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

The 80/20 Digital Marketing Reality

by Grant Sabatier on May 27, 2015 , No comments

Based on our work with many institutions, I am sorry to report it is not uncommon to find examples of schools that have spent $100,000 + on a single digital campaign that resulted in no more than a handful of inquiries. Do the ROI math on that.

There are three basic reasons this is happening in a surprising number of situations:

  • The money is spent on poorly conceived strategies that have led to bad display ad placements, inappropriately targeted keywords and other such misfires.
  • Increased competition, driven by more sophisticated digital marketers in the higher education space, has led to most institutions losing up to 40% of their market visibility in the past year. That means 4 out of every 10 people who used to see your institution when searching online no longer see you.
  • Most institutions have not made peace with the reality that they are simply not spending enough money on digital advertising to have a chance of competing with the growing number of institutions that have accepted the reality that in digital marketing you literally have to pay to play. It is a new cost of doing business in higher education — and institutions that don’t factor this into their models will find themselves first marginalized, and soon literally out of the game.

What to do?

The third point above is a longer conversation. Again, most institutions have to seriously rethink their business and pricing models to include significantly higher costs of lead acquisition in the digital age. We spend a fair amount of time at Eduvantis introducing institutions to the data, models and metrics that demonstrate and contextualize this point.

The immediate response for most institutions is to at the least seriously up their game in terms of the sophistication with which they approach digital marketing. Our experience analyzing many institutions is that Pareto’s Principle — more popularly known as the 80/20 rule — is alive and well. 80% of what schools invest in digital marketing creates little impact. 20% of what they do is responsible for most of the enrollment impact they do achieve.

Here is the catch: Most institutions do not have in place the things it takes to actually know which of their hard-earned dollars is actually making a difference. The good news is that in the days of “Mad Men,” advertisers literally didn’t know what was actually producing results — which spawned the old adage, “half of my advertising dollars are wasted, I just don’t know which half.” In the digital age, things have changed. Here’s what you can do.

The easiest way to determine what has historically given you the best results is to look at the past performance of your Google Analytics conversion goals (if you haven’t set them up or don’t know if they are set-up correctly click here). For most institutions it makes sense to track prospect and/or other website visitor actions – such as inquiries, information session signups, applications started, and applications submitted (sometimes more challenging if you use Hobson’s Apply Yourself – but it is possible to find ways around this system). These conversion goals in Google Analytics can then be mapped back directly to measure your direct and in-direct marketing efforts.

channel

 

 

 

When analyzing your conversion efforts we recommend using the “secondary dimensions tab” or the “reverse goal path” in Google Analytics to analyze the referral source, traffic source, landing page, keywords, and other points of origin that led to conversions. At Eduvantis Digital we recommend exporting all of your conversion data into Excel to make it easier to sort. After you have gathered your conversion data – then sort all of your conversion sources and look at where the majority of your conversions originated over the past 1, 2, and 3 years. Using this approach you will easily be able to isolate the 20% of your efforts that generated 80%+ of your conversion results. These are where you should focus and invest in your marketing efforts.

For most of our clients these are organic search, paid search, and increasingly paid social media – which can be isolated all the way down to a specific keyword set or target. The least effective digital ads from a conversion standpoint are general display placements (like on popular news website). Over time we recommend our clients use simple referral tracking source codes for all of their digital efforts to make attribution modeling with Google Analytics possible (finding the source + touch points leading to conversions). It is always better to focus your budget and efforts on finding ways to make your most effective tactics work harder for you.

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Grant SabatierThe 80/20 Digital Marketing Reality

The Search Social Connection – New Google Twitter Partnership

by Grant Sabatier on February 9, 2015 , No comments

In an effort to share the most relevant results to searchers, Google continues to evolve both its algorithm as well as establish partnerships to keep visitors using the platform. It is both an exciting and challenging time for Google, whose lifeblood rests in its online advertising model and dependence on keeping users coming back. For the first time since 2009, Google is now losing marketshare of the search market to other giants like Yahoo and has recently been seeking more creative ways to provide the information people want. While the specifics have yet to be disclosed, the Google Twitter partnership is one of those efforts that is highly representative of the increasingly blurry lines between social and search and will likely have significant implications on search results.

Google and Twitter have reached an agreement that will give Google access to its data feed – which will make it easier for 140-character tweets to appear in the search engine results page. This means that tweets will appear faster and more prominently in the search engine results, which will ultimately drive more search traffic to Twitter instead of to websites. Historically, Google needed to crawl Twitter like any other website to obtain content, but this new arrangement will allow tweets to show up in real time. This will significantly increase the visibility of conversations happening on Twitter.

