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Google introduces online marketing challenge to universities worldwide

In an effort to give students real-world experience in online advertising and marketing, Google has partnered with universities around the globe to participate in the Google Online Challenge.

More than 8,000 undergraduate and post-graduate students will be participating in the worldwide, hands-on competition, which starts in February, according to Daniel Rubin, a Google spokesman. Entries will be judged by an international panel of academics and the winners, which will be announced in July, will get a trip to the Google Headquarters in Mountain View, CA.

Each participating student team will receive free online advertising vouchers for Google AdWords worth $200. The students will need to select and work with a small to medium size local business that has a Web site, but does not currently use Adwords. The team will then work with the business to set up an account, outline a strategy, run a campaign, and assess its results. At the end of the campaign, the teams will have to provide the business with ways it can further develop its online marketing strategies.

Each team will have three weeks to complete the project. To accommodate various university schedules, teams will be able to compete within any three-week period between February 10 and May 24.

“Not only does it benefit students, but it also benefits local businesses,” Rubin said. Google is also providing students with guidelines on how to find local businesses with online sites and to help them succeed by harnessing the power of the Web, he added.

In the past, Paul Dowling, a professor at the University of Utah, said he has had the students in his Internet marketing class invent their own online business and create a marketing plan for it. But this year, he is scrapping that project and replacing it with the Google Online Challenge.

“I see them getting more than just an education about search marketing from this,” Dowling said. “I’m always in favor of exercises that look like the real world.”

In the area of e-commerce and e-marketing, things are changing fast enough that even textbooks that came out last week can’t keep up, said David Curry, a professor at the University of Cincinnati. Curry plans to have one team from his information technology and marketing class complete the challenge this quarter.

“The concepts in the textbooks are good. They need to know [those concepts], but they also need to be pushed heavily into applying [them] as they are reading, otherwise they just remain static, undeveloped ideas in their head,” Curry said.

Curry has also found that students tend to work harder on real-world applications than on other assignments, like reading. “They spring into action when there’s a real deadline and real business and real money on the line,” he said.

Curry noted that his students seemed to be just as excited about participating in the challenge as they are about the possibility of winning a trip to Google headquarters. “I think they just want the experience,” he said, but added that some have expressed interest in going to work for Google, and so, they “certainly see this as a potential way to get their foot in the door.”

It was also smart move on Google’s part, Curry said of the challenge. There is an assumption that once the challenge is over, these businesses will continue to use AdWords. “I assume one of their fundamental goals is to generate new business,” said Curry. “They really outsourced the whole sale process through the students.”

For more information about the challenge, click here.

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