What Good is Digital Advertising in Higher Ed?

There’s so much we could say, but our short answer is this: Paid digital ads may be a powerful complement to the higher-priority elements of your branding strategy. If you’re not currently using them, it’s definitely worth considering.

Increasingly, online advertising is getting students’ attention. According to recent research from Ruffalo Noel Levitz, 45% of juniors, and 41% of seniors have clicked on a digital ad for a college. Additionally, 30% of seniors and 44% of juniors would go to a school’s website if they saw an ad but didn’t click on it. Most higher ed institutions, though, are not using online advertising as a major part of their recruiting practices. (This means your ads will stand out even more!)

While we don’t recommend moving all your advertising money into digital marketing, we do see it as a way to strengthen your brand and to reinforce important announcements like upcoming visit opportunities and application deadlines. The more often prospective students are exposed to positive presentations of your brand, the more likely they are to engage with you.

So, if you are going to pay for digital advertising, what’s the best way to make the most of it?

+ Keep your advertising part of a coordinated, multi-faceted plan. According to the RNL report, a very low percentage (12–26%) of digital ads were clicked by students who weren’t already familiar with the school. Be sure that the messaging and style are consistent with your printed materials, email campaigns, and social media initiatives.

+ Commit to adequate frequency. An occasional ad doesn’t give you the exposure you need to accomplish the purpose of your advertising. Facebook Marketing Science has conducted experimental research to help answer questions about frequency. While there’s no “magic” number, it’s important to study all the factors and make a calculated plan.  

+ Don’t skimp on creative design or copywriting. Just as today’s teens judge your school by your website, they’re rating the quality of your ads, too. Keep the message simple and compelling with the intention of getting students to your website.

+ Carefully choose your media. Ads on Google lead in student popularity, followed by various social media. Do you know where your prospective students are spending their time online? Meet them there.

+ Keep them clicking. Once you’ve gotten their attention with your ads, draw them into greater interaction through a first-rate experience with your website and opportunities to engage through social media.

Connecting with students where they live puts you on your way to the real goal; building relationships that invite them to be part of your story.



Facebook IQ. “Effective Frequency: Reaching Full Campaign Potential.” www.facebook.com/iq. July 21, 2016.

Ruffalo Noel Levitz & OmniUpdate. (2018). 2018 E-expectations report. Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Ruffalo Noel Levitz. Available at www.RuffaloNL.com/Expectations.