Intelligence
Higher Ed Advertising Part 2: YouTube and You
Higher Ed Advertising Part 2: YouTube and You

Intelligence

Higher Ed Advertising Part 2: YouTube and You

Mar 26, 2021By Daniella Nordin

YouTube and You

According to mStoner research, 80 percent of higher ed institutions allocate a budget for digital marketing services that include paid advertising, SEO, social media, and email marketing. Knowing advertising options are high on higher ed marketers’ minds, last summer we explored choosing the right social media platform for your advertising efforts. We dove deep into the advantages and disadvantages of paying to play on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and LinkedIn. And we promised to deliver on two additional platforms that can make or break your marketing strategy: TikTok and YouTube.

A lot has changed since the summer of 2020 — thankfully! — but we’re keeping our promise to you. Here’s a look at how to get the most bang for your buck when advertising on YouTube. (Stay tuned for our take on TikTok ads in part three of this series!)

The Rise of Video Marketing in Higher Ed

If you haven’t already, make 2021 the year you double down on video marketing. The world’s largest video platform, YouTube, is also the second-most popular website on the planet. (For what it’s worth, Google is number one and Facebook comes in at number seven.) People don’t just visit YouTube — they also spend a ton of time there. An average user spends more than eight minutes on the site, meaning people watch 1 billion hours of YouTube daily. That’s more viewership than Netflix and Facebook combined!

And they’re doing more than just watching cute cat videos. According to Hubspot, 72% of consumers prefer to watch a video about a product than read a product description. Google says half of internet users look for a video before visiting a store. And 90% of consumers told Forbes that video “helped them make purchasing decisions.” What’s more, Google told us in 2018 that 80% of prospective students who planned to attend an online university said watching an online video influenced their decision.

What does this mean for higher ed marketers? It means it’s worth your time and investment.

Optimize Your Videos for Search

Odds are your institution already has a YouTube channel. Before launching a campaign, take the time to learn more about your YouTube audience and optimize your content. Track watch time, demographics, and unique views in your Analytics tab. Optimize your videos so that they stand the best chance of showing up in search results and getting more views.

Here are a few SEO pointers:

  1. Write a strong title that includes relevant keywords. YouTube’s algorithm and viewers look closely at your video title to evaluate your video. Check which words people use to find your channel in Traffic Sources in YouTube Analytics. Take a look at Google Trends and GoogleAds’ Keyword Planner, too. See if any of these popular search terms can be added to your title. Be sure to stay within the limit of 60–70 characters and refrain from using all caps, excessive punctuation, and other clickbait‑y features.
  2. Create a standout thumbnail image. Ninety percent of the best performing videos on YouTube have one thing in common when it comes to thumbnails: They’re custom. With a custom creative, your thumbnail is more likely to stand out. Use an image that complements your title and make it as high-res as possible (2MB is the maximum size) using these dimensions: 1280 x 720 pixels (a 16:9 ratio).
  3. Use a keyword-rich description. Prioritize the first few lines of your description to provide a brief summary of your video topic. As early as possible, plug in your targeted keywords. Try not to sound too spammy. Write coherent, natural-sounding sentences. Add appropriate links and include the right hashtags.
  4. Remind viewers to like, share, and subscribe. There’s a reason a lot of YouTube videos end with the host calling on viewers to “like, share, and subscribe.” It works. Asking never hurts. Sometimes people need a helpful reminder. Plus, this type of engagement earns points with the YouTube algorithm.

Choosing the Right Ad Format for Your Goals

YouTube ad campaigns are created and managed in GoogleAds. A lot of people can be intimidated by the GoogleAds interface; it takes practice and patience to become efficient. But you should not overlook this powerful tool, which integrates your YouTube advertising efforts with a paid search strategy.

YouTube ads are available in three formats:

  • TrueView in-stream: Skippable in-stream ads
  • Non-skippable in-stream ads (including bumper ads)
  • TrueView Discovery: Video discovery ads (formerly known as in-display ads)

Choosing the right ad format for your campaign can be tricky. But if you’re like most higher ed marketers, you love a good opportunity for testing. Play around with ad formats and placements with a small budget. You’ll be surprised at what results you get and what they tell you about your return.

