SEO basics

Higher Education SEO: Benefits, Tips & Tools

Discover key SEO strategies for higher education marketing. Learn how to boost your institution’s online presence, attract students, and increase enrollment.

Introduction to SEO for Higher Education

Search engine optimization has played an integral role in the digital landscape for over two decades. Its significance has only grown with time, especially in the fiercely competitive realm of higher education, where institutions constantly vie for the attention of prospective students. Keeping up with the evolving face of search can be the defining factor in your institution’s success.

Before delving into the benefits, best practices, and helpful tools for SEO in higher education, here are a few SEO statics to consider:

  • The #1 result in Google gets approximately 32% of all clicks
  • 49% of marketers say organic search has the best ROI of any marketing channel
  • 53% of US consumers say that they research products using a search engine before deciding whether or not to buy

These statistics highlight the critical role that SEO plays in the higher education landscape. It emphasizes that it’s not enough to merely exist in Google search results; you need to rank prominently to even be considered. How can prospective students even consider you if they can’t find you?

What is SEO for Higher Education?

In the context of higher education, SEO, or search engine optimization, refers to the strategies and techniques used to enhance the online presence of universities and colleges. Think of it as a tool that helps you connect with potential students when they use search engines.

It’s important to note that SEO isn’t limited to just Google; it’s relevant wherever there’s a search bar. This includes platforms like YouTube, TikTok, and the search feature on your own website. In essence, SEO is about making sure your institution is discoverable and visible across the digital landscape, ensuring that you can connect with prospective students wherever they search online.

Benefits of SEO for Higher Education

1. Be Found by Prospective Students

One of the most apparent advantages of SEO is that it helps prospective students find and learn about your institution. This is because students often use search engines like Google to research and explore higher education options. A strong SEO strategy ensures that your institution’s website is easily found, significantly improving the likelihood of attracting potential students.

Even if your school has a strong reputation and is well-recognized by students and the industry, it’s surprising how many institutions face challenges in search results due to intense competition. Sometimes, it’s not just about increasing visibility; it’s about refining and managing your online presence to ensure that you have control over your brand message.

2. Boost Enrollment

Higher enrollment is the lifeblood of any academic institution as it contributes to:

  • Financial Stability: Enrollment directly impacts an institution’s revenue. Tuition fees, along with other sources of income, such as grants and donations, contribute to an institution’s financial health. A steady or growing enrollment ensures a more stable budget, allowing the institution to invest in facilities, faculty, and resources.

  • Academic Excellence: A larger student body provides greater opportunities for diversity and talent. It allows for a broader range of academic programs, extracurricular activities, and research opportunities, enhancing the overall educational experience.

  • Reputation and Ranking: Many educational rankings and evaluations consider factors like student-to-faculty ratio and the academic quality of admitted students. Higher enrollment, when accompanied by a competitive admissions process, can positively influence an institution’s rankings and reputation.

  • Network and Alumni Base: A larger student body creates a more extensive network of alumni. This alumni base can provide valuable support, both financially and through career networking opportunities, further benefiting the institution and its graduates.

  • Economies of Scale: With increased enrollment, institutions can realize economies of scale. They can spread fixed costs across a larger student body, potentially reducing the cost per student and improving efficiency.

  • Research and Innovation: A larger enrollment can lead to increased research funding and innovation opportunities, fostering an environment where groundbreaking research can thrive.

Effective SEO gives you a fighting chance in helping you stand out among competitors and attract more applicants, ultimately leading to increased enrollment.

3. Remain Competitive

If you’re not harnessing the power of SEO, consider it as one less competitor your rivals need to concern themselves with. Imagine search engines as a dynamic playing field, akin to a game of Hungry, Hungry Hippos, where everyone eagerly competes for their share of the action.

In the fiercely competitive landscape of higher education, where countless institutions vie for the attention of the same pool of prospective students, embracing SEO best practices becomes the strategic edge that allows you to outshine your competitors and solidify your institution’s position as a leader in your field.

SEO Best Practices for Higher Education

To make the most of SEO in higher education, consider the following best practices:

1. Find the Priorities

Every higher education institution is unique, each presenting its own set of challenges and opportunities. To get started, it’s essential to conduct an analysis to pinpoint where your initial efforts should be directed.

