There’s been a lot of talk the last couple years about the diminishing returns seen from search engine marketing campaigns executed through Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Unfortunately these tales of thousands and even tens-of-thousands of dollars being wasted are all too true.

Poor search engine optimization of university websites, as well as those unrelenting complaints from academic program chairs and other faculty responsible for growing enrollments in their programs have caused many a higher ed marketer to bite the bullet and invest some budget in making sure their programs are showing up at least in paid search results, if not organically. While paid search tends to be an unneeded expense in creating impressions and compelling traditional undergraduates to visit your website and check out your school, adult learners looking for programs from degree completion to graduate programs continue to use search engines to research programs and narrow their consideration set.

The trick is finding these students or rather, helping them find you without wasting your budget. As a rule of thumb, the more niche the program the better your results from paid search will be, and conversely for general non-distinctive programs like MBAs or MEds you may as well not even waste your money… right?? Well, not so fast.

The “long tail strategy” may be the answer you’re looking for, both in using paid search cost effectively as well as being able to demonstrate to your academic colleagues that the university marketing team is on top of it! Simply put, the long tail strategy is all about using long multi-word phrases (often the longer the better) to help those searching for very specific types of programs and attributes to find you amidst the litany of generalized search terms. Think “accredited MBA programs with evening classes in Omaha, Nebraska with a concentration in sustainability” as opposed to “MBA programs in Omaha.” By investing some time in defining these long, detailed phrases and integrating them into your paid search program you will find your costs in paid search will go way down, while your results improve dramatically. And best of all, because the inquiries you’ve generated were looking for specific programs and attributes which you presented through long tail search terms your conversion from inquiry to matriculating student will be very strong from this important and underutilized search strategy.

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