Facebook Retargeting Tips for International Student Marketing

Higher Education Marketing


Like highway billboards that quickly capture the attention of drivers as they speed by, online display ads use eye-catching graphics and text to grab the attention of people scrolling through websites, social media platforms, and apps. Unlike highway billboards, online display ads can be targeted to reach people when they’re most likely to be interested in the product or service.

Thanks to Facebook’s Ads Manager, you can inspire people who have already visited your website to come back and continue browsing. This process is known as “retargeting” because you can advertise to people who have already visited your website but might not have converted yet. These ads can display on Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, or Audience Network - Great platforms for recruiting students who want to study abroad!


Since October 2019, educations.com has been creating retargeting campaigns for clients to help them meet their marketing goals. We’ve installed a Facebook pixel on our site that tracks our website visitors when they search for schools or study programs. In the Ads Manager, we use that information to target prospective students based on their unique study abroad interests.


If you’re in charge of international student marketing or recruitment, we want to help. We’ve analyzed 9 months of Facebook retargeting campaigns (October 2019 - July 2020), including 187 individual ads across approximately 45 campaigns. Our Facebook retargeting campaigns have been hugely successful and have led to 1,011,913 sessions and 748,405 new users, not including advertisements linked directly to university websites!


Based on our analysis results, here are our best tips for making your Facebook retargeting campaign a success!



1. Create Multiple Audiences


Facebook Ads Manager makes it easy to display your ad to the right audience. At educations.com, we create three separate audience types for each ad campaign:


  • Retargeting: A retargeting audience includes past visitors to educations.com who have viewed search result pages or institution profiles.

  • Interests: An interests audience is broader, narrowed only by the user’s interests. For example, an educations.com campaign might narrow Facebook users by study abroad, master’s degrees, and agriculture, if the ad campaign promotes a Master’s degree in agriculture.

  • Lookalike: A lookalike audience reaches new people who are similar to existing users and is based on the retargeting audience.


Audiences are narrowed further by location demographics and age so that your ad campaign is shown to the people who will be most interested.


We at educations.com have seen that each type of audience has strengths and weaknesses, which is why we use all three audience types that balance out within a campaign. This allows us to keep results up and costs down and to deliver the best user experience. Here’s a breakdown of how each audience performs based on 9 months of data:





























Retargeting ads are the cheapest and have the highest CTR, but total results are a lot lower than other ad types as you are limited to only the audience that has viewed select web pages. They’re also shown to the same users more, so are more effective for brand awareness campaigns.


Interest ads are the most expensive and have the lowest CTR, but total results are a lot higher than other ad types.


Lookalike ads fall somewhere between retargeting and interests ads because they use the insights generated by educations.com retargeting to reach a wider audience of users who may not have visited educations.com before.


Choose your audience type based on your marketing strategy, or keep all of your bases covered by creating multiple audiences in a single campaign.


2. Choose the Best Ad Format

You can choose from multiple ad formats with Facebook Ad Manager to determine what your ad will look like. We compared multiple ad formats including single image, single video, a carousel of images, and a carousel of videos by their CTR. This is how the ad formats ranked from lowest to highest CTR:


#4 Single image

#3 Carousel of images

#2 Carousel with video

#1 Single video


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Ads with video content performed significantly better than static images in terms of CTR. A carousel featuring a video was the next best performing ad format, while there was not much difference in CTR between the carousel of status images and a single static image.


As always, choose the ad format that works best with your school’s brand or experiment with multiple format types.


3. Show off Your Campus

Choosing an image or video to feature in your Facebook retargeting campaign is an important part of increasing your ad’s visibility and clicks. While Facebook is pretty lenient about the image ratio (the image is automatically cropped to fit multiple platforms), they require a jpg or png file and the highest image resolution available.


Facebook is stricter about text on ad images: Images that consist of more than 20% text may experience a reduced delivery or be rejected by Facebook.


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In terms of image content, here are the most common subjects we include in our international student marketing campaigns ranked by lowest to highest CTR:


#4 Humans / students

#3 City / exploration / adventure

#2 Workforce

#1 Campus / school setting


However, the difference in CTR was very low between each type of image subject which implies that image or video content alone does not have a significant impact on CTR.

In general, images/videos that depict a campus/school setting seem to have a higher CTR than others but it’s up to you to decide what imagery depicts your school the best.


4. Broaden Your Horizons

In international student marketing or recruitment, geography is an important factor to consider when reaching out to prospective students. However, if you can target a wider geographic area, our analysis has shown that it will both cost less and result in a higher CTR.


The Cost Per Click (CPC) was lowest for worldwide audiences, slightly higher when some geo restrictions were applied, and highest when Europe was the only target region. The CTR is also highest in the worldwide audience and lowest when only targeting users in Europe.


This suggests that the less you limit your geographic reach, the better your CTR and CPC will be. However, if you really want to target or exclude specific regions or countries, it may be worth the extra expenditure.


5. Craft Informative and Inspiring Messages

More than anything, a successful Facebook retargeting campaign will remind students why they were interested in your institution’s website and will show them what great things you can offer them! That’s why messaging that is engaging, friendly, and informative will make your international student marketing campaign a success.


While many marketers will suggest that short, punchy copy performs better than longer texts, others have proved the exact opposite. That’s why it’s important to consider your audience when choosing the length of your primary text.


Our analysis of ad campaigns directed at the higher education student market showed that, in general, ads with a higher word count had a higher average CTR. This may suggest that Facebook takes the primary text into account when determining what the ad is about and who to show it to. The sweet spot is 41 - 45 words.


Rather than focusing on a specific word count, we recommend writing informative and inspiring messages to your past and future site visitors to tell them why your course or school is the best choice for them!



If you would like to learn more about launching a campaign to retarget to educations.com’s over 5.5 million prospective international students, you can book a meeting to speak to an account manager here.

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Picture of Keely Witherow
Keely Witherow

Keely Witherow is a Digital Marketing Specialist who works across marketing media, from email and social media to SEO and paid advertising.