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Get Schooled: Best Word Choice for Education PPC Ads

  |  February 6, 2014   |  Comments

A detailed analysis of how word choice in education pay-per-click ads can impact campaign success, with a look at performance across PCs, mobile, and tablets.

Education is a multibillion dollar market. State colleges and universities, for-profit universities, trade and technical schools, and community colleges are all part of the education services industry, and all are fighting for ways to fill their campuses -- online or offline -- with viable, tuition-paying students.

Today we're looking at how word choice in education pay-per-click (PPC) ads can impact your campaign success. Two significant things rapped our knuckles right away:

  1. People looking for education information match their devices: PC users want "at-home" opportunities. Mobile users respond to hurry-up words like "enroll now" and "learn more."
  2. Some of the most clicks in our study go to education ads with "Film" in the title or description -- but relatively few ads are serving on that keyword. There's a great market opportunity for film schools!

education-bingads-all-devicesThis heat map, generated with Excel, shows poor word combinations for education search ads -- and great ones.

Bing Ads Gets Curious
Bing Ads wanted to get a closer look at what's happening with search advertising in education services. What is being most heavily advertised -- and what is being most heavily clicked on by potential students? What are the word combinations that are working best for search ads in education?

Breaking Down the Study
The Bing Ads researchers looked at 100,000 search ads in January 2013 in the Education Provider vertical. These ads generated more than 143 million impressions. Only queries that were used by at least 10 different advertisers were included. Some queries are buckets for phrases -- "Profession," for example, includes "registered nurse," "fashion," and "culinary."

Insights by Device


  • Ads with "school" in the title and "career" in the description do well on both PC and tablet, but are dunces on the mobile user's screen.
  • PC users appear very focused on education opportunities that can be accomplished online, "at home." 
  • Mobile users seem very specific in their education search -- they already know they're interested in a bachelor's degree from a university. 
  • Tablet users appear open to possibility, responsive to a range of calls-to-action ("Learn more," "Earn," and "Enroll now").

The Big Picture -- Other Word Combinations, by Device





General Insights We Uncovered

  1. Targeting ads by device is critical. PC users respond more favorably to ads with "at home" in the title and/or description; mobile and tablet users respond to calls-to-action like "enroll now" and "learn more."
  2. Degree programs running the most search ads include: criminal justice, nursing, pharmacy, and medical billing. And programs getting the most clicks are, in order from most clicks to least, film, coding, nursing, and medical billing. While nursing and medical billing programs are evenly matched with a market need, it appears there's an opportunity for film schools and coding programs to capture an eager market. We definitely want to point out that this is what was happening for January 2013, and keyword strategies for larger companies shift over time and have an impact on these results.
  3. When it comes to ad quality, ads with sitelink extensions saw a 54 percent lift over ads that did not have sitelinks. Ads with better ad quality not only have a better click-through rate (CTR), they get rewarded with better ad ranking and lower CPCs than other ads with lower ad quality.

School Us
What are the changes you see in marketing for the education services industry? What are you doing with your search marketing plans to adjust to these changes? We'd love to hear your thoughts!


John Gagnon

John Gagnon is a Bing Ads Evangelist (aka “search nerd”) at Microsoft. He has worked for both Bing Ads and Google AdWords, and is a frequent speaker at digital marketing conferences such as SES, SMX, and others. He has advised hundreds of clients ranging from Microsoft teams like Windows and Internet Explorer to small businesses like local garage door repair shops just getting started.

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