Finding Balance in Search Predictions: The Tradeoff Between Name Quality and Timing

Students who have strong search predictions are more likely to apply. Colleges and universities know this. They also know it is better to start communicating with seniors in the summer before their senior year rather than in the winter or spring approaching their graduation.

But how do schools balance those two things?

Do they buy a ton of search names in June … even if those names don’t have great search predictions? Or do they only buy the top-predicted names and space them out over the year? It turns out there’s not much of a tradeoff — institutions should buy plenty of the top-predicted search names and start communicating to them right now.

Capture Higher Ed makes a prediction for each of its search partners on every zip code in the country — and how likely those zip codes are to produce applicants for the partner schools. As the graph below shows, the top-predicted zip codes perform much better than lower-predicted zip codes, enough that Capture should only recommend purchasing names from quantile 20 — the top 5 percent of zip codes in the country — unless our partner insists on names from somewhere else.Search Predictions

Quantile 20 converted at 5.7 x the rate of quantile 19 or 7.8x quantiles 1 through 19. That’s about the same as the difference between launching in July and launching in December. Search Predictions

The moral of the story

Launch as many quantile 20 names as early in the cycle as possible. If that’s 100% of your search volume, then that’s fine. If you max out the number of students who fit the criteria such as academic quality and appropriate majors within those top 5% of zips nationwide, then hold off until the next test date. Launch the rest of your communications in the fall after a new set of names drop.

Only wait until spring of a student’s graduate year to buy their name if you have enough budget leftover and you are behind on making your class. In general, very few of those students are going to end up applying and enrolling, regardless of what zip code they hail from.

There are currently more than 2 million 2020 search names available from the SAT. If you bought the top 5% of search names — all of quantile 20 — that would be more than 100,000 names, which is more search names than many schools have budgeted. In other words, right now is the right time to fill up with plenty of the right search names.

The takeaway

Buy as many top-predicted names and start communicating with them as soon as possible.

By John Foster, Senior Data Analyst, Capture Higher Ed