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.

The Ultimate Guide To On-Page SEO For Higher Education In 2017

Introduction

You’ve built your links, promoted your infographics, finished up an epic outreach campaign, and even landed some new contributor accounts. These are all great off-page SEO tactics that have been proven to help your website’s rankings. But for some reason, you still can’t seem to land those page 1 rankings.

What’s the issue?

Your On-Page SEO has been neglected.

On-Page SEO is regularly overlooked. Whether it be missing title tags, meta descriptions, or page headers–all of these should be taken care of first as it’s the one thing you truly have control over in SEO.

Most digital marketers are more concerned with their link-building and outreach campaigns than they are with properly optimizing their site. And rightfully so. The importance of high-quality inbound links is repeatedly pounded into our heads by every blogger out there.

But what if I told you that by tweaking a few on-page elements, you could see a significant boost in rankings? In a competitive vertical like higher education, it’s imperative that we take advantage of these easy wins. Stop ignoring your on-page SEO, implement these tactics, and you will be amazed by the results.

In this multi-part series, I will cover some important on-page elements including the most common mistakes and current best practices for higher education sites.

1. Title Tags

What Is A Title Tag?

A well-written title tag is between 60-65 characters, and it’s a crucial part of your website’s SEO as it really defines what your content is about. Typically, this is where you target your main keywords. A well-written title-tag targets several keywords while also maintaining a high click-through rate.

While the title tag is not as important as it once was, it’s still a significant piece of the puzzle. It’s the first thing that everyone sees (including Google).

How To Write A Great Title Tag

Length

No title should be over 65 characters. Anything longer than this will be cut off in the SERPs (or Google’s search results). See example below:

how to write a great title tag

While a long title is not going to result in your website plummeting in the rankings, it does seem sloppy and can have an adverse impact on your click-through rate.

Keyword Usage

Finding creative ways to include more than just one keyword is crucial to writing a high-quality title tag. However, it’s important that you avoid keyword stuffing when creating your titles.

Keyword stuffing is when a page’s meta information (title tags, meta descriptions, alt tags, etc.) are loaded with keyword after keyword. Typically there is no other context other than a list of keywords. It’s important to avoid this as websites that use this tactic are typically banned or penalized by search engines.

Here is an example of a well-written title tag that takes advantage of several keywords:

take advantage of multiple keywords in your title tag

Character count: 62

Keywords targeted in this example:

  • Online MBA
  • Online MBA programs
  • Master of business administration
  • Master of business administration degree

Take a look at your title tags and see if there are any opportunities for you to target some related keywords.

2. Meta Descriptions

What Is A Meta Description?

The meta description is a 160 character snippet that briefly summarizes your page’s content. Users see this description when they are browsing Google results. It has a lot of value in terms of SEO as well as clickthrough rate.

How To Write The Perfect Meta Description

Similar to the title tag, we can take advantage of the meta description to target some long-tail keywords and encourage users to click on our search engine result. There is a surprising amount of people who just do not create a custom meta description. When you do this, Google attempts to auto-generate one for you by pulling content directly from your page. Unfortunately, these auto-generated descriptions do not do your content justice and may result in a user looking past your website.

Here are some things to keep in mind when writing your descriptions:

  • Be sure to keep the character count under 160. Anything else will be cut off and decrease the readability.
  • Include some long-tail keywords but be sure to avoid keyword stuffing. Find creative ways to add keywords into sentences so that it sounds natural.
  • Include call-to-actions in your descriptions. Adding phrases like “read more here” and “find out how…” will do wonders for your click-through rate.

3. Header Tags

Do not ignore header tags. Making proper use of headers is essential to good on-page SEO.

What are header tags?

Good question. Simply put, they are HTML tags (<h1>, <h2>, <h3>, etc.) that organize the content on your page for users and search engines alike. Using headers drastically improves the readability of your content. Improving the readability will result in better on-page metrics, such as time on page and bounce rate. Both are positive signals that Google takes into consideration.

How To Properly Use Headers

While this may seem pretty self-explanatory, you would be shocked to see how many higher education websites are making crucial mistakes. Here are some quick tips on using header tags:

Use Only One <h1> Tag

Only use 1 <h1> tag. This tag should typically be the title of your post and should contain your main target keyword. Again, it’s important that there are only 1 of these tags per page. Having multiple H1 tags can make it difficult for Google to crawl your page effectively.

This rule does not apply to the subheaders. As long as it makes sense, you can use as many h2, h3, and h4’s as you want.

Include Target Keywords

Each of your header tags should include your target keywords. This does not mean your header tag should just be a keyword and nothing else. Make sure it’s natural and effectively defines the section. (Keep in mind that if you are working with a site that runs WordPress, the title of your post/page will automatically be assigned an h1 tag.) Here is an excellent example of a well-written <h1> tag that targets multiple keywords:

how to write the best h1 tag for seo

You should consider using LSI keywords in your headers. LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing) keywords are semantically related to your target keywords. For example, if your target keyword is “online MBA,” a good LSI keyword would be “master of business admin program online.”

Google is advanced enough to understand that these different phrases are referring to the same thing. It is an excellent way to avoid keyword stuffing as well as making your content flow more naturally.

Directly Answer Common Queries

When doing keyword research for your piece of content, you will most likely run into common questions people ask Google. Include these queries directly in your header tags. Furthermore, answer these questions in a very straightforward format. Lists and tables work great here. We want to make it as easy as possible for Google to crawl and understand we are providing a clear answer to people’s question.

Do this correctly and Google will reward you with a boost in rankings and traffic. See below:

4. Alt Tags

Do you put a lot of effort into writing alt tags? Do you even include alt tags on your photos? If you answered no to either of those questions, you are making a huge mistake.

Alt tags are important in Google’s eyes. So they should be important to you.

Why Are Alt Tags Important?

Think about it this way–how else will Google be able to understand what an image on your site is about if there is not metadata to go along with it? Once Google knows what your image is, you may even get some traffic from Google Images. It’s a win-win.

Alt tags are another piece of the on-page puzzle, and by not including them, your SEO is incomplete.

I recently ran a test of my own and simply added/updated all of the alt tags on a single page. I did not change any other elements on the page. Within 48 hours I noticed a significant boost in rankings. Try it yourself if you don’t believe me!

increase search engine rankings by adjusting alt tags

How To Write A Solid Alt Tag

A common mistake that most people make when adding alt tags to their images is they simply include a target keyword. While this is better than nothing, we can do much better and improve our on-page.

