Teaching PPC Ad Writing: Using the Mimic Search Engine Marketing Simulator in my Writing Class (1 of 2)

This is post 1 in a two-part series about Stukent Mimic Intro. You can see post 2 here.

Last spring I decided to try something new with my Writing Across Platforms class. These past few semesters we have witnessed the rising importance of paid as part of the PESO model when it comes to PR.  With that, I’ve been seeking ways to bring paid into my classes. It is hard to do this, of course, without a class client and a budget. And sometimes that isn’t reasonable given the structure of a class.

A few years ago I did a project in my social media class where students learned to create an ad on Facebook. But the assignment wasn’t all that great and I wasn’t super happy with it. I did require students to complete parts of the Facebook Blueprint training so that they had knowledge of how Facebook ads worked. And that part I was pleased with. (As a sidebar, I’ll write a blog post later about how I tuned up this assignment and tried something new).

Unsatisfied, I looked for something more. That’s when I heard about Stukent.

The logo is property of Stukent.

Stukent offers a mix of simulators for classroom projects and digital course textbooks. At the time I learned about them, they had the social media simulator (which many friends on the Social Media Professors community group have chatted about) as well as two search engine marketing simulators: Mimic intro – which is a basic overview – and Mimic pro – a more robust product.

I got interested in Mimic intro because it teaches students the basics of PPC/search engine marketing. A few clear benefits presented themselves. While PPC ads may not be a major part of the PR space, here are some benefits I saw:

  1. A strong understanding of SEO is needed in PR. If students can learn some SEO basics from this simulator, I felt it would greatly bolster what I was doing in the class in terms of keywords research.
  2. It isn’t that different than creating ads on social media. You have to understand how ad bidding systems work. You have to consider your content, audience, product and budget. (See the note at the bottom of this post about the Stukent social media simulator).
  3. It could help students understand how keywords are used in writing.
  4. It could help students learn to write concisely.
  5. It could help students analyze data from their simulations to make adjustments to their content.
  6. An understanding of what SEM is and how it works could only benefit students.

With that in mind, I signed my class up for the Mimic Intro because it is a short simulator that I determined I could do in 2 weeks during my class. Because my class is aimed at teaching students to write in a variety of fashions, I felt this was the best fit. After all, in addition to this assignment, in this class students learn to write news releases, to write to optimize their news releases for the web, to create micro-targeted content through the BuzzFeed assignment, and to write a more traditional white paper. So, as you can see, it is a busy semester.

How the Simulator Works

In short, each student is tasked with creating search engine ads for a an online camera retailer. The goal is to sell a few different products at different price points, and which have different profit margins. The students are given a budget of a few thousand dollars and are told to spend it all.

Before students start, the simulator provides a video-based education about how to effectively plan, write and execute their campaigns. Students are given hypothetical past data to work off of, and text explanations accompany the overview which I found very helpful in getting clarity on terms. Students then work through some additional need-to-know info to succeed at their projects before starting. Altogether, I was happy with this set up because, as someone knew to PPC myself, I felt prepared upon entering the simulator.

The campaign works in rounds. With Mimic Intro, students can complete up to two rounds. A round simulates data for a timed period, which if I recall was one month. At the end of the simulation – which takes maybe 30 seconds or a minute to run – the students see the results of their efforts.

So, for each round, students write their ads in a set up that is very similar to Google Adwords ads. A student creates an ad group. In that group, the student writes the ad headline and body text, picks the link they want to use from a list of options, writes the display text for the ad, etc. When the student is ready, they run the simulator as I described above.

In Mimic Intro, you also create emails for email marketing. However, there weren’t a ton of instructions here so I didn’t place much emphasis on it. Maybe I should next time.

The professor can see how each student performed in comparison to one-another. This enables you to provide feedback on ways the student can improve.  You could also use this information in grading or choose to grade each student individually.

How I set it Up

Before assigning anything like this, I always do the project myself. I wanted to really know how PPC works and because it was something knew to me, I really invested the time to do the best I could. I will talk more about that on the follow up post to this post in 2 weeks.

For now, let’s look at how I worked the assignment in my class.

  1. Earlier in the semester: I introduced the concepts of search engine optimization and had students do some basic keyword research using Google Trends and Google Keyword Planner.
  2. Day 1: I assigned students to read Chapter 6 of the Digital Marketing Essentials textbook for an introduction to key concepts. The book is part of the Stukent offerings and the chapter was an add-on product that the students got when they paid for their Stukent subscription. An instructor in the Stukent community shared her slides on how she introduced the topic of PPC ads and keyword research. [Note: Stukent has a community where professors using their products can share content and discuss best practices]. Unfortunately, I cannot remember who it was and cannot find where I found her post. I apologize for not being able to provide due credit. These slides were super helpful time saver and I used them as the foundation to create my own lecture slides. The lecture explains 1) What PPC is and how bidding works for it, 2) What the goal is – to sell specific cameras – 3) how to set up their ad campaigns in the software, 4) some basics of the math related to cost per click, cost per acquisitions and conversions, and 5) some tips for success.
  3. Day 2: Day 2 was the first round of the Mimic intro software. We have computers in our classroom. I made sure students understood how to proceed with the software and set them loose to work on their campaigns. They had to run the simulator by the end of the class and see their results.
  4. Day 3: Day 3 was an opportunity for students to see how they did and find ways to do a better job on their second and final round creating PPC ads. The second round is the same as the first. But the focus is on improvement and learning. Stukent doesn’t provide specifics to the students as to why they did/did not perform well. So, at the start of class I explained some findings and some things to consider. Students applied what they learned and were given the rest of class to complete round 2 of the simulation.
  5. Day 4: On the last day, we spoke a bit about how the entire project went, what students thought, and what they learned. We then moved onto another topic.

In the next post, I will talk about how the project went and my own results and thoughts when I went through the simulator. I will also provide a copy of my assignment and explain how I graded it and why that stressed some students out but ultimately created an engaged learning experience.

As a note: I have since learned that the Stukent social media simulator is about social media advertising. I had misunderstood, thinking it was more about learning to create and schedule organic content. Therefore, I could see this simulator working in this project as well, depending on how much time you have in your class.

On a further note, I wrote in a previous post this semester that I was frustrated that Stukent was no longer opening Mimic Intro software to courses that were smaller than 80 students and courses that were not “Principles of/Intro to Marketing courses.” I have since spoken with Stukent and they were very understanding of my concern that this would limit access such that communication students couldn’t benefit from it. They have allowed me to use the Mimic Intro software again this spring in my writing class and I am very glad about it. If you are outside of marketing and want to use Mimic Intro in your class, contact support@stukent.com to apply for access.

Post #2 in this series on Mimic Intro is now available!

-Cheers!

Matt

 

 

 

 

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