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AN EXPERIMENT ON USING ONLINE MARKETING TOOLS FOR PROMOTING
HIGHER EDUCATION SERVICES
Adela Laura Popa, Naiana Nicoleta Tarca, Dinu Vlad Sasu
Department of Management-Marketing, Faculty of Economic Sciences, University of
Oradea, Oradea, Romania
Abstract: In this study we intended, in the first place, to analyse and determine if the
online environment represents an efficient environment for promoting educational
services offered by higher education institutions in Romania. Another major objective of
this paper is to describe a context in which online marketing tools like Facebook and
Google AdWords could contribute to promote higher education services in the online
environment. In order to achieve the goal, a causal research based on experiment was
designed and implemented. The type of the experiment is ““before-after with control
group” design”. For conducting the experiment, after developing the landing page, two
advertising campaigns were designed: one of them through the tools offered by Facebook
and the other one by using Google AdWords. The test units considered are two masters
of the faculty of economics (one master is the experimental unit and the other is for
control). The independent variable is the extent to which the masters are promoted in the
online environment and the dependent variable is the number of students enrolled in the
two masters during the admission period. Based on the results from this experiment, but
also on data of other studies, we consider that the best results in designing online
promotion campaigns for higher education institutions - when considering the tools
involved in this experiment - are obtained when they are used as complementary tools.
According with our observations, Google AdWords has more potential for attracting
prospective students on the landing pages containing information dedicated to them, but
Facebook’s features can be successfully used in particular for creating and developing
relationships with potential students so that they will subsequently want to become
students of that institution.
Keywords: online marketing; online marketing tools; Facebook; Google AdWords; higher
education marketing; pay-per-click advertising
JEL classification: M31; M37
Nowadays, the benefits of using the Internet in marketing activities should be obvious for
every marketer. The online environment offers an impressive number of online tools that
are capable to offer tremendous possibilities to develop interesting and creative new
marketing strategies. The concepts like online marketing and digital marketing are very
fashionable in the context of marketing activity and higher education institutions seem
more and more interested in using online marketing tools as part of their marketing
strategy. As a reaction to the challenges Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) have to face
these days based especially on the fact that the environment in which HEIs operate
changed substantially in the last years, these institutions become increasingly aware of
the importance of adopting a marketing orientation in their activity (Popa, 2015b; Popa,
Tarca and Tarcza, 2016). Even if more debate is needed for clarifying the core concepts
of higher education marketing (like “value” or “client”) and also regarding the place of
marketing in the higher education institutions activities which is still not clearly defined in
the academic literature, the specialists are aware of the potential benefits of applying the
marketing vision for the higher education sector (Carlos and Rodrigues, 2012).
Though the results of a previous research showed that, at the moment, Romanian higher
education institutions are not entirely led by a strategic marketing vision, it is necessary to
mention that there are actions that could be included in the category of marketing
activities (Popa, Tarca and Tarcza, 2016), especially regarding promotion.
In relation to online promotion, at a worldwide scale a growing trend is noticed among the
specialists and practitioners for considering online advertising tools in the marketing
activity of higher education institutions. In particular, the tool offered by Google – Google
AdWords – generates a lot of interest from those involved in the marketing activity of these
institutions (both those interested in studying the phenomenon and also the managers of
the institutions, interested in promoting the educational services provided by the
The awareness of the importance of online marketing in general and of the online
promotion in particular for the higher education institutions is also demonstrated by the
emergence of the online agencies specialised in offering online marketing services
dedicated exclusively to these kind of institutions. According to Hayley Supple, a specialist
from Converge Consulting, higher education, at the worldwide level, has become one of
the top industries regarding the use of Google AdWords to generate traffic to the institution
website because of advantages like the high search volume, targeting opportunities and
transparent tracking tools (Supple, 2015).
