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By Eller College

In Dr. Sudha Ram’s graduate-level business intelligence class, one thing is a given: that students will apply their classroom learning to solve real business challenges.

This semester, ten teams of students in herMIS 587: Business Intelligence course competed in the global Google Online Marketing Challenge, through which teams are tasked with devising effective online marketing campaigns for local businesses, using $200 worth of online advertising through Google AdWords.

Ram dedicated several class lectures and discussions to topics including web analytics and understanding different types of web metrics such as number of clicks, click-through rates, impressions, unique visitors, bounce rates, and conversions. “Students also learned how to use Google analytics tools including AdWords dashboards, keyword estimator tools, and more,” she says. “Then they worked with their small business clients to understand the businesses, products, and customers, so they could create pre-campaign strategies that specified campaign goals, the strategies to achieve these goals, and the set targets for each of their important metrics.”

The teams implemented their campaign over a three-week period. “The students had to regularly monitor their campaigns, change their AdWords, ads, and strategy based on their understanding of the web metrics and application of the optimization techniques they learned in class,” Ram says. “They were also required to meet regularly with me for feedback on their work. At the end of the campaign the students submitted a post-campaign report to document the success or failure of their campaign and provide recommendations to the client for further implementation.”

The Eller teams — which worked with area businesses including Mt. Lemmon Sky Center, the UA BookStores, Casa Video, and Caffe Luce — presented their results to a judging panel in an internal competition on April 16.

“Judging the Google AdWords competition was a fascinating snapshot of the age-old collaboration between technology and marketing,” says judge Cristie Street, Eller MBA alum and partner at Nextrio. “Eller’s MIS students rose to the challenge and impressed all the judges with creative solutions to both technical and non-technical hurdles. I was so impressed to see teams tweaking their adword campaigns on a daily basis to optimize their click through rates, while also ensuring that once on the website, their target market found what they wanted in an appealing format. These are real-world experiences that every company, whether large or small, are dealing with on a daily basis. Eller’s MIS students demonstrated knowledge that will be a competitive advantage for their future employers.”

The judges awarded top honors to the Mt. Lemmon Sky Center team. “The Google Online Marketing Challenge provided us a platform to use the technologies like Google AdWords and Google Analytics to help our client, Mt. Lemmon, identify new ways to improve its business,” says Pavankanth Mukthi Nuthalapati. “Spending just $200, we managed to bring in Sky Center profits of close to $2,000. Plus, the intangible asset of spreading word-of-mouth will benefit Sky Center in the future. Our biggest takeaway is the satisfaction of having been helpful to the client and meeting the set targets.”

“The experience of working with a real client and generating real revenue using data analytics was an eye opener and gave me insight into the vast opportunity in this domain,” says Rahul Teckchandani, also a member of the Mt. Lemmon team.

“Judging the competition was a great experience,” says Dave Barney, director of information systems for Direct Alliance. “The students obviously worked very hard on their projects, did a great job with their presentations, and handled some tough questions from the judges well.  Picking the winners was tough for us, as all the teams performed so well. Overall, I enjoyed spending the day with the students and seeing them put their education in online marketing to actual business use!”

In addition to the local judging, the teams also submitted their final reports as part of Google’s worldwide competition. A panel of independent academics from all over the world will select the winning teams based on the success of their campaign and the quality of their competition reports. Global winners are due to be notified in July 2010.