In about 10% of my 100+ analyses done on the results of digital marketing campaigns, I saw a pile of applicants coming from Africa and Asia. Countries like Bangladesh, Ghana, Nigeria, and Pakistan. All due to a single Facebook post. As a matter of fact, the post was about scholarships. In any case, almost none of the applicants that came from such posts became students in the end. That means that they are an additional workload for the admissions team. Therefore, wouldn’t it be good to reach only students who will qualify? 

Side effects of marketing 

If you shout in real life, people will hear you. If you shout on the internet, people will also hear you. And if they like, tweet or re-tweet what you say, you lose control of who hears you. For this reason, some of the instruments in our marketing toolbox can be applied with more precision: 

  • A few portals offer language or location-based limits to their outreach, others offer banners and native advertising. (I have not written an article on banners yet, but… well… you sense my feelings on the ROI of banners, but I prefer to back it up with numbers another time.)
  • Then there are various lead-buying sources, not only from study overview portals but also GMAT, etc.
  • Of course, LinkedIn Ads, Facebook Ads, and Google AdWords can be way more tailored. All things considered, we tried getting the most out of AdWords with one of our clients, which is explained below. 

Brief: Not more students, just from selected universities 

If you are a high-ranked university without tuition fees in a popular country (bonus question: Guess which country ?) you usually are flooded with applicants. Especially in business degrees. And as a public university, you might be obliged to answer them all. Therefore, your aim is not getting more applicants. Your aim is to reduce your marketing to destinations where the students match the high admission criteria for your master’s programmes. 

Target countries vs. target universities – marketing strategy

Many universities have a strategy for targeting selected countries. Usually, it’s based on the overall quality of students in that area and their likelihood to receive visas. But what if this isn’t tailored enough? Based on your historical data, you might not only know which students obtain visas but also which students have made it through your selection process. And you know this by their previous (university) education and the programme they went into! So we took the challenge of applying this knowledge and data given to us by the client for a marketing campaign.

Here are our 5 marketing criteria for success: 
  1. A good offer. If you want students from very good universities, your offer must be excellent. The ad that worked best for us included the high ranking of the university (10% better than the 2nd best-converting ad).
  2. Narrow targeting. We targeted the universities, in many cases, down to 1 km around the desired faculty. Getting the coordinates is not a problem. Although, in some developing countries, internet access points do not correlate with the location of internet users. And that leads to a higher spill-over. Campus universities outside the city with student housing on campus, such as in the US, some countries in Latin America or Turkey, successfully implemented targeting with an accuracy of 70%. However, you cannot exclude the friend, who got the link about your programme from a person at your target university.
Applying Google AdWords in marketing campaign
Targeted ads using Google AdWords
  • The combination of search and display ads. With such a narrow targeting, search ads alone won’t suffice. For instance, we needed a combination of search and display ads to reach the target cost-per-lead.
  • A good landing page. Having control over the customer journey helps tremendously in converting visitors from an ad to them filling out a form. At a public university, we had limitations with double-opt-in and other approaches. Whatever limitations you have, never run any campaign without a dedicated landing page. If the budget allows, even conduct some A/B testing for an even more effective campaign.
  • Experience. Understanding the student mind, the university, the USPs of the programme and translating all this into ads was of course important as well. Actually having knowledge and previous experience is helpful for all campaigns.
  • Conclusion

    In conclusion, those 5 key points led in the end to a cost-per-lead below 20€ from the desired universities, while we still have to see the cost-per-student. 

    What are your experiences with marketing of this kind? Have you done similar focused campaigns e.g. with LinkedIn or Facebook and what were the outcomes? 

    Thanks for taking the time to read our blog post on getting leads from top students below 20€ CPL. At we have been helping schools to increase student enrollments since 2010. If you are looking to recruit the best matching students for your programmes with minimal cost and effort, feel free to reach out to us.