Case Study

Adult education is one of the most lucrative industries on the web. Consequently, it’s also one of the most competitive. For-profit education behemoths, including University of Phoenix, DeVry, Kaplan, Strayer University, Liberty University, Walden University and Capella University dominate the landscape and make market entry very difficult for any would-be competitor without deep pockets or a large marketing budget. In a given year, University of Phoenix alone heaps nearly $100 million into Internet advertising and marketing. Who can compete with that?

Collegeatlas.org was the brain child of Becton Loveless, CEO and Head Marketing Strategist at Inteliture. Collegeatlas.org was designed to accomplished something seemingly impossible, penetrate the competitive online adult education industry on a shoe string budget. Impossible? Read on.

Industry Research

Every day tens of thousands of aspiring career professionals and adult learners turn to the Internet to research education opportunities, explore college degrees, find a school and enroll in a program. In the US, adult education is a $104 billion industry and represents the fastest growing segment in higher education. The major players in adult education include community colleges, public colleges, and private colleges. The average tuition for community college is just over $3,200, for public college $8,900, and for private college, $29,500. For savvy schools, businesses, and marketers their is a never ending opportunity to profit from adult education.

Initial industry analysis we performed showed that adult education offered great profit potential. However, we also learned that from the perspective of keyword searches performed in Google and other search engines, it’s one of the most diverse industries on the Internet. On any given day, hundreds of thousands of searches are performed using thousands of different keywords and keyword combinations (i.e., degrees, accredited degrees, best degrees, degree programs, etc., etc.) There is no one keyword that represents a majority of search traffic in the adult education industry. Successful, organic, adult education websites must show up in search results for many relevant keywords in order to drive traffic and generate substantial revenues.

Competitive Analysis

Competitive analysis was at the core of developing a winning search engine marketing (SEM) strategy for collegeatlas.org. Even though the online landscape for adult and higher education at first glance seemed saturated, with little opportunity for market entry, our competitive research yielded the following findings:

  • The education information presented by for-profit schools on their websites was bias toward their programs
  • The education information presented by popular college search websites was bias towards for-profit schools
  • The education information presented by online marketers was bias toward the schools they represented
  • Much of the information available online about adult education was inaccurate or misleading
  • Most adult education websites offered students a limited scope of the actual offers available to them
  • Even the most altruist adult education websites often had a hidden agenda
  • There was level of mistrust among industry participants

In short, the online adult education industry was comprised of money hungry entrepreneurs and corporate executives, unscrupulous marketers and sales professionals, profit driven universities, self-absorbed educators and of course a few good guys (who struggled to differentiate themselves from everyone else.) And let’s not forget about millions of aspiring students just trying to figure out what path to take.

Our competitive research also yielded another important finding, many adult education websites, even those with top Google rankings, suffered from poor inbound link structure. It became evident, quite quickly, that many adult education websites, due to the overtly commercial or bias nature of their offering, struggled to garner incoming links from other relevant industry websites. Why does this matter? We’ll tell you in a moment.

Strategy Design

Algorithm driven search engines, such as Google, rank web pages based on several factors. A very important factor used to determine rankings is inbound link profile – or the quantity and quality of incoming links from different websites or referring domains. For example, collegeatlas.org has 2,496 incoming links, or 2,496 “backlinks”. This means there are approximately 2,496 websites that have placed a link on on their site that directs to collegeatlas.org. Google uses a website’s link profile to gauge or measure its relevance and authority with respect to other websites on the internet.

Typically the more incoming links the better, but not all links are created equal. Some incoming links are worth more than others, some links aren’t worth anything at all, while others may damage your rankings. When evaluating the value of a website’s inbound link profile, Google and other search engines consider the relevance and authority of each linking site. If you’re an education website, a link from bobsblog.com is not likely to carry the same weight as a link from an “edu” website like harvard.edu (Harvard University). Good links come from relevant and authoritative websites. Bad links come from irrelevant websites, generic online directories and/or “spammy” low-quality websites.

We identified that even though many prominent adult education websites had a large number of incoming links, many of these links were “bad” links that came from irrelevant, low-quality, even “spammy” websites. We saw an opportunity – and collegeatlas.org was conceived!

The strategy behind collegeatlas.org was quite straight forward, simple actually. Bring to market a truly “pure” adult education offering. An offering not plagued with the commercial bias, misinformation, false marketing, and limited scope that defined about 90% of all other adult education websites. Everything that went into the development of collegeatlas.org, from the selection of a .org domain, to the layout, to the content, to the marketing position statements, uniquely positioned the website as one of the only true authoritative and “pure” resource websites in the adult education space.

Implementation

From intial concept to launch, the development of the collegeatlas.org website took about 4 months – but the site was a work in progress over a period of a year and a half.

We launched a massive link building campaign aimed at developing an inbound link profile unrivaled by any other adult education website on the Internet. To this end, we contacted and introduced collegeatlas.org to high school teachers, adult education websites, government agencies, resource websites, and every major college and university in the United States, including Harvard.

Results and Achievements

Did the strategy work? Yep!

  • Achieved front page rankings in Google, Bing, etc. for thousands of industry relevant keywords
  • #1 Ranking in Google for “associate of arts”
  • #1 Ranking in Google for “bachelors of science”
  • #1 Ranking in Google for “bachelor of science”
  • #1 Ranking in Google for “associate of applied science”
  • Generated 4,000 to 6,000 new unique organic visitors a day
  • Generated over 1,000 quality backlinks
  • And we got our “edu” link from Harvard!

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