Leverage That Search Bar – Crafting an Effective Higher Ed SEO Strategy That Reels Students In
SEO is important. Here’s how to get the most out of it.
With the latest figures showing the largest decline in college enrollment in a decade, the marketing departments of institutions of higher learning are going all out to upstage the competition. Strategies such as PPC, social media blitzes, and engaging/inspiring content are all employed with the end goal of increasing enrollment.
These efforts are laudable, but there’s one thing that’s often overlooked and under-developed: A higher-ed SEO strategy. This means creating search-engine-optimized blogs, departmental pages, and other content that pulls in potential students using the power of paid and organic search.
It’s all about keywords. The power of the search bar shouldn’t be underrated – organic search accounts for 53% of site traffic, and best of all, it’s free. It’s not a quick process, but once you start ranking for the proper keywords, the organic search traffic for your institution can just keep growing.
Just how do you optimize your website with relevant terms that will draw them in? And which keywords and phrases are most popular today? Let’s explore.
The importance of SEO
When selecting a school, students and parents say the most influential and reliable information resource is the institution’s website. That’s great news, but to get to your website, people have to be able to find it.
Here are some statistics on the general importance of SEO in your overall marketing strategy:
- Successful SEO gives you real estate on the first pages of search engine results.
- High SEO rankings engender a sense of trust that isn’t available via other channels and converts better than paid search, which lacks the authenticity demanded by today’s students.
- When it comes to website traffic from search engines, 83% comes from SEO.
- SEO traffic carries no media cost, which means it has a hefty ROI.
Convinced? Here are some tactics you can use to boost your SEO success.
Refine your SEO strategy to increase organic traffic
Let’s start at the beginning. If you take a quick look at your most often visited organic landing pages, you’ll likely discover that they rank very well. Websites with the .edu domain use plenty of backlinks, which raises search engine rankings. This means your site may rank well with a minimum effort.
Using Google search console, you can cross-reference any strange keywords you find with your keyword referral data. This will show the keywords people are using that are driving this traffic. In this way, you can capitalize on these new terms to bring in even more visitors.
Of course, while traffic and rankings are valuable tools, they mean nothing if they don’t bring in students.
Harnessing the power of the search bar
Higher ed SEO is both an art and a science. You may have some great ideas about which search terms are used to find your website, such as your university name, course offerings, and athletic programs, but a truly effective SEO strategy that brings in organic searchers takes tactics, time, and tools.
To find the most common search terms, use Google search predictions
For this step, be sure to use incognito mode so your search history doesn’t contaminate the results. Enter queries into the search bar such as “X University,” “does X university,” “will X university,” etc. to see how Google auto-fills these searches. Then make a list of these terms and check them against your website pages.
Check out the competition
Using Google Trends, you can do a deep dive to check out how other schools are doing attracting organic search traffic. You will be able to see recently trending searches as well as the latest insights.
Conduct user research
For real-time raw search insights, AnswerThePublic is a great resource. It “listens in” to the autocomplete data from search engines and then displays all the useful phrases and questions people ask around your specified keyword.
Armed with this information, you can create fresh, valuable content that your target audience really wants and needs.
Using the Google Analytics Site Search and Landing Pages reports can give you valuable clues into what visitors to your website are really looking for. Additionally, survey students, staff, faculty, and alumni about the questions they might use for a Google search and form an internal team to brainstorm.
Consider using long-tail keywords
Long-tail keywords are a solution to blending in with the crowd. Rather than using a single keyword that everyone else uses, like MBA, use a keyword phrase that is three or more words long and make sure it is very specific to your school.
While long-tail keywords have lower search volumes, they provide a clearer search intent. For example, your core keyword may be MBA, but you can use it in a phrase such as “Quick MBA in months.” Long-tail keywords add SEO value because:
- They are easier to rank on: There’s less competition, yet they account for 70% of web searches.
- Conversion rates are better: Those who use long-tail keywords know more about what they want.
- Search results are more personalized: These Google searches are customized to location, age, sex, and interests, which means you can optimize your website for different, specific searcher categories.
These strategies, with patience, will set your school up for SEO success today and tomorrow. Want to know which keywords are popular among prospective students? You might be surprised.
Popular Google search trends among students
A recent infographic points out what students are looking to experience in college, and apparently partying is a huge priority. In fact, “beer pong” was used as a search term 14 times more than the words “college admissions.” Other popular terms included “flip cup” and “keg stand.”
But don’t be discouraged. Among actual education-related searches, “student loans” is a very popular search. Students seem focused on how to pay for education rather than what it costs as this search term was used 56 times more than “college tuition.”
Make your website an organic traffic machine with Kwall
You can count on KWALL to support the development of your higher ed website, help you implement a CMS, and support you while you use it. We can also help you create a maintenance and support plan that works so you can manage content through a content management system.