Thruline Marketing Blog | Education Marketing Insights
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Mary Meeker recently released her highly anticipated 2019 State of the Internet report. The report was full of general takeaways on internet usage and trends as well as a section specific to online education. This report has been published almost annually since 1995 and consistently contains some great insights for all of us working in the wild world of the internet. Below you will find some general takeaways as well as specific industry findings from the report, links to the presentation at Recode by Vox and a link to the full 300+ slide deck.
There are 3.8 billion internet users globally, this is the first time more than half the world’s population is online.
Internet usage is growing at 6% YOY (a solid growth rate but slowing from previous years).
For the first time, Americans spent more time on their mobile devices than they did watching TV.
Images continue to increase in popularity and importance. More than 50% of all tweets now include images.
Large focus on China: Most internet users in the world (800,000,000 or 21% of the world’s total) and the largest opportunity for growth. Mobile data usage in China increased 189% YOY.
Internet advertising was seeing solid growth but beginning to see customer acquisition costs rise to “unsustainable levels” in some industries.
Quarterly internet advertising revenues from giants Google and Facebook have decelerated with the smaller advertising players (Amazon, Twitter, Snap and Pinterest) gaining market share.
Gaming was lauded as both a standout example of the “freemium” model and a potentially significant new social network with increases seen in playing, watching and chatting about games, specifically Fortnite (aka the bane of any boy parent’s existence)
“Free trials” continue to be a huge driver of consumers trying new products/services.
88% of TV watchers are “second screening” with a digital device while watching TV.
Interesting section on immigration and the founding of top tech companies (slides 259 – 262)
Of particular interest to the education space, there were sections on “work” and “Online Education”.
Unemployment continues to be high in the world overall with the US seeing record low numbers.
The Consumer Confidence Index, a measure of U.S. consumer optimism in the economy, is high and rising. Currently at 97 versus 65 with a year average of 88.
Job openings are at an all-time high and wages are rising.
Remote workers in the US are continuing to grow. Now totally about 5% of the workforce compared to 3% last year with online collaboration tools like Google Sheets, Slack and others powering the way.
Undergraduate Education Costs and Student Loan Debt are growing.
Overall, enrollment is slowing but there is a higher percentage taking some or all courses online.
More Top Offline Institutions are increasing their online offerings.
Students enrolled in Coursera, Udemy, Lambada, Chegg and other online class providers are increasing.
Bottom line, there is an abundance of jobs available within the US. We have to continue to bridge the gap between education and employment opportunities with a focus on outcomes and do so by highlighting the emerging trends within the marketing landscape. It’s an exciting time to be a part of marketing overall and EDU marketing specifically. Let’s seize the day!
Google recently introduced a new tool, Bumper Machine, that creates 6-second bumper ads from existing longer-form content up to 90-seconds. This tool addresses the need for advertisers to create new assets who don’t have the resources to continually develop new or custom creative. Bumper Machine will save time, effort and cost.
So what are Bumper Ads?
Bumper Ads were built to address the changing viewing habits for audiences, especially on mobile, for shorter sessions. Bumper ads are short but impactful videos that will let you extend the reach and frequency of your existing campaigns in a cost-effective way. Google’s initial testing found that 9 out of 10 bumper campaigns drove significant lift in ad recall.
Bumper Ad Details:
Bidding Type: CPM model (cost per thousand impressions)
Format: Non-skippable ad that plays at the beginning of a video
Bumper Ads can work on their own, but Google recommends pairing them with TrueView campaigns.
Length: 6 seconds or less
Devices: Mobile and Desktop
How does Bumper Machine work?
The Bumper Machine tool uses machine learning to identify key elements within an existing longer-form video and convert them into three shorter 6-second videos. These key elements include brand logos, human faces, relevant/motion, or clear focus on a product while always ending with the final call to action/end screen.
There is no minimum spend requirement to use this tool. However, you will need a YouTube Channel linked to your Google Ads Account that contains the base video of 90-seconds or less.
After submitting the original long-form video URL, it only takes the tool a few minutes to create the three new 6-second videos.
From our initial testing, the tool-created bumper ads are more of a jumping off point and will need some editing. Editing is fairly easy, and you can adjust voice-over separately from the video which is helpful.
In summary, the Bumper Machine tool will be an asset to advertisers, including those without resources to produce creative continually. It provides a free solution for creating short, non-skippable videos in a timely way.
Have you tried out the new Bumper Machine tool yet? What did you think?
Google recently held its annual Google Marketing Live conference in San Francisco and our Digital Media Team was excited to send two members to represent Thruline.
