Google has created an Education Industry Practice to support institutions that promote learning. The company plans to release research later this week that highlights strategies for education marketers. The findings suggest that branding plays a significant role in students' decision-making process, and the decision of the school to attend creates a non-linear path to conversion.
The market segment takes its place aside practices such as Travel, Finance, Consumer Product Goods, Auto and Entertainment.
Similar to other industry-specific research, Google analysts analyzed online patterns of prospective students as they apply for education to understand behavior, click-stream pattern, and how they act online when making decisions. This time around, the research suggests that those promoting education need to spend more time marketing the brand rather than generate leads.
Historically, marketing strategies for educators fell heavily on search to drive prospective students to a school's Web site, but this research suggests marketers also need to tap video, mobile techniques and display advertising.
It turns out that prospective students look more closely at the brand and the name of the university. Among survey participants, 71% say a school's name and reputation are very important when deciding where to apply, and even more -- 78% -- for students planning to apply to a for-profit school.
Only 19% of first query searches are branded, up 1 point higher than a year ago. Of those who applied to schools not originally considered, 47% found Internet ads helpful when making their decision. It's important to remember that half of conversions occur more than two months after the search engine refers the searcher to the school's Web site or other content.
Google suggests the new reality for marketers means finding ways to convince prospective students to take the next step. Visitors to school sites grew 40% this year, and total education queries grew 33% compared with the prior year. It turns out more prospective students visit sites, but fewer take action or convert.
But the study reveals it takes more than search to brand a school. Eighty-eight percent of students who signed up for more information or downloaded a form from a school's Web site through the Google Display Network were referred to the site through the network. Students read about the available programs and schools that offer them, and clicked over to the Web site to either apply or request more information. The content persuades prospective students to inquire about or attend the school.
Video and mobile also have an impact. The study finds that 48% of a school's site visitors referred by the school's YouTube brand channel convert. One-third of research on a school or university takes place on mobile devices, according to Jennifer Howard, Head of Education Industry at Google.
This strategy to focus on brand marketing, rather than generating leads, would also apply to other direct marketers because many have fallen into the last-click syndrome when it comes to search campaigns, Howard says. "We're all using the Web to research information in ways we didn't do before because of the tools and resources now available to us," she said.