Brian Coughlin

A Higher Education Perspective on Everything Digital

The Cutting Edge of Digital Marketing: Three Questions for Grant Sabatier, Vice President & Principal, Digital Strategy

by Brian Coughlin on June 23, 2016 , No comments
  1. How has “big data” changed how search campaigns are managed?

There is now more data available than ever–massive amounts we couldn’t have imagined even a few years ago. There is also a flood of new tools, platforms and ever-improving Google Analytics available to optimize campaigns. But more data in this case does not necessarily yield better campaign results for, say, one particular business school or another. For Eduvantis, it’s about more data with context. We now work with such a critical mass of business schools and management education organizations that we are the first to see trends across the sector. This helps us to not only set benchmarks, but also uncover opportunities for both a specific school and that we can also leverage across our entire business school client base. It’s a form of collective learning – where each individual school can get better because of the learnings we derive from the whole. We’ve created a truly one-of-a-kind database and resource for business schools.

  1. How, specifically, does this help?

The data we have allows us to implement new learnings quickly – through better targeting, bidding, placement, and lead generation strategies. For example, we discovered a really effective targeting profile we used to identify EMBA prospects on LinkedIn and it was so successful that we took that unique profile and were able to leverage that profile for another school in a different competitive market. The campaign quickly started generating almost double the number of new prospect inquiries generated from LinkedIn.

Also, all of the new digital data we are able to gather is telling us more about the prospect, so we have more information which leads to more effective targeting. We are able to uncover what individuals in the market are interested in (search), their career history (LinkedIn), their interests (Facebook), how they engage with the brand (user experience), and what websites they visit. Better targeting leads to better campaign performance.

  1. Where do you see the digital marketing process headed?

Well, it’s the age of growing complexity. Digital marketing has truly become a science and the increasing complexities, increasing cost, and increasing competition make it necessary to have some pretty sophisticated experience in order to generate ROI with your digital budget. Individual schools struggle with this. The level of precision now required to design and run a high performing PPC campaign (not to mention SEO, social, etc.) requires a special skill set – someone who is very detail oriented, highly curious, analytically driven, can manage a lot of data, and can make a lot of complex choices based on deep digital marketing experience. It has truly become a specialized field and our greatest advantage at Eduvantis is that we have merged the necessary technical skills and experience with unique industry data, which makes us better at targeting, reaching prospects, and generating results.

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Brian CoughlinThe Cutting Edge of Digital Marketing: Three Questions for Grant Sabatier, Vice President & Principal, Digital Strategy

Are Your Tweets Improving Your Search Marketing Impact?

by Brian Coughlin on November 3, 2015 , No comments

As we first reported back in February, Google and Twitter started a new partnership allowing Google greater access to Tweets. How this partnership would impact search results was a mystery until recently, when Google started showing Tweets when searching for branded terms.

As a result, your Tweets now have greater visibility than ever before. This visibility represents powerful branding and lead generating opportunities for business schools.

Here’s an example of in-search Tweets for Chicago Booth:

Chicago Booth Tweets in Search Results

This development, if used strategically, can add to your search and social marketing efforts, but the message you’re sending should be carefully considered. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Tweets only appear for branded terms (“Chicago Booth” but not “Chicago Business School”).
  • Your Tweets now have massive branding power. Looking at the example above, Chicago Booth can control a very limited amount of information appearing in search results for their brand name. How do your Tweets explain the value of your MBA program?
  • Only your two latest Tweets will appear.
  • Tweets don’t show up for every brand. Google is still testing this inclusion, so your school may not benefit yet. There’s no on/off switch. Your best bet for inclusion is to ensure your Twitter profile is verified and you have links both on your school’s site and on your Twitter profile pointing to one another (you should already have these links in place, but this is another great reason why!).