One of the biggest announcements from the event was Google’s announcement of Gallery Ads. This new ad format will roll out later in 2019 and allows advertisers to visually promote their product or service with a series of images relevant to the brand.
If you’re familiar with Facebook’s carousel ads, you have an idea of what Google’s gallery ads will look like. The ad, which will be featured only in the top spot of the search engine results page, will feature up to 8 (minimum of 4) scrollable images. The ad will include a clickable headline above the images and each image can feature a tagline up to 70 characters to further engage search audiences with a visual experience.
Google’s early testing showed the potential of 25% higher engagement in the form of clicks and swipes compared to standard text ads. The reason behind this lift is due to consumers growing needs to see what they’re getting in order to understand the value. In the growing age of mobile, users are more engaged with imagery than with words alone, so this is a big step for Google: from copy-heavy ads to experience-focused imagery.
Once available in Beta testing, Thruline will work with our Google reps to build these out for our partners. Because these will be available only in the top spot at the start, we will focus on building these out first for brand campaigns and programs of high importance. To set these ads up for success in the world of education, we recommend using imagery that speaks to the experience the potential student will have at your university.
If you have more questions about Google’s gallery ads product and how we can achieve success for your brand, please reach out!
Nope. Ok. Great blog post everyone! Time for high-fives and a few cold ones!
Alright, I should probably go into more information on why we bring this up, what we did and what came out of it. Also, just a little peek into the future, be on the lookout for more posts like this as Thruline ramps up our testing. To continually better serve our clients we are running tests on different ideas for SEO and PPC to identify how things can impact performance allowing us to be even further on the cutting edge.
Adding Schema markup to a PPC lander or mini-site will improve quality scores and enhance the listings.
To understand why we came up with this hypothesis you need to know a little about what Schema markup is and what it does. If you’re unfamiliar with it, Schema markup is code added behind the scenes to a website that gives additional context to search engines about what a website, webpage and organization is about. This code was standardized by all of the major search engines several years ago. They use this information to help supplement the information they are able to understand about a site through their crawls. The way it works is that you add the code to the site with all of the information you want and the search engines can compare that to what they already know about the site to reinforce that understanding. For example, you could add some code that says “Hey, we’re a college/university and we’re located here”. The search engines would look at it, compare it to what’s on your site and what they know about it, and go “Yep, that’s you. You’re a college/university and that’s where you’re located”. If you do it right, the search engines can use this information to give you a little boost in authority and even enhance your listing in the SERPs such as adding breadcrumb navigation to your listing.
With this in mind, we decided to see if code could be something to improve paid listings. We knew it was a bit of a longshot that it could be used to enhance the listings themselves since a lot of that is determined by the setup of the ad, but we thought it was worth trying out. Where we thought there might be a better chance of Schema doing something was with quality scores. Since we knew that search engines looked at this code and used it to improve their understanding of a site, we wondered if the same could be true for paid since quality scores are partially driven by the relevance of the site to the ad being presented. Would reinforcing the relevance through Schema markup help at all?
Setting Up the Test
It’s basically impossible to run a true A/B test on something like this since it requires the crawling of a page by search engines and you can’t have them crawl two versions of the same page. To overcome this issue we decided to select a couple of different pages from a client’s PPC site that was well established and also a few from another client’s site that was fairly new. We placed some Schema code on those pages. This allowed us to compare the quality scores against similar pages and also see if the quality scores were impacted more on a site that hadn’t yet built up much authority. The code that we placed on each site included information about the location and details of the organization. It also included information on the specific programs that the page was about.
We took baseline quality score measurements along with a few other metrics for the sites prior to placing the code. After putting the code in place, we ran business as usual for over a month. We wanted to be sure the pages had enough time to be crawled and indexed with the code on them and to ensure that if Google was going to recalculate the scores, we would leave time for that to happen.
Results of Adding Schema
Once we were sure we had given our test enough time to provide the data we wanted, we went back and compared the quality scores as well as the average CPC and average position for all of the pages we marked up against where they were prior to adding the code and also compared them to the rest of the site.
For the well-established site, we saw almost no change to quality score, CPC or position.
For the fairly new site, we saw almost no change to quality score, CPC or position.
We also compared how the ads showed in the SERPs and saw no difference with the listing.
Although we didn’t see any improvements to the metrics that we measured, the test wasn’t a complete bust. We took a look at the organic traffic going to these pages and saw between a 10% and 20% increase in organic traffic. We can’t completely rule out seasonality shifts with these increases, but it does seem to indicate that even on a PPC site, adding Schema markup can have a positive impact on organic traffic. So, as mentioned at the beginning, adding schema to your PPC site does not appear to have any effect on quality scores or the listings. But, if you’re objective is to increase organic traffic, Schema markup is something to consider.
