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Ads Targeting College Students: What Schools Should Know


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Today’s competitive education market makes it more important than ever for schools to seek out various ways to stand out and attract new prospects. In this space, it’s essential for schools to efficiently showcase their brand and program offerings. This is where creating ads targeting college students comes in, providing schools with tailored messaging that delivers the right results.

Schools looking to make a big impact more quickly and efficiently can benefit from adopting an online paid advertising strategy. By integrating the right technique and industry best practices, your school’s advertising campaign can generate a high return on investment and bolster your student recruitment efforts. 

With so much to consider, it can be difficult to know where to start. For this reason, we’ve curated a guide to help you navigate education advertising—enabling you to better understand your audience, media placement, ad spend, and more. Read on to get started. 

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Exploring the Potential of Ads Targeting College Students

A good digital advertising strategy gives you the ability to reach your business goals with more precision and control. Advertising campaigns can be scalable, designed specifically to generate the results you need. This can include expanding your reach and visibility within a target audience as well as boosting conversions. The key is being able to modify your campaign to deliver the maximum impact while using a set budget. 

Understanding Your Audience and Goals to Refine Your Message

It’s worth stressing the importance of understanding your audience when considering how to market to college students. College students today, and Gen Z-ers in particular, are often described as digital natives—spending much of their time online to consume content, shop, and socialize. 

According to research, 41% of Gen Z-ers are willing to provide their data in exchange for a more personalized experience with the brand. Schools can make use of this fact by cultivating personalized content that speaks to this target audience, making student personas incredibly essential. These semi-fictional profiles of prospective students allow you to better understand your audience’s key motivations and concerns, giving you the insight you need to refine your messaging.

When creating ads targeting college students, you’ll need to clearly outline your advertising objectives. This is where you’ll want to consider setting SMART goals, especially since they are designed to be: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. With a specific purpose in mind, your school can more easily and efficiently work towards achieving its advertising goals—allowing you to maximize your effort and boost your ROI (return on investment). 

Promote Your College by Finding the Right Digital Media Placement 

Digital media placement can be typically understood as part of the media planning and buying process, where your school sets out to determine which channels to use for placing ad messaging. To focus your efforts on the best way to advertise to college students, you’ll want to consider all relevant digital media channels as well as popular content formats.

Your digital media placement can include advertising through video, on social media, as well as on search engine results pages (SERPs). Different ad placements are chosen for different reasons with different objectives in mind. Your school will need to rely on market research when identifying its digital advertising mix and channels. Ultimately, you’ll want to choose ad placements on the channels that naturally attract your target audience. 

Explore the Benefits of Display Ads vs PPC Ads for Your College

There are two types of advertising campaigns that typically make up a strong online paid advertising strategy. Schools can choose to set up pay-per-click (PPC) ads or create display ads. Each campaign provides schools with a different approach to targeting their audience

With PPC ads, schools can target specific keywords and bid for a top spot on the SERP, only paying when a prospect clicks on their ad. For example, prospects searching for a “career college in Toronto” immediately discover Herzing College through the ad, which is listed as the first result on Google’s SERP: 

A search engine results page shows a paid ad for schools considering how to market to college students.A search engine results page shows a paid ad for schools considering how to market to college students.

Here, prospects have a clear idea of what they’re looking for and are able to see Herzing College’s offerings at the right moment. This gives Herzing College a better chance of appealing to its target audience and attracting new college students through its ads.

In the latter, schools can showcase their brand through a text, image or video-based ad—which gets displayed on a network of websites depending on the user’s behaviour and the keywords they used. The following example reveals a display ad created by Cumberland College with text introducing the College’s Digital Marketing Diploma Program:

A Display ad by Cumberland College as an example of advertising to college studentsA Display ad by Cumberland College as an example of advertising to college students

Unlike PPC, the ad targets an audience that has expressed interest in the College’s offerings without appearing at the exact moment of the search query. This allows schools to reach a passive audience who may be interested in learning more about the college as they encounter it while browsing the Internet.

It’s been noted that display ads are often less pricey. That’s likely a result of the higher opportunities available for display ads, which enable them to be featured on Google’s vast network of websites. In comparison, PPC ads show up at the top of a SERP, which may require a high budget for competitive keywords.

The general rule is to use display ads for expanding your school’s reach and PPC campaigns for boosting conversions. Display advertising can also be a way for your school to re-target prospects who have heard of your school but have not converted, whereas PPC can help you boost traffic to your website—making your ads targeting college students difficult to miss as they sit at the top of the SERP. 

