MTSU marketing professor Don Roy recognizes the challenges today’s students face in a hyper-competitive job market, so what better way to give his students an edge than connecting them with search engine giant Google?
Students enrolled in Roy’s “Applied Promotional Strategy” undergraduate marketing course during this recently ended semester learned more than the fundamentals of search engine marketing by participating in the Google Online Marketing Challenge for the first time.
The challenge is a global collegiate competition in which student teams run a three-week Google AdWords campaign for a local business or nonprofit organization. The challenge is open to student teams of three to six members from university undergraduate or graduate programs, regardless of a student’s major.
The 25 students in Roy’s class were divided up into eight teams that had to find a real business to market. Their budget came in the form of a $250 credit provided by Google for each team. The teams then had to develop a marketing strategy and objectives for their clients before launching a three-week AdWords campaign using paid advertising.
And while technical glitches prevented Roy’s class from fully participating in the competition, students such as senior Paul Douglas, an electronic media communication major from Nashville, Tennessee, gained valuable insights into how search engine marketing works.
Douglas was part of a four-member team that developed a marketing campaign for the Nashville Venom indoor football team. He was also among four students in the class that studied independently and passed two exams to achieve Google AdWords certification, a credential that lasts a year.
Now able to converse more intelligently about “impressions” and “click-through rates,” Douglas said the class allowed him and his classmates to communicate directly with clients and get hands-on experience in developing an online marketing campaign. He even built an online display ad for the football team.
“We got an almost 1 percent click-through rate, which I think is pretty good,” said Douglas as he pointed to the computer screen showing his team’s analytics on the last day of class, his assessment confirmed by Roy. “It’s been pretty cool. … The knowledge this has given me is valuable.”
Roy said students such as Douglas discovered that search engine marketing works better for some types of businesses than others, but that’s just the type of insight that students can carry with them into their careers.
“More employers are seeking graduates with search engine marketing skills, and this challenge is a means for acquainting students with paid search advertising practices,” Roy said.
According to Google, the challenge is a unique opportunity for students to experience and create online marketing campaigns using Google AdWords and Google+. Over 80,000 students and professors from almost 100 countries have participated in the past seven years, the company says.
Teams that develop and communicate the most successful campaigns win prizes, including trips to Google offices. Students also have the opportunity to participate in the optional Google+ Social Media Marketing category by creating and managing a Google+ Page for their clients over a five-week period.
To help his students better understand the online marketing landscape, Roy invited executive Matthew Job with Local Search Masters, a Nashville-based search marketing firm, to visit his class for a guest lecture earlier in the semester.
“I can tell you from being in the world of search marketing that there is definitely a demand for people who know what they’re doing,” said Job, vice president of business development for the firm. “And there are not a lot of people who I can truly say know what they’re doing.”
Among the insights Job shared was how potential clients for search marketing services don’t want to be oversold on your firm’s abilities.
“Part of what we try to avoid when we are selling a client is to avoid talking about us. Because what we’ve found is … the more you talk about how awesome you are or how cool you are, the less people care,” he said.
“If you’re cool and fantastic, you don’t need to tell people that. They’ll know it based on the work that you do.”
Despite the technical glitches this year, Roy said he will have next spring’s class try the Google Online Marketing Challenge again in hopes of getting an earlier start and allow students to get the full experience of the competition.
“I’m going to give it another shot because I’m convinced that students can benefit from having this knowledge and this skillset,” he said.
— Jimmy Hart (firstname.lastname@example.org)