How to Leverage Tweets in Google Search Results:

  • Stay on Brand (Repeatedly) – Even if you craft a Tweet that perfectly encapsulates your brand image, once you’ve published two more Tweets it will disappear from search results. So repeat your message (with different language) frequently to ensure the right message appears at all times.
  • Promote Lead Generation & Enrollment – Getting prospective students to the right landing page as quickly and easily as possible is key to maximizing lead generation. Here are a few ways to help your Tweets:
    • Link to the Right Page – Link to the top-converting pages on your site. Don’t make users navigate extra pages. Your conversion rates will skyrocket if you can get students to the right place from the start.
    • Employ Calls to Action – “Learn More,” “Advance Your Career” and “Apply Now” do wonders for conversion rates. “Learn More” in particular is effective as it’s short and to the point (hallmarks of any good Tweet). Here’s a great example from UCLA Anderson that promotes campus visits and mentions both signing up and checking out campus experiences (second Tweet):UCLA Smart Tweeting for Google

Twitter has generally been limited to your number of followers. Now they’re front and center in Google search results for your brand. Make sure you’re driving users to the right place and with the right message.

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Brian CoughlinAre Your Tweets Improving Your Search Marketing Impact?

Understanding SEO Performance: Traffic Metrics

by Brian Coughlin on September 28, 2015 , No comments

Brand and product visibility, site traffic and lead generation are the goals of most business school digital marketing campaigns. While traffic can come from many sources, results generated by organic search yields the highest ROI. Here’s how to sort through mountains of data to assess your organic traffic success.

In my most recent blog, I discussed the pitfalls of using keyword rankings as your school’s benchmark for SEO performance. Today, let’s focus on how to evaluate your organic traffic.

First: Isolate Organic Traffic

Depending on which analytics software you use (most schools use Google Analytics, but not all), you’ll find several ways to filter organic search traffic. Be sure it’s only organic search traffic, and not all search traffic (which can include paid search traffic).

Second: Pick Your Date Range

I suggest looking at two date ranges:

  1. A graph with a single line for the last 3 years
    • This helps you avoid misinterpretations due to seasonality
  2. A graph showing year over year traffic – the last twelve months vs. the same period a year before (e.g. September 2014 – August 2015 vs September 2013 – August 2014)
    • Helpful note: As you want to see the overall health of your SEO program, look at the data on a monthly basis instead of daily (the default).

Below are examples of these two graphs using dummy data. Note I’ve isolated organic search traffic (top left) and adjusted the scale to monthly (middle right).


Google Organic Traffic Over Time


Google Organic Traffic Year over Year

You can see organic traffic for this dummy data is struggling. The first chart shows minimal growth during the past three years.   Looking at year over year performance, there’s been a 2.49% decline. It’s time to call your SEO team and start asking questions.

Metrics to Consider, Their Meanings, and What You Want to See

When you open your analytics software, you’ll be inundated with metrics. They all serve a purpose, but three are most important:

  1. Sessions
    • What it is: A visitor. Sessions will include new & returning visitors, so 20,000 sessions does not mean 20,000 people. Still, it provides the best high-level overview of performance and is the default option for most graphs (including those above).
    • What you want to see: Traffic should be increasing by a minimum of 5% per year. 5% is essentially adjusting for inflation. There are more users online every year, so if your organic traffic is stagnant, your site is underperforming.
  2. Bounce Rate
    • What it is: Google’s Definition: Bounce Rate is the percentage of single-page sessions.
      • Simpler: Percentage of people who came to your site and left almost immediately. This usually means they clicked on your search result, didn’t find what they were looking for, and clicked the back button on their browser. It also means they probably went to a competitor.
    • What you want to see: The average bounce rate is about 40%, but you may see anywhere from the 25% range (amazing) to the 60% range (not great). Look for changes. If the number is declining, you may be on the right track. If it’s increasing, users may not be finding your site useful.
      • Note: While lower is generally better, too high or too low are both potentially causes for concern. Too high (>60%) means you aren’t serving the right content to your users. Too low (<30%) may mean you aren’t capturing enough casual visitors (often the best lead prospects), who always leave websites at a higher rate than returning users.
  3. Goal Completions
    • What it is: Goals are manually set up in your analytics software and can track a large number of different things, from specific actions to time on site. Consult with your marketing team to understand what goals, if any, you have set up.
      • Tip: The best goals are directly related to lead-generation, such as form or application completions.
    • What you want to see: Goal completions should be increasing at about the same rate as traffic. Depending on site redesigns, you may see bigger improvements to goal completions than traffic, so consult with your team if you see extraordinary changes.

Consider these three metrics in relation to one another. The calibration you are seeking is steady traffic, a declining bounce rate and more leads. If you are there, congratulations. That’s a good sign your SEO program may be driving better traffic, not just more.

