When prospective students search for a university, they turn to Google (like we all do for almost everything these days!). As such, universities must understand and implement search engine optimization (SEO) best practices to ensure soon-to-be college students and their parents see them.
Why SEO for Universities?
Some college-bound students have already figured out which school they want to attend long before the chaos of applications begins. For most high schoolers, however, there are a lot of unknowns during the search for the perfect school. There are different elements, like which state to begin your search and what major you want to pursue. Beyond that, there are a lot of possibilities, which is why you need to lean on SEO for higher education to get these prospective students’ attention.
SEO for school organizations works much as it does in other industries, helping to increase organic traffic to your website by boosting your school’s visibility with Google and other search engines.
What is SEO for Universities?
Any admissions team will tell you that increasing enrollment is always at the top of their priority list. The higher education market is highly competitive, and as costs continue to rise, students are pickier about which schools they choose to entertain as their potential higher education options.
Our university SEO services help our clients’ admissions teams support growth in enrollment by providing high-quality SEO content that builds brand awareness. SEO services for higher education utilize individually tailored SEO strategies unique to colleges and universities, helping your school’s site steadily move up the search engine results pages (SERPs), thereby boosting organic traffic and helping to filter in leads that could turn into enrolled students. This organic approach helps save you money because you’re not constantly relying on Pay-Per-Click (PPC) campaigns to attract new prospects — a key point for any higher education establishment on a tight budget.
Higher education SEO plays a significant role in getting your school noticed by future students and their parents. Given there are almost 5,000 colleges and universities in the U.S. alone, you’re swimming in a pretty big pond, and it can be hard to compete if you don’t pull out all the stops — that includes leaning on higher education SEO to help your school get to Page 1 of Google. After all, most searchers won’t bother looking at anything that doesn’t live on that coveted first page.
Long story short, higher visibility SEO will get you noticed by prospective students and help your establishment compete against schools that could otherwise pull the attention of your future graduates. Our full-service digital marketing agency is here to help your college or university make the most of your digital real estate by implementing SEO best practices for universities.
SEO Best Practices for Colleges and Universities
1. Be Mobile Friendly
Since Mobilegeddon of 2015, mobile friendliness has been critical to gaining a top spot on Google. Search engines don’t want their users mad or frustrated, so they give precedence to mobile-friendly sites. Prospective students don’t have the patience to deal with a site that is faulty on mobile, so make sure that you have a responsive website design that makes every page and form perform well (and look good) no matter what device it’s viewed on. Additionally, prospective students might think the university is old-fashioned or outdated if the website looks that way.
2. Perform Department-Specific Keyword Research
Keep specific departments in mind when planning keyword research to optimize a university website. Every page should be optimized for the intended target audience. As far as SEO for universities is concerned, the keywords used to attract prospective students interested in the English department are entirely different than the ones needed to garner the attention of geology enthusiasts.
3. Employ Local SEO for Universities
Not only should every page of your site contain targeted keywords and metadata (title tags, meta descriptions, alt tags), you need to put local SEO to work. Essentially, local SEO allows you to target prospective students searching for universities in your city or state. Take the department-specific keywords you established, and then add your state’s full name or abbreviation to them (e.g., “English program in Connecticut” or “CT English program” instead of just “English program”).
4. Make Navigation Simple
A key to SEO for universities is to have a simple, easy-to-use site map that makes it effortless for anyone to find the information they are looking for. Take advantage of internal linking to ensure no one has to use the back button — the last thing you want is for them to leave your site.
5. Develop Department-Specific Linking-Building Strategies
While a link-building strategy is an important part of any SEO strategy, it’s even more vital to pursue different strategies for every department. You should seek partnerships with professional websites in each area of study. Your English department can get inbound links from the American Society of Journalists and Authors, while your drama department can receive inbound links from the Actors’ Equity Association. Our team at Zero Gravity Marketing can help you gain qualified inbound links from various trusted sites.
6. Remember 301 Redirects
As a university, you likely have many webpages that no longer exist. From pages about last semester’s events to application information for a class that has already graduated, it’s crucial to use 301 redirects instead of simply letting these pages disappear. That way, you don’t lose the link equity the expired page has earned, and you keep your visitors happy by leading them to the appropriate page.
7. Join University-Related Directories
While you can use SEO for universities to secure your spot on Google, you also need to take the time to get your school listed in the main university directories that exist, such as CollegeBoard.org. Prospective students use many sites to locate the universities that interest them, and you don’t want them passing you by simply because you weren’t listed. Not only that, but each listing earns you an inbound link to boost your rankings.
8. Choose Your Website Host Wisely
When choosing your website host, the most crucial factor to consider is how fast it is and if it can process a website as complex as yours. WP Engine is an excellent host that will ensure your site loads quickly, making both Google and prospective students happy.
9. Publish Educational Materials
A university website doesn’t have to be all about informing prospective clients. When it comes to SEO for universities, it shouldn’t be. While that is important, you should also publish various educational materials. As long as they are accurately optimized, everything from a thesis to a journal abstract can improve your visibility on the search engines and bring new traffic to your site. The more content you can publish, the better, as long as you keep SEO for universities in mind.
10. Use Subdirectories, not Subdomains
When it comes to SEO for universities, every piece of content added should be done so as a subdirectory (www.exampleuniversity.com/blog), not a subdomain (blog.exampleuniversity.com). Search engines treat subdomains as entirely different sites, so you are basically competing with yourself. On the contrary, subdirectories allow you to build up a single website, giving you more link power to rank with. If a subdomain is the only option, make sure you link to your main site on the landing page.
11. Be Active on Social Media
When recruiting new students — or communicating with current ones — a university should be active where they are, which means social media is non-negotiable. Not only does it put your university on the platforms where prospective students are, but social media is also one of the main components of SEO for universities. It allows you to engage with your followers and easily pass on information. Facebook and Instagram are a given, but TikTok and Instagram Reels are the newest platforms where students congregate, so it’s worth researching.
12. Try Google Virtual Tours for Prospective Students
With the help of Google Business Profile, you can give prospective students an inside look at your university. Offer virtual tours of classrooms, dorm rooms, the library, and whatever else showcases the university’s offerings. Once prospective students see how awesome your campus is on the computer screen, they will want to visit it in person.
SEO for universities is time-consuming, but you will undoubtedly reap the rewards once the effort is put in. The first step is to contact us for a free digital marketing analysis of your university’s site. From there, we would love to create a personalized SEO strategy to boost your university’s online presence.