15 Higher Education Digital Marketing Strategies for 2018

Every day, universities and colleges are coming up with exciting, innovative courses for the millions of motivated students all over the world. The higher education space is being redefined by innovation in design, delivery and employability for many degree programs. Education experts have the resources they need to craft, test and rollout cutting edge online degree programs. That’s why higher education institutions are bringing on board creative communication and marketing professionals to keep their institutions and programs visible and desirable. Here at Circa, we utilize unique higher education marketing strategies that help raise awareness of courses and programs while bringing in high quality students that enable online degree programs to flourish. 

Innovative PPC Strategies

Andrew Glasser and Farzin Espahani

The possibilities for higher ed marketing are seemingly endless when it comes to PPC. It is by and large the most immediate method for generating high-quality leads while broadcasting your brand to qualified individuals, ultimately turning clicks into prospective students. In Search, PPC is a hotbed for student acquisition, with degree-seekers constantly turning to Google and Bing to help them decide their career/academic path. Within Social, PPC offers increasingly advanced tools which we can use to hone in on subgroups of your target audience, fostering lead growth in the student acquisition cycle while simultaneously nurturing your Brand’s reach.

When it comes to paid advertising on social platforms, we notice a clear trend for universities who are marketing online graduate degree programs: All the ads are the same. The ad copy makes it clear that the program is flexible and completely online, and the visuals often convey a happy working professional looking satisfied in their new role. In 2018, it is our focus, mission, and purpose to ensure that colleges and universities make a commitment to standing out from the crowd by showcasing their true story. Students understand that they have basic needs in their degree program, but in 2018, millennials need to have a connection to something bigger. It is important for universities to look at their missions, ideals, and unique value propositions outside of online, flexible, innovative curriculum to begin conveying the information that matters to a student’s personal journey.

Mobile Optimized Search Ads

Studies continue to show that mobile devices are the go-to option for searching the internet. In fact, mobile devices are used more often for searches than desktop computers.  The average person checks their phone 150 times a day, the average time spend on a smartphone is 177 minutes per day, and amazingly, the average mobile session is 70 seconds. This means consumers are using their phones all day, every day, but in short bursts of time. By bidding higher for mobile devices in Google Adwords and Bing ads while utilizing mobile optimized ad extensions we can increase the CTR significantly.

Managed Placements And Interests

Managed placements is a good strategy when there are specific websites that you think are related to specific program or university where can be visited by a potential student. For example for an online MBA program, we want to place our display ads on education related websites and focus on pages relevant to higher education and career advancement. This will help us to make sure our ads are shown to those more likely to click on the ad to learn more.  

Facebook Retargeting Campaigns

The beauty and effectiveness of retargeting allows you to reach out to users who have already showed interest to your brand or program and to get them to re-engage with your brand. This is a slow but steady and cost effective strategy that converts more students compared to traditional targeting, since users are more likely to engage with ads from brands that they know. The best way to achieve a winner retargeting strategy is to start with a brand awareness ad to simply introduce your brand. Then running a retargeting campaign that shows new ads to those who have already engaged with your previous ad.

Fundamental SEO Strategies

Tyler Cooper

Every month, hundreds of thousands of prospective students are logging onto their computers, opening up Google, and trying to figure out where they should earn their degree. If your website’s SEO strategy is not up to par, chances are you’re missing out on the vast majority of these leads. While you can use Google AdWords to show up for these results, you’re going to be paying a premium for each click. When you rank organically, there is no cost per click. When looking at this from an ROI perspective, the value of SEO is undeniable. Having a large search presence means more organic traffic, more leads, more applicants, and more students. If SEO is not a part of your digital marketing strategy in 2018, you are doing yourself a huge disservice.

Link building

Link building is undoubtedly the most important aspect of your SEO strategy. In order to compete in competitive markets such as higher education, your website will need a steady stream of high-quality and relevant backlinks. There are a number of link building strategies. You can read more about those here.

On-Page SEO

In order to get the most out of your link building campaigns, it’s extremely important that your on-page SEO is in place. Make sure you all of the content on your website is properly optimized for search. This includes keyword rich title tags, relevant meta descriptions, keyword density, optimized header tags, internal linking, and much more.

Technical SEO

While this may require assistance from a web developer, it’s important that your site is technically sound so that it can be properly crawled by Google. The easier it is for Google to crawl and understand your site, the more your website’s pages will be shown in Google’s search results. On the other hand, if your website is full of technical errors, your search rankings will almost certainly suffer. Some things to look for when performing a technical SEO audit are: 404 errors, missing/broken XML sitemaps, slow page load times, duplicate content, irrelevant/thin content, and more! Use a tool like Screaming Frog to identify some of these common issues.

Website Content Strategies

Frederic Lee

Creation of website content (articles, infographics, data visualization, and more) is an essential aspect of any search marketing strategy. The primary reason being that Google favors websites with fresh content. With this in mind, a strategy of continuous creation and publication of content is important for website visibility in Google’s search results. In addition to creating fresh content, here are three core strategies to get the most ROI in this content.

Traffic and Rankings Focused Content

Through careful keyword research with an emphasis on target long-tail variations of your core keywords, content can be created with the best opportunity to rank in the search results. Keyword clusters/pods can be established in order to streamline content creation and may cover many keyword opportunity areas surrounding a long-tail variation. Upon completion and distribution, this content may rank for competitive keywords and either bring in large quantities of industry traffic, or a lesser, more valuable flow of conversion-focused traffic.

Conversion Support Focused Content

Depending on your business goals, conversion support content have a goal of providing detailed information about your product/service and industry. This content is designed to speak directly to individuals in the sales funnel. Through paid and organic social distribution and careful placement on your website, these articles are designed to be a strong touchpoint in the sales process.

Social Signal Focused Content

A portion of the Google algorithm involves having positive social signals pointing towards your website and content. Articles and graphics can be created with this exact goal in mind. A detailed analysis of your target audience and how they interact on social network is a key first step. This content must give them a reason to share and engage. Upon publication, strategic social sharing and promotion can help kick start this content on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other relevant networks to your industry.

Creative Digital PR Strategies

George Bradley and Joseph Lapin

In the higher education industry, digital public relations is an important approach for any SEO strategy. Here at Circa, we believe that the faculty are one of a university’s greatest assets, yet in general, many higher ed marketing companies are not utilizing these key stakeholders. By leveraging traditional public relations strategies for the digital world, digital PR not only influences brand awareness and thought leadership for universities, but it also allows us to create high level media opportunities for our professors in publications such as the Washington Post, The Hill and HuffPost. Not only are the professors being placed here, but we are obtaining backlinks to our program pages. This directly influences organic traffic that leads to conversions and new students. In collaboration with on-page SEO elements, content marketing, and other link building strategies, digital PR helps bring prospective students to a university and serves as a significant contributor to a diverse link profile for an authoritative website.

Relationship Building

Professors and reporters/editors are the two key relationships that should be built as part of a higher education digital marketing strategy. By building trusting relationships with faculty, you are able to gain an understanding of their research and passions and also create opportunities that are specifically focused on their expertise. Relationships with reporters can also prove to be greatly beneficial. When you have a reporter who trusts you, they are far more likely to respond to your pitch and come to you for a quote from one of your faculty members.

Creative Pitch Writing

Pitching compelling story lines and sources are the crux of any PR strategy. In the higher education digital marketing space, we leverage the faculty expertise to write pitches that relate to current trending topics in the news. There are often four key components to a pitch, and these are the lead, call to action, unique value proposition, and conclusion. You can find more information on how to write these pitches here.

Stay on Top of the News

Having access to and critically understanding the latest news is imperative because you want to stay ahead of the curve. There are various ways to understand what is happening throughout the world, and you should consider each method to be as important as the next. Understanding stories in the newspaper and tying in our professors is the perfect way to begin the pitching process. All of this comes back to understanding your professors and the people working on relevant stories within the media.

Organic Social Media Marketing

Audrey Wills

In 2018, social media is an imperative part to any digital marketing strategy –– especially for higher education. To put the importance of social media marketing into context, take a look at the graph below. When the Pew Research Center began tracking social media usage in 2005, less than 8% of 18-49 year olds in America used at least one social platform. Today, over 75% of 18-49 year olds are active on at least one social media site, meaning social media is the optimal medium for reaching higher education’s target audience.