Be as descriptive as possible. For example, your main image on a page targeting “online MBA” should have an alt tag that looks something like this:

“XYZ University offers the best online MBA in the world”

The same thing applies to the title of the image. Make this just as descriptive as the alt tag and considering adding some LSI keywords in there. The code for your image should now look like this:

<img src=”www.university.edu/images/online-mba.jpg” alt=”XYZ University offers the best online MBA in the world” title=”Find out more about the XYZ master in business administration program” />

Apply these tactics to your site’s images and watch your rankings soar.

5. Keyword Density

As I’ve mentioned throughout this post, we want to avoid keyword stuffing at all costs. Google’s Panda updates have cracked down on sites with thin content and those who blatantly overuse keywords without adding any real value.

Keyword density gives us an insight into whether or not we are overusing our target keywords on any given page. It is a percentage that is calculated by dividing the number of keyword uses by the total number of words on the page.

Typically, you want to keep your keyword density for your target keyword around 1%. This is definitely on the safer side. So if you have 1000 words on your page, you can safely use your keyword about ten times.

In the example below, you will see that “online MBA” is only at 0.32% density. This means the page could easily include a few more instances of the target keyword.

best keyword density to use in your SEO content

This does not mean you can’t target LSI keywords and other long tail keywords. The keyword density only applies to exact matches.

If you find that your page is having trouble moving up in the rankings, then check your keyword density and see if you are using your keyword too many times. You can use a Chrome plugin like SEOQuake to check your density quickly.

6. Internal Linking

Internal linking is up there as one of the most important on-page SEO elements. Internal linking is essentially the act of linking to other pages on your site from any given article. If you ever find yourself questioning the power of internal linking, take a look at any Wikipedia article, and you will see how often they implement this tactic. And not many people do SEO better than Wikipedia. Look at the opening paragraph of one of their articles:

why internal linking is important in higher education

Why Internal Linking Is Important

Spreads Link Juice

Interlinking your site is important for a number of reasons, because it’s a way of spreading the “link juice” throughout your website. In short, “link juice” can be defined as the power that individual links provide your site. So if the majority of links pointing to your site are going to your home page, then linking to other pages on your site from your home page is a good way of dispersing that link juice throughout the rest of your site. The more link juice the internal pages of your site have, the higher your rankings will be.

Increases User Experience

Internal linking is important because it helps with user experience and overall usability. For example, if people are reading a blog post on your website about the benefits of an online MBA, linking to the online MBA degree page would be very beneficial. Linking to other helpful resources on your site is always going to add value to the visitor.

Lowers Bounce Rate

To go along with usability, when users are visiting other pages on your site, it’s lowering your site’s bounce rate. As mentioned before, having a low bounce rate sends a positive signal to Google, essentially telling them that you have a very resourceful site.

Best Practices For Interlinking

Number of Links

Many people wonder if there is a limit to how many internal links you can include on a page. There is no limit. As long as the page you are linking to is relevant to the current page, then you should link to it.

Relevance Of The Link

On the other hand, you do want to avoid linking to unrelated pages. For instance, if your article is about nursing degrees, it probably wouldn’t make too much sense to link to an article about social work degrees. The idea here is to make sure your article is as natural as possible. We want to make sure Google doesn’t think you are trying to “game” their algorithm.

Anchor Text

You want to link out to your pages using your target keywords. This may seem pretty obvious, but it’s very important. For example, if you’re trying to get your MBA page to rank for the term “online MBA,” then you will want to link to that page using that keyword as the anchor text. Be careful not to overdo this, however. It’s a good idea to use a few other LSI keywords when linking to this page. Remember, keep things looking natural.

7. External Linking

While not nearly as important as internal linking, external linking can help give your site the extra boost that it needs. External linking means linking out to relevant websites within your article or pages. For example, with our higher education clients, Circa Interactive recommend they link externally to published studies.

Why Should We Link To Other Sites?

It may seem a bit counterintuitive to link to other sites since the goal is to keep visitors on your pages. However, by linking to high authority sites, you’re showing Google that your site is a solid resource page. You want to give off the impression that your site is a hub of information.

In the same sense that internal linking is good for user experience, it’s also a good idea to build external links to valuable resources for your visitors. If there is a resource somewhere online that can provide supplemental information on your page’s topic, then this would be very helpful to the user. Even though they are leaving your site, chances are they will remember your school being very helpful, giving them a reason to return as a visitor.

For example, using our Online MBA example again, if your page makes mention of scholarships being available for this program, then linking out to a list of relevant scholarships would be a very good idea.

Best Practices For Linking Externally

When it comes to linking externally in higher education, we want to make sure we’re linking to reputable sources. If you happen to have Moz bar installed, one rule of thumb is to make sure you are only linking out to websites that have a domain authority of 65+. While this is not a perfect way to filter sites, it’s a fairly accurate representation of how much we can trust a site.

Here are a few examples of pages we can comfortably link to:

  • Other .edu domains
  • Any .gov domains
  • Published studies
  • Scholarship pages
  • Websites with domain authority of 65+

8. Length of Content

When I first started out in SEO, digital marketers could throw up 300 words of content and expect the page to rank for its target keywords, but due to new algorithm updates, these days are long gone, especially for the more competitive terms. The length of your content now plays an important role in how a given page ranks in Google.

Benefits Of Longer Content

Better rankings

Well, that’s the obvious answer at least. But it’s true. If you take the time to look at the pages that are ranking for your target keyword, then chances are the ones with the most content are in the top spots. Obviously, this is not the sole factor in what is making these pages rank, but it’s a common denominator. Let’s take a look at the site ranking number 1 for “online MBA.”

content length for higher education seo

As you can see, they nearly have 4,000 words of content. How does your website stack up against that?

This does not mean that you should go add an additional 1000 words of useless fluff to your pages. Google is smarter than that, and you could end up getting slapped with a “thin content” penalty. The goal is to make sure our content is adding ACTUAL value to our visitors. Which brings us to the next benefit…

Adds Value

Having tons of useful information on a page adds value in both the eyes of Google and for the visitor. As mentioned before, the goal is to have your site become a hub of information. Take a look at Wikipedia again as an example to see how long their articles are on any given topic. I can save you some time by telling you: They are very long and full of useful information.

Target More Longtail Keywords

This might be the most important benefit of adding more content to your pages. The longer your content, the more chances you have to rank for long tail keywords. While these long tail keywords don’t have much search volume behind them, it does add up. Think about it this way; you can easily rank for five keywords that each have 100 searches/mo. Simple addition tells us that you are essentially ranking for a keyword with 500 searches/mo.

What Is The Standard In 2017?

