Clearing Marketing and the Dominance of Google
It was A Level results day last week, which meant that over 60,000 unplaced students flooded the market in search of a university. Clearing is the process which universities go through to fill places with these students.
The importance of Clearing is growing year on year, with many students happy to wait until after results day to find their preferred options.
The objective for universities at this time is to drive phone calls to their Clearing hotlines, where staff answer students’ questions and make offers. Whilst some students have a clear idea of which uni they’re targeting, many have an open mind and turn to a Google search as a first step.
In media terms, unis are investing significant budgets into Clearing marketing across OOH, print, TV and online. However there’s one clear winner in the market: Google. Clearing is now a major event in the search engine’s UK annual calendar, and is second only to Black Friday in terms of revenue.
Over the years, university advertisers have flocked to Google Ads during the Clearing process, and have increased investment further following Google’s launch of call-only ads in 2015. These are ads served to mobiles, which dial a number when clicked.
Due to intense competition, CPCs for Clearing keywords have inflated significantly. We’ve heard reports this year of unis bidding over £150 per click, considerably more than previous years.
Whilst Google has been a reliable source of calls for many universities, we have a couple of issues with how the market has moved and how Google are benefiting.
First, it’s become a straight bidding war in which there’s one clear winner. More universities are piling in with eye-wateringly high bids from the off, which is skewing the market for everyone else.
Second, Google charges for a click (or more appropriately a ‘tap’) on a call-only ad, however this click takes the user to a dial screen, where they’re required to tap again to progress to a live call. As such, Google benefit from astronomically high CPCs on call-only ads which technically are not all calls (there will be users who click mistakenly, or simply decide not to call).
Whether any of this can change is a moot point. Inflated CPCs are a product of the bidding strategies used by universities, rather than the auction platform on which Google runs. There may be more hope on the click to call issue, and we, and many other agencies and universities, have provided strong feedback.
More generally, these and many other issues are indicative of Google’s dominant position in the market, and how the lack of viable alternatives can lead to frustration on the part of agencies and advertisers.