What Happens When You Click That “You Can Go Back to School” Ad

What Happens When You Click a "Go Back to School" Ad?
How 1 click led to 62 phone calls and over 260 emails – in 3 days!!

It’s happened to all of us a hundred times. We go to a website for information or look at a product on Amazon or maybe check fares on a travel site, and for the next few weeks we’re stalked like a wounded gazelle. Banner ads for that product or services with the exact product, travel destination or service need. It’s so bad some people think their phone is listening to them!

Retargeting is part of the price of a “free internet” and companies that market for colleges use it extensively. You’ve probably seen one of their banner ads, like the ones with the bright red headline – “Free Grants to Go Back to School” – next to an attention-grabbing dancing marionette.

Ads like these are all over the web and your social media feed and are targeted to you because of browsing habits or demographics. Even worse is the impact on your inbox when someone sells your email address to one of these companies.

What happens if you actually click on one of those ads? A while back I decided to find out and I tracked the results. While no animals were harmed in the following experiment, plenty of brain cells were.

The subterfuge started immediately! After clicking on an ad I immediately went to a site with a bunch of sponsored links. Clicking on one of those links led to a site with another bunch of sponsored ads. Clicking on one of those led to yet another site with sponsored ads.

Not really getting any help finding a school at this point.

I finally clicked on a link leading to a site that was kind enough to offer to “Let Us Help You Find a School”.
Finally! Someone was going to give me the straight dope on what schools might make a good fit! In fact their “algorithm” was going to pair me with schools that offered “what I was looking for”.
How fancy!
I filled out their form, which was actually about a dozen individual screens asking for answers to basic questions about my prior education, my age, my subject of interest, etc as well as my name, email and phone number. I’m willing to take one for the team so you don’t have to, so I actually put in a real phone number and created a unique email address to see what they would send me.
Ultimately I was “matched” with three schools. Those “matches” had nothing to do with my answers, but I assume their “algorithm” knew best, right?
This is where the fun begins.
Within a few minutes of that submission and over the next 30 days, here’s what I received:
  • 62 phone calls from the three schools
  • 7 different caller IDs
  • 34 (34!!!) calls in the first 3 days
  • 261 emails. Yes – two HUNDRED and sixty one.
  • 22 different “from” addresses
  • 114 subject lines
  • The email volume increased over time – 52 the first week, 57 the second week, 70 the third week and 82 in the final 9 days!
After 30 days I unsubscribed from the emails. Of course I also started to get emails for cell phones, vacations, insurance and other unrelated services all to that same email address.
This may be what working adults and/or your employees have to deal with when trying to do simple research on their own. Poorly presented information at best, downright abuse at worst. Which means two potentially bad outcomes – they may continue to put off one of the most important decisions of their lives OR they could fall for the pitch and make a very expensive mistake.
Avoid the hassle and have an education concierge provide customized, targeted and independent recommendations and research. See how our process works and why it’s an investment worth making.