While the growth in social media usage is a good thing in the world of higher education digital marketing, this increased usage leads to users being inundated with ads and content marketing. So much so that at the beginning of 2018, Facebook changed its algorithm to prioritize content from user’s inner circles. Thus, making it even more difficult to get content in front of your target audience –– organically at least. So what tactics can you use to ensure you continue to reach your audience and boost enrollment? Let’s take a look.

Know Your Platform

As mentioned before, Facebook changed their algorithm in the beginning of 2018 to prioritize content from a user’s family and friends. This means that whenever you post content, whether it is on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, you need to post content that best suits that platform.

Facebook’s algorithm favors content that people want to engage with. Think: would I share this with my friends? Content that is made for Twitter should be concise, yet informational. Let your followers know what you’re sharing and why. Do some research and identify the most active hashtags for your industry and use them throughout your tweets to help increase your reach. When creating content for Instagram, think visuals first, and make sure you have an eye-catching graphic that will grab your follower’s attention and get them to stop scrolling.

Keep up-to-date on social media marketing by attending a conference: http://circaedu.com/hemj/13-higher-education-marketing-conferences-in-2018/  

Live Video

One tactic that all social media algorithm’s love is Live Video. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter enable you to leverage live video to interact with prospective students. My favorite tactic for utilizing live video is hosting live Q&A info sessions to address general program FAQs and provide prospective students the opportunity to ask questions and receive answers in real-time. Hosting a series of Q&A info sessions that address different areas of your program. To give students a better feel for your program, have different team members host each session. Anyone from an alumni, a current student, a faculty member, or even dean are perfect candidates to provide their own perspective and create a connection with the prospective students.

Chatbots At Your Service

Social media has changed the way we all communicate, and chatbots are taking our new forms of communication one step further. Chatbots provide a modern way for students to get questions answered instantaneously. Implementing chatbots into your recruitment strategy can help your admissions team speed up the enrollment process by weeding out unqualified candidates, answering questions in seconds, not hours, and even following up with potential students to ensure they finish their applications before the enrollment deadline.

Circa Interactive is the premier digital marketing agency in higher education. Since opening in 2011, Circa Interactive has helped more than 60 degree programs increase lead flow, build brand awareness,and generate more students. To find out how our services could help your institution, please email clayton@circaedu.com. 

 

Understanding the Value of A/B Testing

What is A/B Testing?

Have you ever wondered if a certain piece of content on your website is performing to its full potential? If the subject line on your email campaign is compelling enough to maximize open rates, or even if a button on your website is the best color to attract a user to click? Many businesses and their marketing teams ask these and similar questions every day. Thankfully these questions can be answered by utilizing A/B testing.

A/B testing, or split testing, as some people like to call it, is a controlled experiment whereby two or more variants are tested against each other to find which performs better. This commonly used approach allows marketers to make the most of existing traffic that has usually taken a lot of time and money to get in the first place.

The Stages of A/B Tests

There are a handful of stages when running a successful A/B test. These stages can vary depending on who you ask but in general, four show up time and time again. These stages can be represented in four questions.

Do I need to conduct an A/B test?

Testing random ideas just for the fun of it will more than likely be a waste of time. For this reason, it is highly advised to create a hypothesis first. This hypothesis must be based on research into where the problem lives. For example, “if I make this change I expect to see this result”. This will help you gain information on not only what needs to change on your site but valuable information on your customers and their behavior.  

What metrics will define the success of this test?

This stage is the most important, and thus should be given the most time and focus. It is important to define what metric which will be used to measure if the experiment group is better than the control group or not. To help you decide this, you need to ask yourself what are you going to use the metrics for. There are two main categories of use that you will be using your metric for; Invariant checking, variants that should not change across your experiment and control, and evaluation of metrics and evaluation. These can be either high level such as increase in revenue or percent of market share. On the other hand, matrices can be more finer and look at user experience.  

It is important to note that some metrics may not be able to be completely measure correctly due to factors such as technology and demographics used. For example, Java may not run on certain web browsers resulting in incorrect CTR. As a result, filters may be needed to ensure data is not skewed and the metrics chosen can actually measure correctly.

How to design an experiment?

Designing the experiment includes deciding on a unit of diversion, deciding on the size and characteristics of the population and how long the experiment will run for.  

  • The unit of diversion is what units you are going to run the test on and comparing. Commonly, these can be event based (e.g. pageview) or anonymous ID (e.g. cookie id) or user ID. It’s important to ensure when you have a user visibility change to assign people instead of events. This is so the user will not get confused if they see a change, refresh the page and then see that the change has disappeared. If measuring latency change, other metrics like event level diversion might be enough.
  • The population of subjects that are eligible for this test is then selected. Everyone who visits your site may not be eligible for this experiment as you might be only looking at US traffic, of wanting only students depending on what and why you are experimenting.
  • Timing in a/b testing can be a deciding factor whether the experiment has been carried out correctly or not. When best suits to run the experiment? During the holidays? At night? Weekdays vs the weekend? This will depend on who the population is and what you’re looking to achieve. Making sure the experiments run long enough to gather a sufficient amount of data but not too long to miss out on the opportunity to use the better performing page with all of your site visitors.
How to analyze data?

Tests can end in three different ways, either the control wins, the experiment wins or there is no change. Reading this much is for the most part easy but it is important not to pat yourself on the back just yet. It is essential to dig deeper into these results and find out more about the behavior of your customers. As Bryan Clayton, CEO of GreenPal explains “Only with A/B testing can you close the gap between customer logic and company logic and, gradually, over time, match the internal thought sequence that is going on in your customers’ heads when they are considering your offer on your landing page or within your app.”

A/B Testing Examples

MVMT

The Retention of customers is an issue for many watch companies as a customer is usually only in the market for a watch every few years. MVMT faced this issue and introduced a selection of interchangeable watch straps to their site. To ensure these straps increased consumer retention the way in which they were presented on the site was tested. The control in this experiment was with no cross selling of the straps with two test variations, one with the straps above the watches and one with the straps below the watches. By doing this test, MVMT were able to increase conversions by 5.5% for mobile shoppers and 2.2% for shoppers on desktop.

ASANA  

Teamwork-trafficking software Asana used a/b testing to successfully redesign and rebrand their website, improving user experience along the way. To ensure consumers were not surprised with a big website design, Asana implemented these changes slowly over time to gradually optimize the site for the best user experience. By breaking their tasks into two categories, Asana’s product team were able to first focus on core functionality features, implementing them once they had performed well in their test segments. After this, their rebranding team implemented the overall new look of the site and new branded look.

A/B testing is just one of the way’s that our PPC team ensures our clients campaigns are optimized and operating to their fullest potential. You can check out or PPC services here.

Aidan graduated with a Master’s in Digital Marketing from the National University of Ireland, Galway in 2016 where he gained a strong understanding of online marketing strategies, and marketing performance and productivity. Prior to his move to the US to work with Circa interactive, Aidan gained his experience in a variety of industries from festivals to medical devices. His current role within the Circa team is as the Jr. Digital marketing specialist, working with both the SEO team and the Marketing Analytics team, ensuring the service we provide is above the high standard expected from our clients.

How to Get Published Online: Guest Articles

Having a guest article published on an industry-specific or national news site can be a great way to build on your thought leadership and promote your brand. However, it’s not always an easy feat, as editors receive hundreds of submissions every day from others clamoring for the same opportunity. It’s easy to understand, then, why publications must be stringent in their submission and review process–they must ensure that only the most high-quality and valuable content makes it through. For this reason, it’s critical to have a well-executed strategy in place before you begin writing or submitting an article for consideration. So what can you do to successfully get published online? Having had dozens of articles published on behalf of clients and my team, I’ve listed some top tips that you should consider when trying to obtain a guest article placement.

