Paid Search for A-Level Results Day. How Universities can get ahead.

A-level results day is on the 15th of August this year and it represents a huge opportunity for you as a university to acquire new students through the clearing process.

When looking at Google trends interest increases around 10x on A-level results day so it’s key to get the right strategy in place to capitalize on the influx of searchers.

Planning and strategy for A-level results day

To get the most out of A-level results day you will need a clear plan of what your strategy will be for the day.

Review last years performance and create projections

Despite the PPC landscape changing constantly throughout the year, there will still be a lot that you will be able to learn by looking at historical performance.

There are several areas that we would suggest reviewing to inform your strategy for this year:

  • Which messaging performed the best? How did course specific terms, university specific terms or generic clearing terms perform?
  • How much budget did you spend over the day? Were there areas of your account that were limited by budget? Were there areas of the account that had less than 100% impression share that performed well and could be pushed this year.
  • Which call to action performed the best?
  • Did you end up running any advertising for courses that had become full? Did you have the right structure so you could easily turn these ads off.
  • What did you bid to get to the top position?
  • What happened to performance over the following days after clearing? How much did you need to lower your bids by to get things back to normal?

As well as asking yourself these questions to inform your strategy you will want to put some forecasts together based on last year’s performance to plan how much you will spend.

Plan for when things don’t go to plan

In life things have a habit of not quite going to plan, so it’s key to plan ahead and work out what you are going to do if things don’t go to plan.

The most common scenario is that you’ve planned to spend £150k on A level results day and by 4PM you’ve exhausted all of your budget, what do you do?

Provided that you’re profitable, most PPC managers would want to keep on spending.

But chances are, you’re not the boss so you will need to clearly define the rules for how much movement you have with the budget before A-Level results day.

Make sure that before A Level results day you can answer the following questions:

  • What happens if we still have places to fill but we’ve run out of budget?
  • How much can the university afford (hard maximum budget) if we hit our defined budget but there are still places to fill and the CPA is good.
  • What will we do if the CPA is higher than we anticipated on the day?
  • What will we do if we’re not getting sales on our key courses? Will we increase the bids or redistribute the budget?

If you can confidently answer the questions above and have clear contingency plans then you will be well prepared to get the best results on A Level results day.


Planning resource is a must as you’ve only got quite a small window to acquire students in, so you want to make sure you have somebody to hand managing the account.

If you run paid search in-house then make sure you’ve got somebody on hand in your office between 5:30AM and 8PM in the evening on A-level results day.

If you’re running your paid search through an agency externally then we would suggest asking them to send somebody to your office between 5:30AM and 8PM on the day.

Increase your budget significantly

It goes without saying that you will have to apportion a significant amount of your media budget to clearing as search volumes will suddenly spike.

You will also want to think about how your bidding is set up. Standard delivery that spreads your budget out throughout the day just won’t cut it on clearing. 

We would suggest that instead you switch to accelerated bidding so that you will appear in every possible search result, maximising your conversion potential.

Writing ad copy

1) Reference clearing within your Ads

An easy way to make your ads more relevant is to reference clearing within your ad copy.

Most of the time you will be using the keyword as your headline 1 so we would suggest adding your reference to clearing in headline 2. 

Here is an example of how you might use “clearing places now available” in your headline 2.

As A-level results day is a high volume day where you will spend a considerable amount of your annual budget in one day, we would also suggest going through and making the references to clearing more specific where you can on specific courses.

2) Add a countdown timer

Countdown timers are usually reserved for ecommerce accounts around holidays like Christmas and Black Friday, but they are also good for creating urgency on A level results day. 

We won’t discuss how to set them up here as there are several other articles covering this topic.

Here is a mock up of how the University of Law could use countdown timers to create urgency.

3) Reference the number of places you have available 

As well as using countdown timers, referencing the number of places that you have available in real time on each course is a great way to drive urgency through scarcity and generate enquiries.

Here is a mock up of how the University of Law could show the number of places available and use scarcity to drive conversions.

This can be achieved using Ad customisers which allow you to dynamically insert figures into your ads in real time, provided that you have the back end infrastructure to support it.

4) Label your current ads

Keeping your Google Ads account organised will make your life much easier on days like A-level results day where you will want to get your ads live quickly.

Before you create your clearing ads, go through all of your current ads and ad groups and label them evergreen.

This will allow you to quickly pause these on the morning of A-level results day and enable your A-level results day ads.

You will also want to make sure you label your A-level results day ads “clearing” so that you can enable these quickly and pause them quickly the day after A-level results day.

Pausing Ads when courses become full

When you are spending fast on a day like A-level results day courses will quickly fill up. 

Running ads for courses that are full is a sure fire way to waste budget on a day where it’s so crucial that you budget is spent efficiently. 

Making sure that you can react to this in real time requires forward planning. You need to make sure that you have both:

  • Structured the account in such a way that you can easily pause certain sections
  • Have a clear communication line with whoever has information about the availability of places for courses. 

1) Getting the structure correct

Being able to pause certain courses quickly requires you to get your account structure right well before A level results day. 

We would suggest that you split your campaigns into three main sections for a level results day. 

Branded campaigns where you will target people who are searching for the name of the university. For example “Aston University. 

Clearing campaigns targeting people who are searching for terms around clearing that will generate a large proportion of your traffic. 

Then finally having course specific campaigns, with each course having its own set of campaigns. 

This will allow you to very quickly pause certain courses if they have become full as well as pacing your spend for clearing and brand related terms. 

2) Clear communication

Unlike eCommerce where you can see which products are in stock or out of stock instantly from the website and pause ads going to them using Google Ads scripts in real time, in most cases universities will have to communicate to their marketing team when courses are full.

It’s key to ensure that you’ve got a good line of communication with them as you don’t want to spend thousands promoting courses that are now full.


The first part of getting the most out of A-Level results day is to plan ahead. As they say: fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

In terms of your planning we would suggest doing three things, firstly review the performance of your accounts last year, ensure you’ve got resource and ensure you have contingency plans should things not go to plan, as they quite often do.

As demand spikes on A-level results day so will traffic and budget requirements in Google so it goes without saying that you will both need to upweight bids as well as planning to spend additional budget on the day.

When it comes to your ad copy, make sure you reference black friday and use real time inventory and countdown timers to drive urgency. Don’t forget to label your normal ads evergreen and your clearing ads clearing to keep things organised.

The easiest way to waste money is to advertise courses that you don’t have places on. It’s fundamental to ensure that you’ve got the right strategy in place to be able to pause ads quickly should you run out of places.

wesley parker
About wesley parker

Wesley is Founder and CEO at Clicteq. He currently manages a £6 Mil Adwords portfolio across a range of different sectors. He regulally features in leading search publications such as Econsultancy, Campaign Magazine and Search Engine Land. You can follow him on Twitter or connect with him on Linkedin

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