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SEO for Universities

seo for universities
22 Apr 2016

When prospective students search for a university, they turn to Google.  The experts working together at Zero Gravity Marketing have narrowed SEO for universities down to the top 12 SEO strategies to get the Google real estate needed for recruiting new students.

1. Be Mobile Friendly

Ever 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 sites that are mobile friendly. 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 no matter what device it’s viewed on. Additionally, prospective students might think the university itself is old fashioned or out of date, if the website looks that way.

2. Perform Department Specific Keyword Research

When planning keyword research to optimize a university website, keep specific departments in mind. Every page should be optimized for the specific audience for which it is intended. As far as SEO for universities is concerned, the keywords used to attract prospective students interested in the English department are completely 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 the prospective students that are 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 them leaving your site.

5. Develop Department Specific Linking Building Strategies

While a link building strategy is an important part of any SEO for universities, it’s even more vital that you pursue different strategies for every department. You should seek out partnerships with professional websites in each specific 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 Actors’ Equity Association. Zero Gravity Marketing can help you gain qualified inbound links from a variety of trusted sites.

6. Remember 301 Redirects

As a university, it’s likely that you have large amount of webpages that no longer exist. From pages talking about last semester’s events to application information for a class that has already graduated, it’s crucial that you 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 Prospective students use an abundance of 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 it comes to choosing your website host, the most important factor to consider is how fast it is and if it is capable of processing 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. To further improve the loading power of your website, consider using WordPress for Universities to build your site.

9. Publish Educational Materials

A university website doesn’t have to be all about informing prospective clients. In fact, when it comes to SEO for universities, it shouldn’t be. While that is important, you should also publish a variety of 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 (, not a subdomain ( 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 it comes to 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, social media is 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 given, but Snapchat is the newest site where students congregate, so it’s worth researching.

12. Try Google Virtual Tours for Prospective Students

With the help of Google My Business, 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 once the effort is put in, you will undoubtedly reap the rewards. The first step is to contact us for a free digital marketing analysis of your university’s site, and from there, we would love to create a personalized SEO strategy to boost your university’s presence online.