How I built Eastern's search marketing program

Eastern's search marketing program started with a happy accident. Matthew Neagle, then of Google in Ann Arbor was on our department's advisory board. Google had a program to give in-kind advertising grants to non-profits, but the non-profits were having trouble making full use of the grants. Maybe teams of students could help them better take advantage of the grants.

A couple of months after this meeting, we were offering the first version of our introductory search marketing course, now called Google AdWords and Landing Page Design. That course gives a hands-on introduction to the following concepts:

  • The only effective AdWords campaign is a well-targeted AdWords campaign. 
  • Getting to the point where you have well-targeted campaigns serving your organization's needs is not obvious and can easily take a couple of months of serious effort.
  • Once you have effective AdWords campaigns, you need to pay attention to the experience these highly directed visitors have on your site.
  • The essence of landing page design is using the information you have about your visitors to give them what they are looking for.

This last point is also difficult. It requires iterative design, testing, and refinement. There is no set it and forget it. As a result, I developed a second course, Google Analytics and Landing Page Optimization. Again, students receive a hands-on introduction to key concepts:

  • Through their various marketing campaigns, organizations pay for visitors to come to their web site, and you can quantify the amount, which at times is surprisingly high.
  • Achieving success on a landing page requires matching organization goals with visitor goals. In particular, it requires the organization to settle on one specific goal for the particular page. Getting an organization to this point is often again surprisingly difficult.
  • The best way to gain credibility in discussing a business' goals is to quantify the discussion.
  • The best way to get people to pay attention to your numbers is to use them to tell a story.
  • The only sure fire way to know whether a change improves the situation is to run a simultaneous A/B test. This approach has gotten dramatically easier as tools have progressed.

Once students have taken these two courses, they have acquired the basic knowledge to become effective search marketers. However, there remains the question of how to put it all together. When should students focus more on the marketing campaign? When should students focus on fixing the landing page? When should they be tweaking both together? What are the best ways to communicate this process to stakeholders.

For this set of questions, I built the capstone course, The Search Marketing Practicum, yet another hands-on course. In this course, we guide students through the following concepts and milestones:

  • Identifying online customers' decision style and their positioning in the purchase process.
  • Using this information to determine whether the organization is attracting the right visitors, whether the visitors are receiving the right experience, and combinations of the two.
  • Achieving Google Analytics certification.
  • Achieving professional in-person and online networking presences.

Once students complete this full sequence, many have gone on to significant roles in online agencies. The general feedback I receive is that the program is unparalleled in Southeast Michigan and perhaps the United States. That said, we don't think we can sit still, and I am always receptive to feedback about how we could improve.

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