Now, you’re probably wondering, “How long should my content be?” A good rule of thumb here is to look at how much content your competitors have. If all of the top results for your target keywords have pages with 2000 words, then you should consider at least matching that. It’s imperative that you do not write content just to get the word count up. If you don’t have actual valuable content to add, then don’t do it. With that being said, there are always ways to get creative and up that word count.

9. Schema Markup For Higher Education

Schema is undoubtedly the most underused method of search engine optimization today. This is partly due to the fact that it’s fairly new and partly because most people don’t understand what exactly it is. So what is it?

Schema is code that is placed on your website which helps Google better understand what exactly your content is about. Think about it as presenting your content to Google on a golden platter. This allows them to display your content in a more informative way in the search engine results. For example, take a look at the search results for “online MBA.” You will see some links going directly to different pages of the site.

using schema markup for colleges and universities

Another way of looking at schema is that it allows the search engines to understand what your content means and not just what it says. The better Google understand what your content is about, the more they will reward you with rankings.

How To Use Schema In Higher Education

Now that you have an idea of what schema markup is let’s look at how we can apply it to higher education marketing. First, take a look at the documentation here.

You will see a ton of options of marking up information regarding your college or university. For example, you can markup the address of the university, notable alumni, any awards that may have been won. If you click on any of the properties on this page, it will go into detail on how to implement them on your website. The process is pretty intuitive, however, does require some basic knowledge of HTML.

It was recently announced that schema.org will be including markup for college courses. This is fantastic news for those interested in higher education. The property is still pending, but you can periodically check here to see if it’s been released.

10. Site Speed

Here is another commonly overlooked on-page factor in the higher education world. If you don’t think the speed of your site matters, then you are about ten steps behind your competition. Not only is site speed incredibly important for your website’s visitors, but it’s just as important in the eyes of Google as well.

Importance Of Website Speed

Let’s say you’ve finally got your university’s site to rank for your target keywords, and prospective students are arriving at your landing page, but it’s taking forever to load. How long do you think before they become frustrated and go to a competitor’s site? With so many other options out there, I can tell you it won’t take long.

Think about the times you’ve been browsing the web and came across a site that took a while to load. You probably click the back button and went to the next search engine result. Having a slow site has a huge effect on bounce rate, which sends a negative signal to Google. If you still aren’t convinced that site speed plays a part in search engine rankings, here is a detailed study from Moz that should make you a believer.

Some Quick Fixes

Get Better Hosting

One of the most common causes of a slow site is a slow host. If you’re paying next to nothing for some shared hosting, chances are it’s having a large effect on your response time. You should consider hosting your website on a dedicated server. While this will be a bit pricier, it will do wonders for your site’s speed.

Compress Large Images

It’s a common issue to have too many large images on a site, which impacts site speed. I recommend compressing images before uploading them. It’s extremely easy, especially with online tools such as Compressor.io.

Minify Your HTML/CSS/JS

This can be a bit technical, but it’s a great way to quickly reduce the load time of your website. If you happen to be running WordPress, there are great plugins that will do this for you automatically, such as W3 Total Cache. If you’re not running WordPress, then I recommend reaching out to a developer to help you accomplish this.

Use A Content Delivery Network

Content Delivery Network’s or CDN’s are great to use for both site speed and security. A CDN is essentially a network of servers around the globe that delivers your webpages to users based on their geographic location. These are fairly easy to setup. Cloudflare is a great one to start with (and free).

To get an idea of where your website stands regarding site speed, you can use this tool from Pingdom. Here is what a well-optimized site looks like:

great site speed for colleges and university websites

If you want to learn more about site speed optimization, then there are tons of resources around the web. Here is an excellent guide to get started.

Wrapping Things Up

I encourage anyone reading this post to implement these tactics on their higher education site. Most of these are quick fixes you can apply today. Doing so will give you a significant advantage over your competition as most people fail to optimize their sites properly.

Be sure to join our mailing list as this all-inclusive guide will continue to be updated. Google is updating their algorithm regularly, so it’s important you stay on top of the game. Thanks for reading and be sure to drop and questions or comments below!

3 Things Higher Education Marketers Should Consider in 2017

Whether it’s the increasing use of mobile devices or Facebook’s unveiling of lead ads, there have been a number of changes to the digital marketing landscape over the past few years. Some of these changes have had substantial impact, and many digital marketers have been scrambling to adjust and align their initiatives in order to remain competitive within the industry. While quick adjustments are often essential, it’s also important for higher education digital marketers to take a step back and conduct a full assessment of the current marketing strategy. With the new year soon approaching, now is a great time for digital marketers to reassess their current initiatives and test out new strategies for 2017. Below, I’ll offer some questions to consider during the review process and highlight a few new strategies to consider for 2017.

Review & Fine Tune

When reassessing your current higher education marketing strategy, you’ll want to consider two key elements: goals and data. If you’re a larger university with a number of initiatives, be sure to keep it simple at first. Perhaps start with the question: Did we reach all of our lead goals that we set for 2016? If no, this is where you’ll want to examine data to uncover where lead goals were missed and why. Outside of lead goals, you’ll also want to consider goals relating to your online presence, such as site visits, followers on social platforms and user engagement. When considering these metrics, examine the data to see if you can identify any trends or patterns to give you an idea where your audience may heading in 2017. For example, a major Q4 increase in traffic to social platforms along with a decrease in site visits could signal that potential students are more interested in reviewing a school’s social identity than they are the traditional web page.

After the review process, be sure to prioritize your goals for 2017 (example: “We’re more concerned with user engagement on social platforms than we are on site visits”), then fine tune your strategy to fit. Questions to consider while fine tuning include:

  • Do we want to reallocate our budget in any areas?
  • Should we remove any marketing initiatives?
  • What social and blog posts were most successful this past year?
  • What sources are most of our leads coming from?
  • Are there new social platforms that we should test?
  • What initiatives are we going to implement to get X number of followers?

When in the assessment and fine-tuning process, you’ll also want to consider recent changes within the industry. Below, I’ll highlight a few of the major changes over the past few years that you’ll want to consider.

Increase in Mobile

Since the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, the use of mobile has steadily increased, largely due to the ease of apps and mobile platforms. Yet up till this past year, desktop was always considered the primary source for reaching potential students. According to a comScore report, that now has changed as users are trading desktop for the convenience of mobile. This change has occurred for a number of reasons, but one of the main driving factors is the refinement of apps. For example, when Facebook Mobile was first released, the platform was congested and difficult to use compared to the desktop website. Yet over the past few years, Facebook and other leading tech companies have placed a major emphasis on attracting the millennial audience who tend to rely heavily on mobile. With this switch in focus, companies upgraded their mobile apps and platforms to enhance the mobile experience with improved configuration and additional perks, such as being able to order a pizza without having to leave the Facebook platform. These improvements have resulted in a 394 percent increase in mobile usage, a number that is only projected to increase in the coming years.  