Leverage a Relevant Time or News Peg

An article is much more powerful and engaging if there is a relevant news peg tied to it. This means leveraging a trend or story currently taking place in the news (whether it be mainstream or industry-specific) and tying it into the focus of your article. An editor will be much more likely to publish your story if it ties into a larger theme and conversation that is of interest to their target audience. For example, if you are a marketing and branding expert with a focus on social media, it would be wise to use the latest Facebook algorithm change to discuss how this shift in users’ newsfeed could impact brands and organic reach. Time pegs are another very effective way to add relevancy and a sense of urgency to your story. For example, MLK Day or Engineers Week are both examples of time pegs that could be leveraged for an article.  

Provide a Unique Angle

While it’s incredibly important to tie your article into a larger narrative or trending story happening in the news, you must also be sure to provide a unique angle to that story. You never want to simply regurgitate what has already been said. One method to help ensure that you’re not writing something that has already been covered is to do a quick search of related topics on a publication’s site to determine whether they’ve already written about the story you’re pitching/writing. This will help you to fine-tune your idea and shift the angle if needed.

Understand the Publication’s Audience

It might seem obvious, but even the most well-written, interesting article will go ignored if the topic and angle doesn’t appeal to a publication’s audience. It’s important to understand what an audience (and editor) will be drawn to. For example, if you write a guide on the best educational teaching tools out there, but the audience of the publication is primarily students, it won’t be of any use or interest to them, despite the fact that they both pertain to the same industry. You must tailor your content and angle to something that the audience will find beneficial and worthwhile in order to be seriously considered.

Make Sure to Follow any Submission Guidelines

Few things will disqualify you more quickly in the eyes of an editor than completely disregarding clear directions for writing and submitting an article for consideration. This can turn you and your article into more of a nuisance than anything else and cause an editor to overlook the hard work you’ve put into the actual content. With this in mind, take note of their submission requirements and follow them as closely as possible.

Also, unless they explicitly say otherwise, it’s usually a good idea to send the editor a short pitch outlining your article idea before you begin writing it. If it’s not in line with what they’re looking for, this tactic will allow you to either pivot your angle or focus your time and effort on other publications instead.

Have Sources to Back Up Your Claims

Although contributed articles tend to be opinion pieces, it’s still important to include credible sources that help to support and back up your claims and position. Adding in these sources will only strengthen your stance and illustrate that you’ve put in the time and effort to provide a piece of content that has merit and which goes beyond your own personal ramblings. Citing stats or studies but failing to hyperlink to the sources can also prolong the publication process, so it’s important to properly reference and link to any sources used from the get-go. Keep in mind that news sites (almost always) prefer hyperlinks to sources over more traditional APA citations and footnotes.

To learn more about our digital PR services, read here: Digital PR.

Caroline-Black-and-White-tan-3-4Caroline brings a wealth of knowledge in communications, marketing, and account management to the Circa Interactive team, and she has worked with partners such as HP, Cisco, and Adobe. Graduating with honors in Business Administration and Marketing from the University of Oregon in 2011, Caroline now plays a key role in Circa Interactive’s digital PR strategy by building long term relationships with internationally recognized media outlets on behalf of our clients.

How to Use Digital PR to Influence Organic Rankings

Public relations has always played an integral role in helping businesses and nonprofits to achieve their goals. But in today’s search-engine-reliant world, digital PR know-how has the potential to explode organizations’ visibility before the eyes of prospective customers. Unfortunately, too few PR pros understand how backlinking and search-engine optimization (SEO) work, and their importance in achieving their clients’ aims. By way of providing an introduction to this complex and rapidly evolving aspect of PR, I’m going to offer some insight into how we’ve helped enhance the visibility (and improved the bottom lines) of our clients.

Why Should PR Experts also be SEO Experts?

At Circa, our clients are institutions of higher learning, and much of our work involves elevating our clients’ professors and teachers as thought leaders. We do this, in part, by using traditional PR skills and tools to reach out to publications to arrange interviews with these professors and publish their content. Not only does this achieve the goal of increasing brand awareness, but it also accomplishes an increasingly critical goal for any successful business in the digital age: improved search engine visibility and rankings.

Our clients share a straightforward goal: to enroll more students into their university programs. In order to achieve this goal, they need to increase their brand awareness, and increasing awareness requires accomplishing two very specific tasks: showcasing the university’s value and also boosting its digital presence. By following our specific link-building strategy, we not only establish more credibility among our target audience, but we also rank higher in relevant keyword searches conducted by prospective students. Our strategy is one that could apply to any business that relies on PR to increase its overall brand awareness.

How to Leverage Digital PR to Gain More Digital Visibility

In the digital world, links are critical. Links help to boost a webpage’s rankings and ensure that search engines like Google recognize the page as genuine and credible. In the past, it was possible to buy or acquire links of little relevance from low quality websites in order to achieve a high search-engine ranking. That’s no longer possible. These days, web pages need to feature a select amount of natural keywords and links from other viable and relevant sites from high quality sources. The focus is quality of links. Acquiring these types of links can be challenging, especially since it requires establishing relationships between various content sources. However, this is a task that PR professionals are naturally equipped to tackle.

Using traditional tactics, PR professionals can actually generate significant digital results for their clients. For instance, a PR pro can pitch a reputable publication or website—one that’s relevant to the client’s specific interests—with the hopes of landing interviews or media placements. Once the PR professional is able to successfully land an interview or place a client-written byline in a publication, then it’s up to the PR professional to also achieve the crucial end-goal of acquiring the link to the desired webpage within the media placement.

Obtaining a link back to a desired page can be challenging depending on the publication, but it is certainly possible in many instances. Oftentimes, the best way to gain a link is through commonsense approaches. For example, a PR professional can ask a publication to link back to a specific site as a means of attribution. Additionally, the link shouldn’t be overtly self-serving—it shouldn’t take a viewer to a landing page, for instance, that pushes them to purchase something. Instead, the link should feature valuable, useful and relevant content.

If the client is a college, for example, and a PR professional is able to arrange an interview with one of the college’s professors to appear in a publication, then the link placed on the interview page should take the viewer back to the program’s homepage, giving the viewer a chance to learn more about the institution and potentially sign up for more information. This type of link placement strategy is fairly effective: the client receives a form of attribution and a natural link, but the publication won’t feel that it’s promoting the institution in an obvious or attention-grabbing way. When it comes to placing links, it’s all about common sense: PR professionals should use their networking and communication skills to ensure that their clients are properly attributed within the specific content.

The Data

In our experience, using expert commentary and byline opportunities coupled with keyword-based search campaigns and SEO-optimized webpage content efforts has helped to generate impressive results for our clients. For instance, our expert commentary efforts in publications like the Huffington Post resulted in over 2,000 social shares and 10 backlinks for one client, and the University of Wisconsin saw program inquiries jump by 33 percent because of our use of SEO-optimized content efforts .

In short, PR professionals can use their tried-and-true PR tools to not only boost their clients’ brand, but also influence search engine rankings. As long as PR professionals are willing to remain flexible and adapt to the demands of the digital world, they will be able to leverage their valuable communication skills to generate their desired results.

joeJoseph Lapin M.F.A. is an author, creative director, and journalist, and his writing has been published in the Los Angeles Times, Narratively, Salon, Slate, and more. He is a former adjunct professor at Florida International University, and he has worked on PR campaigns for Ernst & Young, Brentwood Associates, and more.

6 Tips to Start and Master Your College’s Blog in 2018

At Circa Interactive we’re fortunate to work with a few outstanding partners. Below, our friends over at Finalsite put together six useful tips for your college’s blog to become successful. Enjoy!

While you already know that your school needs a blog, the usual roadblocks–time and staffing–are probably standing in your way. Whatever you do, don’t allow these to become constraints. Blogging has the potential to grow your school’s brand, engage your community, and recruit right-fit students to your schools, so it’s definitely worth the effort. If you’re ready to dive in to starting your college’s blog in the new year, here are a few steps to guide your success.

1. Determine a Focus for Your College’s Blog

Many colleges and universities don’t blog at all, and those that do often limit themselves to ones written by the college president, department heads and admissions directors–a pretty narrow focus.  Since your blog will be a traffic-driver and will help to fill your recruitment funnel among other things, put the focus on where you shine: your culture. Showcasing what makes you unique, like the programs you specialize in, your awesome students, and incredible careers of graduates allows you to broaden your focus and bring in students, faculty, coaches, current parents, alumni and others to contribute content.