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Brian CoughlinUnderstanding SEO Performance: Traffic Metrics

Personalized Search, Beware!

by Brian Coughlin on September 21, 2015 , No comments

You’re probably overestimating your organic search (SEO) performance—thanks to Google’s personalized search. As a result, you may be losing thousands of visitors and potentially hundreds of applications. Personalized search shows different results to every searcher. So if you’ve searched “MBA Program” to review how your business school is ranking, odds are you’ve seen results that don’t reflect the search results your prospects see.

 Personalized Search Impacts Results - EduvantisPersonalized Search Changes Each Search Result - Eduvantis

Here are just a few of the many factors Google uses to personalize search results:

  • Choice of Device – Smartphones, tablets, and laptops will show different results. Sometimes the results are wildly different, sometimes just a bit.
  • Location – Where you are matters! Searches for “MBA Program” in downtown Chicago are a lot more likely to show Chicago Booth, while the same search performed on the north side closer to Northwestern will show Kellogg.
  • Search history – Google tracks your computer and smartphone usage. So if you usually head to The Wall Street Journal for news instead of the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal will start to appear more frequently for news-related searches.

So don’t trust that your prospective students see the same thing you’re seeing. And realize that branded keywords (i.e. your school’s name) are not good indicators of organic search success. The most valuable prospective students use general terms (non-branded) to research business school programs. So, appearing first for “MBA Program” is far more valuable than appearing first for your own name (which if you don’t, there’s really something seriously wrong).

What to do?

Traffic from prospects is king when assessing the performance of your SEO strategy, not where you rank in a self-conducted search. This is a complex subject, so in our next post we’ll dig into specifics of this topic.

There are more prospects on line every day. At a minimum, you should see total traffic increasing year over year. If traffic is only increasing slightly (<5% growth), stagnant, or declining, there’s something wrong.

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Brian CoughlinPersonalized Search, Beware!

New Local Search Rules at Google – And You May Now Be Below the Fold

by Brian Coughlin on August 21, 2015 , No comments

Google just changed how local search results are reported – reducing the number of results displayed from seven to three. Your school now might not have the same visibility it once had on Google – especially if it’s not among the top 3 local search results.

When searching for “MBA Programs” when you are in Boston, for example, pages from Harvard are far more likely to appear in the general search results than those of UCLA (and vice versa when searching in Los Angeles). The same keyword will produce different results, based on location. That’s local search. In its quest for relevant results, Google factors in “proximity” into its algorithm. This means if you search for “MBA programs” there is a high likelihood Google will show you the closest MBA programs to you.

Some keywords have an even stronger tie to location. Often (not always), terms like “School of Business” or “Business School” will not only produce locally focused general results, but also a map just like you might see when searching for “Starbucks.” It’s these mapped results (dubbed the “Local Pack” by the SEO community) that have been reduced.

For example, when searching from Chicago for “School of Business,” this is how the results will now be displayed. The actual search results will vary significantly, based on a broad range of factors and variables (such as institutional SEO sophistication, the searcher’s prior search behavior, etc.). Click this link to see what a Google “School of Business” looks like in your market. Here is our view from Chicago today.

Google Business Schools

“Out of sight, out of mind” is not a good place to be.

In the past, even schools not in the top three results might still see a reasonable amount of search engine traffic. Now, they’ll be fighting their way to the top in order to be seen. Few schools can afford to be ignored by the world’s largest marketing platform.

So How Do You Get To The Top Of Local Results (Or Stay There)?

Fortunately, while Google continues to evolve local search results, the tactics for getting to the top remain the same.  Here are three things to do to get you started:

  1. Officially claim your Google+ business listing and keep all information (business name, phone number, address, website, etc.) up to date. We also recommend optimizing your Google + page for relevant keywords.
  1. Focus on your SEO fundamentals: Make sure your site’s meta data is optimized for the best keywords, you have plenty of links between pages and that there aren’t any major technical issues preventing search engines from accessing your site.
  1. Put the address of your school is in the footer of you website and is linked to a Google map listing (this reinforces your location to Google).

Google wants to provide the most relevant results to its users. Your challenge is to make sure you are providing all the information necessary to make it to the top of local search results, and stay there regardless of changes to Google’s algorithm.

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Brian CoughlinNew Local Search Rules at Google – And You May Now Be Below the Fold