• Content
  • In-housing
  • SEO

Reduced acquisition cost for Open Colleges by transforming SEO into a major lead acquisition and support channel

About the client

Open Colleges is a leading online educational institution, specialising in vocational courses. Part of the Apollo Education Group, they offer more than 100 qualifications to (predominantly) domestic students within the Australian market. 

Vocational education is a fiercely competitive market, and Open Colleges was a relatively new player when they came to us in late 2016 for help with their SEO presence.

Established competitors, such as universities, had already made their mark and breaking through and providing brand awareness and trust to students was key as SEO only amounted to 5% of all site visits and leads. 


Improve SEO performance based on percentage of leads and share of market, while guiding senior management on the importance of the function.

Open Colleges came to us with three challenges that they needed help finding solutions for:

Grow volume and overall percentage of leads via SEO

The aim was to increase the number of leads that were attributed to SEO, both by number and by percentage of total leads. This involved an overhaul of the current strategy and focus on bringing a mature approach to SEO into the business. 

Take market share from competitors

Being a relatively new player in the space, taking market share from competitors meant more students, and thus more revenue for Open Colleges. We set out to create strong frameworks and educate the Open Colleges team to drive performance and ensure goals were met.

Remove complexity and jargon for senior management

As with many businesses, the senior management team needed complex information about SEO and its importance to the business broken down into less technical jargon. Doing so allowed for greater understanding and buy-in about this key element of the digital marketing strategy. 

There was a vision for SEO within the business, but the buy-in was not there at a senior level. By creating trust, we were able to build a team, overhaul SEO strategy, and create processes that led to lasting change within the organisation.


From the basement to a key sales and marketing channel: Making SEO work harder.

Our starting approach was simple. Gain the trust of the senior management team and then build a team of SEO freelancers to flip the current SEO strategy and execution on its head. 

Gain trust and hire a dream team

Providing information that was easy to understand – removing jargon and educating on the channel – allowed us to gain buy-in from senior members of the business, including the CMO, and implement a plan that had been conceptualised by the previous SEO manager, but had never had the backing to get off the ground.

One of the first steps involved hiring an SEO manager for Open Colleges that would eventually run a team of 26 freelancers that we recruited to ensure our strategy could be implemented in full to return the best possible results.

Create short and long term roadmaps

A key element of SEO success was the establishment of a clear roadmap to drive performance. Due to its high reliance on performance channels, the business was heavily focused on bottom of the funnel tactics and had little in the way of content besides the course descriptions themselves. Having a low SEO authority and limited link magnets was an issue. 

We countered this with short and long-term roadmaps that outlined the path to success. Key factors included building a team to support the business’s goals, creating brand authority and trust, and flicking the switch on processes that would change the way the business ran its SEO channels.

Build authority and trust

Like many new brands, SEO authority was significantly lower than that of its direct competitors. This made it even more difficult to create value from the small budget they had available to them.

Our approach to resolving this issue involved creating middle of funnel content that filled a gap that we saw with prospective students – they weren’t assured that their career prospects were going to be strong upon graduating, so we created content to counter these beliefs, adding comprehensive content pieces on topics such as job outlook, career progression, salaries, and other career-related articles to help prospective students make a more educated decision. 

Create business dependability

Processes, training, and documentation were key in setting Open Colleges up for success, even in the event that they decided they no longer needed assistance from us. 

We defined and documented more than 30 different processes, providing the business with a comprehensive ‘how to’ guide to all things SEO. Providing guidance on how to nurture leads and determine which ones were most likely to convert saved the business time and money. 

For example, we were able to determine that a prospective accounting student was 40% more likely to convert once they visited career progression, salary information and typical job and responsibilities charts. Therefore, sales should prioritise these leads and spend more time with this group.

We were able to take a dream and turn it into reality. Building a strong team, creating outstanding channel management processes, reporting effectively, and maximising opportunities allowed us to turn a secondary marketing channel into a significant source of quality leads. 

An eight-part approach achieved great results on a modest budget.

The first thing we did when we took on this project, was build out a plan that covered all of Open College’s goals, plus a few bonus elements. Once approved by the senior management team, we got to work by: 

  1. Defining a clear SEO strategy, and gained buy-in from the senior management team
  2. Hired an SEO team lead to drive the project internally
  3. Hired and managed a substantial freelance team, plus an in-office agency team
  4. Set long and short term roadmaps with a clear path to success 
  5. Found opportunities to build authority
  6. Built out middle of the funnel content to increase expertise, authority, and trust
  7. Offered SEO assets to be reused and repurposed within the wider sales and marketing team
  8. Created consistency and business dependability through processes, training, and documentation


Big results across traffic, percentage of leads and process led to big changes for Open Colleges.

During the three years we were engaged by Open Colleges, we achieved some outstanding results that had a real impact on their marketing performance and budgets.

One of the key outcomes of our strategy was the fact that we were able to increase organic site visits, from 40,000 to 330,000 visits per month, which is a change of 725%.

We helped reduce acquisition cost in a competitive market by transforming SEO from a supplementary lead channel driving 5% of total leads to a major acquisition channel capturing 20% of total lead volume and 30% of website traffic.

We increased “money” keywords for course pages ranking in top 3 to 22%, achieving an average of 8 keywords in top 3 for every course page (2,414 keywords in top 3 across 284 URLs).

We integrated SEO efforts into the broader marketing mix and provided relevant assets for other functions including CRM/lead scoring and support material for sales teams. This led to an increase in overall conversion rate and a decrease in cost of acquisition.

While implementing our strategy and rolling it out, we were also responsible for creating 30+ processes and documenting them for the team. This allowed the wider business to gain a better understanding of the importance of SEO and how to implement and maintain activity for Open Colleges if they ever decided to move from an agency to fully in-house model. 

Finally, by reusing SEO work across the entire marketing division, we were able to provide insights and efficiencies alongside content for lead nurturing activity that further fueled the marketing machine. 

5% - 20%

increased SEO leads from 5% to 20% of total lead volume

40K - 330K

organic traffic increased from 40k to 330k visits per month


of "money" keywords for course pages ranked in top 3


processes defined and documented for the business

Open Colleges selected us because of our deep expertise in analytics, data, and search. Our ability to work with all stakeholders, from the CMO to technical/development teams, and bring in expert resources to support internal staff, ensured that rapid change could be achieved.

Placing a team member inside the Open Colleges marketing team to assist with the implementation, meant that we were able to see what was happening from the inside – a much faster process than conducting meetings that would only show part of the picture. 

Our ability to quickly build a 26 strong team of SEO experts meant that we were uniquely positioned to support Open Colleges in rolling out a strategy in real-time while creating content that fed the lead nurturing beast.