2. Gather a Group of Dedicated Writers

In order to make an impact with your blog, you need to be consistent about posting. And while it seems simple to assign the task to one person to keep the blog’s tone and voice the same, gathering more content contributors makes it easier to produce content on a consistent basis.

To choose this group, start by polling your community. Ask faculty, students, staff, alumni and parents to share their ideas on posts they’d like to write, or topics they think would be beneficial to prospective and current students and their families, or alumni. Current student bloggers are a great source of content (especially English majors!) as it’s a great resume booster for them to see their work published online, so they’ll love to blog frequently. And, prospective students love to hear firsthand from current students.

Vanguard University does a great job of sharing content from students in a variety of stages and programs to give real-life insight into the student experience (and it looks pretty cool, too!).

An example of how to use student contributors for your college's blog.

A Student’s Guest Post on Vanguard University’s Blog

And while you may want to have different blogs for special programs, like study abroad or athletics, these should be maintained in addition to your college’s main blog. Use a tool that lets you categorize your posts so that they can be dynamically published to all related categories, letting you maximize the impact of your content with less effort.

Remember-it only takes two blog posts per week to improve your website traffic!

3. Create a Content Calendar

Once your group of writers is formed, work with them to create a content calendar that works.

Determine which days you want blog posts to be published, which topics are timely, and which topics are evergreen (can be posted any time.) If you’re only going to blog twice a week, take into consideration that Monday mornings rank highest for visits and Thursdays rank highest for social shares, so focus on those days to get the most traction.

4. Determine an Editing Process

At Finalsite, we use the “press call” concept. Each day at the same time, the marketing team receives an email with all the content that’s scheduled for the next day, including blog posts, and shares their edits with our content marketing manager, who inputs them, and prepares content for publishing.  This system works for us, and now our team expects and prepares for press call each day. Your editing team might be made up of content contributors, marketing or admissions staffers, or others with a critical eye.  

5. Write Simply and with Intent

If your intent is to inform, blogs are meant to be easy-to-read, conversational pieces, but your content contributors might be self-conscious about writing. If your blog is simple and written with intent, it will always be well-received.

Here are few tips for making this happen:

  • Write in lists. It makes content easy to digest and gives readers key takeaways.
  • Write your blog post title first (you can always go back and fine-tune it later!) A title gives your post focus.
  • Write in chunks or sections. Blogs shouldn’t be written like an essay, but should be segmented by different thoughts or ideas.
  • Use a textual hierarchy to break up your post and make it easy to read.
  • Numbered posts are really effective: “The Top Five Reasons to Major in Business,” “Three Reasons Greek Life isn’t What Think it is?”
  • Always incorporate photos in your posts. We recommend one image near the top, and several images throughout the post.
  • End all blogs with a call-to-action.
  • Encourage content contributors to be themselves and use an authentic voice.

6. Share Your Post via Social Media and Subscriptions

“Is anyone out there?” It’s a common fear that you and your content contributors could spend hours on posts that no one sees. But when you follow a few simple steps, your blogs will be seen, appreciated, and shared.

First: Create a way for readers to subscribe to your posts via email. This way, they’ll get the blog posts delivered right to their inbox.

Second: Each time you post a blog on your website, share it on your social feeds. This is a pivotal piece for your inbound marketing strategy! You can also share older blog posts that are still relevant on social media, too! Be sure to always include a photo in your tweets and Facebook posts, as posts with images are more likely to get clicked.

Third: Add links to your blog in the online newsletters that you’re already sending. If you have a monthly newsletter that goes out, include this month’s best posts as a way to drive readership and subscriptions.

Fourth: Use blog posts as inbound marketing content. When sending communications to students in the admission funnel, consider which blog posts you have, and use them as your inbound content. For example, if a student wrote a post on their experience as a student athlete, it would be great to share that with all applicants interested in your athletic programs.

 

Pulling it All Together

Your blog won’t appear overnight, and neither will differences in website traffic — so don’t get discouraged. A blog takes weeks to really get up and running and months to really make a difference. However, with the right people and plans in place, it will quickly become a central piece of your inbound strategy and school culture.

For more tips and strategies for a high-converting website, download Finalsite’s eBook “The Ultimate Website Guide for Colleges and Universities.”

 Hadley RosenAfter more than a decade working in schools in roles in the classroom, communications and advancement, Hadley joined Finalsite in 2013 as Marketing and Communications Manager. She loves meeting Finalsite’s amazing family members around the world and learning about trends impacting schools. She’s a big fan of travel to places near and far with her growing family, cooking cuisines of all kinds, and working on her French fluency.

Three of the Best Books to Transform Your Digital Marketing Company

Over the last few years, our team has been looking for ways to transform our company, push our creative abilities, and ensure that we are constantly evolving to provide better results for our higher education clients. So, our leadership team asked a tough question: How do we ensure that we’re not getting stagnant? Well, the solution was pretty simple. We needed to learn from other professionals, inside and outside of digital marketing. We’re not in the higher education space simply because we believe there is an opportunity in the industry to provide better marketing efforts; we’re in higher education because we believe in the power of higher education. Therefore, we personally challenge ourselves and all of our employees to never stop learning, and I have read a few books that I think are important to help transform any digital marketing company.

1. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

deep-work-cal-newport

Cal Newport, an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University, asks a simple question in his new book, Deep Work: How can an invidual focus on the tasks that matter most? This is a question I have been pondering for a while. In the digital world, there are so many distractions, and our clients’ goals are big (rank #1 for computer science online), and they take sustained effort and creativity.

But when you break down the types of work that digital marketers have, it comes down to deep and shallow tasks. Shallow work consists of all the emails, the admin, the busy work that is necessary but doesn’t require a lot of brain power, and Deep Work consists of the big tasks that can move a company forward. For example, filing a report for your client on how many links you built in Q3 is a necessary task, but it’s somewhat superficial work. However, creating a strategy overview that will help that same client rank number one for a relevant student-generating keyword can directly impact a company’s bottom line.

Cal Naughton examines how to build a working life where there is more focus on the deep work. Some of the biggest takeaways from his book are as follows:

  • Social media is a distraction: Yes, I know this sounds like blasphemy. Even though digital marketers need to have a social presence and maintain the knowledge of trends, the constant chirps of tweets and notifications from Facebook and other platforms will distract you from deep, focused work. Turn off your notifications—or completely remove yourself from social media when you’re under a deadline or working on a big project.
  • Slack and other workplace communication platforms can be great, but they can also kill your productivity. If you’re on Slack, then you are probably aware of how many times you’re interrupted by a notification or a message. This constant form of communication helps teams stay connected, but it also distracts individuals. Turn off the Slack function or hit the snooze button and allow your mind to stay immersed in the bigger projects.
  • It’s important to think about focus as a muscle. It’s something you can train. The more you focus on deep work, the more your mind develops. You’re literally developing your neural circuitry. If you can focus on a task, you’re not just being more productive, you’re working on the very structure of your mind to perform at a higher level. Time productivity sessions and follow the Pomodoro technique.
  • While there is a lot of focus on being productive and efficient in the workplace, it’s important to take the same lessons for deep work in the office and apply them to your personal life. For example, Cal Naughton mentions that your mind isn’t like your bicep, which tires after exercise. Your mind never stops, but what it needs is different forms of activity. So, while you might have an important deadline to meet with your client, it’s important to take the time away from your work and focus deeply on relaxing or another activity. Give your mind a break and schedule “free” time for your mind to wander.

2. The Undoing Project: A FRIENDSHIP THAT CHANGED OUR MINDS.

9780393254594_198Michael Lewis is, of course, famous for many books, including Money Ball, but what Lewis didn’t know when he wrote Money Ball was that he was going to miss something critical to the history and logic of his most famous book. In the beginning of the book, readers learn that Lewis owed many of the lessons in Money Ball to two Nobel Prize winners and Israeli psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky.

Basically, the book is about how Kahneman and Tversky created a Nobel Prize-winning theory and how that theory altered our perception of reality. It sounds complicated but there is a key lesson that digital marketers can take from the book: Humans are inherently emotional, not logical. What Kahneman and Tversky were able to show through their studies was that people were making poor judgments in uncertain situations, and they relied on their gut rather than data and logic.

