Organic Traffic vs Paid Traffic – Higher Education Marketing

Quick question: Would you rather make $19,900 in a week with higher education marketing or $195,000?

Clearly, this is a no-brainer question and this post is going to explain how the above figures can actually be possible if you an education provider looking to increase your enrollment numbers with higher education marketing.

Need more control over your higher education marketing?

In this post, I just wanted to do a solid comparison between organic traffic and paid traffic. The reason I thought this was an important topic is because both of these frameworks work well in the education industry but there’s not a lot of info on which one is better or worse when it comes to in higher education marketing.

At Illumewise, we help higher education providers take control of their growth and sustainability by using a mixture of both paid advertising and organic advertising for higher education marketing.

However, we always lean towards paid advertising because it really gives us more control over how many leads we can generate for an institution and help them remain in business and profitable.

Now, a lot of the time prospects that we have come in will be running on an organic framework. It varies, but some of them are doing their own social media posts to get leads and others put themselves on a high traffic course directory that relies on organic search with no paid element involved.

So when we pitch the idea of doing paid advertising, the first question we usually get is get is:

“Why the F would I pay for leads, when social media and directory listings can get me them for free?”

It’s actually a really good question and I think without further ado we should jump into the guts of this post and have a look at organic leads vs paid leads.

The Organic Lead Generation System

Let’s look at the organic lead system first. All the following figures that I’ve put into this are not real I just pulled them out of the air to demonstrate with.

So let’s just say:

  • The time period that we’re looking at is a 1 week period.
  • Current weekly lead volume is 10 leads through organic postings/directories.
  • Current in-house conversion rate is at 10%. So 1 in 10 leads convert.
  • One enrollment is worth $20,000 for your business (before expenses)

Fact: We always know the overall goal is to acquire students at a cost-effective price.

Now let’s say that in-house you have a social media manager that’s doing about seven

posts a week for your business and it takes them roughly four hours to do all of that work and you’re paying them $25 an hour. So basically it costs you $100 to generate 10 leads.

Higher education Marketing

If your in-house conversion rate is sitting at 10% you should technically be seeing at least one enrollment from that which equals a gross profit of $20,000 and a net profit of $19,900 if we deduct the initial cost of the social media manager.

Organic higher education marketing for lead generation

That makes your cost per acquisition or CPA as we like to call it,  100 bucks.

Spending $100 to make $19,900 isn’t bad right?

Now, this method is great, however, there are potential problems education providers can come to encounter when choosing to solely run on this organic framework.
Potential Problems With Organic Higher Education Marketing
#1 Lack of Control

The first problem we see with this framework is lack of control over lead volumes. Social media and search engine algorithm changes make it really hard to guarantee a consistent flow of business and you don’t have a lot of control over who sees your stuff.

For example, you might post some excellent content on Facebook or Instagram and the platform’s algorithm will show it to a certain amount of people and based on the engagement and other ranking factors that the posts receives, the algorithm will determine how many more people the post will get shown to.

It’s the same with directory listings. A directory has only so much traffic exposure that it gets from google, therefore they cannot control the exact amount of leads they send you. Sure, they can get better at their SEO, but they still operate under google’s rules.

With paid advertising, this does not happen. You simply put your money down and jump to the front of the que and the algorithm will MAKE SURE your content is seen.

#2 Good Margins, But Low Volume
The second problem we see with the organic lead system is you’ll get fantastic margins but low volume, which ultimately can result in lack of cash flow for your institution.

This essentially brings us back and directly relates to the issue of control. For a business looking to grow or even remain sustainable, it must have control over its lead source at all times in order to proceed with pure confidence.

#3 Risk of Lower Social Media Engagement
Another problem that can occur with organic advertising is a decrease in engagement. This usually happens from over posting.

So for example, you have your social media manager posting 7 times per week which is generating 10 leads, so in theory, by tripling your post amount to 21 posts, you should get 30 leads, right?


This isn’t always true. Posting being active on social media is a good thing but too much posting can be perceived as spammy and distasteful to an audience. (Trust me I know, I’ve been running a successful YouTube channel for three years and done a lot of trial and error.)

The point is, business accounts already get lower engagement on their posts as it is and over posting can just make it worse and can be risky to your brand’s reputation.

The Paid Lead Generation System

Now if we look at the paid lead system, we’ll see exactly how this method is perfect for helping a business grow and remain sustainable with the right targeting.

