Universities and PPC: When High Demand Means Low Investment

Ian O'Rourke Posted by Ian O'Rourke

A glance at the PPC campaigns of top-tier international business schools reveals a highly competitive online marketplace. But despite this competition, these schools’ investment in the PPC market seems to be dropping.

Prospective postgraduate students obviously want to attend the world’s top business schools. But who decides which schools are the best of the best? Many applicants look to the EDUNIVERSAL Palmes, a system that rates the reputation of business schools all over the world.

Based on research conducted by the International Scientific Committee and peer assessments submitted by the schools being rated, each business school is assigned to a league. The bottom of the barrel is relegated to the 5 Palmes league, while the top level – the best of the best – is the 1 Palme League.

Only five UK schools qualify for the top level: the London Business School, Oxford, Manchester, Cranfield, and Cambridge. Though each of these schools already has a formidable reputation, competition for the very best applicants is always high amongst them.

Here we take a look at how these schools are taking to the PPC market to get these applicants’ attention and seal their title as the truly superior business university.

Paid Share of Voice

[lightbox rel=”group1″ width=”860″ href=”https://www.adthena.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/universitiestrend2.png” title=”Universities SOV, Adthena data” src=”https://www.adthena.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/universitiestrend2.png”][/lightbox]
Universities SOV, Adthena data

When it comes to gauging the strategy behind an online ad campaign, paid SOV is one of the best indicators. Based on the graph above, it looks like these schools are competing over very different periods of the year, to attract candidates at key application times: term time (September until June).

In the beginning of the year, Cranfield was far and away the leader, peaking at around 70% SOV.

After March, however, its paid SOV plummeted to somewhere barely above zero just before Easter and stayed there for the remainder of the year, indicating that its PPC campaign wasn’t providing them with satisfactory results, or they had already allocated places for students and pulled out to save their budget for the next run for applicants late in the year.

This means the university’s campaign was a huge success and it’s a more likely scenario than that they were not satisfied with the results. When one is not satisfied with the result one optimises their campaign and maybe invests more (or less) but does not usually completely end spending.

MBS showed a very similar trend, taking over where Cranfield left off in March.

After dominating the PPC market over the course of four months, MBS took its own plunge in July, just in time for the summer holidays, though it remained competitive throughout 2014 and never sank below third place, but was quickly replaced by Ox.ac (Oxford), which in July registered the largest SOV of any competitor for all of 2014, clocking in at well over 80%.

Ox.ac eventually lost its lead to London.edu (London Business School) in December, which had been pumping up its PPC steadily over the course of the year. These two universities ended the year neck-and-neck, with both securing a lion’s share in SoV leaving the competition far behind.

These very sudden peaks and valleys suggest that the competing schools are paying close attention to the PPC market, upping their bids to supplant one another as the months go by. Additionally, application times to different schools vary and it seems the business schools were all playing this to ensure they got the maximum exposure.

For example, Oxford and Cambridge’s cut-off is October, which is perhaps why in October, Oxford has a drop off, although it decided to start spending again in November, ready for fresh intake.

Other universities’ cut off is end of January, explaining MBS’s rise just after that deadline. It knows it shouldn’t invest too much up to the deadline, because applications will already be in.

Share of Spend

[lightbox rel=”group1″ width=”860″ href=”https://www.adthena.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/universitiestrendSOS2.png” title=”Universities SOS, Adthena data” src=”https://www.adthena.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/universitiestrendSOS2.png”][/lightbox]
Universities SOS, Adthena data

The share of spend seems to confirm our hypothesis, as the ebb and flow of each competitor’s spending matches that of the PPC chart featured earlier.

It’s not exactly clear why these schools spent during the specific periods that they did, but each university was likely observing their competitors’ campaigns and attempting to overtake them when they appeared exhausted.

Why Cambridge chose to abstain from the PPC game altogether is also something of a mystery. Perhaps the school felt it undignified to be invested in attracting new applicants, given its first-class status. Still, that doesn’t explain why Oxford was so involved, since it’s certainly in no more need of name recognition than its primary rival.

The Bigger Problem: Packed Classes

Still, these interesting trends aside, PPC spending has been relatively low for all competitors. Though the economic recession is only just beginning to dissipate, tuition prices at universities continue to soar.

This means that those looking to attend top-tier schools are probably the ones with either more than enough money to spare or married to the universities willing to hand them a scholarship, and therefore probably already set on the schools to which they’re going to apply.

As education becomes more and more limited to only the academic and economic elite, top schools see less and less value in online adverts. After all, appealing to the widest spectrum of people isn’t so effective when there are only a few you can hope or want to attract.

Unfortunately, these higher costs have hurt enrollment of part-time and mature British students.

Although 700,000 individuals have thus far applied for full-time study in the UK this academic year, according to the BBC, part-time students have been the hardest hit by the fee increase, with applications submitted by this demographic dropping by more than 50%.

While ambitious, affluent young people aren’t being affected by this trend, older and part-time British students looking to move up in the world with a business degree are being left out in the cold.

However, when studying the number international students at these schools, it’s different matter because their fees have never been subsidised by the UK government.

In fact, the international student scene in the UK is booming, with the percentage of international students in the UK around 20% in 2013-14 according to the UK Council for International Student Affairs.

If you want to discover the trends that are shaping your market, you need a solution that can show you your competitors’ activity, making sure you’re at the top of search lists without spending a fortune. Using a multitude of metrics, Adthena is that indispensable tool for pinning down the strategies that will bring the right audience to your product.

About the author

Ian O'Rourke
Ian O'Rourke
Ian is the CEO and Founder of Adthena. He has been involved in technology businesses and start-ups for over 22 years and has built businesses across the globe including in Silicon Valley, London, Australia and Taiwan. Ian has grown Adthena since 2012 to its current position as the premier global provider of competitive intelligence. Ian likes to foster a culture of great products, getting things done, responsibility, freedom and continuous improvement.