Online marketing, in general, online advertising and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising in
particular, have the merit of having brought a multitude of advantages for the marketing
specialists in terms of the ways they define now the marketing objectives and develop the
marketing strategies. There are a series of benefits identified for using PPC advertising in
comparison with classic advertising known before. The most important of these benefits
· a major advantage of PPC advertising focuses on issues related to market
segmentation and market targeting. It makes possible to substantially improve
activities like dividing the market in customer segments based on similar needs
and wants and for each targeted segment the appropriate message could be
· a second important benefit of PPC advertising, analyzed in compariso n with the
classic advertising, is related to the fact that PPC advertising offers concrete
possibilities to measure the effectiveness of the campaigns through a complex set
of metrics which include (Kim, Park et. al., 2012): hit – the number of visits to the
website, request – the number of hits when the page components where
successfully downloaded, visitors – the number of persons who visits the website
in a specific period of time, visits (sessions) – the number of continuous visits to
the website, duration time – the time spent on the website by a visitor,
impressions – the number of exposures of the landing page linked to an
advertisement delivered to potential customers, Click Through Rate – CTR – the
number of clicks/responses received by a specific advertisement, conversion rate
– the number of responses/clicks associated to an advertisement which finished
through an action desired by the advertiser.
· a third benefit is related to the fact that the payment is made only when the
potential customers are interested in the message and are accessing the link
associated to the advertisement, so the company will pay only when the ad
generates traffic to the landing page. Also, there is the possibility to permanently
adjust the bid for the keywords and to identify the most appropriate keywords in
accordance with the targeted objectives, valuing the traffic history offered by the
transparency of data the advertiser has in online marketing (Geddes, 2014, p. 7).
Various types of settings associated to an advertising campaign can be easily
experienced in the online environment, all these being far more difficult and far
more expensive in the offline environment.
According to Constantinides (2014), the usage of Social Media as a marketing tool should
not be treated as an isolated marketing activity, but rather as a final step of a strategic and
consistent marketing effort. Higher education institutions are among those that show an
increasing interest in using social media as a marketing tool, realizing especially the
potential of these tools to reach and attract new students (Constantinides and Stagno,
2011, p. 7). Constantinides and Stagno (2011) argued that although the use of social
media is extremely high among potential students, the impact of social networks in
choosing the field of the study and the educational institution is relatively low compared to
other traditional marketing tools used in higher education marketing. But Sessa (2014)
states that it is vital that higher education institutions not only to include social media in
their strategy, but also to use this tool strategically in order to engage the new generations
of students. In a research considering a significant number of American universities
regarding the usage of Facebook in their marketing activity, Sessa (2014) found that,
when the managers of these institutions were asked how effective is using Facebook to
recruit potential students, nearly 50% said that it is somewhat effective, while 23% said it
is very effective. Fagerstrøm and Ghinea (2013) argue that to really use the marketing
potential of social media, the higher education institutions should transform these
marketing tools in online spaces meant to create experiences as part of the value creation
process in the educational context.
2. The aim of the study
The main goal of this research is to examine whether the online environment represents
an appropriate place that the higher education institutions can successfully use for
recruiting potential students. In this research we aim to draw conclusions on the impact of
online advertising campaigns, but also to identify the most efficient alternative of those
considered in the research and the devices the most used for accessing the promotional
3. Research methodology
In order to analyze to what extent the online environment is appropriate for higher
education institutions in their marketing activities meant to recruit potential students, and
for comparatively examine two online channels used to deliver the promotional message,
a causal research was conducted. The aim of the experiment was to design and test two
online advertising campaigns, the tools used in these campaigns were Google AdWords
and Facebook. The experiment to be performed is a “before-after with control group”
design. This kind of experiment has the following characteristics (Burns and Bush, 2010;
Popa, 2013, p. 79):
■ it involves the existence of two groups: the experimental group and the control
■ before the manipulation of the independent variable, the dependent variable is
measured both for the experimental group and the control group;
■ the manipulation of the independent variable is performed only for the
■ after a time period, the measurement of the dependent variable is made for
After performing this type of experiment the results obtained from the four measurements
(two measurements for the experimental group and two measurements for the control
group) could be compared and analyzed.
