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How to Improve Your Prospective Student Search Campaigns
Sam ThorsonJanuary, 3, 20225 min read

How to Improve Your Prospective Student Search Campaigns

You have a voice. A brand. An amazing voice – packed to the brim with catchy headlines and clear benefits. Your college or university talks the talk AND walks the walk. Yet, you’re not reaching your full potential. You’re not showing up high in search results and your click-throughs aren’t what they could be.

Why is that? Maybe it’s not what you’re saying, but who you’re saying it too. If you’re searching for solutions, then you’re already in the right headspace. Consider Search Engine Marketing (SEM). If used correctly, it can play a pivotal role in marketing to your prospective students.

SEM refers to the process of utilizing search engines to deliver advertisements based on search queries and keywords relating to a specific topic. It’s a paid marketing effort to get your message in front of people as they are searching for information relating to your college or university – and it’s worth the investment.


Don’t get confused - there are three common terms that are thrown around when discussing search engine marketing. We talked about SEM and how it’s the blanket term for paying search engines to show your ad above other results on a results page.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

The process of earning the top spot without paying for it. This one is typically a long-term strategy and takes planning, content creation, and consistent optimization.

Pay Per Click Advertising (PPC)

Pay Per Click gets confused with general search ads. PPC refers to the way marketing platforms charge your campaign: When someone clicks your ad, your campaign is charged.

Search Ad Benefits

When it comes to searching for colleges, search engines are a frequently used tool in the discovery process – here are just a few reasons why search ads are a powerful tool for prospective student campaigns.

Faster Results

It takes time for your search ads to show up organically. Search marketing provides instant results.

Machine Learning

Popular platforms like Google are ever evolving to improve the user experience. And that means helping schools find and connect with the most qualified prospective students.


SEM allows you to spot crucial marketing touchpoints that exist along the customer journey from first introduction to the conversion point.


This type of marketing refers to tactics that try and get your audience to perform a specific action.


Marketing aimed at increasing your brand recognition in the marketplace. Usually puts focus on creating awareness of your brand within a specific demographic.

Cost Efficient

The industry average for the PPC campaign in the Higher Ed industry is $2.40. This means, for less than $3, a school can introduce themselves to a prospective student that has a high chance of being interested in attending your school.

All of these SEM benefits sounds pretty handy, right? What if we told you, that with a few extra steps, there’s a way to get them to their maximum potential? That’s right. The best part? They’re simple:

Spend Money on Yourself

SEM campaigns have potential to be competitive when it comes to other campaigns that share similar goals (i.e., student recruitment). This is made clear when a competing school bids on a branded keyword of another University.

How can we prevent this?

It’s an easy solution. All you have to do is include your own branded keyword in your search campaign. Since you are the college or university which the keyword represents, your relevancy is automatically high – meaning your ad will always win when pitted against a competitor’s ad. This reinforces that you always maintain the top paid and organic results when someone searches your name.

Year-Round Search Campaigns

Never shut off your SEM campaign. The truth is – the prospective student selection process can happen at any time.

Seasonality does play a role as to when the students search for schools, submit applications, etc. – but that doesn’t mean their limited to just those times.

Marketing year-round has major benefits. When your campaign spends more time promoting, you’re going to generate more results. For example, a 12-month campaign is going to generate more conversions than a 6-month campaign.

After your SEM campaign launches, optimization can begin. A common challenge when campaigns shut off after a short time is that the digital specialist has little time to optimize it. By running a year-round campaign, the specialist can add/remove keywords, adjust spend, A/B Test creative, and do several things to generate the best results for the client.

As we mentioned before, seasonality does play a key role in recruitment. When running a campaign year-round, you’re able to boost spend during key times of the year. Let’s say your digital strategist has been working hard to optimize your campaign, and you know that when you ramp up the spend, you’re boosting an optimized campaign.

Utilize Responsive Search Ads

Google recently announced that in June of 2022, marketers using Google Ads “will no longer be able to create or edit expanded text ads”. This was a response to their development of Responsive Search Ads and their push to encourage marketers to utilize them.

Responsive search ads allow you to create an ad that adapts to show more text and relevant messages to customers. Enter multiple headlines and descriptions when creating an RSA and, over time, Google will generate different combinations and learn which ones perform the best.

Responsive search ads are a huge benefit to have in your online arsenal: they can adapt to the width of any device, and they save time by letting Google Ads show the most relevant combinations (from your headlines and descriptions) to customers. You can tailor your headlines and descriptions to customer locations and locations of interest.

Finally, you can increase ad group performance by attracting more clicks and conversions that your existing text ads aren’t capturing.

It’s one thing to know how to talk to your audience and it’s another to meet them where they are. Search Engine Marketing has proven to be one of the best ways to do that. PPC and SEO are two ways of going about marketing online – with one requiring payment and the other requiring time. It all falls on how much of you’re willing to spend.

Achieve, more efficient results by having your ads show up where your prospective student are – and don’t be afraid to invest in your campaign, let it ride beyond a specific time of year, and, with Google’s evolving algorithm, create flexibility in your marketing efforts. It’s easy to get lost in the internet, utilize these tools to help you stand out.

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Sam Thorson

Sam specializes in Higher Education marketing strategies. He works hand in hand with university and college admissions and marketing teams to set goals, launch campaigns, and analyze results. With over 7 years of digital, content, and general marketing experience, Sam dedicates himself to connecting modern marketing strategies to higher education institutions.