It takes a true team effort to pull off a successful paid search campaign, but Lee Fowks, paid search manager at North Star Marketing, makes so much of the behind the scenes work for these promotions look easy. On his fourth workiversary with the NSM team, we caught up with him to hear more about his recent work, what schools are focused on now, and what’s ahead.
We are all so grateful for your work, Lee. You’re one of the last and most critical stops along the way in the process of conceiving and executing successful paid search campaigns. Thanks for all you contribute and how you make the work and vision of so many other team members really shine. I’m eager to hear more about your work. What have you been a part of in the last year? What are some highlights?
Lee: In the last six months, since North Star began to focus on school partnerships, there’s been a huge expansion of our paid search efforts. Enough that we’re looking at bringing on a new team member with additional expertise who can help me while running point on our SEO work and some social media efforts. That has been exciting to see in the works.
Like a lot of other things, paid search has been different with COVID-19. Everyone saw this dramatic drop-off in lead generation through March and April. Then, in May and June, it came back, and we’ve even seen record numbers of leads for some of our schools in June — some very impressive numbers.
There’s so much unpredictability in the current environment, though. Since we have 50 states that are doing 50 different things, there’s no uniform approach to it [reopening schools]. As a result, we have some states that are having public schools close, but sometimes those rules don’t apply to private schools. We are seeing wide variation from one place to another in terms of activity.
What do you need for a solid paid search campaign?
Lee: I think the key thing is to keep the campaign as clean and efficient as you can. We’ve done so many school campaigns by now, we’ve figured out what works and what doesn’t. Each keyword should have a purpose for being there. I’ve seen campaigns in the past where people put a huge pile of keywords in there, creating a lot of redundancy and inefficiency, and often their budget is being spent without getting anything for it.
Strong messaging is huge. The better you can promote the value propositions on the landing page, the more successful the campaign is going to be. The keywords, landing page, and the ad copy should all be tied in and relevant to each other. If the landing page is boring and generic, it’s so hard to write exciting ads. And, of course, good content that strengthens the campaign translates to generating more leads.
So, you’ve seen a lot of paid search campaigns, Lee. What are some things to avoid?
Lee: There are value propositions that everyone tends to use. My view is, if it’s a value prop for everyone, then it’s a value prop for no one. For schools, I think “academic excellence” falls in that category of a really weak value prop, where most schools will want to use it. I’m always, like, “As opposed to what, academic mediocrity?” But if you can show how your school values academic excellence, that should be the value prop, that is specific to your school. “Affordable private school” is another one that gets mentioned frequently, but the term “affordable” can be very subjective. What’s affordable for one user or prospective parent, might be beyond the means of another user.
Another example that many schools like to promote is “We’ve got small class sizes.” Like academic excellence, it’s important to take that fact a cut deeper and help parents understand how having a small class size benefits their child. If you can tie a benefit to it like “every child is exceptionally well known” it gives the “small class sizes” value prop more meaning and provides some depth to it.
What would you like to spend some time developing or working on in the year ahead?
Lee: I’m interested in doing some work with WordPress. I’m more of a social scientist than a true techie, and I’d love to dig into some materials for developers. I’ve seen some tutorials on WordPress that caught my eye. It would be great to round out my skillset a bit, and in the end, it would also help me troubleshoot tech problems for our clients.