How the Lead Generation Industry is Putting the Career College Sector Out of Business

I recently heard the most egregious example of lead fraud in my life from a client in DC. One of his admissions rep called on a prospect who, in a fit of anger, let him know that the day prior he’d been on the phone to refinance a loan, and that the operator had asked if he’d ever thought about going back to school. The next day he received 30 phone calls from schools.

That’s what now constitutes a “lead” in the edu space. God help you.

In any market there is a natural demand and supply. A portion of the population who would both benefit from career education and is willing to make the effort and take on the financial risk to go through school. That’s the natural demand. Supply organizes around that.

Except that’s not how it works in lead generation circles. As internet marketers have gotten more sophisticated, they’ve essentially taken over thousands of school brands, though manipulation of internet search – primarily via google.

Who’s really made the money in the last 15 years, schools or vendors?

In the old day, pre 1995 or so, ad agencies purchased ads on tv, radio and newspapers on behalf of clients. They made a 15% commission on the media buys, for which they took care of logistics and created the ads. The client offloaded some work, the agencies expertise presumably gave the client a marketing advantage through expert placement and creation of ads.

As a client, you knew where your money was being spent, how much the agency made, and were assured that all resulting business was directed to your company.

Today, via “aggregation”, clients are largely in the dark about where leads come from, how much was paid to get them, or even who else is getting that same lead. Imagine the fire storm that would have erupted if Cokes agency was using Coke’s name to sell Pepsi. That is what has happened.

Schools today have to put great effort into finding sites on the internet that are using their trademarked brand names to promote other schools. It’s crazy. And what’s worse, is that not only do they end up buying leads from some website that they would have gotten on their own, but they are also profiting other schools. And brand equity you’ve built up over the years, is being eroded and stolen by those that the aggregators buy from.

Stephen Tave blames Google

Stephen Tave, VP of American Higher Education Development Corporation, believes the blame falls squarely on Google. “I went from buying clicks for 10 cents, to now paying $35 per click,” says Tave. “They present themselves as a friendly company, when they are driving up prices.”

We know that paid search campaign combined with Conversion Rate Optimization and SEO, especially in conjunction with traditional medic, can be effective tools to generate leads for a school. In theory it should be more than enough to meet the regional demand. But because the portals have a inherent economic advantage – they can sell it multiple times – means they can spend more. Plus with multiple vendors looking to cash in, the dynamic has driven up prices to the point where there is hardly an economic advantage to online versus traditional.

Others, such as Fred Carini, VP Marketing with Milan Group, take a more pragmatic view: “We’ve found that 7/10 leads that come out of a TV campaign come through the web. We hope that most of those come via our website. But the reality is that many do come through the aggregators. If their sites weren’t there to grab the leads, we wouldn’t get them.”

In other words, resignation to reality.

And worst of all, you did it yourselves.

Cheap leads are such an intoxicant, that the entire industry has grown to depend on them. And they looked the other way at dodgy tactics, allowed themselves to be bewildered by the “dataspeak” of the lead generation industry, and as a result have a horrid regulatory environment that has some valid beef’s regarding misrepresentation.

And now, schools have grown around lead goals that are not reflective of supply and demand. So lead gen companies attempt to manufacture demand by “cross selling” though other channels, such as what happened to my client with the loan refinancing “lead”, and all manner of other tactics to meet the lead volumes demanded by their clients.

It’s not sustainable.