Google Challenge course at College of IST nurtures talent, supports businesses

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- In Jim Jansen’s Google Online Marketing Challenge class at Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST), students create online marketing campaigns in order to learn keyword advertising and also the opportunity to place in Google’s international competition. The success that the student teams have had in recent years, along with the class’s involvement with Pennsylvania businesses, have increased the students’ viability in the workforce in addition to furthering Penn State’s mission of supporting businesses across the Commonwealth.

“This course really set the students on a path to a great job in a growing and dynamic field,” said Jansen, an associate professor at the College of IST.

Two students from the College of IST, along with a student from the College of Communications, recently placed in the Global Final 15 of the 2013 Google Online Marketing Challenge by devising an advertising campaign for a Pennsylvania youth camp.

“I think (the students) really had a level of sophistication in their advertising campaign that was above and beyond the norm,” Jansen said.

As part of Jansen’s course, 16 interdisciplinary teams competed in the 2013 Google Online Marketing Challenge last spring. The judging process extends over the summer and the winners are announced in the fall. One of the teams from Jansen’s class, consisting of Wil Wilkinson, an IST major; Shawn Warrender, who is enrolled in the security and risk analysis (SRA) program at the College of IST; and Dani Cohen, who is studying public relations in the College of Communications; placed in the Global Final 15 out of 4,000 teams from 110 countries. As part of the challenge, students created online marketing campaigns for small- to medium-size businesses in Pennsylvania, which the students implemented.

Jansen teaches IST 402: The Google Online Marketing Challenge, which is offered in the spring semester and is open to students of all majors and focuses on online marketing of small- to medium-sized businesses. In the challenge, student teams, along with their professors, identify a business or nonprofit organization that has a website but has not used AdWords in the last six months. AdWords refers to the column of sponsored links just at the top right of a user’s search results on Google. Google AdWords are separate from search rankings and enable businesses to advertise to their targeted audiences. Advertisers choose search terms related to their business, plus a daily budget and the amount they are willing to pay when someone clicks. When customers search one of the terms or keywords, their ads may appear next to the search results. Teams from Jansen’s course have placed in the challenge every year for the past five years, he said.

With a $250 budget provided by Google, students who compete in the Google Online Marketing Challenge develop and run an online advertising campaign for a business or nonprofit organization over a three-week period. The campaigns are evaluated through a multi-tiered process, initially through an algorithmic method and then judged by Google employees after the field has been narrowed to 150. Once the final 15 teams have been selected, the campaigns are judged by professors.

The teams that develop and communicate the most successful campaigns win prizes, including a trip to Google headquarters for the students and their professor. Students also have the opportunity to participate in the optional Google+ Social Media Marketing Award by maintaining a Google+ Page for their clients over a six-week period.

One of the major benefits for students who participate in the Google Online Marketing Challenge, Jansen said, is that they get “real-world experience” and public exposure for their campaigns.

“They do everything that an advertising agency would do, real money, real advertising platform and real business,” he said.

As an optional part of the Penn State Google Online Marketing Challenge course, some students opt to take the Google AdWords Certification Exams. The Google AdWords Certification Exam Program allows one to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in Google AdWords. The Google AdWords Certification Exam Program is a globally recognized stamp of approval that showcases knowledge of the latest AdWords tools and best practice techniques.

The Google Online Marketing Challenge, Jansen said, supports Penn State’s outreach mission. Five businesses that the students created campaigns for this year participate in the Pennsylvania Technical Assistance Program (PennTAP), which is run by Penn State and helps Pennsylvania companies improve their competitiveness by providing technical assistance and information to help resolve specific technical questions or needs.

In the spring 2014 semester, Jansen said, he is teaching an online-only Google Online Marketing Challenge course. If the class fills, it will field 32 teams in the 2014 competition. In addition to the College of IST, the College of Communications and the Smeal College of Business support the course.

In addition to the Google Online Marketing Challenge, students in Jansen’s class compete in a similar local competition sponsored by IMPAQT, a search engine marketing agency based in Pittsburgh. The company honors a team with the IMPAQT Innovation Award during the competition, Jansen said, and hires students from the class to work for the company every year.

“For this coming year, we are expanding the online advertising efforts by more fully incorporating social media aspects,” Jansen said.

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Last Updated October 25, 2013