In the case of our experiment, the test units considered are two masters of the faculty of
economics (one master is the experimental unit and the other is for control). The
independent variable is the extent to which the masters are promoted in the online
environment and the dependent variable is the number of students enrolled in the two
masters during the admission period. Knowing the number of students enrolled for
admission in the previous year for each of the two masters, comparisons can be made
between the test units, but also for each test unit before and after performing the
4. Description of the experiment
In order to conduct the experiment, two paid promotion campaigns were designed, one of
them through the tools offered by Facebook and the other one by using Google AdWords.
In conducting the experiment the next steps were followed:
Step 1: the development of the landing page
Step 2: the design of the two advertising campaigns aimed to attract visitors to the
■ an online advertising campaign via Facebook
■ an online advertising campaign using Google AdWords
Step 3: the measurement of the impact of the two online advertising campaigns (the
number of visitors to the page, the number of visitors that initiated an action on the
landing page, the number of potential students enrolled during the admission period at
the two master programs)
The advertising campaigns were conducted a few days before the admission and during
the first days of the admission period.
5. Results and conclusion
In this study we intended, in the first place, to analyse and determine if the online
environment represents an efficient environment for promoting educational services
offered by higher education institutions in Romania. Another important objective of the
research presented in this paper is to test and compare two online channels in the context
of promoting higher education services. We tried to identify which of the two channels
offers the best results (paid advertising via Facebook or paid advertising using Google
AdWords), or eventually how to combine them in order to achieve the goal of the
promotion. We also intended to draw conclusions about the appropriate settings in the
design of these campaigns, such as: the most appropriate devices to be targeted in these
kind of campaigns, the appropriate keywords and so on.
By comparing the number of candidates enrolled for the two master programs considered
for this experiment, we firstly notice that the number of candidates enrolled for the master
program that was promoted increased by about 11 percents in 2015 compared with 2014
while the number of candidates enrolled for the master program that was not promoted
decreased by about 10 percents. The analysis was performed considering the first choice
of the candidates when choosing the master program. We consider that this result is an
indicator that supports the idea that online promotion activities using tools like Google
AdWords and Facebook could be useful and efficient for higher education institutions.
Further research is necessary to validate this conclusion.
Regarding the devices used to display the ads, the data resulted from the Google
AdWords campaign showed that 73 percents of the ads were displayed on desktop
devices, 23 percents on mobile and 3 percents on tablets. On the other hand, the results
about the Click Through Rate (CTR) for different devices showed that CTR for desktop
devices was 0.72%, for mobile was 1.07% and for tablet 0%. The cost per action was
lower for the advertising campaign via Facebook than for the Google AdWords campaign,
but so was the relevance of the results.
The overall impact of the two promotion campaigns proves that the online environment is
conductive for promoting the higher education services (considering the efficiency in
terms of impressions and the budget used in the campaigns). Although in terms of impact
and number of impressions the results of the advertising campaign via Facebook are
better, we consider that the impact of the AdWords campaign can be considered more
relevant due to the fact that the impressions are search results based on keywords. An
important conclusion concerns the use of mobile devices in online promotion campaigns.
Consistent with the results of other research, the data resulted from this experiment are
also showing that, when they want to get information about the higher education services,
prospective students increasingly use mobile devices for searches and for accessing the
Facebook pages. This result supports the idea from previous research (Popa, 2015c) that
higher education institutions should pay special attention to the way their online presence
is displayed on mobile devices, respectively, when designing online promotion
campaigns, to set their ads for targeting mobile devices.
Based on the results from this experiment, but also on data of other studies, we consider
that the best results in designing online promotion campaigns for higher education
institutions - when considering the tools involved in this experiment - are obtained when
they are used as complementary tools. According with our observations, Google
AdWords has more potential for attracting prospective students on the landing pages
containing information dedicated to them, but Facebook’s features can be successfully
used in particular for creating and developing relationships with potential students so that
they will subsequently want to become students of that institution. Based on our current
state of knowledge, there are no studies with similar topics meant to compare this kind of
online marketing tools in the context of online marketing for higher education institutions.
From this point of view, we consider that this study may create the premises for future
research with more complex design.
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