Google Ads

Google Ads can be a great resource for departments and centers to promote their specific degree programs or build general brand awareness. Before you get started using Google Ads, there are a few things you’ll need to know to get organized.

How to prepare for a campaign:

1. Goal(s)

Before you start creating your Google Ads, make sure you have a goal (or multiple) for your campaign. Do you want to increase enrollment in one of your programs? Do you want to build brand awareness about your center? Do you want users to visit your website and sign up for an information session?

2. Measurement & analytics

You can measure these goals through the analytics within the Google Ads platform by looking at ad impressions, clicks, and conversions. If exposure is what you’re looking for, look at impressions and clicks. If you want users to perform an action on your website (click the apply button, sign up for an info session, etc.), you’ll want to set up conversions. Learn more about Google Ad conversions

If your website is part of the consolidated CSE web system, you have the option to integrate these analytics into your Google Looker Studio dashboard. To do this, you’ll need to connect your Google Ads account in Looker Studio. Learn more about how to connect your Google Ads account to Looker Studio.

Remember that digital ads aren’t magic bullets. It can be hard to directly measure undergraduate enrollment, for example, since you can’t track how many people clicked through your website and actually applied in the University’s application system. The biggest benefit of digital ad campaigns is building awareness of your department and/or its programs and driving more traffic to your website.

3. Target audience(s) & location

Next, you’ll want to define one or multiple target audiences for your ad campaign. Is your messaging for prospective students? If so, are they high schoolers? Current undergraduate students? Recent grads? Are they interested in a certain topic? Do they have an engineering degree? The best way to define your audiences is to create audience profiles, which are examples of the type of person you’re targeting. Learn more about creating an audience profile. Your target audience will also affect your key messages (more on that below).

Another thing to think about is the geographic region in which you want to advertise. With Google Ads, you can target regions as large as the United States or as small as the Twin Cities area.

4. Budget

Budget is one of the most important aspects to a Google Ads campaign. Your daily budget (the max amount of money you’re willing to spend each day) directly determines how often your ad will appear in Google’s search results (more on that below). Learn more about the average budget for Google Ads beginners.

5. Keywords & search terms

When you create an ad, you’ll need to enter several “keywords” that will dictate what Google searches your ad will appear in. Keywords can be one word or a 3-4 word phrase. For example, if one of your keywords is “mathematics,” every time someone searches “mathematics” or a related topic, your ad could appear. However, whether your ad appears on the first Google search result page or the fifth page depends mostly on two things: the quality and relevance of your ad, and how much you’re willing to spend vs. your competitors. Google Ads functions like an auction, where you “bid” a certain amount of money out of your budget to get your ad to appear over, say, other people who have “mathematics” as one of their keywords. Read more about how the Google search keyword bidding works.

You want keywords that have a high amount of searches so that your ad can get some visibility, but at the same time you want them to still be relevant to your brand/program. You don’t want your keywords to be too general, because you don’t want to attract just anyone who searches for “math.” You probably want to specify “math education” or “math grad program” so that your ad shows to the right audience. It’s all about finding the right balance between those two things. Google’s Keyword Planner can help you find which keywords have higher search volumes and which keywords have the highest competition between advertisers.

The search page in your Data Studio dashboard can also help you see what users are currently searching for to get to your website. If your unit doesn’t have a Data Studio dashboard set up yet, contact Rob McIntosh at

6. Key messages

When you’re preparing your campaign materials, you’ll want to focus on one or more key messages that are directly related to your target audience. For example, if you’re marketing a grad program to an audience of young professionals, you might focus on the idea of flexibility and the fact that they can take night classes while working full-time. It’s best to focus on one key message per ad. If you have multiple key messages for one campaign, it’s best to create multiple ads and rotate between them. Learn more about rotating ads. However, if you’re marketing to multiple audiences, you’ll want to create a separate campaign for each audience.

A good way to plan out content and key messages is to search some of your keywords in Google (make sure to use a private browser so your personal data doesn’t affect the search) and see what other colleges and organizations are doing to promote similar programs.

Types of Google Ads:

1. Search ads

Search ads include only text and links. They appear in Google search results and can also appear in search results on Google partner websites, such as YouTube, Amazon, etc. (you don’t pay extra for this—Google does it automatically). Learn more about creating search ads.

2. Display ads

Display ads include combinations of text, links, and graphics or photos. They can appear in Google search results or in sidebars of websites. Learn more about creating display ads

3. Smart campaigns

Smart campaigns are the easiest way to go for Google Ads beginners. You can create both search and display ads, and Google automates most of the processes for you. For example, with smart campaigns, Google will automatically optimize your bidding strategy depending on your budget, whereas with regular search or display campaigns, you must manually select your bidding strategy and continuously evaluate it to see how effective it is. Smart campaigns also take way less time to set up—you can create and submit an ad in less than 15 minutes. Learn more about how smart campaigns work. See a comparison between smart campaigns and regular ad campaigns.

Writing tips for ads:

  1. Keep sentences short and succinct—with Google Ads, you sometimes don’t even need full sentences. For examples, search for something on Google similar to what you plan on promoting (math grad program, e.g.).
  2. Avoid flowery, marketing language—instead, include information prospective students are looking for (what kind of program is it, how many semesters, night classes/flexible schedules, what will they learn, is the program ranked, etc.).
  3. For a marketing message, focus on one theme per ad (flexibility, career placement, e.g.)—you can always create multiple ads with different messages.
  4. If you’re promoting a specific program, don’t just link to your main website. Link to the page for that specific program.

Other helpful links: