In the U.S. alone, there are more than 4,000 colleges and universities providing a wide variety of academic offerings. With so many schools to explore, it’s easy for prospective students to get overwhelmed during the search process. Students often rely on popular search engines like Google to narrow down their college options and find one that will fit what they are looking for. To make sure your university’s website has strong online visibility, is reaching its target audience, and cuts through the noise, maintaining strong search engine optimization (SEO) is essential. Ready to make your university website more search engine friendly to increase student enrollment? Start with these SEO for higher education tips to increase organic rankings for higher education institutions.
1) Implement a strong keyword strategy, especially for individual programs
First, let’s take a look at how a prospective student would use a search engine to find a university or academic program – this is known as search intent. Students would go to a search engine like Google and enter a keyword, such as “best university for data analytics,” and see relevant web pages on the search engine results pages (SERPs). Therefore, you should find the most effective keywords that describe your university or its degree programs and are likely to be searched by school students for the best organic search rankings.
There are several types of keywords you might want to use for your university. These include location-specific keywords (“Tampa universities”) and program-specific keywords (“journalism major”). Keyword tools, Google Trends, competitor analysis, and existing analytics can yield strong insight as to what students are searching for and how you can incorporate these keywords into your own website to increase your organic traffic.
You’ll want to find words with decent to high search volume that will not be difficult to rank for. While simple search queries like “universities” sees an incredibly high organic search traffic, it’s very difficult to rank for. Try being more specific with your long-tail keywords and use relevant search terms like “best university for broadcast journalism”.
Make sure keywords are integrated into the website copy, as well as tags, headers, meta descriptions, and more.
2) Use Interrogative Long-Tail Phrases
More than ever, when people use search engines, they’re asking it literal questions. This is known as a natural language search. For example, when targeting program-specific keywords such as “journalism degree” questions like “what can you do with a journalism degree” see a high search volume and are easy to rank for.
Consider using tools like AHREFS to help you find these types of keywords. Another excellent source would be Answer The Public, which takes two-to-three word queries and shows you what questions are being asked by Google users in relation to that searchstring.
These long-tail phrases present a great opportunity to use as keywords and topics in blog posts.
3) Use Google Trends To Find Where When Search Terms Are Trending
You should always understand where and when your traffic is coming from, and more importantly, what potential students are looking for. This is especially important in higher education as the majority of your traffic will be seasonal and specifc.
Google Trends provides a 12 month summary of search traffic for a given search query. Additionally, it breaks down what regions are seeing the most search volume for the given search. Google trends also provides some insights into related queries and topics that could be good to mine for potential keyword ideas.
4) Leverage an effective content strategy
Content creation is very important. Consistently publishing new, content tells Google your site is relevant and keeps Google crawling and indexing content and pages on your site. Search engines reward college websites that frequently publish new, compelling content, like blog posts or videos, by re-indexing these web pages more often and improving SERP rankings. Posting high-quality content, such as news items, event recaps, and student life highlight videos are examples of content that can be used not only to inform students of the goings-on at your university but also improve search rankings for your education website.
Remember that for any visual media, like images and videos, it is important to include keyword-rich alt-tags and descriptions so that your site is more likely to rank for that keyword.
In the example below, Florida Tech Online maintains an online presence by frequently publishing blog posts about topics related to careers, student stories, and study tips. The content is not only helpful for current students or professionals but also its prospective applicants. This blog is an excellent example of inbound content marketing and SEO strategies for universities.
5) Address duplicate content
At first glance, it might seem like having multiple pages with identical content can be helpful because it means prospective students can find the information they’re looking for in different places. However, duplicate content can be a huge issue for SEO for higher education.
Duplicate content confuses search engines because they won’t know which content is the most relevant and which page should be ranked before the other in search results. Your marketing team or your agency partner can conduct a sitewide audit to check for copied text, URL variations, and the same webpages reproduced as HTTP and HTTPS sites.
You can address these issues by creating 301 redirects or canonical tags to give the highest ranking to the original page.
6) Take advantage of local search, college directory listings, and review sites
Aside from Google, students often use college directories and review sites to research potential schools. Some examples of college directory listings include the NCAA Directory, College Board, and U.S News & World Report. Similarly, college review sites might include College Confidential, Cappex, and GradReports. Maintain an active profile on these sites where possible, since these reputable sites are an excellent place to host backlinks to your website.
In addition, location is often a key factor in a potential student’s college choice. Colleges and universities often recruit from local high schools, and using local SEO for higher education can also capture a greater share of this audience. Conduct local keyword research that incorporates location names, such as “business schools in Miami” or “engineering programs in Florida.” Your location might be as granular as a city or neighborhood, or as large as a state.
As with local businesses, your university should also create a Google My Business (GMB) account, which will list your university’s name, address, phone number, photos, description, directions, and business category, for Google’s search engine to index. When a prospective student searches for your university, the GMB listing will appear in the top right corner of the screen.
In 2018, Google also started attaching statistics like acceptance rate, notable alumni, average cost after financial aid, and graduation rate, pulling data from the College Scorecard and the Education Department’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. Below is an example of what the final listing looks like for St. Thomas Aquinas College.
7) Optimize your website for speed and linking.
The kiss of death for any website is being too slow. In 2018, UMBC’s website famously crashed after the men’s basketball team defeated the top-seeded University of Virginia in the first round of March Madness. With shorter attention spans, prospective applicants will exit your website if it takes too long to load, positive user experience is a key ranking factor.
Similarly, Google will rank slow websites lower on search engine rankings. Make sure you optimize your site speed through techniques like using smaller image sizes and hosting the site on fast servers. For your mobile website, you can also use Google’s mobile-friendly testing tool to test individual pages and determine which sections need improvements.
8) Get More Backlinks
Another way to optimize your website is to link to other relevant websites and have these websites link to you. This is known as off-page SEO. A few examples of high-quality sites that can provide “backlinks” to your website include social media pages, local listings, guest blogging, and third-party media sites that might host advertorials. You can also create internal links to other pages on your website, like if your online press releases link to faculty profiles, department websites, or other relevant content.
9) Build Up Your Citations
Building citations is an important part of SEO, and it’s no different in the education industry. We already touched upon the importance of a Local SEO strategy, but citation-building adds a ton of value in the SERP. You’re going to want as many citations as possible.
Use sites like Brightlocal to add local citations for your university. This gets your University listed on some of the most trusted databases like Yellow Pages, Yelp, Facebook, Apple Maps, Etc. These tools are important because they not only create your citations but clean them up and address duplicates so that you’re not negatively affected by them.
10) Leverage Wikipedia For Authority Links
For better or worse, Wikipedia is an “official source” of information online and carries a great deal of authority. You can use this to your advantage by building and updating your university’s Wiki page and linking back to your website.
Wikipedia often appears alongside and in some cases above companies’ official websites. This is an untapped source of content for many smaller schools on Google.
Pacific54: SEO For Higher Education Done Right
SEO isn’t a one-and-done; it’s ongoing and critical for marketing success. Luckily, an agency partner can help you improve your plan for SEO for higher education. Contact Pacific54 today to schedule a consultation.