How To Reduce Student Acquisition Cost for a University: A Digital Marketing Case-Study

Digital marketing is gaining popularity by the day, and many brand marketers and owners are now discovering the value that various digital channels bring to the table. We recently had the opportunity to work with an award-winning provider of higher education on their digital marketing strategy and execution. Through this blog, I would like to share some insights that we gathered from the campaign. My objective here is to help you, the brand advertisers, in your global scale-up efforts.


The University came to us for help with increasing the scale, effectiveness, and efficiency of its online spend. We helped them achieve their key objective of increasing the number of registrations for their online courses in quantitative finance. Streamlining user experience within the site was one of the tasks we performed. We captured and analyzed audience data, and scaled the demand for their online course globally. The result – Student intake increased by more than 400% over a course of 7 months.

First things first – The pre-campaign stage

We started with a detailed study of the website and the traffic sources and identified the scale-up opportunities by adding new marketing channels and new geographies.


Pic 1: Pre-campaign Country Split


We recommended changes in the website to improve user experience. By ensuring that all the necessary information was available to the interested candidates before registration, we were able to reduce false registrations and increase the conversion ratio. We also made sure that the navigation and application process followed an intuitive flow. The idea was to encourage the applicants to complete the enrollment form. We implemented a thorough tagging strategy to track the user-flow within the website and through the application process involving filling of the form.

Interesting findings

The observations were quite amazing:

  • Paid search helped in top of funnel activities whereas display strategies aided in the bottom of funnel conversions for a large period of the campaign.
  • Retargeting campaigns worked as a market discovery tool and gave us an opportunity to scale-up in unknown/new geographies
  • We saw exponential growth in conversions and a drastic reduction of CPA (cost per acquisition) after the initial learning phase.
  • Increased cross-device conversions


What we achieved – Execution and Results

10000 registrations and 1500+ application submissions! We were able to achieve an approximately 80% reduction in the registration CPA and over 50-fold increase in the number of registrations.


Pic 2: Lead Generation and User Acquisition Costs


In addition to the registrations, we were also able to increase the number of successfully completed enrollments, while reducing the enrollment CPA by approximately 93%!

Key strategies that helped us scale up the performance of the campaigns were:


  • Increasing reach through Display Ads: A whopping 60% of total registrations came in through Display Ads! These campaigns accounted for the maximum number of enrollments as well as the lowest cost per enrollment. Around 80% of all display campaigns were a result of targeting the audience attributes instead of an inventory.
  • Retargeting: We segmented the site visitors based on their engagement level and their position within the conversion funnel. This strategy effectively addressed the drop-offs encountered during the enrollment process. Apart from achieving a high volume of conversions, the globally run retargeting campaigns also helped in the discovery of new potential markets.
  • Paid search: Close to 25% of the registrations were obtained from paid search campaigns. We built campaign structure around core branded terms, category terms and user terms. We noticed that the performance improved as we moved from narrower to broader terms. The majority of the traffic, as well as conversions, were driven by the non-branded keywords, thus generating brand awareness as well. Through our choice of user interest keywords, we were also able to reach out to potential candidates who were unaware of online financial courses and were looking for career advancement options as well as those using generic search terms such as ‘top online master’s courses’ or ‘top ten tuition-free universities’. Non-branded keywords accounted for 32% of application submissions and 54% of registrations.

Pic 3: Keyword Targeting


  • Facebook – We ran ad variations and tested creatives to finalize specific ad elements. This process led to an increase in the conversion rate by more than 200%. We observed that the creative describing the scale of the program performed the best. Our ad testing also suggested that creating a sense of urgency among applicants worked to our advantage. By adding a statement on the approaching application deadline, we generated 15% additional conversion.



In a nutshell, we were able to flex our multi-channel digital expertise and cross-device capabilities along with our sound understanding of the digital ecosystem to go beyond the client requirements and create additional value in terms of larger enrollments at a lower CPA than expected.

What’s more, with our full-spectrum transparent operation model, we were able to disclose all the costs involved beforehand, thus winning the confidence of the client. The client was able to monitor the costs incurred at each stage and each step of the campaign execution carried out using our proprietary tool – Vizibl DSP. Nothing is as satisfying as a happy customer – wouldn’t you agree?

Author: Arun Soumya Mukherjee, Head of Operations, Datawrkz

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