In the U.S. alone, there are more than 4,000 colleges and universities offering a wide variety of academic offerings. With so many schools to explore, it’s easy for prospective applicants to get overwhelmed during the search process. Students often rely on 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 is reaching its target audience and cutting through the noise, maintaining strong SEO is essential. Ready to make your university website more search engine friendly? 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. 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 individual programs and are likely to be searched by students.
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 suggestion tools, 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.
Make sure keywords are integrated into the website copy, as well as tags, headers, meta descriptions, and more.
2) Leverage a robust content strategy
Search engines like Google reward websites that frequently publish new content, like blog posts or videos, by re-indexing these web pages more often and improving SERP rankings. Posting new content, such as news items, event recaps, and student 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 engine rankings.
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 frequently publishes on its blog 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 marketing and SEO for universities.
3) Address duplicate content
At first glance, it might seem like having multiple pages with the same 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 it 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.
4) 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 prospective student’s college choice. Colleges and universities often recruit from local high schools, and local SEO for universities 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.
5) 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 out of your website if it takes too long to load.
Similarly, Google will rank slow websites lower on SERPs. 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.
Another way to optimize your website is to link to other relevant websites and have these websites link to you. A few examples of high-quality sites that can provide “backlinks” to your website include social media pages, listings lists, and third-party media sites that might host advertorials. You can also link internally to other pages on your website, like if your online press releases link to faculty profiles, department websites, or other relevant content.
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.
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