How to Waste Your PPC Spend for Higher Education in 7 Easy Steps

ppc spend for higher education

Digital advertising for colleges and universities can seem a wise and affordable component to well-thought-out school branding and marketing. After all, you only pay when prospective students click on your ads. Even if they’re not ready to enroll, their interest suggests they’re further along in the enrollment funnel than people who have seen ads for your programs but didn’t bother to click. PPC spend for higher education seems like it should be affordable.

On the other hand, it’s easy enough to entice someone to click on an ad. That doesn’t mean they also have interest in your school. Of course you want leads and inquiries, but their quality matters more than their volume. You want people who are more likely to become actual students. That’s why it’s so important that you don’t waste your budget. And it’s easy to do. Here’s how:

1. Don’t Cap Your PPC Campaigns

Google Ads allows you to choose your daily budget for ad spend. It sounds easy enough. You only have a budget of X, so spending 10X makes no sense at all. In fact, it is easy. Google even provides recommendations for keyword bids and overall spend on daily budgets.

But, believe it or not, it’s not uncommon for colleges and universities to take a set-it-and-forget-it approach. They don’t monitor. They don’t cap. They forget. And it costs them dearly.

2. Use Poor Targeting with Your PPC Campaigns

Okay, really I mean stupidly, but I’m not allowed to say that. Wait, maybe I am. If you target young kids just out of high school for your Master’s degree programs, you may get lots of clicks and spend lots of money, but none of those enthusiastic overachievers are likely qualified for your program, right? Same goes for geographical considerations. If you’re only allowed to teach with the confines of five states, why are you targeting all 50?

3. Choose the Wrong PPC Keywords

Keywords are the lifeblood of a good PPC campaign. If you bid on words and phrases that don’t appropriately connect to what you offer, future students won’t find you. And those people who do find you won’t be a good fit. You’ll see poor conversions and waste money on terms that may get you clicks but no actual applications or enrollments.

4. Don’t Consider Negative Keywords

Along with choosing the right terms, it’s important to consider the wrong terms. Filter out searches you don’t want by using negative keywords. If you neglect the filter, your nursing program may wind up paying for the clicks of nursing mothers searching for products totally unrelated to what you do. Likewise if you don’t add “online” as a negative keyword when your program is only offered on campus.

5. Ignore PPC Conversion Data

The whole point of your PPC campaign is to get results. Do you get results? More importantly, how do you get them? Even if you receive loads of clicks on keyword terms and ads that seem to be working, you need to understand which are proving most effective. Which terms convert best? What ads resonate? And which of those terms and ads are most likely to result in applications and enrollments?

6. Don’t A/B Test with Your PPC Campaigns

Even with a trove of data, there’s always room for PPC improvement. But how do you know where and how you can improve? Through A/B testing. If you set up campaigns and they seem to do well but you don’t ever bother to explore whether or not they could do better, you’re wasting opportunity and money. Changing out keywords, choosing new calls-to-action, refreshing creative: they’re all ways to test key components of campaigns and make them better.

7. Continue to Fund Bad PPC Campaigns

If you really want to waste PPC dollars, continue to fund campaigns that don’t work. Hang on to those ineffective keywords and phrases. Ignore your data. Don’t test. Leave the caps off. You’ll blow through your budget in no time and get no results. Just what you want, right?


There are a lot more ways to waste your PPC spend for higher education. It can be a bit confusing. But that’s why we’re here. If you have questions about how to attract students using digital marketing, contact the team of experts at ESM Digital now. We’ll check out what you’re doing and help you do it better.


~Linda Emma