As a higher education marketer, it’s important to know how the aggregate are leaning in their use of digital media, but it’s equally essential not to confuse the aggregate for your own audience. Be sure to dig through your data to see if you can identify a similar shift to mobile amongst your audience. If so, be sure to evaluate paid search strategies, as well as the content on your blog and social platforms to see if there are any adjustments that can be made so content is more mobile friendly.

Facebook Lead Ads

Mark Zuckerberg has turned Facebook into one of the premier advertising platforms, so it’s no surprise that they are leading the transition to mobile advertising with their introduction of leads ads. Within Facebook’s older advertising platform, clicking on an ad would send users outside of Facebook, which proved to be inconvenient for Facebook and its users. Lead ads changed all of this, making it so users can express interest in a school without ever leaving the Facebook platform.

Here’s how lead ads work: when users click on an ad, a lead form opens up within the Facebook platform that’s already automatically filled out based on what kind of information they share with their Facebook audience. So, for most, clicking on a lead ad would open a lead form with their name, phone number and email, and all the user would have to do is click submit to complete the lead form process. So far, the convenience of lead ad forms have proven to be very successful, dropping the aggregate CPL of one of our programs by about $15, all the while boosting lead volume in the process.

If you’re looking to have a strong start to 2017, now is the time to begin auditing your current strategy and implementing new initiatives where they seem fit. Remember to ensure that your current plan aligns with your overall goals, and don’t forget to examine analytics data to get a better understanding of where your audience may be heading in the new year.

If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comment box below!

 

Tyler Putz of Circa Interactive Tyler is a retired division two college basketball player and a recent graduate from the University of Iowa. His creativity, as well as passion for entrepreneurship and the expansion of technology and communication, helps Circa to continue to stay on the cusp of new technologies and trends influencing future generations of students.

How to Build Backlinks to Infographics

In the online SEO world, there are a plethora of ways to build links and drive visitors to your resources. As many professionals already know, the two main ways to drive traffic to a site is through paid and organic search. Paid search involves using a marketing budget to boost online campaigns such as Facebook advertising and Google AdWord, whereas organic traffic is traffic that comes to your website as a result of unpaid search and is often achievable when appearing on the first page of Googles search results. As most of us already know, the number of links pointed to a particular domain has a direct correlation with search engine ranking results. So overtime, as resources and infographics gain more links, they will slowly rise to the top of the search engine results page for target keywords and drive the organic traffic you’re looking for.

 

Why are Infographics Used?

Many higher education institutions create infographics around breaking news stories or trending studies. They are then able to take a complex subject and turn it into an easy to understand visualization. When infographics are used as a link building strategy, especially in higher education, they can be leveraged to build links since they are educational, informative resources from high authority universities. As I mentioned in my last Higher Education Marketing Journal post, the reason infographics are preferred over other resources is because humans respond better to visual content and statistic show they are more likely to be shared.

Fast Fact: 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and visuals are processed 60,000 times faster in the brain than text.

 

Where do I Find Link Building Opportunities?

Now that you understand the underlying reasons as to why infographic resources are used, one of the first questions that may come to mind is “Where do I find a prospective audience who will link to this resource?”

Before you can start finding potential candidates for your infographic resource, you need to breakdown the infographic into topic specific sections. This will enable you to get a full understanding of what the infographic will discuss, and you’ll be able to identify specific niches and buzzwords which can be used to segment prospective bloggers.

After you’ve completed an in-depth analysis of the visual resource, you can start applying the three following tactics to begin your link building process.

  1. Backlink Analyses on Similar Graphics
  2. Capitalize on News Trends
  3. Identify Niche Experts

1) Backlink Analysis on Similar Graphics

Before you can build links, your first step should always be to find relevant contacts in your niche. The best way to do this is by running a backlink analysis to help you discover the sites that are linking to a specific domain.

In order to run backlink analysis, the first step is to find a list of infographics with similar titles or topics to the infographic you’re trying to link build to. For instance, the following infographic describes the leadership hierarchy in hospitals and healthcare.


leadership in hospitals
Using this as an example, you should run a Google search using the keyword phrase “healthcare leadership infographic” and then start browsing the top search results and images for similar infographic that have similar topics.

healthcare leadership

When you have found an infographic that is similar to yours, the next step is to take the specific infographic URL and put it into a backlink analysis tool such as Moz or Ahrefs. Once you place the URL in the backlink analyzer tool, you will be able find the sites that have linked to other health infographics.

backlinks
You now have a collection of sites that link to infographics within your niche. Next, you need to select the contacts and sites you want to get a link from. If a site has an extremely high domain authority (over 85), the publication will probably not post your infographic because it will not match their editorial guidelines. However, if the resource explains a trending subject in their industry it could still be worth attempting to gain a link from some highly authoritative sites. After you narrow down the most relevant link building candidates, you need to add them to your outreach list and send an email asking if they would be interested in your resource.

 

2) Capitalize on News Trends

The second link building tactic relies on finding publications that are discussing breaking news or trending stories within your specific niche. Since the news is always timely and constantly changing, you’ll be able find a number of news pegs that relate to your infographic. The main objective of this strategy is to tie in your infographic as an additional resource to what is happening in the news. This is a way to give reporters and bloggers a way to back up their initial stories. As an example, let’s say that you have an infographic that discusses the impact of climate change. You simply search for climate change in Google News and filter through the search results to find publications that are speaking about the latest developments on this subject. Check out this screenshot to get a better understanding of what you will be looking at.

climate change search

As you can see, climate change is being discussed on a consistent basis. These are only the first three results and they could all be added to your outreach list. Now let’s take this a step further. In order to improve the chances of gaining a link, you would want to click-through each article and find the exact author who wrote on the subject. Once the author is identified, you’ll be able to angle a pitch that speaks directly to the writer’s interest, giving you higher chance of landing a link. Always remember that the news will change, but with enough creativity you can get your resources tie in with the trending stories.

