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Optimising ‘search’ for Asia – Decreasing costs and increasing applicants by 40% in 60 Days during the Covid-19 crisis

Taking a market and audience centric approach to research and optimisation


With Covid-19 dramatically impacting the recruitment capabilities of international students, our client, an established university in London, tasked us with driving applications from southern and eastern Asia for country-specific courses.

With a primary objective of 132 applicants from paid activity alone, we knew that the current crisis would dramatically impact performance and therefore an appropriate strategy was needed to counteract this


With budget limitations in mind, as well as a shift in interest for study abroad programmes, we chose to take a paid search approach.

Utilising search only ensured we were able to not only appropriately control and maintain costs within a tight budget, but also review user intent over interest through historical and trending search activity.


The campaign was set to run for a 3-month duration from October 2020 to January 2021.


During the flight of the campaign, we found the interest from users in Hong Kong sat below our expectations, when reviewing both volume of impressions and conversion rate. This was likely due to not only lack of appetite during the Covid-19 crisis, but also the escalating security law changes in Hong Kong which likely caused unease for those thinking about studying internationally.

Alongside various other factors such as search engine usage, audience reach and language, it was clear that a different approach was required to drive international applications from southern and eastern Asia.


After reviewing results with the client, we agreed to target Singapore and Malaysia with a variation of courses. These two countries had been a rich source of students in previous years.

With expectations set, we started the analysis of historic search and live trends data, to appropriately plan out keyword bidding across both Singapore and Malaysia.


We found that specific search terms received spikes in popularity towards the end of October. Keywords such as ‘LLB’ and ‘Juris Doctor’ proved popular in Malaysia and Singapore in comparison to Hong Kong. This provided the foundation for marketing effectively to different audience behaviours by location in Asia.


Within the first 30 days of managing the campaign, conversions for users clicking to apply for a course grew by 985% from 65 to 707 and cost-per-conversion dropped from £6.84 to £3.87.


Not only did we see considerable improvements in cost-per-action and volume of conversions, but through keyword research and optimisations to device, copy and audience targeting we were able to increase engagement with the ads from 1.09% to 4.94%. This sits considerably above the education industry benchmark of 3.78% and is a fantastic result for the client.


Towards the end of the campaign, we had driven 1,186 clicks to apply for undergraduate courses from southern and eastern Asia, helping to drive the 132 expected applicants. This would not have been achievable without analysing the market in real-time and lowering the cost-per-action by 40% from £6.84 to £4.20.




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