Boost Enrollment With YouTube (PART 1)

Is YouTube advertising part of your organization’s marketing strategy? If not, consider these three facts:

  • Video is the king of content: Our brains are designed to absorb and retain audiovisual information.
  • YouTube is the go-to video platform: It reaches more U.S. adults than all cable TV networks combined.
  • 55% of marketers currently use YouTube: That’s a sizeable share, but there’s plenty of room to stand out.

For colleges and universities looking for new ways to engage with prospects and encourage enrollment, YouTube ads can be a highly effective vehicle. With an intrinsically engaging medium, a huge reach, and easy-to-use targeting and tracking tools, the possibilities abound. But to optimize your ROI, you need a sound strategy from the start.

In this two-part blog series, we’ll look at how YouTube advertising can benefit institutions of higher education, the different types of YouTube ads, and tips for creating content that informs, entertains, and converts.


YouTube is the second-most-visited website after Google, with billions of views every day from every corner of the world. It allows creators a high level of control when it comes to tailoring paid content to defined regions and interests. This combination of breadth and precision gives colleges and universities an unmatched opportunity to boost brand awareness, showcase student experiences, and promote the strengths of your program.

Targeting can be tricky for colleges and universities – institutions need to be very careful to adhere to current regulations, policies, and advertising platform parameters regarding demographic and geographic factors. But the beauty of YouTube is that its targeting tools can go beyond the standard criteria. Leveraging state-of-the-art AI technology, advertisers can zero in on certain age demographics and major life events like graduations and job changes. Affinity segments like “music lovers” can be used to build brand awareness. And in-market audiences actively researching colleges and universities can be pinpointed to drive engagements. Some use cases include:

  • A college shares a video highlighting its robotics program on a channel frequented by Gen-Z science enthusiasts.
  • A university retargets people who’ve watched some of its videos or visited its website in the past with “How to Apply” video content.

Being There for Life’s Moments

On Google, your prospects might be searching for “<name of college> student activities,” but on YouTube, they’re much more likely to be searching for things like “a day in the life of a student at <name of college>.” That calls for a more nuanced approach to keyword research, but it means you have the opportunity to more naturally reach prospects at significant decision points. Consider these case studies:

  • A university targets students interested in the arts with ads showing students acting in plays, painting, and trying improv.
  • A college delivers ads about its award-winning computer science program to college-age users searching video game design or cybersecurity topics.

Retargeting Your Prospects

YouTube’s campaign controls also enable you to remarket to people who have interacted with your brand in some way but haven’t made a commitment. You can customize the content that they see based on what actions they’ve already taken and what your desired outcome is. We’ve seen many creative retargeting campaigns that draw from a range of data sources, like:

  • A university delivers a “Need help?” message to people who have left an application to one of its programs partially filled out.
  • A college targets previews of new informational videos to users who have viewed, liked, saved, or shared previous videos.

Celebrating Community Connections

A recent survey found that  some of the top reasons students choose a college is because their major or program of interest is offered there, it has a good overall academic reputation, and it is relatively close to home. With so many dynamic elements to employ – including dialogue, music, animated graphics, still images, and live footage – video is an ideal medium to tell compelling human stories that show the strength of your institution’s programs. For instance:

  • A university showcases some of its engineering and technology students who have earned national awards or fellowships.
  • A college shows marine biology students learning in action as they study life on a coral reef.

Measuring, Learning, Improving

Perhaps YouTube’s most distinctive attribute that sets it apart from traditional channels like TV is the ability to track each element’s performance in real time and nimbly adjust as needed. The site’s robust measurement tools let you see engagement levels, audience demographics, and performance compared to similar ads. Then, you can double down on what’s working and nix what isn’t:

  • A university regularly runs A/B tests for targeted ads – one a student testimonial, one a campus tour – to see which one drives information requests or applications.
  • A college runs a series of animated videos and live-action videos and measures results over time, focusing its resources on the style that performs best.

Controlling Costs

Last but not least, there’s the question of money. You might know John Wanamaker’s quip: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.” With YouTube, that’s less of an issue. Not only can you measure and optimize your individual campaign elements as noted above, but you can also define your own budget and bid preferences:

  • A university opts for the “cost-per-view” strategy, in which it pays only when a user watches at least 30 seconds of the video or engages with the ad.
  • A college prefers to use the “maximize conversions” strategy, which utilizes machine learning to target users most likely to convert (apply, enroll, learn more) with a set daily budget.


In Part 2 of this blog series, we’ll cover the various types of YouTube ads you can choose from and some actionable tips for creating a successful YouTube campaign.

When you work with LIGHTSTREAM, you’ve got a dedicated marketing team with a deep understanding of higher education marketing. We’ve helped dozens of higher education clients all across the country to connect meaningfully with their target audiences. Wondering what we could create together? Get in touch today.