How I Generated Over $170,000 With $33,000 For Universities

I was doing digital marketing for an education marketing agency in the US. They had hundreds of brand name universities as clients.

My job was to promote and generate student leads for the universities. This was a very challenging task because the higher education industry in the U.S is 1 of the most competitive niches to be in. It’s as competitive as credit cards and insurance.

1 lead to a university can result in a $40,000 to $60,000 increase in their bottom line and the average lead to them is worth around $200 each.

The average cost to go to a 4-year university in the U.S is between $20,000 to $30,000. That means a student lead is worth around $20,000 to $30,000 to a university. And this is not including if the student goes on to study a master’s and PhD.

Just run a Google Adwords campaign and we’re done, right?

My plan was to setup a Google Adwords campaign and target keywords like online universities and online degrees.

“I’ll be driving thousands of highly targeted visitors and generating thousands of leads to the universities.”

How hard can it get?

So I checked out the CPC for our target keywords like online universities, online colleges, and online degrees and saw this…


Note: The reason why the currency is in Euros is because I created my Adwords account when I was living in Dublin, Ireland.

After converting the Euros to Australian dollars…

  • online colleges = $72.01 per click
  • online degrees = $54.77 per click
  • online universities = $48.06 per click

My goodness. I can’t possibly make an ROI if I’m paying $50 per click. If my conversion rate was 10%, that would put our CPL at $500.

And… it gets even harder

On top of the $50 CPC on our target keywords, the lead form is a super long lead form.

This isn’t your normal, name, email, address, and phone number lead gen form. This lead form has 13 fields.

Even just a name and email lead gen form might convert at 50% if you’re lucky.

Guess what will happen to the conversion rate if you add another 11 fields on top of your standard name and email form? (Based on our funnel, anyone who landed on this page converted at 10%)


Driving traffic for $50 CPC keywords and generating leads to a 13 fields lead form. What’s harder?

Putting on my keyword research hat

So, I put my keyword research hat on.

I thought to myself…

What other keywords are students searching for before they enroll for a degree program or an university?

And I thought of a hypothesis.

The idea was before students enroll for a degree program, they will do some research on the careers opportunities with their degree program.

For e.g: students who are interested in an accounting degree program will search for keywords like “how much do accountants make” and “accounting salary”.

Now all I have to do is create a PPC campaign targeting those keywords.

The end?

Not yet. I came across another problem.


How in the world does a non-commercial keyword like “how much do accountants make” cost $14.54 (after currency conversion) per click. This is not right. Even if it’s half that amount, that is still incredibly expensive.

The PPC competition in the U.S is super difficult. In Australia, the keyword “accounting salary” cost $1.65 vs $10.96 in the U.S.

I thought to myself… “What now?” Should I just give up on paid traffic and spend months doing SEO?

Bing to the rescue

When you found out that a non-commercial keyword like “how much do accountants make” cost $14.54, you know that Google is out of the question.

I remembered I got a $50 credit from Bing so I decided to give Bing a shot.

I created a PPC campaign on Bing, targeted those career-type keywords, targeted, and did other optimizations like A/B test headlines, description and landing pages, and the rest is history.


My funnel was very simple. I created a simple yet highly-optimized landing page for our target keyword. Because of these highly-optimized landing pages, my keywords and campaigns were consistently getting a quality score of 7,8,9 and even 10!


Because of our high quality scores, I paid only $0.12 per click.

My funnel conversion rate was 0.3%. It wasn’t the best conversion rate but most importantly, I got over $5 for every $1 spent.

Results of this campaign

The campaign resulted in over 18 million impressions, over 280,000 visitors, and most importantly generated over 850 highly-qualified leads worth $170,000 on a $33,000 ad spend.

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