November 19, 2018

Adapting to Competitive Trends in the EDU Search Space

With your school’s paid search strategy, do you find costs are going up but results aren’t scaling in the same way? If so, you aren’t alone. It’s a trend throughout higher education when it comes to paid search, and it’s causing many schools to slip in their inquiry efficiency goals and resulting enrollment and start numbers.

This trend doesn’t only affect cost, it impacts how your school’s messaging is seen, how often, and what other competitors are also visible. Any education paid search account that is left as is will soon find itself overpaying for worsening ad visibility and declining results – a big red flag for an advertising channel often relied upon to produce a large share of inquiries.

Go Where the Prospects Are

This higher ed trend comes from the growth in overall education search volume. Education queries are on the rise year-over-year, primarily in the broader non-branded space. Non-branded queries for education have risen in volume each of the past 12 quarters!

Non-branded queries are more competitive by nature. They often focus on broader concepts like “nursing school” or “best college near me.” Their broadness makes them more relevant to more education advertisers, and provide schools with a great way to bring interested prospects in the door to begin their research process.

As a result, more and more education advertisers are flocking to this great volume in non-brand search. It’s where the prospects are, in numbers that show no sign of slowing.

More Ads, Same Space

With schools competing to leverage the growth in prospect searches, there will naturally be a squeeze on available ad real estate. According to Google’s “Education Insights” team, the number of ads showing for education queries is up 5% on mobile and 2% on desktop year-over-year.

At the same time, the amount of real estate given to ads remains the same. We’re all familiar with Google’s layout of several ads above organic results, plus a few more at the bottom. There are no more right-hand column ads, either. This means that for the average education search query, more ads than ever before are competing to show in the same amount of space – so someone is getting left out or pushed down.

Competition Drives Costs

When increased competition leads to dwindling available ad space and starts pushing advertisers down in the pecking order, the natural reaction for regaining positioning is to increase paid search bids. Yes, there are a number of non-bidding tactics to help improve quality score and boost ad position. But for many education advertisers on the broader non-brand terms, increasing bids is the quick solution to try gaining the upper hand when more competitors start encroaching on the ad space.

This has created a higher ed trend over the past year of rising CPCs (cost-per-clicks) for non-branded education keywords. An analysis of the largest Statwax education paid search accounts found that YoY, in 2018 the CPC of non-branded terms was 9.93% higher to maintain the first or second ad position. This includes keywords with high quality scores.

How to Adapt

Rising costs and growing competition in the education search space are not going away. And paid search isn’t going to become any less important in converting high-quality prospects and helping you fill classrooms.

To adapt to this higher ed trend and avoid losing efficiency, new non-branded keyword strategies are needed. Focus keyword buildouts on more long-tail, specific queries in the areas seeing the best growth like degree type or online programs (if offered). Also focus on ways to improve ad rank, to avoid overpaying for top ad position. Split-test landing pages and ad messaging to find the best mix to maximize quality score, and work on segmenting keywords by match type to help drive more qualified traffic and mine for new keyword ideas out of search term reports.

Want to know more about how digital changes in higher education can help you drive more, and more efficient inquiries? Follow our latest updates, tips, and insights on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn

Want more marketing insights? Subscribe for updates!