is that clicks on dynamic sitelinks are free so if compliance is not a factor in your business, you can look forward to a few free clicks. However, if you’re worried about what could show up in your ads and want to opt out of dynamic sitelinks, Google will allow you to do that.

While this update does worry me for compliance reasons, it is good to see that Google is still trying to make searches as relevant as possible for users. I believe that these sitelinks will benefit a lot of advertisers, and I look forward to future updates increasing ad relevance.

What do you think about the update? Have any questions about your online marketing techniques? Share in the comments below!

Dynamic Sitelink Opt-Out Link:

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Higher Education Advertising on a Budget

By | July 31, 2014

What you need to know to get the biggest bang for your SEM dollars

Without fail, at the beginning of each fiscal year, my customers at colleges and universities come to me with a myriad of statements and questions. They want to know which engines they should run on; what’s new in the world of paid search, PPC, SEM (or whatever the kids are calling it these days); and what they should do. As a higher education advertising agency, we can give them an answer if they first answer two simple questions: What is your budget, and what are your goals? It might sound generic, but usually this opens the gateway to a lengthy conversion about how to prioritize PPC spend and how to get the best ROI from paid search.

Whether you are giving this a go internally or working with an agency, here are a few things you need to consider:


  1. What is a realistic budget for my paid search strategy? In the world of higher education, there are countless ways to spend money. A lot of money. Sure, you could spend your entire marketing budget on display and display along (for the record, I do not condone that), but chances are you won’t see the best return. Determine a minimum and a maximum you are willing to spend. From there, you can decide how extensive your strategy will be.
  1. What am I hoping to achieve from my PPC strategy? Oftentimes, the answer I get will be “more students” or “better qualified students,” and that’s great. But consider what you’re seeing work well in other channels to drive these students. Do on-campus visitors enroll at a much higher rate? Do students who have requested more info get personalized messaging and 1:1 attention? Depending on what works well for your school, you may want to tailor a landing page to that step in the funnel. On the other hand, your school may have recently undergone a major branding initiative. In this case, you might want to get the message across and display may be the best avenue for you.
  1. Which programs are important to our university? This is very important. If you are spending money on programs that are at full capacity or have a tremendous reputation as is, you may be wasting your money. Consider focusing on programs that need some extra help or awareness.
  1. What is search volume like for our programs? Are you offering an Associate to Bachelor’s to Master’s Degree in Applied Socioeconomic Reform and Policy Management? Guess what? Nobody is looking for that. Be sure to see what kind of traffic you can expect by program. If you’re allotting funds to a program that is not going to spend, you may have to make up that budget later on (perhaps when interest is down a bit). Similarly, if you have complicated or unique programs, think about what potential students who are interested would be looking for. Those may be the right terms to go after.
  1. I know what to focus on – but how do I divide up my budget? This can differ depending on your goals. If your goal is to generate as many leads as possible, I typically recommend a search to display ratio of 80/20 (all good things follow the 80/20 rule, right?). This is, at the very least, a good place to start. See what your conversion rates are and if you are limited in any areas. Shift budget from there. We can make an educated guess up front, but nobody has a crystal ball. Be on your toes and willing to make adjustments.
  1. When do I stray from AdWords and AdWords alone? In general, AdWords is the best place to start. It’s a great way to learn and gauge results. But if you can’t spend all of your budget wisely, it may be time to expand. Consider taking your top performers and placing them into Bing Ads. If results are as good or even better, consider expanding further. If you’re looking to go the route of LinkedIn or Facebook advertising, proceed with caution. This is a whole new world with different metrics and targeting. Keep in mind that leads will likely cost more. But, again, if you are branding this could be a great route to go.

Whatever you choose to do, simply be sure you feel good about your higher education advertising plan. As long as you have a reason for spending the way that you are, you’re in a good position to make changes and improvements as you go. Don’t be afraid to ask for a little help along the way!

Get deep analysis and take advantage of the latest marketing trends in higher education:

Edu Standard, 2nd Edition

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