So, what does this have to do with digital marketing? It comes down to a key lesson in communication that can help digital marketers talk to their clients and co-workers. Since individuals make decisions based on emotion, it’s important to recognize how issues are framed. Kahneman and Tversky’s studies showed that people changed the way they responded to situations depending on how it was framed. This is an important lesson for digital marketers. If we can think about how to frame strategies, ads, content, etc., to our clients or to the marketplace, then we may be able to push initiatives that are risky yet rewarding and help educate our clients on the benefits of a digitally focused strategy in the world of higher education.

3. Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

creativity_incOut of all the books, Creativity, Inc. might have been the most enjoyable. It’s not just because it’s an unbelievable treasure trove of advice on how to build a creative organization, but it also goes into great detail about how Pixar was created as well as behind-the-scenes insight into their movies.

Storytelling is the root of great digital marketing campaigns, and Pixar and Disney are the best storytellers in our world. What is key about the book is that in order to build an organization that is focused on quality storytelling in their messaging, it’s essential to build candor and positive feedback into their organization. If a company does not share the ability to be candid with each other because of hierarchies that stranglehold opinions, then the organization will never grow.

Everyone in the Pixar building, according to Ed Catmull, from the janitor to the director, has the ability to create an idea that will move a project forward. (Think about Ratatouille and the expression: “Anyone can cook.”)

In our organization, we’re trying to find ways to strengthen the structure that breeds candid and constructive feedback. One suggestion in the book is to hold “Notes Meetings.” It’s a simple concept. Individuals in the company submit questions to a leadership team on things they are struggling with. It doesn’t have to relate to a specific department, and the leadership picks the questions and sends them to the team. Then they have a meeting where everyone freely tries to problem solve the issue. This is an opportunity to improve the way feedback is delivered and develop candor. Great ideas can not become great unless they are challenged by people who care about mutual success.

21122451_10100725895142291_2139116181006518570_o (1)

Joseph Lapin M.F.A. is an author, creative director, and journalist, and his writing has been published in the Los Angeles Times, Narratively, Salon, Slate, and more. He is a former adjunct professor at Florida International University, and he has worked on PR campaigns for Ernst & Young, Brentwood Associates, and more.

SEO Link Building Strategies: Three Evergreen Content Ideas

In the world of search engine optimization and ranking factors, the most important correlation to search engine result page (SERP) rankings was found to be the number of backlinks and overall link authority. With over 70% of users clicking on first page results, universities are always looking for ways to get their programs to jump up the rankings. So you may be asking, ‘How can I create content that naturally attracts backlinks and will rise in the SERPs?’ Today you’re in luck because I’m about to take you through the entire process from starting a link-building strategy to developing evergreen content ideas that attract SEO backlinks, but first, we need to understand a few SEO basic ideas before we can fully understand the immense value of evergreen.  

Learning SEO Basics

Before I dive into the world of developing evergreen content ideas, I’d like to lay out a few search engine optimization basics for any of the readers who may not fully know what these terms or tactics mean.

What is link-building?

Link-building can simply be described as a process to acquire valuable SEO backlinks or hyperlinks from other websites to your pages. As a marketer, we see these links as the Holy Grail and let me tell you why. SEO backlinks are a major component of Google’s PageRank algorithm which is considered to be one of the most important factors of Google’s SERP. The PageRank factor measures the importance of content and helps Google determine whether it should rank for a specific user’s intent. It is able to do this by analyzing a web page’s backlink structure as it takes in more factors such as the number of backlinks, link diversity, quality of links and other proprietary information.

 

Here is a quick excerpt from Google explaining their ranking philosophy.

“Google search works because it relies on the millions of individuals posting links on websites to help determine which other sites offer content of value. We assess the importance of every web page using more than 200 signals and a variety of techniques, including our patented PageRank™ algorithm, which analyzes which sites have been “voted” to be the best sources of information by other pages across the web.”

 

Though there are a number of factors that go into the SERP, in order to increase online visibility and improve search engine positioning, your business will need to achieve a higher PageRank. To do this, you’ll need a team focused on creating a tactical digital marketing plan with the essential objective being a SEO backlinking strategy through evergreen content marketing.

SEO Backlinking Strategy

It is important to note that a backlinking strategy is not made up of one technique or skill, but rather a wide range of skill sets including content creation, research, competitive analysis, email outreach and nurturing editorial relationships. The strategy begins by strategically producing evergreen, valuable, high-quality content that’s targeted for high volume search intent and your customer base. The word content has been pounded into our minds for years as digital marketers, but it’s no surprise because that’s what Google search is all about. It is a search engine that matches a user’s intent with the most relevant and quality content possible, such as “what’s the value of an online MED.” Hence, the importance of developing evergreen content ideas to attract SEO backlinks.

What is evergreen content?

Typically, evergreen content is based on popular topics, high volume search terms or niche specific keywords, and is content created with the intent to be informational and provide an instructional viewpoint on your topic of interest. Evergreen content does not lose its value over time and is commonly created for utilization purpose. This means the content is developed with the idea that searchers will reference the content multiple times, which in return increases your web traffic, on-page time, brand awareness and top-of-mind recall for specific niches.  

In order to create evergreen topics, you must first understand the search intent of your target audience and then strategically construct a topic that matches the user’s intent. So stop creating general, boring regurgitated content! This isn’t the Age of Fluff, this is the Age of Information for a reason.

So without further ado, I present to you three types of evergreen content ideas that can be implemented right here, right now.

Types of Evergreen Content:

  • Infographic Visuals
  • Industry Expert Roundups
  • Informative and High Utility Content

Infographic Visuals

Infographics are a fantastic way to build links to program specific pages, which will help increase your overall Google rankings. If you didn’t know already, the number of backlinks linking to a specific page has the strongest correlation with rankings compared to any other factor. This includes domain history, title tags, and optimized keyword pages. When infographics are built with reliable statistics and appealing design, these visuals resources will make you appear as a thought leader within specific industries and enable you to naturally gain links. Evergreen infographics are based on newsworthy, current trends and show in-depth statistics on specific topics that relate to a university’s program curriculum. When a university builds an infographic around trending news stories or case studies, they are able to take what may seem like a complex idea or boring subject and turn it into an easy to understand visualization. Below I have provided some fascinating facts from Kissmetrics on why infographics perform so well in this digital age;

  • High-quality infographics are 30 times more likely to be read than text articles.
  • 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and visuals are processed 60,000 times faster in the brain than text.
  • Infographics are 40 times more likely to be shared on social networks.

In your opinion, what looks better, Image 1 or Image 2?

Image 1 is a journal study explaining the challenges of storing medical imaging data

Image 2 is a medical imaging infographic explaining the same information.

Image 1

digital imaging journal

Image 2

imaging archives infographic

If I do say so myself, Image 2 is softer on the eyes and helps to break down this complex information so any non-technical reader can understand it. The icons give the viewer a great understanding of what the subject is about without having to read the detailed material.

Now that we understand why publications post these visual resources, the next step is to understand how to build an infographic around a topic that is considered link worthy.  As we discussed above, the best performing infographics are built around newsworthy time pegs and trending current events. To identify newsworthy time pegs, I believe our creative director, Joseph Lapin, has the best approach. He tells our team to consistently look at the front page of the newspaper to find out what editors from top publications, such as The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, seem to be the major stories in the U.S. and throughout the world. If these publications are putting these stories on their front page, then it shows insight on what topics are most newsworthy while showcasing developing trends within the news curve. Once you understand which topics are repeatedly gaining traction, you can build infographics based on these trending stories and immediately pitch them to publications. With graphics built around such hot topics, they can be leveraged throughout the whole news cycle which can help program pages gain a number of valuable links.

news curve

Infographics should be built using studies and statistics from a number of publications ranging from high-level organizations to niche blogs. Each source should be seen as a link building and relationship development opportunity because the publication you use as sources are very likely to share the infographic with their audience. If we step back and think about this for a second, we can understand why it would be more valuable to have 20 sources instead of 10. In the end, it is a numbers game and the more sources used, the more link building opportunities there are! For instance, Circa Interactive created an infographic on Creative Ways to Make Higher Education More Affordable. In each visualization, sources are included at the bottom of the graphic.

source link building

For each source, an outreach message should be sent to the editor at that site. Here is a real outreach email I used to gain links through from infographic sources.

outreach for source links

Helpful infographic resources:

Industry Expert Roundups

In marketing and communication, a roundup is a term that is used to describe the collection of popular resources that are highlighted to build one article. Expert roundups are no different, except that instead of using popular informative resources, industry experts are utilized to create a comprehensive analysis on a particular subject. Expert roundups are relatively easy to structure and publish, but there is some groundwork needed in the beginning. First, your content creation team will need creatively come up with a keyword rich question that your experts will answer. The question needs to be based on a keyword that your program wants to rank on Google’s first page. This is important because when searchers view your page and see the expert knowledge being freely shared than they are more likely to link back and reference to a collection of experts compared to a personal opinion. Here is a quick example: Let’s say you want to rank for the keyword “future of artificial intelligence” and the blog post title is ‘32 Expert’s Future Vision of Artificial Intelligence’. A great question to ask your industry experts could be “What is one or two major advancements you envision happening within artificial intelligence over the next 5 years?”

