Costly Poor Strategy with Paid Search for Schools

[guestpost] This is a guest post by Ralph Cochran. Ralph is the Principal Consultant at Schola Inbound Marketing which helps private Christian and Classical schools increase enrollment. [/guestpost]

If your school is paying for advertising on search engines and other websites, then you are light years ahead of your competition.  However, paid search for schools is only one piece of a comprehensive inbound marketing strategy. If all you are doing is paying for advertising online, you may want to re-think your strategy.

Qualification: Please don’t misunderstand me. I am all for schools using paid search for schools such as Google Adwords. I manage several schools and businesses Adwords accounts and have seen great results. Paid search for schools can be a major ingredient to online marketing success for schools in driving traffic and increasing the number of prospects however it is often strategically misused by schools.  They walk away with poor results, spending a lot of money, and think paid search for schools does not work.

The problem is not paid search for schools but having a proper strategy and the ability to manage a paid search for schools campaign. In a future article I will discuss why you need to be using paid search for schools and the common mistakes made by schools in setting up and managing a Google Adwords campaign.

My concern here is that many schools think that they have a comprehensive online marketing program when they run a few poorly planned and structure paid Facebook and Google ads, when in reality there is more that they could be doing. School leaders should get educated about the wide variety of tactics available in inbound marketing. It is a shame to see these schools abandon Internet marketing because they have a misconception about what it really is.

The Difference Between Paid Search for Schools and Inbound Marketing

Paid search is a marketing tactic that involves setting up ads on search engines and other websites. You create a short ad and identify relevant keywords to target with this ad. The ad will appear in the search engine results pages when someone searches for your keywords. You are charged when someone clicks on your ad and goes to the webpage that you have designated.

A key point here is that you can setup your paid search campaign to complement an inbound strategy or it could be setup as a more traditional outbound marketing approach.  Unfortunately, I have witnessed a lot of money wasted by schools setting up their paid search account in a manner that resembles more of an outbound strategy (See diagram below).

paid search for schools

Inbound marketing is a more comprehensive online strategy that includes a wide variety of tactics such as blogs, online video, social media engagement and paid search. Paid search places your ad in specific places on the search engine results pages. The other inbound marketing tactics take advantage of features of the organic search engine algorithms so that your site appears prominently on the non-paid portion of the search engine results pages (SERP). This is called organic search engine optimization (SEO).

Problems With Paid Search for Schools

Using paid search as your only online marketing tactic has a number of pitfalls. These pitfalls can be overcome with other inbound marketing tactics design to get high rankings in the organic search results.

  • Paid search is complex. These campaigns are complicated to set up and run when you do them right. If you are just starting out and are going to run your own campaigns, then you are going to be on a steep and sometimes expensive learning curve. Your campaigns will be less effective until you can move ahead on the learning curve. This means that you are going to need a significant budget for advertising and you will need to invest a lot of funds.  This can be fine if you can get the campaigns to produce results but is often times an expensive process for a beginner.

On the other hand, inbound marketing techniques are simple to deploy. While they do require work, the learning curve is less steep than paid search. Once you learn some basic strategies, you can begin to move forward with your marketing.  Please do not misunderstand me and think that inbound marketing is easy to setup.  No it is real work. I know first-hand as I make a living off of helping schools implement an inbound marketing strategy.  If it were easy and everyone could just do it, I doubt I would have as many clients.

  • Paid search requires continual investment. Using paid search campaigns means that you must pay for every click that you get. If you stop investing money in your advertising, you are not going to get any more clicks. You have to keep investing every month if you want to see traffic coming to your site. Inbound marketing does not require continual investment in the same fashion as paid search.

The investment in inbound allows you to build a permanent marketing asset for your school.  Once you build a large body of content and social media connections, they will continue to work for you even if you do not invest any money in a particular month. It takes some effort and skill to put together an effective inbound marketing program. But this initial effort continues to pay residual dividends for a long time.

  • Paid search is expensive. If you want to dominate the search results for particular keywords, this can be quite expensive. You have to be willing pay more money for every click than your competitors. Inbound advertising is less expensive in the long run. If you can dominate the search result for a long-tail key like “Christian schools in Lakeland Florida,” you will have no need to pay high rates for clicks from this keyword.

Once you have made the initial investment to develop content that ranks high for this keyword, then you will just do some basic housekeeping to maintain this ranking. This is going to be less expensive in the long-term.

  • People avoid advertising. Enough people who use search engines recognize where the ads are placed in the results page. They know that people have paid to show up in those positions. They are more likely to click on results that are produced through the search algorithm. Inbound strategies help your site rank high in the search engine results.

By providing the high quality content that search engines are looking for you can get top rankings for your keywords without looking like you paid for it. Instead of considering you as an advertiser, visitors will regard you as a trusted expert offering help in their search for the best education.

If your school has been spending money for paid search advertising without employing other inbound marketing tactics, it is time to change. You could generate the same traffic from your keywords for less money with a comprehensive inbound marketing strategy that uses paid advertising to complement other efforts.

Originally published January 14, 2014, 4:00 AM, updated February 9, 2022

Training and Community for K12 School Marketing and Communications Professionals

In The MarCom Society, we train your team to be better school marketers so you can stand out from other schools, earn more inquiries from prospective families, and understand get the most bang from your marketing dollars

The MarCom Society

MarCom Society