Are your Clearing ads leading to the right content?

It’s Clearing month, so we've taken a look at some university search ads. Honestly, we're a bit concerned. Lots of ads are leading to the wrong kind of content. If someone searches “[uni name] Clearing,” for us, that’s a sign of intent.

The student knows what Clearing is and where they want to go, so, logically, they are interested in vacancies or want to get in contact. But some search ads are leading users through to gated content on how the clearing process works. Why? People aren’t doing branded searches (and clicking on ads) to acquire this information, plus it’s widely available ungated elsewhere.

Running search ads leading to downloadable guides is the fastest way to burn through budget, without achieving meaningful conversions. Shout out to Coventry University that gets it right with its no-fuss approach to an ad landing page.

Matt Lees
Hi, everyone, and welcome to this week’s Most Clicked think this is episode number 35. This week, I’m your standing host. I’m Matt from SMILE. And as ever, I’m joined by Kyle from the Education Marketer, Kyle. Hello, what are we talking about this week?

Kyle Campbell
Clearing. It’s August, isn’t it? And yeah, we know Clearing starts in July, but it’s getting close to results day so we thought we’d focus on Clearing content. So this piece this week comes from us doing a bit of research into Google search ads during Clearing. And I think the words I used in my newsletter was I was slightly concerned about one element. And it’s not necessarily the quality of the ad landing pages, but it’s the kind of content that’s on the end of them. And I’ve seen a few universities absolutely nail it and we’ll cover some of those in more detail today. But I was really shocked to see off the back of Google ads, and branded search queries, that some universities were asking people to download gated content. And there’s no problem with gated content in itself. But I think when you’ve got a query like brand name, university clearing, the user already has an idea of the university they’re going for, and also that they are interested in the clearing process.

So the best type of content is served someone off the back of an ad like that is usually the basic stuff like phone number, because they probably want to get in touch or the vacancies that are available in Clearing for this year. It’s not the greatest idea to give them some downloadable gated content on the clearing process and how to go about it because that process is available ungated at most other institutions. And I just don’t feel and a few ad providers have agreed with me this morning that this is the stuff that that sort of audience when they’re searching and using those branded searches are looking for. And this isn’t an isolated case, I saw this in quite a few different examples. And, you know, speaking a bit more casual about it. I think this is probably a very fast way for providers to burn through budget because they’ll be getting a lot of clicks. Because the ad says it’s it’s Clearing at that uni, and then a lot of people going to bounce because the information they expected to receive just isn’t there.

A clearing page example from Oxford Brookes university. It features calls to action at the top of the page with a photo of a student working.

Matt Lees
And there’s one example in particular that we’ve we’ve spoken about before this, this recording for Oxford Brookes, right, and they did, they had quite a good landing page, and we picked up on one particular element of it. Here, you should be able to see it on screen now. I mean, in general, seems like quite a nice landing page, nicely laid out the content broken down quite nicely. But the section of it that you can see on your screen now with the listed courses was something that we picked up on that we all agreed was quite a nice thing to have something that you know, users are after this kind of thing, right?

Kyle Campbell
Yeah, I mean, this is actually becoming quite rare now, funnily enough, because universities have much better course catalogues. And sometimes you can flag your courses in those catalogues as being in Clearing. But often if you’re coming off the back of like a clearing ad, you know, they’re looking for the vacancies there and then aren’t they so even if you are putting it into a table that might not look as wonderful as your purpose built course catalogue, it is easy for someone to see at a glance, especially if it’s alphabetical if the courses they’re interested in are available, rather than clicking through to your course catalogue. Searching, you know, adds in those extra steps, so might not look wonderful but in terms of usability and answering that that needs that student need. I think it’s a good thing to have.

A screenshot of the Coventry University Clearing page featuring a big image of a white male university student with a big title and phone number to call for more information

Matt Lees
Yeah, we had just a couple of concerns with the Oxford Brookes one around it being in an accordion block and kind of hiding that upfront. And then once you open it to see more courses than correct it’s really long list closing it again, leaves you with the wrong position on the page and things so we had some concerns, but then when we looked and compared to some others it actually, it was kind of above most of the others that we looked at because some of us had like, core search and our first impressions were are we just search in the course catalogue? Or are we specifically searching courses available through clearing whereas that kind of mystery is taken away in the Oxford Brookes example?

Kyle Campbell
Yeah, no, it’s all very clear, very upfront view for you to see. And you are right. If you take someone off into a course cataloguing there are those questions, your back your mind, is that okay? There seems to be quite a lot of courses here on offer, but at a glance, you can’t tell if that’s there, specifically in Clearing. And usually, you do just end up in the course catalogue, don’t you and you get a bit lost. But yeah, even basic functionality, like what Oxford Brookes have done here is actually quite a nice idea. And they’ve also got the other CTAs on there as well. Like Clearing open days and things. I’m not too sure about that and how they appear in the hierarchy, I would have thought vacancies probably would add a bit more prominence at this point in the journey.

But you know, the in-person and Clearing open days are equally as important, the very popular on results day themselves. I’ve seen a few universities running Clearing open days earlier this year. Just well, for obvious reasons to try. If people are taking that longer tail research, a period before Clearing, then you kind of want to have all the volunteers, you’ve got like you want to add a bit more dimension than just your web and your content experience. I think it would be really valuable to get students on the campus before Clearing kicks off. Yeah. If they want to do that, naturally, these open days are way more popular post results. Because that’s when students can find the make more a decent decision, I guess.

Matt Lees
Yeah, sure. And so just before we wrap up today, to go back to your newest piece around the ads themselves. I was interested in why you think universities are gating that content. What are they going to do with the information that they collect from students? Is it so that they can reach out to them? Or is it just an aimless exercise?

Kyle Campbell
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s done with strategic or tactical intentions. I don’t think anyone’s doing it for the sake of it. I just think where in the journey it’s been done isn’t appropriate. So I mean my first thought would be if the gathering data off the back of a guide that explained how the clearing process works, they would cost you to download that as potential leads and interested in going to that university via Clearing. But there are other ways in which you can gather that data that lean more and captures more in line with the student’s intent. And it might be something as simple as you know, a call to action, saying you’ll be notified when we release entry requirements.

We will use the grades we release our courses have been Clearing. In fairness, a lot of universities now don’t hold back, on their courses that are going to be in Clearing on results day. They publish them quite soon. But if you are holding something back or you want to give people this first in the queue priority or some sort of incentive, that’s probably a better way to capture data rather than gating content that is pretty universally available not only on other university websites but on other providers like UCAS you know WhatUni all these bigger media organisations are quite happy to give you that information.

Matt Lees
Okay, cool. Well, thanks, Kyle. Useful as ever. And thanks, everybody for watching. As ever, if you’ve liked what you’ve seen, don’t forget to give us a like, subscribe or comment. And we’ll see you next week.

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Elliott Barnicle

Lead Designer