Having developed the question, the next step is to scour the web looking for industry experts talking about similar topics in the artificial intelligence industry. You’ll want to create an outreach list that is three or four times the number of your intended expert commentaries that will be placed in your blog. The best way to identify potential experts in your industry is by using Google News and Followerwonk.

followerwonk

I used Followerwonk for this example, a tool that searches through Twitter bios and highlights the top users related to specific keywords. Within the top six results, there are two great artificial intelligence experts who should be added to your list. They are both executives within the big data and artificial intelligence field with a high number of followers. Keep in mind that your intent is to gain a link back and social shares from these experts because you are freely sharing their expertise. We want to show our own personal audiences that we are featured on another site so we can get the recognition we think we deserve.

Once you identify the top industry experts and build your list, it is time to send your outreach message. The outreach message should be a short blurb complementing their expertise and asking them if they would be interested in being featured in your post. If you don’t get a response back from them, follow up a week later and emphasis the benefit they are getting by giving you a quick one to three sentence response.

 

joey outreach


Once you begin to receive responses, structure the blog with the experts who were quick to respond to your question towards the top of the article. This will flatter them because you chose to feature them within your top ten experts. The next focus should be adding the experts who you expect to get a link back from. The best way to actually gain a link is by not directly asking them to link to the article. I know it sounds crazy, but by simply thanking them for their time and expertise, the flattery works a lot better than aggressively begging for a link. When sending the experts the “thank you” message, it is extremely similar to the infographic source email. The main difference in this outreach is to create a pre-populated tweet with in the email so all the expert has to do is press one button to share with their follower base. Free services such as 
ClicktoTweet allow you to create tweets in quickly. Feel free to use my email below as your template.

joey outreach 2

Helpful expert roundups examples:

 

Informative and High Utility Content

Recent studies have shown that longer pieces of content between 1,700 and 2,000 words rank higher in Google position. The average first page results having at 1,890 words.

length of content and rankings

There are a few ranking factors that also correlate with longer posts, which include time on page, more social shares, and lower bounce rates because more users will browse other content on your site. Still, these long post must be made of high-quality content because if not, they are worthless words and filling up cyberspace. That is something Google hates to see. 

What determines quality you may ask? It all comes down to whether the content is informative to the audience and has some form of usability that can be implemented by your readers. According to Brian Dean, one of the top link-building marketers of our time, longer, high utility content strikes a sense of awe into the audience, meaning that when a reader visits a page that has a lot of useful information they understand how much work was put into that post and they are more likely to return to that site over and over again seeking similar content.

brian backlinko quote
Here at Circa Interactive, our team likes to produce a multitude of content ideas because different audiences respond to different types of articles including listicles, how to guides, and in-depth evergreen content. I’d like to show you a recent example of evergreen content that was created by our own Chief SEO Analyst, Tyler Cooper.

The Ultimate Guide to On-Page SEO
This is a great example of high quality, informative content that focuses on a specific audience and the knowledge inside this article can be applied immediately regardless of your knowledge of on-page SEO. In total, this ultimate guide article has a total of 3909 words. Content length has a direct impact on the number of average shares and links a piece of content receives. Moz conducted research on 489,000 text based articles. Here are their findings:

moz content length


As you can see, it is apparent that content length is incredibly important when developing content for your site. So when creating content do not forget these three types of evergreen content that will enable you to build links back to your university pages.


If you found this article helpful in any way do not hesitate to leave a comment below. I would love to hear any feedback you may have about a topic and know what type of evergreen content ideas you use in your organization. Additionally, if you need advice or have questions on link building feeling free to connect with me below.

 

andersonidea

Austin Anderson is a forward-thinking, motivated marketing specialist. Before Circa, Austin ran an e-commerce business and managed online marketing for startups in San Diego. Austin strives to be a future influencer in the world of digital marketingConnect with Austin on LinkedIn and Twitter @andersonidea.

How To Appear In Google’s Featured Snippet In 2017 (Knowledge Graph)

In May of 2012, Google announced the launch of their knowledge graph. This is a knowledge base that is used by Google in order to enhance search engine results. Basically, it increases user experience by displaying information from a query directly in Google’s search results without requiring a user to click through to a site.

This may seem like a nightmare for digital marketers since we want users to click through directly to our websites, however, knowledge graph results take up an incredible amount of real estate within organic results. It’s actually hard NOT to click them.

Before we get into how to be featured, let’s look at some examples of the different ways we see the Knowledge Graph in Google’s search results.

Types of Knowledge Graph Results

People

The first type of knowledge graph result is the detailed view of a person. These appear on the right hand side of Google’s results. For example, I did a search for the president of Florida State University. See below:

knowledge base example: people

As you can see, Google pulled much of this information directly from Wikipedia.

Universities/Organizations

A query for “FSU” returned a similar graph result that offers a ton of information about the university.

fsu knowledge graph

Featured Snippets

Featured snippets are a powerful Knowledge Graph result and will be the main focus of this article. The reason behind this is that we cannot control what is shown in the other knowledge graph results listed above, because the information is often pulled directly from Wikipedia and other larger informational websites. With featured snippets, Google will pull information directly from our website and display it as the first organic result, with a valuable link to your website.

Another great aspect of featured snippets is that you essentially have two organic spots within the results. For example, you may be ranking fifth for your target keyword; however, if the information on your page is structured correctly, Google will show your information as the featured snippet AND keep your original organic ranking. Plus, there’s always the chance that making these on-page changes could help bump you up the search results a few spots.

Here’s an example of a featured snippet from U.S. News:

best online mba featured snippet

Here’s another example from CostHelper:

featured snippet example

Now, let’s dive into how to show up as the featured snippet.

How To Show Up In The Featured Snippet

The most important factor in showing up in the featured snippet is giving clear and direct answers to the search query or keyword. However, in order to show up, your site needs to be ranking on the first page for queries that are showing featured snippets.

If you’ve got some page one rankings, then follow these steps to take over the featured snippet spot. Wondering how to rank on page one? Be sure to check out other articles around our blog, like this one  .

Step 1: Find Which Queries Have Featured Snippets

This is an important step, as you don’t want to commit a bunch of your time trying to show up in the featured snippet for a query that does not have one. The best way to find out which queries have featured snippets is to use the tool SEMRush.

To do this, enter in your website and under “organic research” select “Positions.” You will be brought to this page:

how to find queries that have featured snippets

On the right-hand side under “SERP Features” you will see the “Featured snippet” link. Click that and you will be shown a list of keywords that have a featured snippet. You’ll want to check these keywords and see if you already own that featured snippet. If not, then it may be time to start optimizing around that keyword!

