Reaching the College Market With PPC

It's back to classes, dorms, and Greek life for our future leaders at colleges across the country. According to the National Retail Federation’s 2014 Back-to-School Survey, college shoppers will spend a total of $48.4 billion on college supplies such as dorm supplies, clothing, and food, up from $45.8 billion last year.

College students and their parents are power spenders, with an average of $916 spent on back-to-school alone, a 10 percent increase over 2013.

Connecting with this market via PPC in search and display will become more crucial than ever, as their purchase and browsing behavior becomes more divergent from other consumers with heavy use of mobile and social media.

Besides the initial start-up costs of returning back to school, its also common knowledge that their needs will continue throughout the school year.

Here are some tips to help you reach out:

Be Present on Mobile

Mobile shopping is on the rise, with 37 percent of the college shoppers in the study noting they will research college purchases with their smartphones and 22 percent saying they will purchase via smartphones.

Campaigns in AdWords and Bing Ads are already serving to mobile and tablets as well. The key is to develop a mobile strategy that includes:

  • Specific bid adjustments to mobile users
  • Mobile-tailored ad copy or image ads
  • Mobile-friendly landing pages
  • An easy way to convert or contact via mobile

According to the study, 58 percent will use their smartphone in some way as they shop for college items. Be available for these searches.

Local Reach and Deals

The local component is also critical, since about 13 percent will shop at small/local businesses to stock up for classes. The needs of students will continue throughout the year for supplies, food, services, fashion, and electronics.

Geo-targeting in search will help to make ads more relevant while preserving budget. Here are a few ways to do this:

  • Target colleges by location via city with relevant keywords
  • Provide local student-only deals to drive online and offline traffic
  • Target by school locations in AdWords


Positioning Products

Not all companies will have "student"-centered products, but this is all in the positioning. For example, I recently heard a radio ad for a mattress retailer that reminded parents their college students might need a new mattress. And by the way, they sell extra-long twin size! This is a great way for them to integrate this audience into the marketing mix.

In addition, social media is a main communication channel for this market, so products should be positioned in social media as well. PPC ads and promotions through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter — you name it — are important to reach these tech-savvy, fashion-forward students.


If you have a product you position creatively to college students or a great tip to reach them, share it with readers in the comments.

About the author

Lisa Raehsler is the founder and principal strategist at Big Click Co. , an online advertising company and Google AdWords Certified Partner, specializing in strategy and management of SEM and PPC for search engines, display, retargeting, and social media ad campaigns. More than just passionate about search, Lisa has led strategy on dozens of PPC accounts and puts her experience into practice every day as a thought leader in integrating clients' search campaigns with ecommerce websites, behavioral targeting strategies, and web analytics.

In addition to agency work, she has led successful online marketing programs at Thomson Reuters in search marketing, merchandising, and ecommerce strategies at the enterprise level.

Lisa frequently lends her expertise to the search industry through organizational involvement, speaking, and writing. She has participated extensively in the local interactive community, as well as at national search engine marketing conferences. Lisa's recent speaking engagements include SES, OMS, MIMA, HeroConf, and SMX conferences, as well as numerous private and public training engagements. As a columnist for ClickZ, she writes on the topic of paid search. She holds a BA in Economics from Valparaiso University and is a Google AdWords Certified Partner.