Display Ads for Higher Education: Here’s How to Get Great Results

student researching colleges online

Declining enrollments and a competitive higher ed landscape make attracting students to your institution more of a challenge than ever before. Even online programs, once considered the profit-makers for nonprofit institutions, now face growing competition; community colleges are already seeing declining enrollment for their online offerings. So how do you attract and enroll students before your competitors do?

Online Advertising

Especially for online programs, digital advertising makes sense. But that natural connection means it’s unlikely you’re alone in this ah-ha moment. Your competitors may have already discovered the benefits of placing display ads on digital platforms. So you can’t just run any ads. You need ads that are better than theirs, that perform well and get results.

Here’s how to produce digital ads that turn into clicks, and clicks that turn into enrollments:

Know Your Students

Before you build a single ad, build student personas that sketch out your target demographic. Get granular and consider who the ideal candidate is for the particular program you intend to advertise. If the majority of your successful students are in their 20s, the people in your ads should be too. You want users to identify with the images they see. Forget about who you want to attract. Who can you attract?

Chose the Right Images for Display Ads

Speaking of images, every expert out there will decry the use of stock images. But what’s the alternative? If you have lots of photos of actual students who have granted their permission for you to use those images for marketing, that’s great. But especially for online programs, that may be unlikely. Alternatively, choose images that grab the user’s attention. That’s why it’s so important that you know who that user is. Is s/he black/white, young/old, an artist or a scientist? Where do they live? What makes them tick? And don’t rely solely on images of people. Get illustrative, graphic and creative.

Your images should also fit your institution’s mission. Whether your ultimate aim is to produce great corporate leaders, make an impact in science, or save the environment, your display ads can help you show the world. And even if you’re only running ads for online programs, don’t forget to include shots of your campuses. After all, if you do your job well, your future students will feel a lifelong attachment to your community so it will help to remind them what home looks like.

Be Relevant Now—and Tomorrow

Don’t let your ads go tired. That means that they should be relevant to the time, season, geography. Grab on to cultural themes and memes and make sure your ads grab the users’ attention in a way that also aligns with your school brand. And constantly measure and tweak. If your copy goes cold, refresh it. If those ads aren’t getting the clicks you’d hope for, run tests swapping out different elements to see if you can improve. Beware of ad fatigue!

Look Good on the Platform

Regardless of your logo, colors and branding, it’s important that your display ads stand out on the platforms you use. If you want to pop off the page of Facebook, you may want to steer clear of the platform’s trademark blue. Or maybe not. Sometimes fitting in to the channel with only a single eye-catching element will do the trick. Consider the psychology of colors, too. Studies abound on which colors will attract which gender and how colors correspond to feelings and the actions you want users to take. Explore what works for your institution and the results you hope to achieve.

Include a Clear Call to Action

Don’t forget the whole purpose of your ads is to get users to do something. What? Sure, your end goal may be to get them to enroll in a particular program, but don’t expect every ad to induce that particular action. What else would you like them to do? Call for more info? Provide contact info?  Tell them—and then send them somewhere they can take that action. Your landing page from the ad needs to have the same look and feel of the advertisement and it needs to provide users with an easy experience that informs, educates and helps them make a good decision in your direction.

Augment your Overall Marketing

Display ads are most effective when they’re part of your overall marketing strategy. That means that when your professors receive accolades in the local news, your PR team needs to connect with paid media resources to amplify the good news. A little digital PR, supplemented with display ads that appear on the channels your future students access, can go a long way to build your brand, increase traffic to your website and enrollments to your school.

If you want to know how to construct the perfect display ad, you need to take a multi-faceted approach and a never-satisfied attitude. It takes a lot of finesse and time. Don’t have the in-house resources? We do! Contact ESM Digital today about paid media: how to buy on the right channels and build the right ads.

~Linda Emma