Step 2: Used Structured Markup To Directly Answer Queries

The majority of the featured snippets that you will come across will be pulling information that lives within structured markup. Here are the most common:

Unordered Lists

You will recognize these as the bulleted results you see. Creating unordered lists is simple and just requires basic HTML that looks like this:

<ul>
 <li>List item 1</li>
 <li>List item 2</li>
<li>List item 3</li>
</ul>

Unordered lists would be beneficial when trying to show up for a search term such as “types of business degrees.” Here is how it would show up in the search engine results:

example of an unordered list showing up in googles knowledge graph

Ordered Lists

These are very similar to unordered lists. The only difference is that the information within them is numbered. This is ideal for queries that are ranking degrees or programs. Here is the HTML used to create an ordered list:

<ol>
<li>List item 1</li>
<li>List item 2</li>
<li>List item 3</li>
</ol>

Ordered lists are great for “how to” type queries. For example, let’s look at the search engine results for “how to become a lawyer”:

example of an ordered list showing up in googles featured snippet

Tables

While tables are not as common as the previous two, Google will still occasionally show well-structured tables in the featured snippet. Tables can be a very effective way of showing a matrix of data.

If you are using WordPress, there are table plugins such as Tablepress that Google tends to favor. Otherwise, you can manually create a table using HTML, but be sure to include metadata within these tables. Did you know tables can have a meta description? To learn more about creating tables, check out this resource. Here is an example of a table in the featured snippet:

example of a table shown in the featured snippet

Header Tags

These are essential to showing up in the featured snippet. You will notice that almost every snippet begins with an H2 or H3. They also almost always contain the main keyword that is being searched for. For instance, check out the featured snippet for “best masters degree.” The bolded text that says “Best Master’s Degrees for Finding a Job” is marked up as an H3 on the page.

importance of headers when trying to get into the featured snippet

It’s extremely important that your H2/H3 tag:

  1. Directly precedes the structured markup
  2. Includes the keyword you’re trying to rank for

Step 3: Perfect Your On-Page SEO

Google will reward you for having an exceptionally optimized page. Make sure you hit all of the checkpoints and leave nothing out. This includes things like alt tags, proper use of headers, internal linking, etc. Be sure to read my in-depth guide to on-page SEO .

Note: If a competitor already has the featured snippet, taking your on-page SEO to the next level could help give you a bump and take the featured snippet from them.

Step 4: Include An Image

It’s always a good idea to accompany your structured markup with a well-optimized image. Make sure you use an alt tag as well as an image title here. While writing your alt tags and image titles, make sure you are as descriptive as possible, and don’t simply include the keyword and move on. Additionally, take some time to really describe the image using synonyms of your keyword as this will most likely put you a step above your competitors. As you can see in the examples above, almost all of the featured snippets contain an image.

Step 5: Enjoy The Extra Traffic

That’s it! Once your page gets reindexed, you’ll have a MUCH better chance at being the featured snippet. If after all of this you still haven’t taken over the feature snippet spot, don’t panic. Take a look at what the competitor’s doing and see how you can improve on it.

While following these steps will not guarantee results, it will put you in a much better position to steal the featured snipped. Take action today and claim that extra organic real estate.

If you have any questions or comments feel free to comment below!

6 Free Keyword Research Tools For Beginners and Experts

When it comes to digital marketing, keyword research plays a big part in implementing an effective SEO strategy. Google and other search engines are evolving and becoming smarter in evaluating the best search results for the searched terms, so it’s no longer enough just to write content for blog posts, products, services, etc. without doing proper keyword research. Otherwise, content will be lost in the 20+ search engine result pages and nobody ever will find it.

If you are beginner and can’t afford any of the paid keyword research tools, then you’re probably wondering, “What is the best free keyword research tool?” If so then you’re in the right place. Below, I’ll share my top six favorite free keyword research tools and how to incorporate them in your content marketing.

Soovle

Soovle is a great keyword research tool for beginners. It’s simple to use and will not take a long time to gather the keywords list to use for your blog post. Soovle provides autocomplete suggestions from the major search engines: Google, Wikipedia, Yahoo, Ebay, Youtube, Bing, Amazon, and more. Since its not a very advanced tool, I would suggest combining Soolve with another tool to get more information for your content. Since this tools provides data for multiple search engines, it can be a great option for someone who is looking to sell products on Ebay or Amazon.

Interface of Soovle keyword research tool

 

Google Trend and Google Suggest

 Google Trends

Consider Google Trends as your inspiration for finding the next hot topic. By simply entering the keyword in the search bar, Google Trends provides over five years of data for that keyword and helps in identifying if that particular search term is still relevant for the consumer/reader. Google Trends is also popular for being a very customizable tool. It allows you to search for multiple terms at the same time, and data can be filtered by the country, period of time, different categories, and the type of search.

Google Trends not only analyzes historical data for the particular search terms, it also shows the interest by subregion and related queries. It’s a great way to identify if the content you’re planning to produce will be relevant to the audience you are trying to reach.

Google Trends Interface

 Google Suggest

Google Suggest is another tool that is popular within the marketing industry and well known by frequent users of Google. To use Google Suggest, simply start typing keywords in the Google search box, and Google Suggest will autofills the search box with keywords that other people are looking for or they are related to your search query. It’s perfect for generating insights on popular search queries relating to your search term.

Google Suggest Interface

Keywords Everywhere

The Keywords Everywhere extension is a free keyword tool that can be easily installed on either Chrome or Firefox. Keywords Everywhere shows Google keyword search volume, cost per click, and competition data of keywords on multiple websites including the ones mentioned above Soovle and Google Suggest. With this extension you will no longer need to wonder which keywords to choose for your content as all the necessary data is presented.

Keywords everywhere extension on Soovle

Google Suggest Keywords Everywhere extension

SERPs

SERPs is a fast and simple to use tool that is great for the beginners and experts. It provides related keywords for the searched term, volume, CPC, and value. SERPs shows all of this data on one page, allowing you to filter the results with secondary keywords and add them to the “Saved Results List,” which is downloadable in .csv format. Although, SERPs is a good tool to use for daily content creation, I would recommend taking their provided data on CPC and Value with a grain of salt by confirming the volume and difficulty with another keyword research tool.

SERPs keyword research interface

Answer The Public

Answer The Public is a very unique keyword research tool that provides questions containing the searched keyword. It can be very helpful for those looking to understand what people are asking for, what they are looking for, and what questions they have about that searched term. With such valuable insights, Answer the Public offers writers the opportunity to create content that could answer all of these questions. If the writer’s content is relevant, it might even be featured in the rich snippets in Google the next time someone searches for similar answers. This kind of content could provide great value for the business in every stage of the buyer’s journey. Answer the Public also includes results with prepositions for the long tail keyword opportunities and is friendly to Keywords Everywhere extensions mentioned earlier.

Answer the Public Interface

LSI Graph

LSI stands for latent semantic indexing. LSI keywords are keywords related to the searched term that are semantically linked. If incorporated into your SEO strategy, then LSI keywords can increase organic traffic and improve rankings. By incorporating longtail keywords and semantic keywords to your blog posts, the content becomes more user friendly and sounds more natural than just trying to use all the high volume keywords.

LSI Graph keyword research interface

Knowing how to choose and use keywords can help to increase organic traffic for your website. Although paid tools tend to over more advanced options, beginners, firms without big budgets and experts looking for alternatives can benefit from free keyword research tools.
If you now feel inspired to write some blog posts about your university but are not sure where to start, keep reading to find out 3 tips for finding blog topics for universities.

 

Martyna's headshotMartyna is a graduate from Vilnius University in Vilnius, Lithuania. With 2 years experience in digital marketing industry, Martyna adds in-depth understanding of on-page and local SEO to the Circa team. Her passion and continual education in SEO initiatives help contribute to Circa’s expanding higher education digital marketing presence.

 

Increasing Web Traffic: Content Strategies to Achieve Marketing Goals

For the past decade, digital marketing agencies and experts around the world have emphasized the phrase “Content is King,” but even to this day, a majority of marketers still do not understand how to increase website traffic to the content they’ve generated. For this reason, I have decided to tackle the intricate subject of content development and discuss how this can help to drive traffic to your site.

Every website on the Internet creates content that serves a specific purpose related to the site’s marketing objectives. An online content strategy should provide transparency about daily operations, share relevant industry news and allow the company to share their unique story. As we all know, a strategy that incorporates content marketing and link-building can bolster content SERP rankings which in return will increase the amount of organic traffic. My analysis shows that there are four primary types of content marketing objectives a website can optimize for, but the best equation for any website is to use a multifaceted content approach by utilizing each of the following content marketing objectives.