Do you need to improve content? Are there technical issues to address? Could the user experience be enhanced? While the initial steps may seem similar for every school, it’s crucial to prioritize them based on where you can make the most significant impact, particularly when resources are limited and budget is tight.

2. See Who You’re Up Against

It’s important to know who is sharing and owning the search engine landscape. Google obviously believes they are doing something right; otherwise, why else would they rank? By conducting a competitive analysis, you’ll gain valuable insights into what strategies are working for other institutions and how you can differentiate yourself.

Begin by identifying your main competitors in the higher education space. These could be institutions offering similar programs, courses, or degrees in your region or niche. They don’t even have to be a direct competitor and match apples to apples. The point of this exercise is to see who is ranking and why.

Once you’ve pinpointed your competitors, delve into their SEO efforts. Explore their websites, content, and online presence to see what keywords they are targeting, the quality of their content, and the links they’ve acquired.

I’d even make note of non-SEO strategies such as UX and branding, since they can indirectly impact SEO success. This analysis can reveal opportunities for improvement in your strategy.

3. Conduct Keyword Research

Keyword research is the cornerstone of any effective SEO strategy. Though keep in mind that it’s not just about finding keywords; it’s about grasping what prospective students are looking for when they enter those keywords into search engines. This is also known as user intent and it requires going beyond the surface-level keyword metrics; it involves delving into the psychology of your target audience.

For instance, when a potential student searches for “computer science degree,” are they seeking information about program offerings, a blog post on what it is, or a resource on career prospects? Or maybe a combination of all three? By deciphering user intent, you can tailor content to better match the searcher’s needs.

4. Write Content People Are Searching For

Prospective students often turn to search engines to find answers to their questions about programs, admissions, scholarships, and campus life. All the things.

Your institution’s content should provide these answers in a comprehensive and engaging manner. Whether through blog posts, FAQ sections, or informative guides, your content should cater to the informational needs of your target audience.

Consider developing content that addresses common queries such as “How to apply for XYZ University?” or “What are the best majors for a career in XYZ industry?” Also craft content around top and/or rising trending topics to take advantage of the momentum. This way you can capitalize on current and growing audience interest.

As an educational institution, you can also leverage your expertise to create authoritative content that helps students make informed decisions about their academic journey. Providing valuable, up-to-date, and user-focused content not only improves your SEO but also positions your institution as a trusted resource in higher education.

5. Resolve Technical Errors

A seamless user experience is paramount for SEO success in higher education. Technical errors on your website can disrupt the user journey and negatively impact your search engine visibility. Sample technical issues include broken links, slow loading times, and mobile-friendliness problems. These issues can frustrate users and is an effective way to get them to visit your competitors.

Addressing technical errors involves regular website audits to identify and rectify these issues promptly. By consistently addressing technical errors, you’ll provide a smoother user experience and boost your SEO performance in the highly competitive higher education sector.

6. Prioritize Accessibility

Web accessibility is not only an ethical consideration but also an essential aspect of SEO. As a higher education institution, you are also required to be ADA compliant.

This includes providing alt text that describes images (versus stuffing this field with keywords for SEO), creating content that can be easily navigated with screen readers, and making sure your website structure is logical and user-friendly.

By prioritizing accessibility, you not only comply with legal standards but also broaden your audience and improve your website’s SEO. I often like to say that when you prioritize accessibility, the SEO usually falls in place. This is rarely the case when in reverse.

7. Improve the User Experience

You worked so hard to get visitors to your website, don’t lose them because of a poor user experience (UX). SEO can help to get visitors to your website, but what happens next is up to you. Examples of a good UX include implementing intuitive website navigation, clear calls-to-action, and responsive design.

This also includes the readability of your content. It’s not always what you say but how you say it. Eyes should naturally know where to flow. Consider short paragraphs, multimedia to enhance content, and a logical heading structure to illustrate hierarchy.

An improved UX not only keeps users engaged but also contributes to lower bounce rates and extended time spent on your site. Fostering a positive user experience can result in higher conversion rates for applications and inquiries, further supporting your institution’s goals.

Building authority through quality backlinks is a fundamental SEO strategy. In the context of higher education, securing backlinks from reputable sources can significantly boost your institution’s credibility and visibility.