 

3) Identify Niche Experts

With over 2 million blog post being written each day, there are limitless link building opportunities available. Think about that for a second. This means over 1,389 articles are being published each minute. Now all you have to do is find the right people to reach out to, and luckily enough, the Internet has made it possible to contact numerous experts in fields ranging from artificial intelligence, labor outlook, health trends, and everything in between. The best way to find these experts is by searching keywords through social media platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. For this example, let’s use the climate change topic again. A great tool to use to assist you with finding these experts is the Twitter Advanced Search Feature. Once you reach advanced search page, always add your collection of keywords in the first line of the search bar and change the date parameters to only focus on the past year.

twitter advanced search
Once you run this search, you’ll be able to filter through the top post, accounts, photos, videos and more, but in order to narrow down to the field experts you’ll want to segment by accounts. Here are the results that were produced from the above search.

climate change twitter
Each of these accounts are either niche publications or experts focused on developments happening in climate change and global warming. Now that you have a collection of climate change individuals at the tip of your finger, the next step is to scrape the entire Twitter search results and add them to your outreach list.

After using these three link building strategies, you will have compiled a list of highly targeted individuals that have built links to infographics before. To finish this process, the final step is to divide up the publications and experts into niche subsegments so you are able to create a personalized outreach pitch that will intrigue each expert.

I hope you are able to build awareness around your infographic resources, gain an abundance of backlinks, rise up in Google rankings and drive organic traffic! Now it is up to you to create your outreaches and email your list of prospective link builders. Happy link building!

 

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 marketing. Connect with Austin on LinkedIn and Twitter @andersonidea.

3 Ways Higher Education Marketers Can Leverage the 2016 Presidential Election

We are one month from the first presidential debate, and the 2016 election has already proven itself to be one of the most digitally reported and discussed elections in the history of the United States. In fact, over the past 12 months, Americans have spent over 1,284 years reading Donald Trump related content on social media. As we all know, the internet and social media are changing the way Americans interact with presidential candidates, and this provides an enormous amount of content marketing opportunities. The 2016 Presidential Election creates a variety of opportunities for higher education digital marketers to promote their schools and programs, and I’ve put together three ways that digital marketers can leverage the news cycle to build high quality backlinks. 

Leverage Your Professors

Throughout the election, candidates are asked to provide insight on a number of issues ranging from civil rights to the federal budget to foreign policy. These topics may be the focal point of a professor’s area of expertise which digital marketers can leverage when seeking PR opportunities.

When leveraging professors, it is important that digital marketers clearly articulate the value that professors can provide reporters. Professors are often the thought leaders of their industries and niches and can provide high-level insights that have yet to be published. For example, the release of Hillary Clinton’s Initiative on Technology and Innovation, which places a major focus on investing in computer science and STEM education, provides Circa’s PR team with the opportunity to leverage our engineering, computer science, and other STEM-related professors for articles providing expert commentary on what Clinton’s initiative could mean for the STEM industry, as well as its potential impact on the future of our education system.

Another way to leverage your professors is through HARO. For those that don’t know, HARO (which stands for Help a Reporter Out) is an online service designed to provide reporters with quality sources for upcoming stories and sources with the possibility to obtain media coverage. Those who have signed up for HARO as potential sources receive daily emails featuring a list of reporters seeking quotes or insights for upcoming articles. If an article seems to fit a professor’s area of expertise, all a PR specialist needs to do is respond to the email and pitch the professor by noting the expert angle or insight that she or he could provide to the story.

As campaign coverage continues to gain speed, there will likely be an increase in HARO opportunities with reporters seeking academic or professional insight, so if you haven’t signed up for HARO yet, it is certainly worth exploring.

Create Resources Highlighting the Election

Being one of the key events of 2016, the Presidential Election is a prime time-peg that higher education digital marketers can use in creating resources for their schools and programs. There are a number of different angles to take when creating resources. Some of the most popular include:

  • Blog posts
  • Infographics
  • Videos
  • GIFs

For those that don’t know, visual resources are great for creating informative, yet appealing content, so infographics would be particularly good for highlighting the election. There are a few different ways to highlight the election through infographics, which would include leveraging content on a topic candidates are discussing (Ex. cyber security) or creating an infographic on the election, such as this one on social media and presidential campaigns.

Within the creation process, keep in mind that the main goal of infographics is to build links back to your program, and the best way to build links is to create intriguing content that provides value to the viewer. Sometimes value can come from a unique angle, newsworthy content or reliable statistics; other times it can be through a graph or visual that highlights an intriguing contrast. Either way, be sure that your graphics provide value of some kind so that viewers will be more inspired to share them with their network.

Add to the Social Commentary

Whether it’s a insensitive statement or previously unreleased documents, every day it seems as though there is a new story involving Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. And while journalists report the initial story, higher education digital marketers have the opportunity to leverage this content and add to the social commentary. For those that don’t know, social commentary is considered an act of expression that comments and thus expands upon a social issue within society. If this sounds complicated, it really isn’t. In fact, adding to the social commentary can be as simple as sharing a news story or quote on social media platforms and asking followers to share their opinions. Higher education digital marketers could also take this a step further by including a quick quote from a professor on the current political issue.

Regardless of what approach is taken, it is important that a call to action (CTA) is included at the end of the social post. This CTA doesn’t necessarily have to be anything complicated, just something to encourage the reader to share their insight or opinion.

If the election coverage continues to progress at its current pace, there may not be a more consistent time peg than the 2016 Presidential election, so digital marketers would be wise to leverage this opportunity as much as possible for their schools and programs. No matter what approach you take, make sure to clearly position your programs and professors as the leaders within their niche. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to be creative and have fun with whatever method you choose.
Have you been leveraging the presidential election in your digital marketing efforts? If so, what has worked for you? We’d love to hear your insight!

Tyler Putz of Circa Interactive Tyler is a retired division two college basketball player and a recent graduate from the University of Iowa. His creativity, as well as passion for entrepreneurship and the expansion of technology and communication, helps Circa to continue to stay on the cusp of new technologies and trends influencing future generations of students.

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) ranking was found to be the number of backlinks and overall link authority. Moreover, 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?’ The best way to attract backlinks is by creating evergreen content that is high quality and relevant to your audience. Evergreen content is up-to-date, instructional content that does not lose its value over time and is created so searchers can reference it as a source over and over again. Today you’re in luck because I’m about to present to you three types of evergreen content that can be utilized right here, right now.

Types of Evergreen Content:

  • Infographic/Visual
  • 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 a 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 on 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, deem 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 around 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 an 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 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 you 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 within 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 longer 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 audience 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 lead graphic designer, Jordan Opel.

12 Techniques to Help You Learn Adobe Illustrator

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 about Adobe Illustrator. In total, the 12 techniques for the Illustrator article has 5199 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 anyway do not hesitate to leave a comment below. I would love to hear any feedback you may have about topic and know what type of evergreen content ideas you use in your organization.

 

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 marketing. Connect with Austin on LinkedIn and Twitter @andersonidea.

