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Content Management

Powerful SEO for Higher Ed Websites

laptop and launching rocketAttract prospective students by boosting your SEO rankings.

Does search engine optimization (SEO) really boost rankings? Yes! You may have the best, most informative website in higher education, but if prospective students can’t find it in their searches, it does little to help you attract them.

Josh Dodson, Director of Integrated Marketing for VisionPoint Marketing and an OmniUpdate partner, is an SEO expert who works frequently with colleges and universities nationwide. Josh has found that if you understand and employ the basics of SEO, you can increase your website’s rankings and turn your site into a viable part of your marketing strategy.

Following are several of Dodson’s tried and true methods for optimizing your website that, if employed together, offer you best results. For more detailed information on SEO, check out his webcast: SEO Building Blocks: Getting the Basics Right.

Watch “SEO Building Blocks” webcast

Tips to Optimize Your Site

Keywords are more than just words you insert into your content—they give you insight into what people are thinking. Keywords help you build rapport with your users because you are using the exact phrases that they are using to find your site. When users find what they are looking for on your page, they are much more likely to engage with your content.

Target different stages of your funnel since no one is at the same stage at the same time.

The first stage, awareness, is when people are looking for information. The next stage brings a decision that is followed by action, the third phase. Creating content for only one phase of the funnel leaves web searchers in the lurch. Walk them through the process by creating content that builds rapport, provides useful pros and cons, encourages them to make a decision, and ultimately helps them take action. The end goal is to attract more students through leads and brand awareness.

Do your research.

Use Google Keyword Planner to look for a search phrase that is getting a lot of searches but doesn’t have a lot of competition. Once you have a list of quality search words, incorporate these into your articles only if it feels natural to do so. Check out our list of free SEO resources for tools to help you identify and use relevant keywords.

Find the question and answer it.

Figure out the relevant points of a particular question, then make it specific to your university. For the search, “why get a business degree?”, highlight why someone at your university should get a business degree. When you personalize your answers to the highest ranked Google search words, your SEO ranking increases.

Speak your site visitors’ language.

Don’t use academic terms only. Instead, use words and phrases that are natural for your audience. Also, remember that you have different types of audiences. The way you phrase something for a prospective student who is just beginning to navigate college websites is much different than words and phrases to use in articles directed toward parents. One caution: There is a fine line in speaking to site visitors in their language, especially students. You want to be familiar and authoritative, but don’t use slang or jargon that jeopardizes your authoritative voice.

Don’t use the same keyword ten times.

“Keyword stuffing” was once a viable way to increase your ranking, but now, you’ll get penalized for it. Google recognizes synonyms during searches, so identify similar words and phrases to use in your content. For example, if you are creating a page about red wine, mention Merlot, Cabernet, Malbec, and other varieties of red wine. These different phrases all mean the same thing and alerts Google to the fact that you have a deep knowledge of a specific topic.

Check your bounce rate.

Having multiple people who visit your site and then leave after viewing one page decreases your ranking. Your challenge is finding what pages are causing people to leave. Does the page actually answer the question that the visitor is asking? Does it take too long for your web page to load? Is navigation straight-forward or a challenge? Is the page visually unattractive with too little white space and images? Visit Google Analytics to determine your bounce rate then analyze your content to figure out how to engage visitors longer.

Check your site’s responsiveness.

Forty percent of web users abandon a website if it takes more than three seconds to load. A one second delay in page response can result in a seven percent reduction in conversions. The reason is that web users, particularly prospective students, demand having information instantaneously, and if a site is slow to respond or doesn’t cater to the device they are on, they will quickly revert back to their search and choose another option. Use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test to determine how mobile-friendly your site is.

Optimize your site’s architecture.

One of the ways that Google crawls your site is by using your site’s navigation to determine which pages have a higher priority. If you are implementing a new content management system (CMS) or are undergoing a website redesign, you’ll want to spend as much time as possible creating a logical, hierarchical system for your website pages. It will make it easier for visitors to navigate your site and help Google do its job by finding the right page rankings in your architecture hierarchy.

Eliminate all broken links and 301 redirects.

Nothing is as annoying as landing on a page with no content. You must constantly check pages for broken links and redirects, especially after installing updates and plug-ins. If you don’t, you can slip in rankings or be eliminated from the search altogether. A robust CMS like OU Campus will check for broken links before pages are published.

Include long form and short form content on your site.

A recent study found that the top organic ranks in Google search results were over 2,000 words in length. The challenge is actually providing relevant, quality content over “fluff” included to meet the word count. Intersperse longer articles that delve deeply into a specific topic with shorter articles that answer both perennial and trending questions in an informative, easy-to-follow format. Series are an ideal way to address the same topic in a different manner. For example, in one series of articles, we asked administrators “Why is education important?” Then, every week, we publish a different administrator’s answer.

Include images.

Adding photos and images automatically make your pages more interesting and visually appealing. The big advantage to doing so is that content illustrated with at least one image ranks higher. You can even optimize the descriptive alt text and captions with keywords if it makes sense.

Search engine optimization best practices are ever-changing, so do your best to stay abreast of current techniques and technologies.

For more on SEO, check out these related posts:

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