One way to do this is by creating compelling, shareable content that naturally attracts backlinks from other websites. This requires high-quality content that exemplifies experience, expertise, authority, and trust (E-E-A-T).

Another effective method is by arranging interviews for faculty members with the media. Professors possess expertise in specific subjects, allowing them to provide valuable thought leadership. Whenever one of my clients’ faculty members are featured in an interview, we consistently observe a direct correlation with an increase in organic traffic.

As mentioned earlier, staying attuned to emerging trends is helpful for remaining competitive and maintaining relevance. Continually monitor developments within your field, shifts in student preferences, and advancements in educational technology.

For instance, I notify clients when there’s a surge in search demand for a specific program or the emergence of a new topic. This not only sparks content creation, but on occasion, has even guided the development of new program offerings to appeal to prospective students.

By proactively embracing emerging trends within your content and marketing strategies, you can position your institution as a pioneering force within your industry and seize the attention of forward-thinking students.

10. Combine with Other Marketing Tactics

Effective SEO doesn’t exist in isolation. It should be integrated into your broader marketing strategy. Coordinate your SEO efforts with other digital marketing tactics, such as social media, email marketing, and paid advertising. Consistent messaging and branding across channels can reinforce your institution’s online presence and impact the decision-making process of prospective students.

11. Optimize Videos on YouTube

Video content is a powerful tool in higher education marketing. YouTube, as one of the largest video-sharing platforms, offers a valuable opportunity to engage with your audience. Leveraging YouTube not only enhances your SEO through video search results but also offers a more immersive and personal way to connect with potential students.

Create informative, engaging, and visually appealing videos that address common questions, showcase campus life, and provide insights into your academic programs. Engage with comments and encourage discussions to build a community around your institution’s YouTube channel.

Also be sure to craft video descriptions that describe the contents of the video and upload an updated video srt file. You’ll want to do this versus rely on YouTube’s auto-captions since they can often get it wrong. This is especially important as you need to be ADA compliant.

12. Verify Knowledge Panel(s)

Google’s Knowledge Panel is a prominent feature that provides essential information about your institution in search results. Verify and claim your institution’s panel to have control over its content. This also applies to faculty Knowledge Panels. If they have an opportunity to claim it, they should.

Keep it up-to-date with the latest information, such as contact details, campus locations, and key statistics. A well-maintained Knowledge Panel enhances your institution’s (and faculty’s) credibility and provides a convenient way for users to access essential information directly from search results.

13. Use Data to Inform Next Steps

Data-driven decision-making is key to continuous improvement. Regularly analyze data related to website traffic, keyword performance, user behavior, and conversion rates. By staying agile and responsive to data-driven insights, you can ensure that your institution’s SEO efforts remain effective and competitive in the ever-changing higher education sector.

An example is when a client sought assistance in naming an upcoming digital transformation program. Their goal was to align with the search behaviors of prospective students interested in such programs. In this scenario, data played a pivotal role in shaping the program’s name, ensuring it resonated effectively with the target audience.

SEO Tools for Higher Education

To effectively implement these best practices, consider using the following SEO tools:

1. Semrush

Semrush is a comprehensive SEO tool that can be immensely valuable for higher education institutions. Here’s how you can utilize it:

  • Competitor Analysis: Use Semrush to identify your competitors in the higher education space. Analyze their organic search rankings, backlink profiles, and top-performing keywords. This information can help you understand where you stand in comparison and discover opportunities to outperform your competitors.

  • Keyword Research: Conduct thorough keyword research to uncover the most relevant and high-traffic keywords related to your institution’s programs and offerings. Semrush provides insights into search volume, competition, and keyword trends, allowing you to target the right keywords in your content.

  • Content Optimization: Semrush offers content optimization tools that can help you fine-tune your website content for SEO. It provides recommendations for keyword usage, content length, and readability to ensure your pages are well-optimized.

2. Keywords Everywhere

Keywords Everywhere is one of my favorite tools ever. It’s a browser extension that provides valuable keyword data as you browse the web. Here’s how you can utilize it:

  • Keyword Research: Keywords Everywhere can be used to identify relevant keywords while researching topics or competitors online. It helps you gauge the popularity of specific search terms and refine your keyword strategy accordingly.

  • Content Creation: The extension can suggest related keywords and phrases that you may want to incorporate into your articles or blog posts. This helps with creating content that aligns with what users are actively searching for.