A Step-by-Step Guide on how to Leverage University Events for Your SEO Strategy

Universities throughout the United States regularly host events and conferences with the intention of bringing awareness to certain topics and causes, while simultaneously building upon their thought leadership within the industry. However, while more organizations and institutions are beginning to leverage online tactics to promote their events, many are still missing out on a key opportunity to build links to their event, which will in turn help with rankings and visibility for the program. Here at Circa Interactive, we have found that using university events and conferences as an SEO and link building tactic can be a very effective strategy in boosting our clients’ rankings and brand awareness. The reason that this strategy is so successful is because featuring relevant industry events can provide great value to a publication’s readership. For example, we recently acquired twelve links over a ten day period for a brain summit hosted by one of our university clients, which clearly proves that this strategy can be a powerful and effective one. Here is a step-by-step guide on how you can achieve the same results for your university program events, including but not limited to: conferences, conventions, exhibits, and university tours.  

Start with Event Websites

You should begin by targeting national event listing sites as these will be relevant to every event that you host and serve to create easy link wins. Many of these sites simply require you to send them the details of the event, along with the URL, so that they can verify whether it is a legitimate event. This is a great tactic to obtain your first batch of links. These links are also likely to be diverse in comparison to many others you may have in your portfolio, thus further increasing the value of these placements. A diverse backlink portfolio with a variety of high quality wins is seen as a positive indicator to Google and will therefore be beneficial from an SEO standpoint. Some national event listing sites that I would recommend starting with are: lanyrd.com, conferencealerts.com, and eventbrite.com.

Write a Press Release

The concept behind a press release is to share newsworthy content with relevant contacts. This should be used to accompany your link building efforts. If possible, also factor in how this press release will work best from an SEO perspective and how a search engine will recognize your keywords. Your press release should elaborate on the details of the event, discuss the target audience, and note who the key speakers are. Also remember to include any contact information so that media outlets can obtain more information if needed. Alongside this, remind the media contact why this topic is important in a wider context. This can be achieved by using a news peg that is closely associated with your event. Prior to our client’s brain summit, a report stated that the rate of ADHD diagnosis had risen 5% each year since 2003. This data signified the importance of continued brain research and enabled us to provide media contacts with an additional reason to publish information on the event. A press release has the potential to spread far and wide because many media outlets pick up stories from other local media sources. If you can find a few sites that are willing to post your press release, then this could create a ripple effect and you might end up with a number of placements in a short amount of time without having to manually acquire all the placements yourself.  

Look for Local Links

A big part of your strategy should be to target sites that report on news in the area where your event is being held. Being featured on the main page of newspapers, tourism sites, and local news sites can be difficult, but securing a link placement in their events section is certainly possible and very valuable. This provides a great opportunity to land a diverse set of links that may have been otherwise been very difficult to attain. News outlets are also more likely to be interested in an event that is being hosted in an area that they regularly cover and that is of interest to their readership.

Target Industry-Specific Sites

In addition to targeting sites that report on local news and events, it is important to pitch your event to industry-specific sites. If your event is based around the topic of mental health, then it makes sense to target blogs and news sites that cover mental health related topics. However, you should not solely limit yourself to these confines and should not be afraid get creative and expand your outreach whenever possible. Reaching out to sites that cover other medical related topics would not be too far fetched in this case. If you can position the event to be relevant and valuable to the publication’s audience, then you will have a better chance of getting a media placement and link out of it.

Conduct a Competitor Analysis

You are unlikely to be the first organization that is hosting an event or conference related to your specific niche. Discovering where similar events have been posted is a surefire way to find websites that you know are willing to post this type of content. Again, if you are hosting a conference on mental health, searching for simple keywords like “mental health conferences” in Google will enable you to find a host of previous events on this topic. You can then conduct a competitor backlink analysis for each event to discover which sites linked to them. There are a number of tools out there that can be used to conduct this analysis, but here at Circa we use Moz. You simply need to enter the event’s URL into Moz’s Open Site Explorer search bar and from there you will be able to view all inbound links to that particular URL. Moz only allows you to have three free searches a day unless you upgrade to Moz Pro. However, you can test out this software with a 30 day free trial. Once you determine which sites are good quality, a competitor analysis will provide you with an important set of leads to go after. One easy way to help determine which sites are high quality is to reference the information provided alongside the list of inbound URL’s, which includes the domain authority (DA) and the spam score. The domain authority ranges from 1-100, and the higher it is, the better and more high quality the site is. Conversely, you want the spam score to be as low as possible. By finding and targeting sites that have posted similar event information in the past, you will likely save time and resources on outreach while also increasing your success rate.

Follow Up After the Event

Even if you have acquired a respectable number of links prior to the event, your outreach shouldn’t stop there. Some of the best opportunities will come after the event, which is particularly relevant following a conference. The findings from a conference are often a great source of content for media outlets. Conducting searches on Google and social media will help you find individuals who have been talking about topics that relate to your event. Creating a new page on your website which discusses and dissects the findings will also help you to gain links following the event.

George has recentGeorgely joined the Circa team in California following the completion of his master’s in marketing management and strategy degree, where he graduated with distinction from Plymouth University in England. George is a PR and digital marketing specialist who is passionate about creating high level opportunities for professors within national publications. 

A Guide to Understanding Audiences and Creating Personas in Higher Education

First developed in the 80’s by Alan Cooper, a software engineer, audience personas have become a key element to any successful design program or marketing strategy. Initially created to understand how different groups of people use software, personas have evolved to help marketing and advertising professionals target very specific groups of people to deliver the messaging and content they want, expect and respond to.

In the world of higher education, it’s more important than ever to have a clear understanding of who your target audience is and what makes them tick. Competition is as fierce as ever and budget dollars are often hard to come by, so if you want an immediate competitive advantage and a way to run more efficient and effective campaigns, you must know exactly who it is that you’re marketing to. This short guide will help you get started on identifying your target audience, understanding what’s most important to them and leveraging that information to improve your marketing efforts. You’ll be able to use what you learn through this post to:

  • Inform market and prospective student strategies
  • Inform ad messaging and help to establish a common language with target audiences
  • Inform future marketing and sales strategies
  • Inform visual elements of marketing and web design
  • Create audience personas

Initial questions to ask and why

As you begin the audience exploration process, gather three to four key stakeholders to begin crafting probing questions to lead the audience discussion. Marketing, admissions, student services and an engaged faculty member comprise an ideal group of individuals to help achieve this. Each department will provide valuable insight and differing perspectives that will ensure your discussion is well-rounded and thorough.

