It was a few years back that I found myself in a small meeting room at a University. Somewhere near the desks of central marketing and international recruitment.
I had studied their online presence before our meeting, so what they told me didn’t come as a complete surprise: they had spent EUR 15K out of their 20K Google Ads budget, but didn’t have a single enquiry to show for it.
This is actually a fairly common situation (even though no one enjoys talking about their failed campaigns).
Over time I’ve heard and witnessed many similar stories, and often the key reason budget gets spent without significant result is the inappropriate use of keyword match types.
Whether you run Google Ads campaigns in-house or outsource them to an agency, this is definitely something you need to be paying attention to.
I explain more in the below video:
Here’s a short run-down on the different match types:
If you put a keyword in [square brackets], Google will take the key word pretty much literally.
For example, the keyword [business school] would lead Google to show ads when someone searches for
- business school
- school of business (a close variant with the same or very similar meaning)
The advantage of this is that it gives you control. Google won’t show your ads when people search for keywords that aren’t exactly what you intended.
You can’t go wrong with exact match. If your keyword research is sound, you’ll get qualified traffic. But you night be casting too small a net…
The first step to broadening your audience is “phrase match”, which is done by putting your keyword in “quotation marks”.
The same keyword “business school” will now show when people search for terms that include the words “business school”, but may include a lot more. For example:
- best business school
- cheapest business school
- business school liechtenstein
Sometimes this is good, but you’ll need to build a negative keyword list to make sure you don’t show for irrelevant queries. It’s better not to show for “business school Liechtenstein” if you’re not based in Liechtenstein. More about negative keywords later.
Want to go even broader? Then we have broad match.
Any keyword that’s entered into a Google Ads campaign without brackets or quotation marks, will trigger ads based on broad match.
This means that your ads can show on anything Google believes is remotely related to the keyword. To stay with our business school keyword example, your ads may now also show when people search:
- corporate training
- management school
The issue with broad match is that novice Google Ads marketers may input their keywords and expect Google to stick closely with them – whereas in effect, they are giving Google almost a free hand!
That said, there is a place for broad match, when the following is in place:
- Conversion tracking
- Smart bidding
- Negative keywords
Conversion tracking provides Google with direct feedback on which clicks convert and which don’t, giving it the data based on which it can “learn” and improve itself.
Smart bidding is when you set an objective for your campaign, such as “maximise conversions” or “get as many conversions as possible at EUR 5 per conversion”
Finally, by adding negative keywords, you define a group of words that will prevent your ad from showing when someone includes it in their search query.
This is also essential, because there are words that will convert very well, but are searched by the wrong type of prospective students.
In student recruitment, a classic would be scholarships. You may have scholarships available, but you wouldn’t want to spend the majority of your ad budget attracting scholarship seekers.
When starting a campaign, be aware of the different keyword types.
- On a small budget – start with [exact match]
- On a medium budget – start with “phrase match” and a strong list of negative keywords
- Only move to broad match when you’ve run the campaign for a while and have accumulated data on what converts.
Know more about Google Ads for education?
Download my book
Of course, there’s more to Google Ads than match types alone.
And running Google Ads campaigns to promote education programmes is a whole game on its own, starting with knowing your ideal student.
There’s plenty of books on Google Ads in general, but there wasn’t any that covered the education marketing specific elements. That was my reason for writing it.
You can download a PDF for free.
Join the Google Ads course
Are you looking for more support?
Check out my course on Google Ads. In this fundamentals course, I’ll take you step-by-step through everything it takes to build a successful student recruitment campaign.
It’ll give you a firm foundation, whether your intention is to work together more effectively with agencies, or take your Google Ads campaigns in-house.
Read more about the Google Ads course.