Sarah-Jane McQueen on Education Marketing

17th August 2022

“It’s really important not to fall into this trap of doing what doing what we’ve always done just because it’s what we’ve always done.”

Sarah-Jane McQueen, Head of Marketing of CoursesOnline, provides pivotal tactics for successful marketing in 2022, and what it looks like within the education sector right now.

How do you measure ROI?

In terms of ROI, I’m a really big believer in not just ‘setting and forgetting’ your budget. It’s really important not to fall into this trap of doing what doing what we’ve always done just because it’s what we’ve always done.

We consider our total marketing spend (paid and organic) versus revenue (we invest in both PPC and SEO.) So we look at the level of profitability within that framework. But alongside that we monitor a huge array of different KPIs such as traffic and break it all the way down to a channel level and campaign level.

Traditionally, we’ve been a lead generation business, so we look at transactional measurements in terms of sessions, to conversion rate, to leads, and the revenue that comes from that. Everything’s analysed at a margin per lead level.

Which social channels do you prefer right now?

This is one of the things we’re looking closely at, at the moment. Traditionally Facebook has always been a good channel for us, but this started to erode around September 2021 in terms of the margin perspective and CPA’s were really high. Some of that has to do with our campaign structures, which we’ve overhauled completely.

We’re trialing Tik Tok from a paid perspective, which we may migrate to from Facebook. And we find that YouTube works hand in hand with Google search. We’ve done a huge test with YouTube over the last month and found that a lot of searches start on YouTube and then move to Google search and vice versa. Having a presence on YouTube can really improve your downstream PPC KPIs as well. It’s been promising and has given us enough of a business case to look at how to invest more in this channel.

Yeah, it’s a really tough one. I would say that up until a couple of years ago, education marketing was relatively new. It was 2-3 years behind other sectors. During the pandemic, though, there was a massive boom in terms of the ed tech sector. Many people were home, unemployed or furloughed which contributed to more people studying online courses.

This prompted a leveling up in terms of expertise and strategy including diversification within the marketing channels over the last 12 to 18 months. But right now, no one is furloughed and the job market is massive. People are less likely to upskill prior to getting a promotion, for example. So that’s had a knock-on effect in terms of the pool of candidates or potential prospective students within the market. It’s highly competitive right now.

We’re looking more closely at Google search trends to stay agile because of increased volatility in the market. For us this means we can’t really have flat budgeting at the moment because we might not spend our budget one month but massively overspend the next month, and we don’t know when the next change is going to come. So we really have to work in our operations teams to set a zero based budget.

What does your organic content marketing look like right now?

It’s basic but effective, not big and sexy. We write relevant content that readers will find informative and useful, which fits with Google’s best practices and updates. Our content writer created a section on our website called ‘How to Become’, ‘how to become a business analyst’ for example, or ‘how to become a veterinary assistant.’ So we’ve invested resources into this, did a lot of keyword research and pulled together a list of optimisations.  

We’re also experimenting with newer formats with UI and UX designers and graphic designers who we’ve pulled in from our product team. The whole point for us is to create a kind of holistic brand management that merges product and marketing resources into an engagement team who continually produces fresh content.

With YouTube and Tiktok, it’s lower production value, more of a genuine, less polished videography. And we’re working with influencers as well, finding people and establishing those relationships. It’s a lot of trial and error and a whole new field of expertise that we’re recruiting for.