Consider Creating Ads Targeting College Students on Social Media

Different colleges have different brand voices and personalities. As a result, the audience you’ll want to attract largely depends on your school and its brand. Naturally, you’ll want to focus your efforts on the platforms that align with your school’s brand and the interest of your audience. This may be Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, or even TikTok.

When it comes to Facebook advertising, your school can benefit from the platform’s advanced targeting features. Here, you’ll have the opportunity to customize your ad, tailor it to specific objectives, and personalize your messaging to better resonate with your target audience. This makes Facebook ads a great way for your school to boost its awareness, generate leads, or reach its other objectives.

Example: Oxford College’s Facebook advertising campaign is designed to attract prospects seeking to explore new careers with a business management diploma: 

A Facebook ad by Oxford College for their business management program, illustrating the best way to advertise to college students.A Facebook ad by Oxford College for their business management program, illustrating the best way to advertise to college students.

In order to draw in more prospects on Facebook, Oxford College uses engaging copy to appeal to their audience’s specific motivations. In fact, this step is almost as important as choosing the right ad placement, which relies on your school testing out different options and monitoring the results to determine the most effective approach.  

Schools looking to generate creative advertising ideas for college students can consider turning to TikTok for results. TikTok can be a great way to attract Gen Z prospects, allowing schools with a majority Gen-Z audience to bolster their social media advertising strategy. By choosing ad placements on this platform, your college can boost its impressions and clicks. In fact, that’s what The Australian College of Arts (Collarts) did in their TikTok ad campaign—targeting “high school leavers” considering various tertiary education options:

A TikTok ad to inspire advertising to college students ideasA TikTok ad to inspire advertising to college students ideas

Source: TikTok 

The results of the ad campaign were particularly impressive, revealing over 21,000 clicks to the college’s landing page and over 2.6 million impressions within TikTok’s “For You” feed. 

Take Advantage of Video’s Rising Popularity by Producing Video Ads 

According to HubSpot, 51% of marketers who use short-form video content in their efforts plan to increase their investment in 2022. These numbers indicate the rising popularity of short-form videos, which can make this an effective aspect of your school’s digital marketing strategy.

Your school can ride this trend and integrate video content into its marketing strategy and advertising efforts. The video below, by San Jacinto College, shows an example of how a short-form video can express your college’s brand and message:

 

Sharing these types of videos on digital media channels can be an effective way to approach ads targeting college students, ensuring that your content is tailored to your audience’s preferences. 

Determine Your Ad Spend Investment to Maximize Your ROI

Planning is key to maximizing your ROI. For this reason, it’s good practice to review your data and determine your needs before committing to a specific ad budget. In this case, you can use your data to identify how many leads or impressions you need to generate all while keeping your average revenue per customer and average conversion rate in mind. 

You’ll also want to consider your target audience and specific business objectives. This way, you can prioritize your short-term as well as long-term goals more effectively. Although you may be tempted to place ads on multiple digital channels, it’s good to simply focus on the essential platforms for your school. Doing so ensures that your budget is focused on the efforts that would generate the best results.

Here, schools are advised to start with clearly defined goals, such as the number of desired enrolments or the number of leads. Specificity allows you to more easily track and plan your efforts. The next step would be to calculate the conversion rate, which can be done by dividing the number of conversions by the number of total ad interactions. With the final per cent, your school can determine the number of necessary visitors. This can be done by dividing the number of leads by the conversion rate. 

The final step would be to predict the cost-per-click (CPC) price on each digital advertising channel with an accurate target audience. Using the tools of that platform will enable you to get a more accurate picture, providing you with realistic expectations. You can then multiply the number of visitors with the anticipated CPC to determine your final budget when advertising to college students

If you’re keen on developing your paid advertising strategy, then reach out to our team for custom-tailored insights. Our team of industry experts can help you navigate the education advertising process and develop a budget that maximizes your ROI. 

Track Your Performance to Optimize Ads Targeting College Students 

Monitoring your progress and optimizing your performance can contribute to your continuous success. If you notice that ads targeting college students on a specific channel are generating positive results, then you may want to consider shifting more resources towards those efforts. Alternatively, if you notice that things aren’t going as planned, you can step in and prevent your school from generating more losses—shortening your campaign or simply adjusting your settings.  

By being attentive and seeking ways to optimize your advertising campaign, you can approach marketing to college students with more efficiency. In fact, if your school is using Google Ads, then you can use Google Analytics to gain valuable data insights that can help you refine your strategy. 

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