If you missed the news a couple of weeks ago, Google rolled out yet another change to their search engine results page or SERP. Changes to the SERP pages have become somewhat commonplace over the past few years with Google (who remembers ads being removed from the right?). The most recently announced change only impacts mobile search results but if your site is like most of them out there, and a large segment of your traffic comes from mobile, you should be paying attention.
Icons in Results
The change made by Google in this latest round deals with icons that are shown in results. Previously, the only icon that you say was below paid listings where there was a little green “Ad” icon next to the green link for the page.
This little green icon is now gone along with the green link.
This wasn’t the only change that took place, though. As part of this, Google added in icons for organic search results, which weren’t there previously. These icons show up on the left side of listing next to the URL.
These icons come from the favicon associated with the site. If the term favicon is unfamiliar to you let me help explain. The favicon is a 48×48 pixel image that should be included in the code of your site. This image is what is displayed in your browser tab. The idea is that it helps visitors identify the website that is open on the tab. For the SERPs, Google just pulls the favicon from the site and displays it as a 16×16 pixel image.
From a strictly organic ranking perspective, there would appear to be little to no impact from this change. The only foreseeable impact would be if the link to your favicon was broken since broken links aren’t good, but that would have been having an impact on the site already. This is a purely cosmetic change and one that only affects organic listings. The primary thing that an organization will want to do is ensure that they have an appropriate favicon on their site that can be crawled by search engines. Google provided some guidelines on this to help:
Both the favicon file and the home page must be crawlable by Google (that is, they cannot be blocked to Google).
Your favicon should be a visual representation of your website’s brand, in order to help users quickly identify your site when they scan through search results.
Your favicon should be a multiple of 48px square, for example: 48x48px, 96x96px, 144x144px and so on. SVG files, of course, do not have a specific size. Any valid favicon format is supported. Google will rescale your image to 16x16px for use in search results, so make sure that it looks good at that resolution. Note: do not provide a 16x16px favicon.
The favicon URL should be stable (don’t change the URL frequently).
Google will not show any favicon that it deems inappropriate, including pornography or hate symbols (for example, swastikas). If this type of imagery is discovered within a favicon, Google will replace it with a default icon
That’s it. Those are all of the guidelines. Pretty simple. Us SEO nerds out there will probably want to keep an eye on this due to the guidelines being a bit vague since there is the very likely possibility that some unsavory characters out there will look for ways to manipulate this by changing their favicons to something that they think will entice clicks. Thruline’s recommendation is to not fall into that. Use your logo as your favicon. It’s never worth it to try and game the system.
Organic Listing? Paid Listing?
Probably the biggest thing to come from this change is the blurring of lines between organic listings and paid listings. If we trace the history of the paid listing we can see that 10 years ago they had yellow boxes around them and we’re clearly called out as ads. Since that time the box has gone away, the “Ad” icon has become more subdued and any delineation between where the ads end and the organic listings begin has gone away.
Granted, paid listings still contain an “Ad” icon, but with the addition of the favicon for organic listings in the same place as the icon, it has become more difficult to differentiate the two. As inbound marketers, we need to be aware of this change since there is the very real possibility that searchers will be less able to identify an ad over an organic listing leading to decreases in click-through-rates for organic listings. Thruline’s inbound team will be monitoring this for all our inbound clients and can report on any impact.
So, is this a ploy to get more people to click on ads? That is for you to decide.
A major headline that continues to make news is the idea of free college. The movement gained momentum after President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address in 2015 and was a huge platform for Bernie Sanders in the last election. Free education continues to be a big part of the conversation today but as we all know, nothing in life is free. Let’s examine where the costs lie in these different flavors of “free education” currently in the market.
Free Gap Financing
17 states now offer some kind of tuition-free college program. The majority of current programs provided at the state level are last-dollar (meaning they kick in after Pell Grants and state aid are maxed out) and are for two-year colleges. Qualifications for these programs vary from state to state but usually include meeting income requirements, maintaining certain GPAs while in school and some even require recipients to remain residents of the state for a certain period of time post-graduation. In 2017, New York’s Excelsior Scholarship became the first in the nation to offer last-dollar assistance that covers four years of tuition without being tethered to academic performance. While these promise programs are not perfect, they are opening the door for students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford college the opportunity to pursue a higher education.
