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Paid Advertising plays a crucial role in generating high-quality leads for master’s degree programs. With its ability to reach audiences with specific educational and professional backgrounds and offer precise tracking and optimization, paid advertising campaigns provide colleges and universities with a powerful tool to attract right-fit students. By leveraging the advantages inherent in paid media and incorporating techniques such as retargeting and A/B testing, institutions can optimize campaign performance and engage with graduate prospects throughout their decision-making journey, ultimately driving a steady stream of high-value prospects and applicants.

Targeted Audience Reach

A primary advantage of paid media is the ability to effectively reach specific high-affinity audiences online. Through platforms like Google Ads, LinkedIn, and display networks, schools can manage their audience targeting based on demographics, interests, and associations. By combining specific characteristics such as location, job title, interests, industry, inferred age, education, work experience, behavior, and affinities, campaigns can home in on individuals who are most likely to pursue a specific graduate degree path.

Conversion Tracking and Funnel Optimization

Paid media channels offer robust conversion tracking capabilities, allowing institutions to accurately measure the effectiveness of their lead generation efforts. By integrating conversion tracking pixels and tags, marketers can monitor the entire student journey, from first click to final conversion, whether it’s a form submission, application, or enrollment. 

By analyzing conversion data throughout the process, institutions gain valuable insights into the performance of different audience selects, campaigns, ads, and landing pages. They can identify bottlenecks in the conversion funnel, such as high drop-off rates in specific geographies or high enrollment rates by industry and take proactive measures to optimize these areas. Through continuously refining the conversion funnel, schools can maximize their lead generation efforts, improve conversion rates, and optimize financial return. Often, analysis of attributes associated with applicants or enrollments can uncover insights that can be turned into a competitive edge. 

Such was the case with an institute in the northeast that noticed an uptick of medical doctors becoming leads for their executive MBA program. This early insight found the beginning of a trend in MD’s shifting direction in their careers to focus on the business side of medicine. Within days, new campaigns were launched with this target in mind. Creative solutions including targeting by employer, affinity groups – even time of day and day of week – reached medical doctors in the right digital channels and at the right times with tailored messaging. Within a month, success metrics were replicated, and this segment became an important, evergreen addition to each class cohort.

Elevate Visibility, Awareness, and Competitive Positioning

Along with traditional lead generation, paid advertising offers a valuable solution to boost visibility and brand awareness to key influencers and audiences besides prospective students. Display advertising and sponsored content ads allow universities to highlight their programs, differentiators, and ethos to build value and enhance their reputation. Sophisticated institutions use paid media to reach potential partners, employers, recruiters, CHROs and CTOs, and talent and hiring managers to support opportunities for graduate and organizational networking, placements, and partnerships.

This increased exposure helps build credibility and familiarity, positioning the institution as a preferred choice in the minds of the broader community. As this messaging is reinforced over time, recognition grows, and the likelihood of generating deeper engagement and elevating broader perceptions also increases.

A/B Testing to Validate Performance Levers

Paid campaigns also enable easy execution of beneficial A/B testing to refine messaging, sort out under- and over-performing segments, and optimize performance over time. By experimenting with different ad formats, landing page elements, and calls-to-action, universities can gather valuable data on what resonates best with each target audience. By iterating and fine-tuning their campaigns based on these insights, institutions can keep their messaging fresh and relevant, improving conversion rates and driving quality leads. Additionally, insights gained can often be successfully applied to other marketing initiatives including web sites, web pages, emails, events, collateral, and non-digital media, saving time and money.

Retargeting and Nurturing Prospects

Paid campaign strategies offer the opportunity to engage with prospects throughout their decision-making journey. Through techniques like retargeting, universities can reach out to individuals who have shown initial interest in their programs but have not yet taken the desired action. By serving tailored ads to these prospects across multiple digital channels, programs can remain top-of-mind and qualified individuals can be gently guided towards the application stage. Furthermore, personalized email and SMS nurturing campaigns can be implemented to provide valuable content such as invitations to graduate prospect events, critical deadline reminders, strategies to secure employer funding, and to share the ethos of the institution. This process is effective in building trust and increasing the likelihood of converting prospects into applications and enrolled students.

While most universities and educational institutions include paid advertising in their strategic marketing mix, many underutilize these channels. Missed opportunities, driven by an oversimplified focus on converting clicks to leads, can be costly and result in a college or university being less competitive in the long run. Rest assured, your most assertive competitors are using some or all options available, so it’s critical to have your graduate programs front and center and competing in the digital landscape.

Because marketing budgets are under constant scrutiny, it’s crucial for stakeholders to understand the vital role of paid media in generating an effective pipeline for graduate degree leads, influencing key audiences, and moving your school and its advanced degree programs from a “possibility” to a “first choice” educational option.

If you are seeking a paid advertising agency for your higher education institution, view our work with many higher ed clients and consider partnering with us.

About Elliance

Elliance, a Pittsburgh-based enrollment marketing agency, has helped grow enrollment, endowment, and reputation for more than 100 colleges and universities including 20 professional schools, 12 faith-based universities, and 20 liberal arts colleges. 

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