 

Lead Generation:

To reach this objective, content is created based specifically on user-intent searches or an audience that is actively searching the web for information on any given subject. Since the content is built to be extremely relevant to the user’s search, the end goal for this type of content is to collect a lead which usually consists of a visitor’s name and email address.

  • Example search: What is the best car insurance for teenagers?
  • Example content for search: The Best Car Insurance for New Drivers

 

Advertising:

When building a site using a business model based on advertising, content is created for a niche audience with an entertainment purpose. Most of these advertising-based sites implement Google Adsense or native advertising, which pays the web owner through three different methods: cost-per-click (CPC), cost-per-impressions (CPM) and cost-per-engagement (CPE). In order to generate as much advertising revenue as possible, it is imperative that these sites drive high amounts of traffic through their shocking, entertainment articles to increase ad impressions and clicks.

  • Example search: What did Kanye West Talk to Michael Jordan About?
  • Example content for search: Jordan and West Speak on Upcoming Shoe Collaboration

 

Informational:

This type of content objective is used to drive traffic based on informational, educational and newsworthy articles that provide value to the reader. Some of these sites may generate minor income from advertising but that is not their sole purpose. An informative site’s core mission is to bring together a like-minded community of individuals with similar demographics. Once the strong niche community is established, the site can promote new jobs, national events and sponsored posts to this audience.

  • Example search: How do I find a civil engineering job?
  • Example content for search: 10 Civil Engineering Job Hunting Tips

 

Awareness:

To meet this objective, websites create content that provides a behind-the-scenes perspective on daily operations, showcases business transparency and creates a community for social good. Unfortunately, there are very few sites that are created for pure awareness and transparency purposes.

  • Example search: How much pollution do Nike factories create annually?
  • Example content for search: Nike Reduces Pollution by 25% Thanks to Volunteers

 

The Sites We Analyzed:

Through countless web searches and backlink analyses, I found the four best sites that provide unique insights on content marketing and highlight the different SEO and ranking metrics that prove each content strategy works.

Lead Generation: Bankrate

Advertising: Only in Your State

Informational: Education Week

Awareness: Coca-Cola Unbottled

 

Bankrate

bankrate

Bankrate has a major emphasis on lead generation within the automotive loans, mortgage loans and credit card industry. When taking a quick glance at their homepage, you’ll notice topics like “10 Best Tips for Buying a Car” or “Anxious about the mortgage process? Start Here.” As you can tell, each of these topics is built around a user’s intent, and in this case, they are topics that emphasize a purchase that would require a loan. Throughout Bankrate’s articles, their team will include call-to-actions (CTAs) which ask the visitor to conduct a loan or credit card rate search. These CTAs link back to their loan, mortgage or credit card rate calculators. When a visitor fills out the rate calculator form, their information is collected as a lead and then usually sold to a number of loan companies. With Bankrate, creating content that precisely matches the user’s intent, whether it is tips on buying a car or mortgage refinancing, provides the user value with their easy-to-use calculators, which then generates a lead for them.

Site Statistics:

ahrefs-bankrate

13.9 million backlinks

76,200 referring domains

6.7 million monthly organic traffic

1.4 million organic keywords ranking

Top Organic Keyword: “Mortgage calculator” generates 372,110 visits per month

Top Content by Traffic: Bankrate Auto Loan Calculator – 614,400 monthly traffic

Top Content by Backlinks: Bankrate Mortgage Calculator – 95,926 backlinks

 

Only In Your State

only in your state - sedalia, mo

This website was created for entertainment and advertising purposes. Only in Your State has a unique approach on how they create content, but it is apparent that their end-goals for the website was to become an advertising revenue platform. Right when you enter the page, you’ll see a number of banner ads displayed at the top of the page and off to the right-hand side. Only in Your State isn’t focused on advertising a particular product or service, their goal is instead to give the ad position to the highest bidder. But you may be interested in knowing how they drive nearly a million organic visitors a month. Here’s how: their blog is focused on geo-based or localized content within each state, so not only do they produce content related to specific residents within each state, but they utilize “near me” searches as content opportunities. For instance, Only in Your State has created numerous articles on “fireworks displays” you must see in each state.

fireworks

Anytime someone types in the phrase “fireworks near me,” Only in Your State generates a large amount of traffic because they have localized content with high SERPs for searches in every state. Additionally, many residents are passionate about their state and where they live, so they are more inclined to share content that reflects who they are. This is another reason why they are able to generate high amounts of organic traffic and backlinks. Overtime, the more backlinks they receive the higher their domain authority gets and this will increase the number of organic keywords they rank for. As you can see, when developing a site based on the advertising objective, traffic is your best friend. To learn from Only in Your State’s strategy on generating traffic, be sure to create content that is localized to an audience, relates to people’s personalities, provides a laugh and easy to read.

Site Statistics:

ahrefs-onlyinyourstate

131,000 backlinks

5,410 referring domains

875,000 monthly organic traffic

835,000 organic keywords ranking

Top Organic Keyword: “Fireworks near me” generates 2,250 visits per month

Top Content by Traffic: Texas Amazing Beaches – 7,822 monthly traffic

Top Content by Backlinks: The Ultimate Georgia Waterfalls Road Trip – 341 backlinks

 

Education Week

education week

Education Week was created as an informative central hub for all K-12 educational news. EdWeek emphasizes that they are the leading news community for American educators and administrators. Since they are targeting a specific niche, they are able to create personalized high-quality content pieces for the sole purpose of informing this demographic. As they continue to create trust and loyalty as a leading education news source, there will an uptick in the number of repeat visitors and the community will only get stronger. Once established, they are able to start to promoting career fairs, job boards and educational events which is one of their revenue streams. With EdWeek being viewed as a leader in education, they receive higher engagement rates and generate more backlinks from other education and news sites.

Site Statistics:

ahrefs-edweek

6.68 million backlinks

25,300 referring domains

127,000 organic keywords ranking

119,000 monthly organic traffic

Top Organic Keyword Phrase: “No child left behind” generates 14,204 visits per month

Top Content by Traffic: No Child Left Behind Overview – 35,634 monthly traffic

Top Content by Backlinks: Carol Dweck Revisits the ‘Growth Mindset’ – 892 backlinks

 

Coca-Cola Unbottled

Coke-Unbottled

This blog was created by Coca-Cola with the purpose of transparency in addition to creating a community for the millions of worldwide Coke fans. Coca-Cola wants to create awareness on their social responsibility and provide behind-the-scenes access to their products. Their top organic search term is “Coca-Cola Life” which is one of their newest products that uses cane sugar and stevia, so when users search this term, they will find the product information and ingredients. As you can see from the other types of top content by traffic and backlinks, Coca-Cola focuses on highlighting community initiatives such as “Share a Coke” and conservation partnerships that impact the world. When implementing awareness as your main content objective, use the Coca-Cola Unbottled Blog as an example and be sure create content that provides insights your brand’s values and overall mission.

Site Statistics:

ahrefs-unbottled

31,600 backlinks

2,630 referring domains

16,000 organic keywords ranking

24,000 monthly organic traffic

Top Organic Keyword Phrase: “Coca-Cola Life” generates 1,261 visits per month

Top Content by Traffic: Is Your Name on a Coke Bottle? – 6,874 monthly traffic

Top Content by Backlinks: Happy Anniversary: Coke, WWF Celebrate Progress for the Planet – 536 backlinks

 

Conclusion:

As you continue to plan your future content and fill your editorial calendar, remember to first decide what content marketing objective you want to achieve. From there, the subject matter of your content is all based on what industry or niche you reside in. As I mentioned, your website may have one main objective, such as advertising, but that doesn’t mean every post should be created for entertainment purposes. It is smart to diversify the type of content your site produces in order to attract new audiences, generate more traffic and reach the business’s overall goals. Now that you’ve finished reading this article (thanks again!), it shouldn’t take you very long to formulate your next post and start generating traffic.

 

andersonideaAustin Anderson is a forward-thinking, motivated growth marketing specialist. Before joining Circa, Austin built an e-commerce business and managed online marketing for startups in San Diego. Austin strives to be a future influencer in the world of digital marketing and e-commerce. Connect with Austin on LinkedIn and Twitter @andersonidea.