Going back to our example, we’re still looking at:

  • A 1 week time period.
  • Current in-house conversion rate is still at 10%.
  • One enrollment is still worth $20,000 for your business (before expenses)

The only difference this time is:

  • Your current weekly lead volume is 100 leads through paid ads. Which is actually possible, you just have to know how to target the right market. (Which we do)

Fact: The goal is still to acquire students at a cost-effective price. (this never changes)

Ok so, with all the above laid out, you’ve bought 100 leads from Illumewise, let’s say at 50 bucks each. That makes the total cost of the 100 leads $5,000. I know that number sounds incredibly scary but just wait and see how much of a difference this makes.

So you’ve bought the 100 leads and we know from before your conversion rate is still sitting at 10%. This means from the 100 paid leads you bought from Illumewise, 10 of them should technically convert equating to 10 enrollments.

10 Enrollments at $20,000 each makes a gross profit of $200,000. Minus the 5k you spent to get the leads in the door and you are now sitting on a net profit of $195,000 (before other institution expenses) in a 1 week period. This ends up making your cost per enrollment $500 as opposed to $100, however, the end figures are astronomically different.

Do you see the substantial difference paid advertising can make to the amount of money your business can actually generate in 1 week? 

What’s even cooler, is this magic doesn’t stop there. If this process is refined and done correctly, you can control the amount of leads you want at any given time and repeat this money making process over and over and over. With organic, you can’t.

The real problem is most business owners are afraid to spend money, when sometimes it’s the one action that could save their business (if done correctly). We’ve helped multiple clients achieve this velocity using both our organic and paid mediums running synergistically together.

If you’d like to see more on how we’ve helped our clients scale, you can access our case studies via the form either below or to the right of this paragraph.

Download Our Client Case Studies Below




Potential Problems With Paid Higher Education Marketing

Now obviously with paid advertising, there are potential issues that you can run into as well.l The main difference is the issues found with paid higher education marketing is they aren’t dead end as some of the issues we find with organic higher education marketing. See my explanation below.

#1 Target CPA Being Too Low
When it comes to your target CPA or cost per acquisition, YOU need to decide what that is. This number is the amount of money you are willing to outlay in order to make an enrollment and is completely depicted by your resources and expenses.

Where this number can become an issue in paid advertising in when your target CPA is too low compared to the market average.

You see, paid advertising is like getting a pass to the front of the line at an amusement park. If you pay more money, you get priority access to something. If your competitors in the marketplace are willing to put down more money to acquire one student, then it’s more than likely they will get the business you are after.

From experience, we’ve found anywhere from 10 – 20 percent of your program price is a solid figure to compete for market share and still turn a profit.

If you’d like to find out more about what CPA would best suit the type of programs you offer, book a free consult with us by clicking here.

#2 The Wrong Target Market
The second problem that you can encounter with paid higher education marketing is the wrong target market. For example, you might write some superstar ad copy but if your audience targeting in facebook or whichever platform you want to use is wrong, your entire campaign will flop.

When we create campaigns for our clients, we ask them to provide as much info as possible about their target customer. We then take that intel and hand it to our research team who will then assess the best platform and area of the internet to target to ensure the best chances of campaign success.

#3 Sales Team Performance
The third problem we find with paid higher education marketing is the sales team inside an institution just can’t handle the amount of leads paid advertising can give them. Therefore, the conversion rates drop through the floor, money is waste and worst of all, none is made.

Think of paid advertising like a drinking fountain with an endless supply of water. You can turn it off and on whenever you like, however, your bottle will only hold so much. So having enough bottles for the amount of water you are anticipating to get is going to be ideal. Same with your call team.

If you constantly want great conversion rates, our best advice before you dive into any form of paid advertising is to:

a) Sharpen up the skills of your sales team.

b) Have enough of them to handle the calls you’ll be making.

Because paid advertising done right is no joke and your flow of business can go from 0 to 100 in like 3 seconds.

In Conclusion

So as you can see, the world of higher education marketing can be quite complex and there’s many difference when it comes to using organic and paid methods.

At the end of the day, it’s totally up to you and the goals for your institution right now. Although we dabble in both paid and organic higher education marketing, we believe that paid advertising really is the best way to take control and our your sustainability and growth. This fact alone is why we love working with businesses that want to grow. So if that’s you make sure you contact us we can get chatting about how we can help you with paid advertising for your institution.

Thanks so much for taking the time to reading this post and I’ll see you in the next one.

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