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How to manage your digital lead generation budget

Tips to evaluate sources and make the most of your dollars

November 15, 2022, By Emily Upton, Vice President, Program Marketing for ALR and General Manager, Agency Services

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, and the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

I’m sure you’ve heard this adage before. And if you work in digital marketing, you know that this saying reflects a world gone by. Unlike when we were putting ads on bus wrappers or billboards, in this digital landscape, virtually every marketing outcome can be traced to a source, making determining lead generation budget allocation easier. But there’s also good chance that your institution isn’t able to measure attribution as well as you’d like – so where do you begin?

Here are some tips to more effectively manage your digital lead generation budget for graduate and adult-serving programs.

Set clear, realistic goals based on your budget

To start, it’s important to establish or re-establish your institutional enrollment goals. What are your enrollment targets? Are you promoting a new graduate program? Are you adjusting marketing activities to work within a tighter budget? How does your location impact your budget? Clear goals eliminate confusion about where your spend should be allocated: if it helps meet the goal, keep it! If not, think critically about whether it’s worth the money. Goals can – and should – change overtime, using analytics as support.

Application Rate


difference in response to application rate generated by paid search vs. Facebook.

Put your dollars where they will count the most toward your goals. Not all digital sources will be effective at generating leads – some are better at building awareness. For example, EAB testing shows that Facebook and Instagram only generate a responder application rate of 1.2%. That rate jumps up to nearly 3% for LinkedIn. But when compared to the application rate of almost 9% that paid search generates, it becomes clear that social media is not the most efficient source for lead generation purposes. Social media can be helpful if you’re trying to build awareness with a new audience segment, but if your goal is to find students who intend to take immediate steps toward enrolling, you should look at channels and strategies that provide more immediate opportunity.

A common misconception is that even a small spend will move the dial. Each source carries with it a minimum spend required to generate meaningful lead volumes. If you find you won’t be able to reach that minimum, those dollars would likely be better spent elsewhere. Though you might be reluctant to cut out a source entirely, if you have a limited budget, it’s worth your time to judge your sources harshly.

Judge lead performance harshly

Understanding which of your lead sources are most impactful requires comparing them against one another. The volume of leads you receive from each source is important, but so is the throughput of leads through the application and enrollment stages. Comparative rates such as cost per lead, cost per application, and cost per enrollment help you evaluate sources irrespective of volume.

Once it’s been established which of your lead sources are most cost-efficient, you’ll have a clearer idea of which you should allocate more funds to, and which ones might be worth cutting back on. From here, you should test your messaging on each platform and keep an eye on performance, comparing its current performance with historical performance data as a benchmark. This will allow you to see if a source starts to underperform, and you can adjust your budget accordingly.

Learn How To Test Your MBA Digital Marketing Messaging Effectively

While it’s not groundbreaking to say that you should track lead performance, the tricky part is attribution. For instance, you may feel like you can’t track where your money is going because the reporting platform you use doesn’t provide that information. While everyone struggles with attribution, it is possible with a combination of the right platforms, tools, and expertise. Often, it takes the assistance of an organization like EAB to bring together the right assets for your institution’s needs and help tie lead activity to eventual enrollments.

Incorporate high-intent sources into your marketing mix

If your main goal is growing or shaping enrollment, ensure you’re budgeting for high-intent sources. High-intent sources make the most of your budget by connecting you with students that are serious about their interest in your school. Leads from these sources are more likely to apply and enroll than those from other digital sources.

Lower cost


lower cost per lead for Cappex than for Facebook and Instagram.

Paid search is one strong high-intent source. It helps you find students who are actively searching for information about your school or program, so they’re more likely to contact you for information and apply soon.

Cappex is another example of a high-intent source, and EAB’s early results from graduate and adult-serving programs show how impactful high-intent sources can be. Our Cappex data shows a 49% higher application rate from respondents to Cappex than from respondents to other digital sources, plus a 40% lower cost per lead compared to Facebook and Instagram.

Introducing Cappex for Adult and Graduate Business Programs

Cappex matches institutions with qualified, high-intent inquiries. With 15+ years of experience supporting undergraduate enrollment, Cappex now serves graduate & adult-serving programs, too. Contact us to learn more.

Explore How We Use High-intent Leads to Impact Graduate Business Enrollment

Responder Application Rate

Fiscal Year 2022

Responder Application Rate Graph

We all know there’s no quick fix to effectively manage your lead generation budget, but these tips will help get you on the right track. Monitoring your sources ensures you stay true to your institutional goals, put money into sources that will impact enrollment, and know where each of your hard-earned enrollments came from.

Emily Upton

Vice President, Program Marketing for ALR and General Manager, Agency Services

Read Bio

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