April 16, 2019

Campus Geotargeting For Higher Ed Marketing Success

A school with multiple campuses, especially a national brand spread across the US, deals with a unique digital marketing challenge. Efficiently advertising for each individual location requires a nuanced approach for several reasons. To start, the behaviors of prospective students can be different in each market. On top of that, many college and university campuses will only need to look for students within a certain distance of the school. And your targeting must be precise enough to ensure that prospects in one location don’t see messaging or branding for a totally separate location.

If you’re looking to rework your digital strategy and better support each individual campus under your school’s umbrella, there are a few proven tips you can use to engage the most potential students with your ad spend.

Don’t Go National

It can be tempting to target your higher ed marketing efforts to a national scale, especially branded search. It’s a common tactic we encounter when auditing campaigns of schools that have numerous campuses. But even if you have all the locations on your landing page and all your messaging tightened up, the further away from each campus you target potential students, the more inefficient your spend is likely getting.

Studies have found that more than 57% of incoming university freshmen enroll at a school less than 50 miles from their home. And nationwide, 73% of students attend a school in their own state. So even from a branded search perspective, if the user is way outside your campus’ market, the best bet is to first use your digital spend to fully engage those within the market instead.

Statwax recently took over the paid search efforts for a college with 16 campuses nationwide. Previously, many campaigns had been running nationally with the thought that anyone searching for the brand name anywhere in the U.S. could be willing to travel or relocate. A closer look at the resulting inquiries showed that many were getting scrubbed out due to a lack of interest or irrelevance, usually from not knowing how far the campuses actually were. By eliminating national targeting and re-focusing campaigns on specific campus markets, Statwax helped reduce scrub rate by nearly 5x while still boosting inquiry volume.

Overlap Geotargeting Options to Get Granular

Both Google Ads and Bing Ads allow you to choose multiple types of locations to geotarget ads. Settings can be as top-level as the state or as specific as a single zip code. To maximize performance, campaign geotargeting should have overlapping locations of differing granularity.

For example, let’s consider a campus in Indianapolis, Indiana. In the location targeting, we may end up setting ads to target the entire state, the Indianapolis market, the counties within the market, and a radius around the city center all at the same time. This would create targeting of the same area already handled by one or two of those settings, just overlapping on each other:

Campus Geotargeting Higher Ed Success Map Example

This is helpful because not every person’s location is reported to the platform at the most precise level. Depending on the device, privacy settings, and more, some users may only report as being in “Indianapolis” while others are seen in a specific zip code. So when you pull ad performance reports by location, you may see more metrics for one location setting than another. By layering on broad and precise locations at once, you can set individual bid adjustments accordingly. If the campaign comes back and says users reported in a single zip code convert twice as well as those just reporting as in Indiana, we can raise bids for that zip code while lowering them for the state as a whole, making sure every dollar of ad budget is being used efficiently.

Build Awareness with Geofencing

Mobile geofencing campaigns are a great way to build brand awareness around a specific campus location, without the risk of going too far outside the target market. Geofencing works by using mobile device location data, targeting users in very specific areas as they browse on their phones. Many geofencing platforms allow targeting accuracy within a few feet, enough to reach individuals in specific buildings if your campaign calls for it.

This is a great way to build support for a campus without encroaching on another campus’s market or thinning budget out on geographies too far away, where users would be unlikely to enroll. It also allows ads to reach specialized audiences. For example, a school could build awareness among underemployed adult learners by geofencing banner ads to local staffing agencies or work centers as well as manufacturing plants, warehouses, and so on.

In the end, there are numerous ways to reign in a digital strategy and re-focus it on the campus areas that matter. Letting your spend run wild without a precise geotargeting strategy may bring in more inquiries overall, but it’s a guaranteed recipe for a higher scrub rate, lower conversion to enrollment, and higher cost-per-start.

Interested in building a smarter higher ed marketing strategy for your school’s many campuses? Let’s start a conversation and talk about how geotargeting leads to more leads at a lower cost.

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