3. Google Search Console

Google Search Console is a direct connection to Google’s search engine and offers insights into how Google views your website. Here’s how you can utilize it:

  • Performance Monitoring: Use Search Console to monitor your website’s performance in Google Search. Track clicks, impressions, click-through rates, and average position for your pages. This data helps you identify which pages are performing well and which may need improvement.

  • Index Coverage: Ensure that Google can crawl and index your site’s pages effectively. Check for any indexing issues, crawl errors, or blocked pages that may hinder your SEO efforts.

  • Sitemap Submission: Submit a sitemap of your website to Google through Search Console. This helps Google understand your site’s structure and content, improving your chances of ranking well.

Google Trends can be a powerful tool for staying updated on search trends in higher education. Here’s how you can utilize it:

  • Content Ideas: Use Google Trends to identify trending topics and queries related to higher education. This can help you create timely and relevant content that resonates with your audience.

  • Seasonal Insights: For higher education institutions, the academic calendar plays a significant role. Google Trends can reveal seasonal fluctuations in search interest, allowing you to plan your content and campaigns accordingly.

5. Screaming Frog

Screaming Frog is a website crawling tool that helps you audit your site’s technical SEO. Here’s how you can utilize it:

  • Site Audits: Regularly run site audits with Screaming Frog to identify technical issues like broken links, duplicate content, and missing meta tags. Addressing these issues enhances user experience and SEO performance.

  • Page Titles and Meta Descriptions: Ensure that every page on your website has a unique and well-optimized page title and meta description, which is important for accessibility, among several other important technical hindrances. Screaming Frog can highlight this information quickly.

6. Lumar

Lumar, previously known as DeepCrawl, is an AI-powered SEO tool. I primarily use it for technical analysis, but it offers other helpful reports as well. Here’s how you can utilize it:

  • Content Optimization: Lumar can analyze your content and provide suggestions for improving its SEO. It can highlight areas where you can enhance keyword usage, readability, and engagement.

  • Competitor Analysis: Use Lumar to gain insights into your competitors’ content strategies. Discover which keywords they are targeting and how you can compete effectively.

7. SurferSEO

SurferSEO is an on-page optimization tool that can be particularly useful for content creation and optimization. I primarily use it for incorporating NLP-related queries into content; however, they have a few other helpful dashboards. Here’s how you can utilize it:

  • Content Audit: Analyze top-performing content in your niche with SurferSEO. It provides data-driven insights into keyword usage, content length, and other on-page factors that contribute to SEO success.

  • Content Generation: SurferSEO can assist in generating content briefs based on keyword research, helping you create highly relevant and SEO-friendly articles and landing pages.

8. Google Analytics 4 Looker Studio Dashboard

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) integrated with Looker Studio, formerly known as Data Studio, offers advanced data visualization and analytics. Here’s how you can utilize it:

  • Performance Tracking: Create customized dashboards that provide real-time insights into your website’s performance. Monitor user behavior, conversion rates, and traffic sources to make data-driven decisions.

  • Segmentation: Use Looker Studio to segment your audience data, allowing you to understand the behavior and preferences of different user groups. This can inform targeted marketing campaigns for specific student demographics.

I put together this GA4 SEO Looker Studio Dashboard to quickly view high-level metrics. If you’d like to download a copy or have a custom Looker Studio dashboard created, please reach out for pricing information.

These tools, when used effectively in higher education, can empower institutions to refine their SEO strategies, optimize content, and make data-driven decisions to stay competitive in the digital landscape.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re embarking on your institution’s SEO journey or seeking to enhance your existing strategies, remember that the pursuit of excellence in education goes hand in hand with the pursuit of excellence in digital visibility.

Remember that SEO is not a one-time endeavor but an ongoing commitment to refining and optimizing your digital presence. As you harness the power of SEO, you embark on a journey towards not only boosting enrollment but also enriching the educational experience, shaping future leaders, and making a lasting impact in the ever-evolving landscape of higher education.

If you’re ready to elevate your SEO to the next level, please get in touch! With over a decade of experience in providing SEO consulting services for higher education, I possess a deep understanding of the intricacies involved in promoting your industry. It would be an honor to have the opportunity to collaborate with you and contribute to your institution’s success.

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