May 14, 2019

Simple, Data-Driven Steps To Seasonal Higher Ed Budgeting

Your school has a busy calendar year. With enrollment schedules, campus tours, fundraising events and more, no two seasons are created equal in higher ed. To get the most out of your higher ed marketing budget, it has to reflect these ebbs and flows in your goals and happenings. Strategizing for seasonality well in advance will help you put your ad dollars where they’re more likely to be needed, and more likely to drive inquiries – at lower costs.

The best news of all, is budgeting for seasonality at your college or university doesn’t have to be a daunting task. In fact, you already have the data to help you make an informed higher ed strategy. In this blog, we’ll walk through the basics of how to plan your higher ed marketing budget with seasonality in mind. Feel free to use this handy Seasonal Budget Template as you follow the steps.

Step 1: Choose your Baseline Metric

First, you’ll use your existing Google Analytics data to determine which months see patterns of increases or decreases. We recommend selecting the metric that best represents your school’s goals. For the purposes of this example, we’re going to keep things simple by choosing new users, but here are a few metrics we’ve seen work well:

  • Custom goal completions (like inquiries, budgeted starts, etc.)
  • Page sessions (if you’re interested in a broad audience’s activity)
  • New visitors (best done through a filtered view, to hone in on new students and not current ones)

Step 2: Export Data from Analytics

In your Analytics dashboard, there’s a treasure trove of seasonal data. Follow these steps to pull the bulk information out.

  • Go to Acquisition → All Traffic → Channels

  • Add “Month of the year” as a secondary dimension

  • Select your desired date range and export the data

Step 3: Identify any Data Anomalies

Next, take a moment to examine your data in case there are any discrepancies. We recommend a PivotTable. By calling out any data anomalies early on, you can ensure they won’t end up in your budget plans. An example PivotTable is below.

Step 4: Find your Seasonality Factor

In Google Analytics, export new users from all website traffic, by month. Then, find the percentage of total of new users by month.

Ex. January seasonality factor = January new users / total new users

Step 5: Apply the Seasonality Factor to your Budget

Multiple each months’ seasonality factor by your total budget. Don’t forget to refer to the Seasonal Budget Template for help!

Ex. January budget = January seasonality factor * total budget

Step 6: Use Common Sense

Did your school launch a new program, win a championship, or make a major announcement? All of these may affect website traffic resulting in skewed seasonality data. It’s important to keep track of these major events and how they affect marketing data. You may need to apply common sense and adjust your budget based on anomalies in last year’s data.

Step 7: Optimize for Efficiency

This next step requires a bit more legwork, but it’s important in planning for all your various digital channels. You want to max out your most efficient higher ed marketing platforms and put the majority of spend toward those efforts. Multiply the total monthly budget by the desired percentage by platform.

Ex. Google Ads January Budget = January budget * % of budget for Google Ads

Step 8: Re-Evaluate Budgets and Missed Opportunities Each Month

Planning is important, but it doesn’t mean you can set it and forget it. After each month it’s important to reevaluate your marketing spend and determine if there were any missed opportunities or inefficiencies due to budget. Or better yet, set up dashboards that predict your monthly performance in real time.

The key takeaway here is to root your higher ed budget in hard data. This is only one of several ways to map out a monthly, quarterly, or yearly budget plan, and it should be the bare minimum. Keeping closer tabs on your spend allocations will make it easier to implement proactive changes in the future. That means agile and swift adjustments if classes fill up early, shifting workplace demands lead to gaps in program RFIs, a new platform tool opens up for testing, or any other number of likely encounters in higher ed campaigns. And the more purposeful you are with your budget, the more efficiently you can drive enrollments at lower costs.

Want to know more about customizing a budget for your college or university? Let’s talk.

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