Beyond Clicks: How to Measure the True Impact of University Marketing Investments

Beyond Clicks: How to Measure the True Impact of University Marketing Investments

Business team collaboration analyzing marketing growth

In the late 1800s, marketing pioneer John Wanamaker famously said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” While this holds true for many traditional marketing and advertising channels (e.g., print, TV, billboards), digital marketing allows for a much more precise calculation of ROI.

With university budgets tightening across the board, marketing dollars must be invested as efficiently as possible. Digital marketing performance data enables targeting, testing, and optimization that is unmatched by traditional channels, allowing marketers to measure the impact of their work and ensure efficacy.

Measuring Higher Ed Marketing Effectiveness

The ability to capture, measure and analyze data is the determinative factor that consistently drives higher returns in digital marketing versus traditional channels. Using data analytics to capture touch points throughout the student journey provides a wealth of information on how your marketing efforts are contributing to lead generation and conversion. Useful metrics to track include:

  • Site traffic and performance
  • Lead generation by program and channel
  • Cost-per-lead (CPL) by channel
  • Conversion rates by channel and stage from a lead to student
  • Lead-to-start ratios
  • Paid search return on ad spend (ROAS)
  • Paid social return on ad spend (ROAS)
  • SEO metrics (including organic traffic, SERP visibility, keyword rankings, Core Web Vitals, etc.)

Paying close attention to these and other metrics allows colleges and universities to accurately measure—and improve—enrollment marketing ROI. After establishing a baseline for performance, marketers can leverage analytics to identify areas where campaigns and initiatives are outperforming (+/-). Establishing tactics to either address the underperformance or capitalize on outperformance becomes a virtuous cycle of test and learn with the benefit of being able to quantify the change.

Tracking Conversions Throughout the Higher Ed Marketing Funnel

Let’s look at an example of defining and tracking performance metrics across the enrollment marketing journey, with a focus on conversion.

In a hypothetical paid media campaign, a university may use video for top-of-funnel awareness to prospect social media and YouTube users who are a good fit for the target audience. Using platform-specific and third-party analytic tools, we can measure the percentage of a video a user views. We can use that as a qualifier to move them to the next step in the journey. In this case, we may define a 75% video view as a conversion that automatically qualifies a prospect for a retargeting campaign in which we offer a virtual tour. The subsequent conversion will be defined as spending three-plus minutes in the virtual tour, triggering the next retargeting campaign in the journey whose call to action is to schedule a call with an advisor. We define those who schedule a call with the advisor as leads.

With proper analytics and integrated reporting, we’ll be able to determine our conversion rates, allowing us to assign the dollar values we can afford to pay for each conversion action throughout the enrollment journey for our marketing to function efficiently. We’ll have a dollar amount for how much we’ve paid per lead and ultimately per enrollment. If/when the cost-per-lead (CPL) fluctuates, we can quickly identify the stage that has a conversion rate variation and investigate the cause. For example, if the stage one (awareness video) conversion rate dips, we can investigate the frequency rate (how often the same user has been served an impression) and potential ad fatigue to determine their next optimization step. You can use similar tactics in any funnel stage to optimize conversion rates, ensuring that the funnel continues to drive an acceptable ROAS and ROI.

Case Study: Everspring’s Performance Marketing Strategy for a Large Public University

In 2022, one of the nation's largest public research universities engaged Everspring to provide digital marketing services to expand top-of-funnel interest and general awareness and generate high-intent leads for key programs. To reach their goals, we delivered a multipronged approach that included a landing page to capture new leads and track performance, Google ad campaigns at both brand level and programmatic level, including keyword strategy and a pacing plan, Facebook lookalike prospecting campaigns, and lead nurture stream assistance.

Our analysis and optimization of these efforts included implementing 1-page lead forms on LinkedIn, Google ads conversion and lead form submission tracking, lookalike audience data and targeting, a bimonthly search terms query report, and LinkedIn audience testing. The results of our approach and data-driven optimization generated impressive cost-per-lead and lead generation metrics within the first year of the engagement, including:

  • Google ads: cost-per-lead that is half of industry benchmark.
  • LinkedIn ads among one audience segment: cost-per-lead that is 25% less than industry benchmark.
  • LinkedIn ads among another audience segment: cost-per-lead that is a third of industry benchmark.
  • More than 2,000 new qualified leads.

Analyzing Performance Metrics for Data-Driven Marketing

Knowing what to measure, how to implement tracking, and how to use data to inform and optimize your strategies requires two key components:

  1. Digital marketing expertise
  2. Having the right technology in place

Using data to guide your enrollment marketing ensures your campaigns are effective and that your college or university’s marketing budget is well-spent. It is incumbent on any marketer in higher ed to be data-driven in their ideation, deployment and optimization. Without data-driven marketing, you are left in the same predicament as John Wannamaker.

Contact Everspring to learn how to measure the impact of your marketing investment.