What does this mean for colleges, universities, and business schools?

When a prospect searches for your business school, they are likely going to see your business school tweets featured prominently in the results. It is also likely that prospects will see what other prospects and others are saying about your institution. This significantly increases the importance of leveraging social media in your institution’s recruiting efforts. It is also an opportunity for institutions to define and share what differentiates their institutions. This past fall, the incredibly popular, yet controversial #WhyMBA Twitter campaign which BusinessWeek ran to promote their new business school rankings did one thing very well – it brought out the best in business schools.

The Top 5 Business Schools on Twitter were those who did something truly unique and were able to showcase the distinct attributes of both their culture and their programs. The digital space is becoming increasingly competitive and full of noise. It is no longer sufficient to get the attention of a prospect – you have to tell them something distinctive and of value. This is the only way they will pay attention.

Unfortunately after the campaign, most business schools went back to the status quo. But what the new Google Twitter partnership means is that the status quo will no longer be good enough – because people will see your tweets directly in the Google search results, significantly increasing their visibility. Prospects will have the opportunity to judge your institution through real-time content – so every tweet now matters, because you never know who is going to be viewing your updates when they are forming their consideration sets.

Twitter now must officially become a more important component of an institution’s digital strategy and now has significant search engine optimization implications since Google will now be able to index tweets more effectively and crawl Twitter links. As Google continues to increase the information they share about an institution, it will be increasingly important for institutions to develop a distinctive digital strategy – one that not only showcases their brand, but also aligns with how the digital world is evolving. The institutions at the forefront of digital marketing, including Google changes, will be the ones to gain a competitive advantage and increase the visibility of their institutions and programs.

 

Bob Booth, Digital Analyst at Eduvantis contributed to this post.

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Grant SabatierThe Search Social Connection – New Google Twitter Partnership

Getting Real About Digital Marketing in Higher Education

by Grant Sabatier on November 20, 2014 , No comments

At the American Marketing Association Higher Education conference in Austin last week, many attendees expressed big worries about meeting their enrollment numbers. However, many of the sessions painted what I feel was an overly rosy picture about how digital marketing can increase brand awareness, gain visibility for programs, and engage prospects.

It takes a lot in today’s highly competitive business school environment to use digital to help grow enrollments, rather than what is often loosely termed “brand presence.” There was little data presented at the conference about how an increase in impressions or clicks translates into enrollment growth (which at most institutions is the ultimate goal of digital recruiting efforts). This type of tracking requires a highly calibrated marketing and enrollment funnel that tracks prospects from initial search through to application and matriculation. Below are three observations and ideas that were not part of the conversations we heard at the AMA Higher Ed conference, but are critically important components to leverage digital to strategically drive enrollment growth.

PPC, SEO, and social media are not “strategies,” they are tactics– Based on our experience working in higher education and ongoing market observations, approximately 90% of all of the institutions are doing just that – the same thing. Sure, you need a nice website, strong pay-per-click advertising campaigns, and search engine optimization, but what you really need is a strategy. Most institutions are only competing on the tactical level, thus significantly limiting the opportunity to really leverage the power of an integrated digital marketing strategy.

Digital is not a “magic pill,” but can help you capture market share –Yes, 97% of all prospective students start searching for college, university, and business school programs online, but there are limitations to the impact digital marketing can have on enrollment. First and foremost, you should understand the market demand for your programs – how many people are actually searching for programs like yours, how many choices do they have, and what percentage of the market are you currently capturing? If there isn’t any market demand, or the market demand is shrinking for programs like yours, then digital marketing can’t help grow the market.

Consumers are changing much faster than you can, so you need to respond in real-time– Higher education institutions are notoriously slow which significantly limits the impact they can have through digital efforts. Updating a website page can take weeks, realizing your tracking code isn’t working can take days to discover and often longer to fix, and if your campaigns aren’t managed daily, then you are likely missing valuable marketing opportunities. The power of digital marketing rests in the insights you can derive and respond to in real-time. If you aren’t iterating, adapting, and evolving, it is likely your competition will get ahead of you. There is no end to digital marketing – to truly manage a digital strategy is a substantial internal commitment for an institution. Not only does it take time, it also takes expertise, and a commitment to keep up on how the digital landscape is evolving. This is why Eduvantis Digital offers services to support, enhance, and increasingly act as your internal digital team to help you get – and stay – at the forefront of digital marketing.

The Eduvantis Digital team enjoyed the engaging conversations at the AMA Higher Ed conference and we look forward to continuing the dialogue about how to effectively leverage digital marketing to drive enrollment growth for your programs.

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Grant SabatierGetting Real About Digital Marketing in Higher Education