While some of the questions you need to ask may be specific to the niche or degree area, there are tried and true questions that will help accomplish your goals no matter the program or department you’re working in. Here are eight questions to get you started:

  • What are their problems, pains, and challenges?
  • What is important to them in their personal and professional lives?
  • How do they consume information?
  • Are they active in social networks?
  • Have they previously interacted with your institution?
  • Who or what influences their decisions?
  • What sorts of images and information appeal to them?
  • Do they have the desire, authority and ability to take action?

Some of the answers for these questions may be obvious, but make sure to open up each one for discussion with your group of stakeholders. Each individual will provide a unique vantage point from different sides of your institution, and you’ll most likely find that each question will still receive slightly different answers depending on the stakeholder.

Taking it a step further

To validate or expand what you learn during the initial probing exercise, additional research is required to solidify target audiences and personas. Here are seven ideas to get you started:

  • Analyze your CRM (customer relationship management) platform or Student Information System, such as Banner.
  • Take a look at competitors and similar degree programs – what is their strategy for messaging and imagery? Can you identify who their target audience and demographics are? What can you learn from them?
  • Check magazine editorial calendars in your industry for upcoming topics that signal areas of interest to their readers and your audiences.
  • Conduct surveys, focus groups, and one-on-one conversations.
  • Monitor and participate in social networks.
  • Read industry publications, blogs, and analyst reports.
  • Run a keyword analysis and Google Trends report for relevant topics.

Putting it all together

Armed with deep insight into your audience, it’s time to consolidate the information you’ve extracted to create a handful of very specific personas consisting of no more than five or six. A word of caution: you want to avoid creating more than a handful of personas as your targeting will lack focus and defeat the purpose of the exercise. If you aren’t able to boil your audience down to five or six personas, you’ll need to rinse, repeat and ask more questions until you’ve dug deep enough to get a true sense of who your audiences are. Remember these are audience themes, not specific people. Personas are representative of a group of people within your audience, not one specific individual per se.

Once you’ve identified your personas, it’s time to put them into action. At this point, you should have a well-rounded view of who you audiences are, the content they crave, the messages that resonate with them, what they dislike and what incentives will propel them to take action. You know how old they are, where they work, where they live, their education level, what they do in their free time and what’s most important to them. This information is especially useful when creating social pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns as you would in Facebook, for example. When marketing on Facebook or LinkedIn, segmentation is key, and with detailed persona data this process becomes much easier and significantly more effective than the typical guesswork required without them.

When building out your personas, consider this template as an example:

2016-06-10_12-27-24

Courtesy The Buyer Persona Institute

Key takeaways:

  • Personas will inform all areas of your business and are the foundation to any and all marketing efforts.
  • Involve multiple stakeholders in various areas of your institution to truly be effective in the brainstorming process.
  • Personas are generalizations of your target audience, not specific people. Use them to inform messaging, images and marketing strategies, not direct marketing.
  • Be sure to share your audience and persona findings with each department, as it could also be used to improve their services. For example, student services may leverage this to produce support systems that will help with retention.
  • Marketing on Facebook or LinkedIn? Personas are key. Use them to help carve out very specific audience segments and deliver highly personalized messaging.

 

DSC_0048 reduced 2Clayton Dean is an enrollment management, digital marketing, and business operations expert, leading Circa Interactive’s growth, development, and day-to-day operations. Clayton has successfully assisted dozens of institutions in developing, marketing, and launching degree programs from the ground up. Connect with Clayton on Twitter @circaclayton.

 

5 Digital Public Relations Challenges and How to Overcome Them

Digital public relations is a relatively new strategy used in digital marketing to increase organic rankings. It’s a practice where higher education marketers utilize public relations techniques to leverage the expertise and research of faculty members in order to acquire program links on high quality domains and publications. It’s a very important and exciting component of our larger SEO strategy, but it does not come without its own specific set of challenges. Below I will discuss some of the obstacles that are commonly faced when implementing PR for higher ed clients and how to best overcome them to ensure success.  

1) The academic and media worlds move at vastly different speeds

Challenge: 

Professors are accustomed to more lengthy turnaround times as the academic world can be a slow moving one, but unfortunately the media industry works at a different pace. While a story can be plastered all over the Internet in one day, a few days later it can just as easily seem irrelevant and overdone. This can become problematic when professors aren’t familiar with the short length of news cycles and, therefore, don’t have the same sense of urgency. More importantly, professors are incredibly busy people, which can make delivering timely articles or setting up interviews while the topic is still relevant much more challenging.

Solution:


Our first priority is to always respect the professor’s time and obligations, which is why we will resort to alternative solutions to accommodate worthwhile opportunities when there is a conflict of time. One way we accomplish this is by offering to jump on a quick call with them to write down their response to a media inquiry (something like a HARO or ProfNet request). This can save a lot of time and hassle on their behalf. If the reporter or editor’s schedule does not align with the professor’s calendar, then we will seek alternative options, such as providing an emailed response instead of a phone interview. If neither of these options work, then we will leverage the expertise of another professor if it aligns with the reporter’s need. Reporters are often very open to this option, but when it comes to major publications like CNN or the New York Times, it’s essential to try and work around the reporter’s schedule, because being published in these type of high quality publications has an extremely low probability and will provide invaluable exposure. It’s very easy for one of these reporters to stop returning emails if scheduling is an issue. 

2) Professor inexperience with media interviews

Challenge:


Some professors are less experienced with the media than others and, therefore, are not familiar with the process or the best ways to interact with members of the media. This can lead to professors straying from the topic at hand in an interview or using jargon that is not relatable to the average reader. A lack of media experience can also cause professors to be uncomfortable or distrusting of the media, and as a result, prompt them to request things of reporters, such as a copy of the article or interview, that can create a roadblock in the process. In one case, we had a professor leave an interview feeling that the reporter did not properly grasp his research and because of this, he wanted to see a copy of the article beforehand. While such instances are uncommon, they are in many ways understandable. Professors often have important research and grants underway, as well as outside careers that they don’t want to tarnish or jeopardize in any way with a poorly worded quote or a misrepresentation of their work.

Solution:

We overcome such challenges by not only thoroughly prepping a professor for an interview (sometimes providing them with an outline of interview questions provided by the reporter) but also by reassuring them that our first priority is their reputation. One way we ensure that they are not put in an adverse situation is by being on their interview calls. Although it’s extremely rare that we need to jump in, we make a point of being present so that we are able to take action in the rare event that a reporter crosses the line or pushes them too hard. We are also not afraid to request that a story be pulled if we think it might put the professor in a bad light. Building trust and mutual respect with professors is crucial to being successful. Again, these are extremely rare occurrences, but we want to be prepared nonetheless. 