Income Share Agreements
While not technically “free” this model provides no upfront cost of education for the student and instead lets them pay back a percentage of their earnings for a period of time after graduation. This is an alternative to traditional college loans and instead bets on the future earning power of students. It also has the potential to fill in gaps after government and private loan options have been exhausted. Income Share Agreements (ISAs) are still relatively new to the market and details of their specifics vary due to a lack of regulations currently in place. One big challenge with ISAs currently is finding the capital needed to pay the upfront costs of tuition. In a recent article, EdSurge explores the impact Wall Street could have on the future of ISAs and the pros and cons of them as an investor. As more investors get in the game, it will be interesting to see the progression of this type of funding in the near future.
Rather than students paying, employers sponsor students to go to school to either get or advance their degrees while providing guaranteed job placement. This option is mutually beneficial for both employees and employers where employees benefit from education by improving their credentials and employers benefit from access to better-fit employees and a more talented workforce. There is even a tax incentive for companies that choose to offer this benefit to their employees. While the details surrounding education assistance programs vary from company to company, studies show that having some kind of program is crucial to attracting and maintaining a competitive workforce long-term.
While addressing the cost of a college education is a great idea and certainly beneficial for students, it really seems the most feasible of the four are the income share agreements and employer-paid options as they maintain motivation for the student to stick with their education path while still relieving the financial pressure on them and without creating a big public subsidy requirement. As we head into another election, this topic is sure to heat up again.
When I first started applying for internships, I had the perception of what an internship looked like: getting people’s coffee, doing their dirty work, and sitting quietly in meetings taking notes. I was okay with that because I figured I’m the one who doesn’t know anything; they are the experts. However, Thruline quickly dismantled the perception I had for an internship and below are three things I think you should know about interning here.
You Won’t Be Getting Anyone’s Coffee (Except Your Own)
The only coffee I’ve gotten are the countless cups I’ve filled up for myself from our fancy coffee machine (score!) and only notes I’ve taken are from the many hands-on trainings I’ve received. See, my managers are experts, but they value my opinion too. In my time here I’ve been empowered to explore new skills, challenged to give my input, and seen countless ideas implemented. Once I made a statement saying, “I’m not sure, I’m just an intern.” A Team Lead quickly corrected me and said, “You have to get rid of that vocabulary, we see you as an employee with great ideas!” Coming to work every day and knowing my work matters has made my experience here invaluable and given me confidence in my career path.
You Won’t Be Expected to Be Perfect
I was really nervous about my ability to perform well when first starting here. As an Inbound Marketing Intern, I was tasked with helping the team execute SEO and social media marketing strategies for our clients. I had minimal experience in social media and had just learned what SEO stood for a few months prior, so to say I was inexperienced was an understatement. However, I never felt nervous about asking a question and was challenged daily to believe in my ability. Perfection might have been a standard I tried to set for myself, but it was never actually expected of me. The learning curve in this company is expressed upfront, so when I felt I failed, I could quickly fail forward. This gave me the room I needed to work on my skills. My managers went above and beyond to make sure I was well-trained in everything I was asked to do, directed me to the right people when I had questions, and allowed me to grow in areas I was interested in.
There’s a 100% Chance You Will Really Like the Company Culture
Thruline’s CEO, Mike McHugh, recently said to me, “Always remember that companies don’t have culture, it is the collection of what all the people in them do.” He’s right – my biggest lesson here is that it is the people who make a company culture. In my few months here, I attended multiple events, fundraisers, and lunches all organized by our employees. Yes, marketing agencies are often expected to have a casual dress code and a fun workspace, which Thruline does, but it takes a lot more than paint on the walls to create a culture. I enjoyed coming to work every day because I knew my fellow employees were passionate about their work, I would be recognized for my hard work, and everyone would strive to maintain a positive attitude daily. There were times I walked in not having a great day, only to have left feeling energized and grateful. The people here will make your internship unforgettable and challenge you to contribute your own piece to the culture.
Thruline isn’t your average internship because Thruline isn’t your average company. They raise the bar on how to work with clients, be innovative with strategy, and collaborate with others. Thruline has given me the confidence I’ve needed to be a great marketer and clarity for my new career goals. Who knew one ”yes” to one internship could change so much?
Education continues to evolve to life-long learning in order to meet the demands of today’s workforce and even though the pace of change in the workplace has seen rapid growth, it is only going to get faster. According to a recent report by Dell Technologies, 85% of jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t even been invented yet. That statistic seems almost impossible to believe, but we are already in an environment where the skills needed by today’s workforce are drastically different than they were even 10 years ago.
