A robust retargeting campaign is essential for all digital advertisers, but for education marketers this is even more critical. Because the decision process for prospective students to select a school is lengthy, staying top of mind during the consideration phase is key to converting them into inquiries and enrollments.

For education marketers, there are a few important strategies to keep in mind when launching and optimizing a retargeting campaign.

Retarget Users Across Channels, Including Paid Social Networks

There’s no doubt that social media networks have become completely intertwined with our daily lives. Almost 20% of total time spent online in the US is on social platforms, and Facebook alone makes up 14% of total time. With users spending this much of their time interacting with social platforms, it’s a no-brainer that your retargeted message should be present.

Additionally, the ad formats that are available within social networks can be more engaging than a standard banner ad. Facebook’s ad offerings include carousel, video, and lead ad formats. You can help ensure that your retargeting campaign is robust and sophisticated by testing each of these ad formats for your audience.

Develop Both Program-Specific and Generic Creative

According to Google’s education data, 72% of education researchers first visit a school’s website at least 2 weeks prior to submitting an inquiry—and for 44% of prospective students, their first site visit happens 60 days or more before they ever submit an inquiry.

Because the student journey is so long and filled with so many touchpoints, it’s important that your retargeted message can stand out from the many other ads that these prospective students are sure to encounter. The best way to craft a retargeted message that will resonate with your prospective students is to leverage everything you know about them to form a personalized experience. Based on their behavior on your website, you can easily determine the specific program or area of study that a user is interested in, and serve ads that speak to the specific value props of those programs.

That said, there is a feeling among some internet users that retargeting can be invasive—no one likes feeling like they’re being spied on. With this in mind, it’s important that you also have more generic retargeting creative in your arsenal, and that you consistently test these generic messages against your program-specific messages. Monitor the performance of each to determine what makes the most sense for your brand.

Create a Customized Landing Page Experience

Retargeting works best when your strategy takes into consideration the mindset of your prospective students. A user who visits your website and leaves without converting did so for a reason—they weren’t ready to take the next step with your school. Considering this, if your retargeting ads drive the user back to the same landing page that they abandoned without offering them any additional information or reason to convert, your retargeting campaign is likely not as effective as it could be.

Rather than sending your retargeted traffic back to the same landing page experience, consider customizing the click-through landing page to provide additional value to these lost prospects. Talk to your admissions team to determine some common pain points or concerns they hear in their conversations with prospective students, and craft content that addresses these pain points.

If your prospective students often fall out of the funnel because they’re concerned with the cost of going back to school, send your retargeted traffic to a page that speaks to financial aid. If they abandon their educational journey because they don’t think they have time to go back to school, deliver content that speaks to the flexibility of online courses. Ensure that the landing page for your retargeting traffic helps your prospective students overcome barriers to conversion.

Take a Funnel Approach to Messaging Strategy

If you are serving the same retargeting message to all of your lost prospects, you have huge opportunities to increase the sophistication of your retargeting campaign. Similarly to responding to a prospective student’s program interest by serving program-specific creative, you should take into account a user’s level of engagement with your brand and align your marketing message with that.

Observe the behavior of prospective students on your website, and bucket those users into similar groups. For example, create an upper funnel bucket for low-intent visitors, such as those who only visited a single page, and a lower funnel bucket for high-intent visitors, such as those who viewed more than 5 pages.  You should then craft your messaging to best speak to those users. Consider a more generic branding message for the upper funnel bucket, and a stronger call to action or urgency message for the lower funnel bucket.

Nurture Prospective Students with Valuable Content

Because the decision for going back to school is so long for most students, consider how you can provide valuable content and insights to these users to help nurture them during this time. While a user who is just beginning their search for a school is unlikely to be responsive to a sales-heavy message, these users may be more open to interacting content that provides value to their education search. For example, retarget your lost upper funnel prospects with content that speaks to the value of an MBA, or how to navigate financial aid.

Test driving your upper funnel retargeting traffic to pages with this kind of content and monitor the impact it has on downstream metrics. Remember that these nurtured users may later convert on a branded search, from a direct site visit, or offline by attending a campus tour.

As with any digital campaign, it is important that you consistently test and evolve your retargeting strategy. User behavior continually shifts, so what works today won’t always work tomorrow. Stay ahead of the curve by being nimble and testing often!

Director of Digital Media, Keypath Education
Sarah has been working in education marketing since 2009. During her tenure at Keypath, she has worked with many education institutions to develop and execute marketing plans to achieve and exceed goals. Sarah currently serves as the Director of Digital Media at Keypath, driving digital strategy, encouraging innovation and providing thought leadership for digital marketing for education. In her role, she leads a team of experienced digital marketing specialists who share a passion for education marketing. All are certified AdWords and Bing Ads specialists. The team has managed over $300 MM in paid search investment over the past 5 years.