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Insights from the Q4 2016 Google Education Search Analysis

By Sarah Russell
Keypath and Q4 2016 Google ESA Insights

Google has released the Q4 2016 Education Search Analysis, their quarterly review of the state of the industry. This quarter, there were few surprises as the ongoing trends of brand search declines, nonbrand search growth, and the continued rise of mobile searches all continued. As every EDU advertiser can attest, these insights are in line with the new reality of EDU marketing.

Overall, EDU is seeing a modest increase in demand at 2% query growth YOY; growth is stunted by persistent declines in brand demand. At -4%, the decline in brand is more aggressive than Google anticipated in the Q3 2016 ESA, where they forecasted that Q4 would see brand queries flat to last year.

Nonbrand demand continues 10-quarter streak of sustained growth, with a 7% YOY increase. This continued shift in behavior from brand to nonbrand searching is indicative of the changing state of mind of education seekers: rather than searching for a specific school, these prospective students are most interested in finding a program that is the best fit for them.

The decline in brand demand and shift to nonbrand searching is leading to increased costs and rising CPIs within search; to remain successful in the space, advertisers must find ways to improve efficiencies with performance and seek out opportunities to shift investment into lower-cost avenues such as paid social.

CPCs are on the rise for both brand and nonbrand keywords YOY; the removal in early 2016 of right side ads has led to fewer ads per query YOY, and increased competition for those ad slots. However, the increase in nonbrand clicks, at 15%, outpaces the 7% increase in nonbrand queries, indicating higher CTRs and a more engaged (if pricier) search audience.

Mobile searches continue to grow, offsetting the decline in demand on desktop and tablets. This increasing mobile traffic comes with increasing CPCs to match, up 18% YOY vs. a -4% decline in desktop CPCs. As it is becoming increasingly likely that a prospective student will only experience your brand via a mobile device, and that this mobile click will cost you as much as or more than a desktop one, make mobile-first design a priority to be as efficient as possible with your budgets.

Additionally, do not ignore attribution; when determining the value of your keywords, look beyond the last click to understand the cross-device behavior of users who may be researching on a mobile device but eventually converting on a desktop or tablet.

Despite this ongoing growth in mobile, most EDU searches still take place on a desktop or tablet device. An estimated 57% of brand searches and 54% of nonbrand searches occur on desktop and tablet devices. 

The exception to this is program queries, which see a majority of searches on mobile devices. Healthcare, Automotive, and Esthetician searches skew the highest toward mobile, while Business, Education, and Technology/Engineering still see most searches coming from desktop.