If you’re running a Google Ads campaign, you’ve probably wondered: should I bid on my school’s own brand name? At Enroll Media Group, we partner with schools across the country to help them manage their Search Ads (Google Ads and Microsoft/Bing Ads) to drive enrollment. In short, our answer is yes, schools should bid on their brand when running a paid search campaign as part of an overall brand strategy.
Here are the top 10 reasons why schools should bid on their own brand name.
Brand Search Ads Help Control the Message
By bidding on your school's brand name in search, you can control what message shows up to users as it relates to upcoming admissions events, application deadlines, locations, and more. Assuming you are running Google Ads to help drive enrollment, seeing this brand ad after a brand-related query is a great alternative to someone simply seeing your homepage's title and description with generic site link extensions in the organic section. Your brand campaign group within Google Ads should have a completely different strategy than the non-brand campaign (where you’re bidding on “private schools near me” or “top all-boys boarding schools,” etc.) This means your demography, keywords, (and negative keywords!), ad copy, extensions, landing page, calls-to-action, and goals are all aimed at those individuals specifically searching for your school in conjunction with specific search terms.
They Can Yield a Better Landing Page Experience than Organic Search
Brand ads should send users to a specific page when they are searching for branded terms that are in line with your admissions goals, rather than sending them to your homepage or an admissions page that forces them to click around to take action (i.e., inquire, register for the desired admissions event, etc.). A landing page for brand search ads allows for a streamlined call-to-action and conversion point.
Since it can be very hard to rank the desired admissions pages organically—which should always be the real goal in Search Engine Marketing—search ads are a great way for schools to control which pages show up, especially when they are not ranking on that first SERP (Search Engine Results Page) organically. For example, have you ever Googled your school’s open house only to see the wrong page show up? Bidding on your brand is a small but important quick win to ensure people looking for your school’s event see your ad and landing page with the latest and greatest.
They Provide Users with More Information About Your School
Within your branded campaign group, you can create responsive ads that include a variety of headlines and descriptions. What’s more, you can add in various callouts and extensions, including links, phone numbers, addresses, and more. Those extensions provide additional options for the user without making them scroll through the organic pages to find the content that’s right for them. For example, you can have a branded ad with your main admissions headline and landing page, with extensions pointing to your summer camp, application requirements, financial aid, or tour information. All of these options allow you to provide easy access to the information parents want to see at multiple stages of the marketing funnel.
Branded Ads Generate More Free, Organic Traffic
When someone searches for your school name, owning the top paid position allows you to gain even more real estate around your brand, your offerings, and the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) overall. Remember that Google Ads are pay-per-click, so you only actually pay when someone chooses to click on that paid position, and paid clicks happen less than 10% of the time. Those impressions—simply seeing your brand name without clicking it—are free! In fact, Google found that paid traffic is not replaced by organic traffic when you turn ads off. Instead, Google Ads can create incremental traffic, sooner, across several industries. We see this all the time at Enroll Media Group: a school sees an increase in organic website traffic in the months when both brand and non-brand Google Ads were live, compared with the months there was only a non-brand campaign. This handy article from the search experts at Moz explains a few other ways paid ads can increase organic traffic when both brand and non-brand campaigns are live.
They Get Prospective Families in the Funnel Sooner
If you work at a school, you know just how important it is to get prospective families into the funnel as early as possible in their admissions journey, so you can re-engage with them meaningfully via email, direct mail, and phone calls throughout the year and increase yield rates. Because brand ads with a dedicated landing page strategy tend to have higher conversion rates than other website traffic, they get prospective families into the funnel earlier than with organic website visits alone. Bidding on branded terms means you can run specific ads at important times of the year, too, which streamlines calls-to-action and increases the chances of families converting. Admissions can then connect with them earlier in the process. This approach can also reduce stealth applicants—aka the ones who apply before they were even on your radar or in your CRM—which is critical in today’s competitive enrollment marketing efforts.
