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Digital Marketing for Schools: Your Google Ads Cheat Sheet
Kristen Doverspike

Taking the leap into Google Ads can feel like a high-stakes gamble for your school. It's more than just an investment of funds; your school's reputation and future enrollment numbers are at stake. And we get it —  with all the keywords, ad groups, and bid strategies out there, creating the perfect Google ad campaign for your school can seem like a maze of uncertainties.

The beautiful thing about Google Ads is that it's not just about casting a wide net — it's about casting the right net. Google Ads provides an opportunity for your school to be exactly at the right place at the right time. It enables you to deliver a compelling message to families who are actively searching, showcasing what makes your school special and answering their questions with the solutions they're looking for.

With a clear, well-crafted strategy, an effective ad can be the key to your school's digital marketing efforts. A well-executed PPC (pay-per-click) campaign — whether it’s for an open house, showcasing a new initiative, or generating awareness — can attract more prospective students and highlight what sets your school apart.

So, how can your school leverage Google Ads?

Every successful campaign starts with a well-thought-out marketing strategy. So, let's break it down, step-by-step, and transform Google advertising into a powerful tool in your school's digital marketing arsenal.

Google Advertising for Schools: Organizing Your Campaign Structure & Settings

Campaigns and settings are the foundation of your school's Google Ads strategy. It's all about the right setup - getting more bang for your buck and reaching the right folks.

So, split your campaigns for Search and, if warranted, Display. With Display, you can expand your reach past the search engine results page (SERP) to generate awareness and clicks on third-party websites — you will also find it is a lot cheaper per click than your Search campaigns. Keep your account neat with organized campaigns, which helps align ads with relevant keywords and manage the account.

Don't forget to bid on relevant, long-tailed terms related to your school — like “all-boys schools near Philadelphia,” “Catholic schools in central Tennessee, or “best STEM schools on the east coast” — it's cost-effective and yields higher conversion rates. Remarketing campaigns? Yep, they're a secret sauce to nudging potential students to apply. Don't skimp on the budget if campaigns are generating good results!

  • Separate Campaigns: Your school should have separate campaigns for Search and Display. This strategy prevents your budget from being consumed entirely by clicks from the Display network, which may yield lower-quality traffic.
  • Organized Account Structure: It's vital for your school to maintain an organized Google Ads account with multiple campaigns. A logical structure ensures your ads match relevant keywords, resulting in higher Quality Scores (QS), improved ad rankings, and lower costs per click.
  • Branded Campaigns: Bid on your school's name and any brand-specific terms. These keywords often have the lowest cost per click and the highest conversion rates.
  • Remarketing Campaigns: Utilize remarketing campaigns. These display your ads to past visitors on other websites, which can encourage users who initially didn't apply to reconsider.
  • Reasonable Budgets: Make sure your campaigns have adequate budgets — you must invest a little to get results. If your campaigns are effectively generating inquiries or applications, a limited budget could limit your success.
the gow school google ad

The Gow School is checking all the right boxes — since they’re a specialized school, its Google ads are appearing at exactly the right time for families searching online.

PPC for Schools: Mastering Your Ad Group Strategy

Ad Groups are like your school's different departments, each serving a unique purpose. But if you've got loads of different keywords in just one Ad Group, it's time to create more. This step makes your ads more targeted and cost-effective.

When it comes to your budget and bid strategy, it’s important to be competitive with your daily spend based on your chosen keywords. Google also offers a variety of automatic and manual bid strategies so that you can maximize your efforts based on your goals, whether that be clicks, impressions, or return on ad spend. You can adjust these strategies over time as your campaigns grow.