TrueView In-Stream Ads

TrueView in-stream ads are skippable ads that play before or during another video from a YouTube creator. After viewers watch five seconds of your video ad, they have the option to either continue watching or skip the remainder of the ad. These ads can be tailored based on your goal, which can include sales, leads, website traffic, product and brand consideration, or brand awareness and reach. Setting this initial goal will determine your ad formats and bid strategy. Your goal will also determine if you should use one of the subtypes of in-stream ads available: TrueView for Action or TrueView for Reach.

TrueView for Action is focused on driving action in the form of website conversions and uses fully automated bidding — either Target CPA or Maximize Conversions. You should consider using TrueView for Action if your goal is to drive website traffic and conversions.

If your goal is to generate brand awareness, you should try TrueView for Reach. With this option, your ad must be between six and 30 seconds, and Google optimizes toward maximizing impressions to reach a wide audience quickly.

Non-Skippable Ads

Non-skippable ads are great for demanding the viewer’s attention; they can appear pre‑, mid‑, or post-roll while watching videos. Google serves these 15- to 20-second ads when they believe viewers are most likely watching, and you pay on a cost-per-impression (CPM) basis. Because users have to watch the full ad to continue viewing content, these ads typically have higher CPMs than other ad formats on YouTube. For these reasons, we typically recommend non-skippable ads only to larger advertisers willing to spend more to generate brand awareness.

TrueView Discovery Ads

TrueView Discovery ads appear as “recommended” videos on the YouTube homepage, or as recommended or related videos on the YouTube search page. They have a 25-character-limit headline and the body copy can contain two lines, each with a 35-word maximum. Discovery ads are great for brand consideration. When a viewer clicks your ad, they are taken directly to your YouTube channel to watch the associated video. You pay on a cost-per-view basis, but with Discovery ads, a click to watch a video is considered a view. Discovery ads are best for getting students to watch your video and learn more about your institution, rather than immediately clicking to your .edu.

Tips for Better YouTube Advertising

OK, that was a lot of information. Let’s take a step back. You’ve optimized your videos and YouTube channel, you’ve selected your ad formats and goals, and that’s it, right? Not quite. Here are some quick things you can do to improve your ads:

  • Upload text-based transcripts. Do not assume YouTube will know what your video is about. Make sure to manually upload a transcript to your videos. Although this takes more effort, it will help rank your video for the right terms and topics. (Tools like REV will help with transcript writing, but YouTube also offers free services, so do not be discouraged.)
  • Add interactive elements. There are tons of ways you can add value to your videos, including interactive elements that will help significantly in your calls to action. YouTube has features such as buttons, showcase cards, end screen options, and more to help encourage viewers to take action.
  • Take advantage of YouTube targeting options. Just as you should with other digital advertising, you need to target people who are actually interested in your content. Why waste money on unqualified audiences? YouTube allows businesses to pinpoint who sees their ads through different types of targeting. Be sure you narrow down your audience to what makes sense!

What’s our top recommendation for YouTube advertising? Optimize your website to meet your digital marketing efforts. It doesn’t matter how much you spend or how SEO-friendly your ads are — if you aren’t driving prospective students to a mobile-first, well-designed landing page with a clear call to action, your efforts won’t pay off.

If you enjoyed this post, check out our previous piece Higher Ed Advertising Part 1: Choosing the Right Social Media Platform. And stay tuned for Higher Ed Advertising Part 3! 


  • Daniella Nordin Director of Marketing Daniella brings more than a decade of experience with digital engagement, social media marketing, online fundraising, and digital marketing to mStoner. Prior to joining us, she helped nonprofits like the Girl Scouts find their audience on the right platforms and the right times. She spent nearly seven years as part of the marketing and communications team at Skidmore College, where she built the social media strategy from the ground up and found creative ways to share student stories.