They Make Your Entire Google Ads Campaign Smarter
We know that Google Ads relies heavily on its own data and machine learning to understand which users are going to be more likely to click or convert (depending on your bidding strategy). When more users convert via your ads, it signals to Google that these are your ideal visitors; Google can then actually optimize your campaign to reach more of those people with non-brand search terms and display advertising (retargeting and behavioral targeting). This allows you to get in front of even more ideal users for non-brand terms and run a smarter, more effective campaign all around.
Google is also employing new tracking mechanisms using machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). The result of the new linear conversion tracking—available within Google Ads and the new GA4 Analytics—shows that brand search terms are a huge touchpoint for both return users (those who have been to your website before) and those who have not been to your website. This reinforces the idea that branded ads are a great option for any stage of the funnel—and cheaper!
Branded Search Ads Can Combat Competitor Searches
Broad match—a method of bidding on keywords, well, broadly to ensure you show up for related but not exact terms—is very common across higher ed and independent schools. And it’s becoming more popular. But this means that someone looking specifically for your school name, which may include the words "day,” “school,” or your city, could see competitors instead if the competitors are bidding on similar terms. If you’re bidding on your school name, Google will favor your branded ad during such a search; if you’re not, a competitor's ad could easily top the search results, taking away valuable impressions (regardless of whether that school was even bidding on your name).
The increase in a broad match means schools need to own their brand more than ever. Along those same competitive lines, while it’s not best practice to bid directly on another school’s brand for a number of reasons (namely cost and low conversions), it does happen. It’s just one more reason you need to bid on your own brand. Bidding on brand can also be an effective strategy if another school has the same name as you or a similar one. There is nothing worse than someone in your area looking for your school, but a different school with the same name from across the country shows up at the top!
Brand Ads Have High Conversion Rates
Branded search ads tend to yield between a 5% and 10% conversion rate which is generally higher than organic traffic and other types of advertising. Your Admissions Conversion Rate is the number of actions taken—e.g., inquiry forms completed, event sign-ups, or applications generated—divided by the number of visits to your landing page. For example, 100 visits to the page with 2 form completions means you have a 2% conversion rate. When analyzing queries from Google Search Console (a free tool from Google to help with website optimization) to see people who get to the admissions sections of the website after searching for brand terms (removing internal traffic of course), you can see what organic conversion rates are for brand terms. When breaking down this data across dozens of school accounts, most organic conversion rates are still typically lower than 1% after brand-related queries. This is very small compared to the 5% or higher conversion rates for brand search terms on Google Ads campaigns when there is a specific landing page in place or site link extension in place. This makes sense because remember brand ads allow marketers to own more of their real estate in the SERP, control the message headlines, descriptions, and links, as well as guide those users where to go with a streamlined landing page experience, which leads to more conversion.
Branded Ads have Cheaper Clicks and Conversions than other forms of Digital Ads
Brand conversions—actual leads or meaningful form completions—are the cheapest conversions schools can get within a Google Ads or Microsoft Ads strategy. That’s generally because not many others are bidding on the name of your school. If you have a limited budget to promote an open house or other events you want to get in front of prospective families quickly, without waiting for the fruits of SEO, email marketing, or social media efforts alone, branded search ads are a solid strategy.
They Compliment Other Marketing Campaign Efforts
When you have strong word of mouth, or even a great print, digital, or social media presence, people are still going to head to that Google search bar to look for you as opposed to clicking on an ad or calling the school. When these indirect searches happen, those users have the opportunity to see a similar message and campaign as the one they are seeing or hearing elsewhere. This is key for continuity, message match, and overall campaign reinforcement. Thus, branded paid search ads are a relatively affordable way to maximize all those marketing efforts and drive home some final conversions.
Bidding on branded search queries makes sense for schools, and the data reinforces this approach. Schools see increases in qualified conversions sooner, have smarter and more cost-effective Google Ads campaigns and get to lift their organic traffic to boot.
If your school needs some help figuring out how branded search ads will work for you, let us know. We can help schools achieve enrollment growth through digital marketing—from SEO and PPC to social media and analytics training—and the results speak for themselves.