  • Sufficient Ad Groups: If you have numerous different keywords within one Ad Group, create more Ad Groups. This ensures that your ads are more relevant to your keywords, improving your QS and reducing cost-per-click (CPC).
  • Competitive Bid Levels: Aim to rank your ads within the top results to strike a balance between visibility in search results and a reasonable CPC. When adjustments need to be made based on the competitiveness of the terms you’re bidding on, Google will let you know so that you can make informed decisions about your budget, keywords, and ad content.
    google ad strategy status screenshot


Keyword Optimization — How to Effectively Use Google Ads for Your School

Keywords are your bread and butter in the Google Ads world. Variety is the spice of life here, so mix it up with exact and phrase keywords. But be aware of broad match keywords — they're known for draining your budget on irrelevant searches.

Instead, embrace negative keywords to protect your ads from irrelevant searches. Be sure to review the search terms report regularly and add new negative keywords to hone in on your target audience. And those underperforming keywords? Give them a time-out.

  • Variety in Keyword Matching: Use both exact and phrase keywords to gain better visibility and control over matching your keywords to user searches.
  • Don’t Forget About Negative Keywords: Negative keywords prevent your ads from being displayed for irrelevant searches. Regularly reviewing the search terms report and adding new negative keywords can significantly save resources.
  • Pause Low-Performing Keywords: Consider pausing underperforming keywords to prevent wasting money and to free up more budget for high-performing keywords.
Franklin School google ad

Franklin School jumps to the top of the search results for users searching for private high schools in the New Jersey area, thanks to its keywords placed within the ad. Nicely done!

SEO & Digital Advertising Fundamentals for SchoolsCreating and Testing PPC Ads like a Pro

This is where creativity meets strategy. Always have at least two ads per ad group for split testing to keep things fresh and effective. Try out different ad copies and see what works best.

Also, don't shy away from experimenting with responsive search ads because they're great for testing different combinations of headlines and descriptions.

When crafting your school's ads, think about what makes your school unique and use those factors to attract potential students. Remember, your ads and keywords should complement each other to boost click-through rates.

Franklin School google ad

Also, consider using category-specific display URLs, like a link to signing up for an admissions tour or requesting information about financial aid, just like Franklin School has done.  It's all about that extra touch of relevance, and it provides enough options for users to convert.

  • Split-Testing: Create at least two ads per ad group for split-testing. This lets you try out new ad copies and potentially improve your click-through rates (CTR) and quality scores (QS).
  • Use Responsive Search Ads: As of mid-2022, Google has been encouraging the use of responsive search ads. This allows for testing multiple headlines and descriptions to see which combinations are most effective.
  • Highlighting Your Benefits and Unique Selling Propositions (USPs): Ensure your ads emphasize your school's unique benefits and strengths to make them more appealing to prospective families.
  • Keyword Relevance: Make sure your ads are highly relevant to your keywords. Ideally, include the keyword in the ad headline. This strategy can increase CTR and QS.
  • Optimize Your Landing Pages: You may have the greatest ad in the world, but your digital marketing efforts can fall apart quickly if your ad’s landing page isn't optimized for conversions.
  • Pause Low-Performing Ads: If you have an ad group with poorly performing ads, consider pausing them and replacing them with alternatives to enhance overall performance.
  • Spelling and Grammar: It’s worth mentioning that you need to ensure your ads are free from spelling and grammatical errors. These mistakes can deter potential students from clicking on your ads.

Key Takeaway

Managing a successful Google Ads campaign requires strategic planning, diligent monitoring, and continual optimization. It might seem daunting at first, but the potential payoff is enormous. Remember, every click could be a future student, and every ad could spark a meaningful educational journey.

So, take control of your paid advertising and utilize Google Ads to its fullest. After all, the success of your school and the future of countless students could be just a well-placed keyword away.

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Kristen Doverspike headshot

In her position as Director of Marketing Operations, Kristen provides the strategy and creation of content across email, website and social media communications at Finalsite. With over five years of experience in content strategy and digital marketing, Kristen has worked with clients around the country to develop their branding, SEM, SEO, social media, and inbound efforts. She holds and maintains a number of certifications from Google, Hubspot, and Hootsuite.

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