Maximize Your Marketing Strategy with Lookalike Audiences and List Targeting

Posted: October 18, 2023

Christian Jessup Company Marketing Manager

Lookalike audiences and list targeting are essential digital marketing tools for the unique landscape of higher education. But we’ve found that many institutions underutilize these tools, or aren’t even aware of all they can accomplish. Whether you’re an enrollment marketing veteran or just getting started, mastering these techniques is key to connecting with prospective students effectively. So, without further ado, let’s explore how these targeting capabilities can revolutionize your enrollment campaigns.


Picture a powerful tool that reveals prospective students mirroring your current ones – that’s the magic of a lookalike audience. Essentially, a lookalike audience is made up of individuals who closely resemble your existing student base, making it an invaluable asset for your marketing.

To craft a lookalike audience tailored for your institution, start by providing a source audience, like your current student list or website visitors. Whether it’s on platforms such as Google, paid social, or programmatic platforms, the ad platform conducts a thorough analysis, pinpointing shared traits among these individuals. Utilizing this insight, the platform then generates a new audience mirroring the characteristics of your original source, offering an incredibly effective way to engage with potential students who align with your institution’s ethos.

We like to call this audience the “low-hanging fruit,” because it’s easier to reach and convert prospects that share similar characteristics to the students you already have.


List targeting offers the unique ability to customize your advertisements for a specific group of individuals, utilizing their email addresses and distinct identifiers. Leveraging your existing databases of prospective students or students who have already applied, you can craft meticulously targeted campaigns tailored to resonate with precisely the right audience.

List targeting operates by uploading your email list onto the advertising platform, where the provided addresses are matched with corresponding user accounts. This strategic approach ensures that your ads are exclusively showcased to these individuals, allowing your marketing initiatives to directly connect with the most pertinent audience.

With targeting this specific, you’re then able to personalize your creative to fit the audience needs. Targeting a list of prospects that started an application, but didn’t finish it? Utilize messaging about the ease of the application process, or use an application-specific call to action. It’s an incredibly effective way to navigate the noise and engage directly with the students in your institution’s funnel.

Note: personal emails are best for list targeting. An easy mistake higher ed marketers make is to use a list of prospective students’ institutional email addresses (.edu), which are rarely the same emails those prospects used to sign up for social media accounts (hence the ad platform not finding any account matches).


When you combine lookalike audience and list targeting tactics, you’re unleashing the full potential of your enrollment marketing strategy. You’ve opened up new areas of the marketing funnel to reach not only your established prospective student audience but also to connect with new prospects who are likely to be deeply interested in your institution. You’re casting a wider “net” to capture the attention of potential students without compromising the quality of leads you generate, an unparalleled expansion of your institution’s influence and impact in today’s competitive landscape.

In a world where attention spans are shorter than ever, it’s crucial to make the most of your marketing efforts, especially in the realm of higher education. Lookalike audiences and list targeting offer you the opportunity to reach the right prospects, at the right time, with the right message. By utilizing these tactics, you can enhance your targeting capabilities, increase your conversion rates, and ultimately achieve better enrollment results for your institution.

Whether you’re a local community college striving to expand your reach or a prestigious national university aiming to maintain your influence, integrating lookalike audiences and list targeting into your enrollment marketing toolkit is a game-changer. These techniques might just be the missing pieces to your enrollment marketing puzzle. Remember, it’s all about connecting with prospective students on a deeper level, and these strategies can help you do just that.

Need a partner that specializes in audience-specific digital marketing? We’d love to solve your enrollment challenges. Fill out the form below, or learn more about our campaign work here.

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