Why you need to stop buying branded and broad keywords

Estimated read time – 4 minutes

Want to keep updated about the blog? Sign up for the newsletter!

Search campaigns can be a great way to reach people at the right time in their school search and decision process; or in-market if you’re hip to the marketing lingo. The tools we currently have at our fingertips allow digital marketers to find potential students or families and provide the most relevant information for where they are in their decision making process. So why are so many marketers still buying only broad match keywords? Better yet, why waste your budget buying your own name?

Let’s back up one step and define a keyword. A keyword used to refer to a single word, but now it can mean a word or a phrase that is targeted as part of a search ads campaign. Those longer phrases are referred to as long tail keywords and can help you find much more relevant searchers. A keyword could be “college” or “best preschools.” A long tail keyword gets much more specific, like “best STEM high schools in Indianapolis” or “what is the best school search site?” Almost half of searches are for long tail keywords, in part because of savvier users and the increase in voice search. 

When buying keywords for search campaigns it’s important to know how to maximize the impact of those terms. There are 4 types of keyword matches, and each will yield different results. This chart should make it easier to understand each type and what type of searches it may yield results in. Click the image to expand in a new tab.

Your keywords should be more specific to make sure that you find users who are actually looking for schools and the programs or activities that you offer. You can monitor the performance in your ads dashboard by regular checking the Search Terms report. In Google Ads this is under the Keywords section of the campaign, and in Bing Ads it is found in the reports section. 

Here are some of the reasons why you need to stop buying branded and broad match keywords:

  • If you’ve been doing SEO right then you’re already showing up in the first position for branded searches. You’re paying to be placed one spot ahead of… yourself. Thomas Blake (eBay Research Labs), Chris Nosko (University of Chicago), and Steven Tadelis (UC Berkeley) performed an experiment with eBay’s search ads back in 2015 showing that when turning off branded search the resulting paid traffic loss was replaced with organic search traffic. If you’re currently doing branded search it’s worthwhile to test this yourself, as many schools outsourcing their search are spending the majority of their budgets purchasing their own name. If you do decide to omit your brand name be sure to also add it as a negative keyword so that your ads don’t show on branded searches such as “Carnegie Mellon computer science program” for the keyword “computer science program.”
  • Agencies and others will always recommend you to buy your brand in search, and why wouldn’t they? The CTR and conversion rate will be high, since searchers were already looking for you, and the revenue (for them) will be high. If you’re only evaluating top line metrics you’ll be very happy with the results. But it’s like handing a coupon to people as they walk in the door of your store; the usage will be high but you’re not gaining new customers.
  • When you buy broad keywords you are finding people who aren’t in your target market. One example (sadly from personal experience) is that of marketing a Sales major. If you’re using the broad terms surrounding it you wind up appearing in searches for software sales, coupon codes, and related terms that have nothing to do with an academic program in Sales. 
  • Broad keywords tend to be more expensive and generate a lower CTR, as they are less likely to reach the right searchers. This simple example highlights that, though also from this example you can see that there are more total click for the broad match. It’s good to check these results with your Keyword Planner to see if there are cases where a more broad keyword might still make sense. It’s also very important to track conversions for each keyword as well, more clicks doesn’t mean more conversions.
  • The more specific your keywords are, the more specific you can make your ads. Ads that can speak more directly to searcher intent will yield higher clicks and conversions for you, which will ultimately benefit you more.

If you’re doing well with your SEO it doesn’t make sense to buy your own brand. If, however, you’re launching a new program and don’t show up for that program name it can make sense to buy your branded terms surrounding that until you get organic traction. For the terms in which you’re already the top result you’re better off spending your money on other campaigns or to purchase your competitors brand names (plus other terms) instead.

When you could, and should, buy broad keywords

There is one very specific situation in which you should be buying broad keywords. Unfortunately, I’ve rarely seen a school taking advantage of this opportunity. If you are targeting a specific and existing audience through remarketing you can use broad keywords as a branding tactic to keep your name in front of an audience who is already aware of you.

For example, Niche clients are able to remarket to the users who visit their profile using broad search terms and find success because we reach students who are already aware of that institution and are looking for more general and programmatic terms. The goal of these remarketing campaigns is continued awareness and brand building, and ultimately drive users back to that school to continue research and apply.

The same tactic can be applied to your own landing pages, admissions pages, and event pages. You can customize the broad keywords for each remarketing audience to best speak to the content of the page that the audience is built from.

Every institution should be doing remarketing. Search remarketing is overlooked and a great way to reach students and families while they are researching and in the mindset to inquire/apply/visit. Display remarketing is much more common, but more likely to find people at the wrong time too. Consider experimenting with search remarketing and contact Niche if you’re interested in remarketing to your audience on the largest school search site. Over 55 million people used Niche to research schools in 2019.


Will Patch

In addition to the Enrollment Insights blog, webinars, and podcast; Will is a frequent conference speaker and podcast guest. He has presented at NACAC, AACRAO-SEM, Indiana ACAC, CASE V, EduWeb, and EMA. Will's work has been featured in Forbes, Inside Higher Ed, CNBC, CNN, the LA Times, and The New York Times among other outlets.

Want to Hear more from Niche?