Timing, whether in planting a garden or planning a marketing campaign, is critical. Last spring, students from the Naveen Jindal School of Management learned that lesson well when they entered an international competition to create a paid search advertising campaign using Google AdWords.
Brittany Winters, who earned her BS in Marketing degree in June, and marketing seniors Brooke Parker and Alexandra Lazo ran an online marketing campaign for the National Gardening Association in the 2017 Google Online Marketing Challenge and learned this fall that they placed third in the Americas and second in the U.S. out of 825 teams.
Google allotted each team a $250 AdWords budget to develop and run a campaign for three weeks. Students were judged by how effectively they selected keywords related their organization’s needs. The goal was to achieve strong click-thru rates (CTRs) for searches and displays — key measures of ad relevance — while staying within budget.
The students created a pre-campaign report that explained what their general plan would be during the competition. They did research using Google Analytics and other tools and then deployed the campaign on Google AdWords. It ran between March 31 and April 22. They measured click-thru rates, impressions, clicks and views, and conversion rates — data that showed that someone not only saw the ad but interacted with the gardening association because of it. The students took turns continuously monitoring the campaign for a total of 212 hours.
“It was a lot of good, practical, hands-on experience,” Winters said. “It really gave us an insight into what programs we will actually get to use in our marketing careers.”
The competition took place at a time when many gardeners go online to do research related to their spring planting projects, part of the reason the students had chosen to run the ad campaign for the NGA, an organization that helps home gardeners succeed. The students knew that keyword searches related to this hobby would be plentiful.
“We had to sift through thousands of keywords while under pressure and make sure they were the right ones that were targeting the right audience,” Parker said. “That was really critical.”
Part of the challenge was to pause keywords were racking up impressions — individual views of the ad on a search result page or other site — too quickly, thus eating into the campaign’s budget. They make on-the-fly adjustments with new keywords that were more affordable but still helpful.
“This year we had an exceptional team,” Edsel said. “They had a 15 percent search click-thru rate, which was almost four times higher than the first-place team this year and better than any of the winning teams in their region during the past six years.” Despite the JSOM’s team high CTR, other contest factors contributed to the first-place team’s finish.
Students from his Digital and Internet Marketing (MKT 4330) class have participated the past five years. While the competition is worldwide with more than 1,700 teams, his teams participate in the Americas region, in which 934 teams competed this year. The United States is the most competitive country in this region with 825 teams and the most expensive and competitive Adwords auctions.
Winters, Parker and Lazo’s third-place in the Americas and second in the U.S. finish are consistent with past JSOM results. Teams from the Jindal School have placed in the top five percent every year they have entered the competition. During the past three years, JSOM teams have been in the finalist group and in the top five teams. Last year, a Jindal team placed second in the Americas and second in the United States.
— Jimmie R. Markham