The Google political ad ban began once again yesterday, January 14th. Just like in November 2020, when media giants Facebook and Google both implemented political ad bans to prevent misinformation about the election from spreading, Google has now implemented an additional political ad ban in the week leading up to Inauguration Day. Meanwhile, aside from a brief lift in Georgia for their Senate runoffs earlier this month, Facebook has kept its political ad ban in place since election week.

As a budget-conscious admissions professional, you may be wondering, what does all of this mean for our higher education digital marketing efforts? In general, as we look back to early November, it doesn’t seem like the political pause significantly impacted digital media ad performance for our college and university partners, but we can still glean some valuable insights when we look closely. After all, according to Google’s own disclosure of ad spend from 2018–2020 in the political vertical, between May 31, 2018 and today, there have been a total of 563,267 political ads served across the Google network—which includes giants like Google Display Network, DV360, and YouTube—with a total spend of over $745 million. Talk about influence!

Here, we’ll share a couple observations about how some of our partners’ ads performed during the last ban, and then, we’ll offer some advice to help you navigate your own digital media plans during the next few weeks.

Ad Performance Highlights

Looking back to November 2020, when paid media networks paused political ads, our clients kept running ads because it was both a pivotal point in senior search season and a prime time for graduate search to take off.


increase in impressions during Election Week


increase in clicks during Election Week

In one noteworthy example, a partner school who is our biggest daily spender in paid media, and mainly does targeted ads, saw a 13% increase in impressions and 12% increase in clicks during election week, compared to the week prior. However, the school’s cost per lead also increased significantly week over week, and there were fewer conversions.

Meanwhile, one of our biggest college brands—a nationally recognized university in Virginia—ran an apply campaign that week targeting a large list of prospects (read: a limited and defined audience, but still a very large group). They saw lower clicks, lower conversions, and a higher cost per click, compared to the previous week.

Looking Ahead

While the individual examples above have varying budgets and audiences, when we look at the performance of all our paid media accounts during election season, one thing becomes clear: Reach and impressions saw a slight lift due to less ad spend from the pause. However, overall, the pausing of political ads didn’t have a significant impact on higher education search efforts on digital back in November—and it likely won’t this time, either. Considering this, we advise our partners not to shy away from paid media campaigns in the next few weeks; prospective students are still using digital avenues to stay connected to their networks, and they’re continuing to engage with paid content.

Under normal circumstances, January, as well as the majority of Q1, tends to be a great time to run higher education ads for many reasons, but of course, this year it is even more important to get in front of your digitally focused prospects. In fact, we’re seeing the shift to more digital marketing for higher education firsthand. At Spark451, Q1 2021 is already up by 28% in planned or currently running paid digital media campaigns, compared to Q1 2020. Plus, after the year we all had in 2020, it’s no surprise to us that emotional marketing for a fresh start may be more impactful than ever before.