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PPC Marketing for Schools: Making the Most of Your Budget
Red Abbott

What good is an awesome website if the right people never see it? An increasing number of our schools are making sure they never have to answer that question by investing their time and school marketing budget into digital ads in various media like search, social, and display ads.

At Finalsite, those of us on the Consulting Services team think about school marketing a lot, because we get to assist many schools that don’t have the time, resources, or budget to handle it themselves. There's a lot to consider when you're trying to get to the top of a search engine results page: PPC ads, keyword research, ranking factors, search queries, on-page search engine optimization...this list goes on.

In the world of digital ad campaigns can be a lot to juggle for small teams, but here are three simple things we’ve learned about being effective in running PPC campaigns and display advertising for schools.

1. Social is Easy, but Search is Smarter

Many of our schools report that their first foray into digital advertising was boosting posts on Facebook. It's inexpensive, it's easy, and is possible to see and understand results without taking up a lot of time you don't have. But things have changed a lot since boosting posts was your main option for advertising on Facebook

If you're going to make the most of social ads, you're going to have to spend quite a bit more time and money. Because of that, it's important to look around at the other options you have to make sure that you're spending that time and money in the most effective place. 

There's more value in capturing the attention of someone who just typed “private schools in [your city]” into Google than there is in capturing someone who was thumbing through Facebook in a recreational state of mind. For that reason, we recommend that a school’s digital ad work starts in search and then expands into other media like social and display.

2. Bidding on Your Brand Usually Doesn’t Make Sense

Have you ever googled the actual name of a school and seen that the top result is actually a Google search ad from the school? This is a pretty common occurrence, and except in unique situations, it's a huge waste of the school’s ad dollars.


Because the vast majority of people seeing (and clicking on) those ads are current parents and students who just need information about today’s lunch or the location of the away basketball game.

You’d like to think that they skip over that ad and click on the (free) result in the #1 organic spot, but many don’t.

Screenshot of Seton LaSalle Catholic HS

The exceptions?

While branded keywords are sometimes more cost-effective than non-branded keywords because of less competition, bidding on your brand name could be used to dominate the top of the search results and maximize your brand exposure. That could be useful if you’re opening a new school, for instance.

Bidding on your name could also be used as a defensive strategy to prevent your competitor’s ad from being placed above your organic result (your competitors are bidding on your brand name, for example.) Theoretically, you can also provide users with more information than organic listings through Google’s customizable ad extensions like site links and snippets.

3. Don’t Kill the Conversation

So let’s say you’re up and running with some awesome search ads that get in front of lots of families who need a school like yours. Let’s also say that you’ve got great ad copy that fits into that small space with some info to get people excited about hearing your story. You’ve done a great job of writing several versions to test what kind of messages resonate with your audience. 

Let’s say Ad A focuses on your “rigorous academics” and Ad B is all about “students and teachers living together in the dorm.” When we see schools running campaigns that show up for the right searches and have really nice copy, the biggest mistake we see is in what happens next. 

The user sees the ad, decides that it has the potential to meet the need that brought them to Google, and clicks. Where do you land someone who was compelled to click on an ad that touts your strong academics or your nurturing residential life? The website’s home page is usually the wrong answer — why lose all this momentum by plopping the user in a place that forces them to make choices in an unfamiliar environment? 

If you’re talking about a particular facet of your programs in an ad, there’s a good chance your site has a page dedicated to that. 

Keep Reading: The 5 Best Landing Page Designs to Copy for Your School's Website

THAT’S where you want to drop this ad clicker: on a page that we already know from their ad experience tells a story that resonates with his or her individual priorities. So always strive to keep the conversation moving forward and stop dropping ad clickers on your home page.

screenshot of SCH Academy

In this instance, Springside Chestnut Hill Academy has an ad for the search term "private schools around me." What's even better is that they're sending users to an admissions landing page specifically for prospective families looking to learn more about admissions events, tours, financial aid, and the school's differentiators — not their homepage.

Key Takeaway

I know you’ve got stuff to do, so those are three things I have to say about leveraging the digital realities of today to maximize your reach to the families who need you the most. It can all boil down to thinking about your searcher's intent—how can you give searchers the best information they're looking for? May your funnel always be full!

Digital marketing and consulting services for schools. Click here to request a consultation!

Red Abbott headshot

Red Abbott leads Finalsite's Consulting Services team, tasked with helping schools around the globe with increasingly critical sources of new connections: organic search engine visibility, online ads, and social media. Red has a long history with American independent schools as: an alumnus, a former teacher (and dorm parent, and coach, and advisor, and…), and a current parent. Throw in his engineering degree and a master’s in school leadership, and you’ll see right away why clients say Red “gets them” when they discuss marketing strategy.  Red loves to hear about the challenges schools are facing and what creative solutions they are coming up with in response.

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