I’ve been managing paid search accounts in the for profit education vertical for nearly six and a half years. During this time the industry has changed significantly. New regulations restrict the way users are messaged, bid prices have soared making paid search an expensive proposition, and the demand for high quality leads has forced changes in how conversions are analyzed.

Today were going to discuss these hurdles and what can be done to overcome them.

Compliance Regulations Have Limited the Use of Some Standard PPC Best Practices.

Prior to 2011, almost anything could have been promised in an ad. Regulations now specifically state schools cannot say anything that implies making promises of employment.

These regulations have limited how advertisers employ the age-old tactic of stuffing keywords into ad copy. Many advertisers bid on keywords such as ‘jobs’, ‘careers’, or ‘employment’. In the past, many advertisers would include these keywords in their headlines or body copy. Although advertisers we’re using this tactic to gain CTR and quality score advantages, including employment keywords in ads was being construed as a promise of employment.

Advertisers are also limited in how they incorporate keyword modifiers such as ‘degrees’, or ‘certifications’ into ad copy. For instance, if a school does not offer a degree or certification program, inserting those keywords into an ad implies educational tracks are available when they really aren’t. Incorporating keyword modifiers improperly can cause a school to be investigated for false advertising and open them up to possible fines, lawsuits, or worst case, the government withholding critical funding.

Simply said, stay in compliance when it comes to ad messaging. Accept that click thru rate and quality score will be lower. Stuffing keywords at the expense of potential fines and lawsuits is not worth the risk.

Quality Scores and Bid Prices Suck

The combination of inherently low quality scores and extremely high bid prices makes for profit education an extremely expensive space to advertise. For instance, popular nursing or medical assistant keywords can cost upwards of $50 per click or more. It doesn’t take long at those prices for campaign spends to spin out of control.

Why is this so? In my opinion, the industry is penalized in the search engines because of the stigma and negative publicity attributed to the for profit education space. I state this because I have seen the same keywords that cost $50 per click cost much less when traffic is being directed to a ‘traditional’ school such as a state college or traditional private institution.

The key to combatting this problem of low quality scores and high bid prices is to have realistic expectations and goals. If a keyword cost $50 CPC, having a $20 cost per lead is probably an unrealistic expectation and goal to achieve. Make sure its understood from a profit perspective the most that you can pay for a lead and don’t go over that amount. This might mean dropping bids, losing position, and gaining less traffic. However, at those prices its imperative that every click count.

Another key to combatting this problem is to have a tight budget in place. It’s bad enough when low cost keywords run out of control, but it takes only a few clicks at $50 or $60 per click to break the bank. Make sure budgets are set and adhered to so gross overspending is avoided.

Its Not About Quantity, its About Quality

A for profit school lead is only valuable if it converts into a student. Can you imagine generating 1,000 leads and only 1 or 2 of those leads convert? The cost per student would be so high that schools couldn’t operate profitably.

From a PPC perspective, how can the above scenario be prevented? A tracking system must be put in place that ties keyword conversions to leads, enrollments, and starts. A client of mine has a system in place that captures keyword data, attaches that data to a lead, and is then imported into their business intelligence system to continue tracking throughout each remaining step of the funnel. This process allows us to know what keywords ultimately convert to students. Not having this data available to us means we can only optimize to the beginning of the funnel (leads), but not back of the funnel (enrolls and starts). Not having any ability to optimize to back of the funnel produces low quality leads.



Paid search education accounts can be a pitfall of wasted spend if not managed carefully. Setting proper expectations, managing budgets tightly, keeping in compliance with current rules and regulations, and tracking through/optimizing to the end result is important to success. Apply these takeaways and your accounts will be easier to manage and more profitable!