The future job market will require a modernized and highly-skilled workforce with the ability to adapt quickly to changes. Meeting employer’s needs will demand new approaches and partnerships—whether through collaborating with educational institutions, establishing workforce efforts built for scale, or piloting and investing in innovations focused on scalable employment solutions.
The skills gap has been a hot topic in recent years and moves like the launch of InStride show that both schools and employers understand they need to work together and be in sync to solve the problem. The end result will not only be mutually beneficial, but it will also help create the next generation of life-long students ready and willing to tackle the ever-changing needs and expected growth of our job market.
Fake news is one of those terms and phenomenons that have become part of our everyday life. As marketers, this is something that we must be very cognizant of. With content playing such an integral part of successful inbound marketing, and curated content being one of those things that can be used to show knowledge and understanding, we need to be sure that the content we share is legitimate.
So, how do we ensure that the information we’re sharing is legitimate and factual? I’m going to provide you with a few ways to help you identify real news along with a couple of tools that may help raise some red flags for you as you’re looking through news.
Types of News Sources
There is a wide spectrum of news sources out there, some definitely better than others. It’s important to note as we list these out that each one also has its own spectrum. Also, the people who write the articles are just that, people. They hold their own biases and even the best attempts to stay impartial may fall short.
Traditional Journalism – these are the people who consider themselves real journalists and hold themselves to journalistic standards. They can be more trusted but do range from great journalism to horrible.
Biased or Ideological Journalism – these sources have a traditional journalistic format but have a clear bias in the reporting. To be safe, it’s best to assume that all outlets have a certain level of bias.
Opinion Outlets – these are not really news and do not present themselves as so. They generally present themselves as opinion and are up front about that.
Satirical News – this is not news. These sources are usually open about the fact they are not real and are there purely for entertainment. Occasionally this can be confusing for people particularly when the satire is subtle.
Fake News – the stories from these sources are not real but they attempt to present themselves as real news sources. There are usually no journalistic standards that are held to and these sources will attempt to push emotional buttons to entice people to read.
Identifying a Good Source
To paraphrase GI Joe, knowing about types of sources is only half the battle. Even some of the best news sources will occasionally put out poor articles. So, here are a couple of things to look at to help identify if the article is good.
Check where the article is coming from. Look at some of the other stories put out by the source and make sure those look legitimate as well.
Look at the headline and make sure it’s neutral. If it seems to be trying to evoke some kind of emotion, it may not be legitimate.
Check who wrote the article. If there isn’t an author, that’s a big red flag. If there is one, take a look at what else they’ve written.
Review the sources. Some articles may not have sources but if they do, look them over and make sure they’re good sources.
Look into the image associated with the article. Sometimes stories get sensationalized by using images not associated with the actual story. A reverse image search through Google can help you out here.
When you are able to find the right kind of source and identify whether it’s good or not, you will be better able to make sure you are sharing the right kind of content.
In late February, Google announced it would deprecate average position in September 2019 in favor of new metrics that it says will help advertisers better understand the location of their ads on the page.
For years, Google has represented the order of auction results as a number like 1.0 for top position as a metric for how prominent your ads are. However, in cases where ads show beneath the organic search results, position 1 might be the bottom of the search engine results page (SERP).
To better understand where ads are showing in the SERP, Google rolled out new metrics in Q4 2018.
Absolute top impression rate – % of impressions shown as the very first ad above organic search
This is what we equate to position 1 currently, but because position 1 is not always at the top of the page, the absolute top better represents how far up on the page the ad shows
Top impression rate – % of impressions shown at the top of the SERP
We typically associate this with positions 1 – 3 (which we expect to be the ads above the organic listings), but because the placement of positions varies on the page, top impression rate gives a better idea of the placement of our ad on-page
Absolute top search impression share – impressions received in absolute top location divided by estimated number you were eligible to receive
Top search impression share – impressions you received in top location divided by the number of impressions you were eligible to receive in that location
According to Google, these metrics allow more transparency and control. Because average position was an average of how your ads ranked on the page, it was difficult to know when the ad was showing at the top of the page, as position 1’s location varies. The new focus on top and absolute top impression share is a more accurate measurement of how high on the SERP your ad shows and will allow us to better equate the impact of ad location to CTR.
The impact to CPCs with this change is yet to be determined, though, we suspect there may be some increases, especially at the start. With a more definite percentage of just how high specific keywords are showing up on-page, there may be increased competition with advertisers trying to reach that absolute top position.
If you have additional questions about average position and the potential impact you might see, reach out to us.