Why SEO is Critical for Colleges and Universities

Higher Education, Search Engine Optimization

Search engine optimization (SEO) is becoming more and more critical for colleges and universities to build into their marketing plans. Technology is permeating our lives; according to PEW Research nearly nine-in-ten Americans today are online and over 77% own a smartphone. If your institution does not stand out online and rank well in Google search results, it will become increasingly hard to compete. 

Colleges and universities tend to be segmented by programs or departments. This set up makes it more challenging for prospective students to find what they are looking for, due to a myriad of reasons. SEO can help with this.

We understand that marketing budgets can be tight, but we’ll outline why your marketing department needs to ensure there is a budget for and a focus on SEO.

Searcher Intent

Currently, a lot of universities and colleges use their name in everything (title, meta, page content, etc). While this isn’t the worst idea for promotion, it doesn’t take the searcher into consideration. Gaining an upper hand in search results compared to other universities might come down to understanding and addressing searcher intent.

Prospective students are using unique words and phrases to look for universities that have programs they are interested in. For example, if you have a business administration program, prospective students may not be using that specific term in their query when searching online for potential programs. They could be searching for marketing, advertising, or even general business degrees.

Taking time to consider and think about what your prospective students are searching for and what terms they might use to find your university will go a long way. Putting in the time to understand online user behavior and do thorough keyword research will make other SEO optimizations more straightforward and efficient.

Content and Keywords Reign

Content is king, and in the world of SEO, it truly reigns supreme. It is one of the major ranking factors for Google. Not only should your site have engaging and relevant content for your users, but it should have keywords and phrases integrated into it. Doing so will help your college’s specific pages rank in Google, thus coming up in search results for prospective students  

When it comes to finding appropriate keywords for your department or program, time and research are required. Keywords need to be focused and relevant to the content on the page. Seeing as universities and colleges tend to have multi-page websites, keyword research becomes quite the endeavor.

If you pay attention to searcher intent and put yourself in the shoes of a prospective student, your chosen keywords are more likely to match in search results, thus improving page rank.

We understand that many universities and colleges do not have control over their entire site, just their specific department, you need to be taking advantage of this!

Mobile Rules

Mobile devices are quickly taking over; almost everyone has a smartphone and uses it regularly. Your target student could be fresh out of high school or someone who is looking for a post bac, and trust us, what they want is an easy way to find and use your college’s website.

This is where having a mobile friendly website comes into play. If your current desktop site is not mobile friendly or optimized, you should be concerned. Here is a quick read on why your site should be mobile friendly.

If a potential student has a poor experience accessing your site on their phone, they aren’t likely to stick around. Whether it was too slow, hard to navigate, a form was difficult to fill out, or just too cumbersome, your site has left a negative impression on that student.

Imagine this scenario: A prospective student meets with their counselor to discuss applying to college. After the meeting, the student, feeling motivated, gets on their phone to visit a college’s website. That student can’t find any information, not even where to apply. They become frustrated and leave the site, going back to Google and searching for a different college. That college may have lost a student, all because of a poor mobile experience.

Don’t let this happen to you! Check out Google’s’ mobile friendly test tool to get an idea of what the current user experience is like (this is done on a page by page basis).

But all is not lost, utilizing an SEO strategy can help with this. Optimizations can be made on your desktop site to provide a better user experience on your mobile site. If you can provide a fantastic mobile experience for your potential students, you will have better odds that they will turn into enrolled students.

Other SEO Factors for Higher Education

SEO is a multifaceted digital marketing tactic. It goes well beyond searcher intent, keywords, and mobile friendliness. Other aspects include:

  • Duplicate content
  • Page speed and page load time
  • Linking
  • Citations
  • Navigation structure
  • Ongoing optimizations onsite and offsite
  • Location targeting

One of these aspects we’d like to expand on is location targeting. Ensuring location targeting is part of your SEO strategy will help prospective students find your school based on location and keywords. For instance, if your college is in Portland, Oregon, you would want to make sure your chosen keywords reflect this. Be careful not to overdo it though; you don’t want your keyword strategy to become spammy.

All of these and more go into how your college or university ranks in search results. SEO is something you must stay on top of in order to see the results you are striving for.

It’s Time to Stand Out

An SEO strategy can make or break where your school appears in search results. We know it’s a lot to take on, but you don’t have to do it alone. Contact us today – we’d love to discuss how we can make an impact for your school!

About the Author

Nick Footer

Nick Footer is an entrepreneur and founder of Intuitive Digital, a national award-winning digital marketing agency in Portland, Oregon. With over 15 years of experience, he has helped hundreds of businesses improve their online presence through search engine optimization, paid advertising, and website design.

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