Put Your School on the Map: SEO and the University Website

Written by SuperUser Account on 9/27/2016
Put Your School on the Map: SEO and the University Website

Let’s just cut to the chase before we go any further: talking at length about SEO isn’t the most exciting thing to do … but it is important to making sure prospective students:

  1. Find you online
  2. Like what they see, enough to make a conversion

A 2014 study by Conductor determined that organic search is responsible for 64% of all web traffic. That’s compared to the paltry 2% from social, and 6% from paid search.

In other words, the better you are at organically ranking your school on results pages, the more traffic you’ll bring to your school website.

And that’s why talking about SEO and the university website is a conversation we have to have.

Defining SEO

In order to talk about how SEO impacts your school’s website ranking, we first have to understand what SEO is.

Many people tend to use SEO and Digital Marketing interchangeably, but that’s not entirely accurate. SEO (or Search Engine Optimization) is one aspect of digital marketing, but it’s not the whole enchilada.

That’s actually a good thing; it makes it easier to narrow down our focus and hone in on SEO-specific tactics and strategies that’ll help you rank higher.

And believe it or not, your SEO efforts will largely hinge on the type of Content Management System (CMS) you choose.

You see, SEO deals with a lot of moving parts, including:

  • On-page content
  • Meta tags
  • Sitemaps
  • URLs
  • Page speed
  • Rich schemata data
  • Redirects/Follow commands
  • Mobile-friendly
  • And much more

Trying to manage all of these moving parts can be overwhelming (or expensive, if you hire a dedicated SEO for your team). Luckily, you don’t have to. The CMS you choose can – and should – make it easy and affordable for you to build and maintain an SEO-friendly website that helps you rank higher.

The SEO-friendly features your Content Management System should have

Are you unhappy with how your webpages are ranking? While there are certain strategies you can put into place, sometimes the issue isn’t strategy, but the foundation of your website: your CMS.

CMS’s include: WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, Magenta, and DNN

When building (or rebuilding) your university website, make sure your CMS includes these SEO-friendly features:

  • The power to customize page titles/meta data – It should be easy for you to go in and change the title of a page or post, as well as your meta descriptions and sub-header tags.
  • Tidy URL structure – Ideally, you’ll be able to create any URL you want for your pages and posts (that way you can use clean, short URLs that are keyword-focused). Some CMS’s create complex URLs with tons of symbols and letters, which Google does not like.
  • Support for the rel=canonical Tag – OK, so this might be a bit confusing, but it’s a key CMS feature for universities that might contain several nearly identical webpages. The rel=canonical tag helps you prevent duplicate content issues.
  • Support for sitemaps – If you’re lost in the woods, wouldn’t a compass and map help? That’s what the sitemap is for search engines. While there are many ways to produce sitemaps, it saves you time and headaches if your CMS can do it for you.
  • Respect for page speed – Google uses page speed as a ranking factor for pages. The search engine giant wants users to have a positive experience; waiting around for a page to load isn’t going to do it. Some of the most popular CMS’s out there give you the ability to use premade themes and templates to create pretty nifty websites … but at a cost. These sites are usually bloated with code and kill your webpage speed.
  • The ability to create custom alt-tags – An alt-tag is a way for you to add keywords to images, so search engines know what those images are about. While minor in terms of ranking, the ability to add alt-tags to your images can help give each page that little extra boost.
  • Breadcrumbs – School and university websites are typically pretty complex. The average visitor will delve deep into your site, from home page to course catalogs, financial aid, campus life and more. Your CMS should support the customization of breadcrumb navigation to enhance the user experience.

Producing content beyond your static school pages

Another key feature of your website CMS platform is the ability to add and edit content without the need for a developer.

Be sure you take advantage of this feature by producing quality, relevant content that’ll help you rank higher on search engine results pages.

Here’s what we mean:

Your website is made up of dozens, if not hundreds of static webpages (pages that remain the same), including:

  • Home Page
  • Tuition/Financial Aid pages
  • Courses/Majors pages
  • Admission pages
  • Campus Life pages

Each of these webpages should be optimized for their narrowed and specific content and keywords. However, you can’t expect these static pages to take on the full weight of your SEO strategy.

That’s where blogging and content marketing come into play.

We use the term blogging carefully here, because these days, “content” goes well beyond the confines of a blog. Podcasts, videos, long-term articles, and infographics are all valuable pieces of content your school should consider creating.

The benefit of producing content is you can target your prospects based on their specific searches.

For example, if you’re a school located in New Orleans, one of your out-of-state prospects might be wondering if the Crescent City is a good place to call home for a college student.

Creating an article, video, or even infographic to answer this question is a very good idea. You could name it: 6 Reasons Why New Orleans is the Perfect City for a College Student.

But it probably doesn’t make sense to place that content alongside your static pages; rather you should have a resource center (a glorified blog archive) that houses this type of post-based content. You can then not only direct prospects to this resource center, but you can also actively promote individual articles and videos (on social media, or through paid ads, for example).

Pro tip: When producing content for your university, focus on creating evergreen content.

Evergreen content is content that you can use over and over again; it doesn’t have an expiration date.

Creating content can be time consuming. In order to see the most return on this investment, be sure to create content that you can consistently promote throughout the year. Evergreen content is your best bet for seeing long-term SEO benefits.

Understanding the proper approach to keywords

Typically, university administrators have at least a working knowledge of SEO, in that they know that keywords play a huge role.

That’s a good start, but it’s also pretty deceptive. Keywords do play a huge role in SEO, but not like they used to.

Years ago, it was deemed good practice to stuff a webpage or post with the same key phrase over and over again.

Today, that practice isn’t just pointless – Google will penalize you for it. That’s because keyword stuffing – as it’s called – doesn’t deliver a positive user experience.

So, how can you still use keywords to your advantage as you optimize your website?

Think about the I shall prove thesis page

Most students have had to write thesis papers in their life. Early on in their careers, they may have been taught to start their papers with the statement: I shall prove, as in:

I shall prove that the earth revolves around the sun.

That statement is then followed by three or so points that the student will use to prove his point.

During the course of the thesis paper, the student will naturally talk about earth revolving around the sun; however, he’s likely not going to repeat that statement (the earth revolves around the sun) a half a dozen times.

It just doesn’t sound natural.

Instead, he’ll talk about rotations and revolutions. He’ll almost certainly talk about Nicolaus Copernicus (who was the first person to suggest the earth rotates around the sun). He’ll also likely use the term heliocentrism.

These terms are related keywords that fall within the umbrella phrase of earth revolves around the sun.

These days, Google’s algorithms are so complex and intelligent that they know that a post about the earth revolving around the sun should likely include these related words.

In other words, as you create content designed to rank high for certain search phrases, don’t confine your content to just that phrase. Think about user intent. What does the user want to know? Think about the age-old I shall prove thesis paper.

Make SEO an integral part of your marketing strategy

As we mentioned earlier, SEO isn’t digital marketing – it’s one component of it. It just so happens its’s a pretty big part of it, seeing as most of your web traffic comes from organic searches.

But you can’t expect to manage every aspect of your SEO without some help. While a dedicated SEO team is one way to go, there’s not necessarily a need for that with most universities and schools.

Instead, consider investing in a CMS platform that’s designed to simplify SEO for you. But regardless of which CMS you choose, make sure to take advantage of the ability to produce content quickly and easily.

To this day, content remains one of the best ways to rank higher on Google. But not just any content will do. Relevant and useful content that your readers actually want to read is what will help you grab the top spots for your keywords. Focus on your content, with the help of a solid SEO-friendly CMS platform, and you’ll be well on your way to higher rankings and more web traffic.

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