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Old-School vs. New School - SEM Lessons Learned

Updated: Feb 7

Is your school spending money on a direct mail campaign, getting lost on a billboard, racking up a bundle on TV or radio ads without ROI? Well, this is the time to go new-school to develop a topnotch advertising toolkit.

So, let me tell you about one of my favorite tools. Years ago, a colleague mentioned something about Google Ads, so I thought I would give it a whirl. It has been a "whirl" going on over 15 years now and I can still recall my early beginnings. I sat myself down daily as I tried to learn the fundamentals and complexities of the platform. Over time, I built the Google Ads account to be one of the main drivers of enrollments at a boarding/day school, where I served at the director level in admissions, marketing, and summer programs.

But the learning curve was fairly steep. In fact, it required a real commitment, one that included a schedule of applying steady and and consistent work to the Google Ads campaigns, development and testing ad groups, keywords, settings, and various targeting methods. However, the trials and tribulations of seeing my hard work pay off as enrollments rose and the caliber of applicants improved, far surpassed my initial expectations.

But you may not be like me. Everyone brings different interests to Admissions and Marketing, so despite potential outcomes, you may not have the the time, the patience, the analytical interest or the passion for this platform. That is okay, but if that is the case, it is important to admit it, so you can make a strategic decision about how to best proceed.

This is why at Aperture Advisory Associates, we are here for you, because I have walked in your shoes. So when I decided to relocate and start a business, I wanted to pay forward the lessons learned in SEM/PPC to make your road easier and help you hit enrollment goals.

The journey has been a rewarding one, as I continually witness schools meeting and exceeding enrollment goals. So unlike big firms and agencies, I make a point to engage clients in the process because I know you hold the key to critical information that will maximize performance with Google Ads. It is critically important for us to discuss information such as: target locations, demographics, scheduling, messaging, landing pages, and much more on a regular basis.

So, now let me share some of the lessons I have learned along the way.

Training: Google Ads is a fairly complex platform, but the basics can be mastered with some support and training. It is not necessary to go through the certification program, but much can be gained from from experienced professionals, Google strategists, and support calls.

Goals: If you do not know your goals, then discuss this openly with Aperture, the staff member assigned, or your agency so you can map out a plan.

  • Check Data: It is important to analyze data to best determine the number of expected leads and applications you wish to gain from both organic (unpaid) and paid (ppc) search activity.

  • Ask Questions: How many leads per day are you getting? How many applications? How many more are needed to hit your enrollment goals? What is your conversion rate on the funnel from point of inquiry and applications to actual enrollments?

  • Media Trackers: If you are not already doing so, you should have media trackers or dashboards to detail the various sources and track results daily. This should be broken down into categories such as: Search Engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing), Referral Sites (e.g. Boarding School Review, Niche, Great Schools), Referral Programs (to incentivize constituents to send referrals), Social Media (IG, FB, YT), Publicity, Email News, and other initiatives.

  • Use a Robust CRM: You should also have a CRM or an online admissions application with a "How Hear" drop down menu, so you can review self-reported enrollment sources.

  • Communicate Your Goals: It is important for Admissions and Marketing to be on the same page, alongside any outside service providers, so everyone can participate in the process and adhere to an annual marketing plan.

  • Synergize Platforms: The website, SEO, and SEM, and marketing initiatives all work in a synergistic way, so ensure you check Google Analytics regularly to make strategic and tactical decisions.

Targeting: It is critical to know who you wish to reach so you can apply the proper messaging in your ads, as well as target demographics and locations.

  • Target Locations: This is not a wish list of cities and states, but a sharp focus on where you acquire actual enrollments. Do your research to determine your targeted location list from both new and returning students.

  • Test New Markets: If you have new targets you wish to test, such as states or cities where interest seems to be increasing, or emerging international markets, run a short low cost test.

  • Know Your Demographics: It is also critical to pinpoint demographics in Google Ads to ensure you are targeting by gender, age, and income level. This helps you maximize your spend on prospects with the highest likelihood of converting to website CTAs, such as: phonecall, email, inquiry form, and online application.

Budget: When considering the proper allocation, it is important to think in advance of the next fiscal year. Advance planning will allow you to either request additional funds or replace some low performing forms of advertising with funds for Google Ads.

  • Analyze: Do the math to determine how much an enrollment is costing in advertising dollars. For example, to get a benchmark, take the enrollment related marketing spend and divide by the number of annual enrollments.

  • Segment Each Initiative: It is highly advisable to segment so you can see how much ROI each initiative is generating. This will allow you to focus time and money on your top drivers of yield (students who have accepted your offer to enroll).

  • Establish the Spend: From my experience, the spend can really vary widely. Some private schools spend as little as a few hundred dollars per month, but many are now spending in excess of $100K annually. If you are at capacity, your spend should be lower, but if you are chasing enrollments by late spring or summer, you should probably spend on the higher side.

Access: Make sure you have access at all times and the Google Ads account remains the property of your institution.

  • Service Discontinuation: Given the significant spend, it is important to take ownership of the account, so that you have access at anytime, and an agency does not withhold access, even when services are discontinued. Sadly, I have witnessed schools who lost the ability to access and retain the important information in their account to do A/B testing.

  • Type of Access: Standard vs. Admin level access should be determined by the client so they feel in control of the users and those viewing vs. active management of the account.


  • Billing: Many schools provide standard access to the Business Office so they can upload payment preferences, check statements, and review billing as required. In some cases, it is up to Marketing or Admissions to provide statements to the Business Office and actively manage the billing preferences.

  • Statements: Remember Google bills in increments of $500, so add a cushion to avoid going over your monthly budget. They will suspend activity if you hit the threshold on a credit card.

  • Backup: It is recommended to have two forms of payment or use a checking account (ACH) when setting up the billing. This protects you if the credit card number changes or if you hit a limit. However, some schools want to keep this expense separate, so they use a dedicated credit card.

Free Consultation: Interested in exploring how you can enhance or set up a Google Ads account with high ROI? Contact us for a 60 minute complimentary consultation.

No Hidden Costs or Obligation: There is never a cost or obligation associated with consultation calls. We are committed to offering the highest quality of service to private schools.

Special Offer: We are currently offering a $500 package for initial setup and management of one campaign for a 30 day period. If you elect to continue after the trial period, we will handle the full management of your account for a fee of $500 per month, This includes, but is not limited to adding additional campaigns, checking the account 4-5 times per week, making all updates, and making ongoing changes to keep the account at a 100% optimization score).

Contact us for details: or 760.805/5136

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