How Higher Ed Marketers Can Avoid the Cost Per Lead Trap

September 5, 2019

How Higher Ed Marketers Can Avoid the Cost Per Lead Trap

As an Account Executive at LinkedIn working exclusively with Higher Education partners, I have observed the industry-wide trend of schools chasing the seemingly elusive competitive Cost Per Lead (CPL). But look no further!  We’ve figured out the formula for seeing that payoff when advertising on LinkedIn.* 

First, you’re wise to be advertising on LinkedIn to reach prospective students (and in good company). According to our research:

  • 63% of prospective students have used social media to research a college
  • 60% followed or liked a college in their consideration set
  • 40% will use social media when deciding where to enroll

In fact, social media is one of the top influences on student decision-making. 

But not all social media networks are created equal when it comes to engaging and converting prospective students. Because of our unique position as the platform with the world’s largest professional network, LinkedIn can connect higher education marketers like you with the right audience in the right mindset. And you can deliver a wider variety and types of advertising on LinkedIn than on other platforms, enabling you to best engage LinkedIn members seeing those ads.

As Brian Fleming, Senior Analyst of Eduventures, says, “Use LinkedIn as a way to cultivate a more professionally oriented brand. Chances are what you will gain by focusing your efforts here will produce a far greater impact than your 10,000 Facebook Likes.” 

Don’t Rush a Good Thing

As much as we’ve seen higher ed marketers succeed on LinkedIn, we also see some new clients taking a misguided approach. They run a campaign for 30 days with a standard “test” budget amount and a predetermined CPL goal based on their past experience or some arbitrary benchmark. 

Rarely do we see the perfect combination of engaging content, targeting, optimized landing pages and a well-formed LinkedIn strategy come together right out of the gates. CPL efficiencies simply don’t all come within a 30-day time frame. Success ultimately comes down to adopting the right mindset.

Think of it this way: They say a watched pot never boils…but that’s not exactly true. It will come to a full boil once all elements are in place and the pot and fire are given time to do their jobs. However, staring at the pot intently won’t produce a faster boil. 

The same is true for generating quality leads and a competitive CPL on LinkedIn. You simply can’t rush a good thing. But you can expect certain – and better – results over time when advertising on LinkedIn. 

Some of the impatience we see is due to marketers drawing comparisons between LinkedIn and other platforms, like Google and Facebook. However, many marketers have advertised on these other platforms for some time. Just as those platforms have matured for higher ed marketers, LinkedIn does too. In fact, they often see that LinkedIn ultimately outperforms these other platforms. 

Balance Short-Term Goals With Long-Term Objectives

Producing the best results and ROI when advertising on LinkedIn takes patience, consistency, and the right investment. Our research bears this out. In fact, our study of higher ed marketers shows that marketers see competitive results within 2-6 months.

We analyzed multiple higher ed accounts that ran Sponsored Content campaigns 12 months consecutively in the last 2.5 years with in-click conversions. (Note: In-click conversions are the most accurate measure of CPL.)

Next, we segmented these accounts into three groups by monthly budget:

  • Group 1: Under $25,000
  • Group 2: $25,000-$75,000 
  • Group 3: $75,000+

The study revealed how quickly higher ed marketers can expect their CPL to drop in line with their budget. 

  • Under $25,000: 7 months
  • $25,000-$75,000: 4 months
  • $75,000+: 2 months

Note in the chart below, when the line reaches its “boiling point,” CPL has become more efficient.

Keep in mind: The higher the budget, the more frequently a university’s ads are seen by prospective students, yielding a faster ROI. Spend $100,000, and that CPL will come down even more quickly. Conversely, spend $5,000 per month, and it will take over 6 months for the CPL to decline.

Back to our ”boiling pot” theory: It takes time and heat before a pot will boil, but once it does, it takes less heat to keep it boiling. The same is true for advertising on LinkedIn: Over a period of weeks and many impressions, CPL comes down and stabilizes competitively.

If you want to take a methodical approach, start conservatively and let the data determine how to optimize your CPL over time. If you want a faster return, increase your monthly investment and call upon the expertise of the LinkedIn Higher Education team to ensure you harness the optimal audience targeting, creative, and bidding strategy. 

Establish a Foundation for Future Enrollment

While many schools need to consider results like applicant and enrollment rates once or twice a year, advertising on LinkedIn is part of an always-on strategy. This approach is critical for staying top of mind over the prospective student conversion time frame that can last anywhere from 3-18 months. 

Being on the minds of prospective students when they make their short lists is the key to ultimate advertising success:

  • 72% of prospective students develop their list before reaching out to a school representative
  • 3 schools only make the prospects’ short list
  • 93% end up enrolling at a school from their list

When advertising on LinkedIn, you can use our Campaign Manager and LinkedIn Conversion Tracking to measure impact and optimize key metrics. For instance, if certain creative or audiences are yielding a better CPL, you’ll see this immediately and can adjust on the fly to drive more of the same. Even better, you can take advantage of our auto-optimization feature to optimize your CPL in line with the best audiences, ads, and more based on post-view conversions. 

Your advertising results on LinkedIn will improve progressively as you fine-tune your approach based on what is – and isn’t – working. 

LinkedIn can help you every step of your journey:

  • Plan: Understand your objectives and budget to recommend the best targeting, ad solutions, and always-on strategy. 
  • Launch: Provide support to ensure your campaigns stay in line with your budget and goals.
  • Monitor: Suggest adjustments and customized best practices to help you hit your target CPL and ultimately enroll more students

*Note: All opinions are my own and individual advertiser results may vary.


Ready to fire up outstanding advertising results? Get in touch with our LinkedIn higher education team today.