3) Professor inexperience with non-academic writing

Challenge:

A huge part of a professor’s workload and research consists of publishing their findings in lengthy academic essays. These types of articles have a vastly different style and tone than bylines, which are created for news sites and blogs. Helping professors to understand this distinct difference will not only improve the chances of their article being published, but will also ease the overall process by requiring less edits and feedback which could potentially offend them.  

Solution:

We try to be as clear as possible upfront about the stylistic differences between the type of writing they’re used to and the style of writing required for media outlets to avoid wasting any of their time. We also provide website guidelines and examples of other articles that they should stylistically model their own writing after. If we still still don’t feel that their article effectively embodies the style and tone of the site, then we will provide thorough edits, explaining our reasoning and reiterating that it is their article and ultimately their decision whether to accept our feedback or not. When we go through all of these steps, they usually have a greater understanding and trust in our expertise and are very receptive to our suggestions.

4) Strict university branding guidelines & parameters

Challenge:

Universities often have very specific branding guidelines that they don’t want tarnished or altered. This adds an additional layer of pressure and thoroughness to any marketing/PR efforts done on their behalf.

Solution:

To ensure that you stick within these guidelines, it’s important to always vet out publications who want to feature a professor or program. If you’re unsure whether a publication will be a positive reflection of the school, then it’s always better to air on the side of caution and pass on an opportunity rather than risk the program’s trust and reputation. Your first priority should always be to preserve and enhance the university’s image.

5) Understanding Complex Research and Making it Relatable

Challenge:

A major component of any successful digital PR strategy for higher ed involves being able to comprehend and leverage the research being conducted within the university program. This requires having a thorough understanding of the material, which can sometimes be complex, and knowing how to best position it to the media so that it gains traction and interest. It is also very important to the integrity of the professor’s work that you represent and pitch it accurately.

Solution:

In order to accomplish this, we conduct initial interviews with all of the professors we work with. This enables us to dig much deeper into their current research and areas of expertise than their basic online bio’s will allow. We continuously stay up-to-date on relevant industry news which shows us where their research and expertise fits into the larger media narratives and, therefore, sheds light onto how their research can be applied to real-world settings. For example, one of our professor’s specializes in medical coding, and a big industry narrative we leveraged for his expertise was the transition from ICD-9 to ICD-10. While to the everyday person this might be mundane or unfamiliar, it was huge industry news that impacted most healthcare professionals nationwide. By subscribing to and reading healthcare news sites, we were able to effectively pitch and land placements in many relevant verticals for this professor.

Caroline-Black-and-White-tan-3-4Caroline brings a wealth of knowledge in communications, marketing, and account management to the Circa Interactive team. Graduating with honors  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.

Why a Multi-Channel Digital Marketing Approach is Crucial to Student Generation

In the current competitive climate of higher education, having a cohesive, comprehensive, and diversified marketing approach is essential in digital marketing. While each marketing avenue or strategy has its own unique method of accomplishing client end-goals of student enrollment, brand awareness, lead generation, and market research, it’s the combined effort of all of them working together that fosters the most effective and all-encompassing solution. It is therefore imperative that those involved in higher education marketing understand how all of these components work together and independently to capture prospective students at every stage of the decision making process. Here at Circa Interactive, the overarching divisions of our company that help to accomplish our clients’ goals include Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Pay-per-click (PPC), and Social Media.

 

How Do They Work Independently? 

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

SEO is a crucial piece of the marketing puzzle, considering that 75% of prospective students start their research on a search engine. With so many competing programs and schools, it’s incredibly important to rank organically for relevant keywords in order to be visible to prospective students who are actively searching for related programs. There are several functions of our company that contribute to our SEO end-goals. The main off-page ones, which I will highlight here, are Digital PR and infographic creation and distribution.

Our goal in digital PR is to establish thought leadership, expand brand awareness, define program differentiators, and build quality backlinks for SEO that influence search rankings. We accomplish this by leveraging the expertise of faculty members and getting them and their respective programs placed in internationally recognized publications as well as in industry-specific verticals. On the other hand, infographics largely contribute to our SEO end-goals by generating backlinks through the creation and distribution of sharable content, which tells important stories within the larger narratives in the media.

Digital PR and infographics aid our SEO and brand recognition efforts by creating trustworthy and reputable backlinks to the programs that we represent, which in turn helps with organic rankings. These media placements also position our programs and professors as thought leaders in the industry, which is critical when trying to grow a brand and program. While PR links tend to be higher in quality, there is a tradeoff for this, which is quantity of links. While having our professors and programs included in nationally recognized publications is extremely valuable on a number of levels, more of our backlinks come through infographic distribution, where we have a broader reach due to our inclusion of smaller media outlets and blogs. Both strategies lend themselves to the same goals but accomplish them in different ways, which is why having both strategies in place is essential to achieving our larger SEO goals.

Pay-per-click (PPC)

Pay-per-click (PPC) can be an effective strategy for quickly driving targeted traffic to a website or landing page. This can be accomplished through keyword-based search advertising, display advertising in the Google and Bing Display networks, social media advertising (e.g. Facebook and LinkedIn), and remarketing, where you target prospective students who have already visited your website but have yet to convert. It’s also the most effective method for measuring return-on-investment (ROI). Since it’s easy to analyze and monitor results as you go with PPC, it has the added benefit of being able to adjust strategies according to the success of various channels. While SEO can be a more long-term and involved process, paid search has the ability to immediately get in front of prospective students and begin to generate leads. It’s crucial to have accurate and appealing messaging for PPC, because it could be the first encounter that a prospective student has with a brand or program.

Social Media

Social media is an important tool for higher education marketing considering that 57% of students will use social media to research universities. Although it’s very difficult to measure ROI on social media marketing, it’s a channel that should be integrated into every marketing strategy in order to have a well-rounded and consistent online presence. It’s also a great place to foster a sense of community and keep current, former, and prospective students engaged and up-to-date on university news.

How Do They Work Together? 

While I’ve explained how each of these digital marketing strategies operates independently, it’s just as important to understand how they intersect and why being visible and consistent across all potential touchpoints is essential to converting prospective students and amplifying brand awareness. A prospective student can encounter a brand in many different ways, but marketers will often only focus on the final campaign, search, or ad that the user interacted with to convert. However, as the multi-channel funnels reports in Google Analytics shows, there are typically many other interactions and touchpoints that the prospective student encountered in the process before converting. This further exemplifies the importance of having a diversified marketing approach that allows for interactions and cohesiveness across all potential channels.
One beneficial intersection between strategies is between PPC and digital PR. Since most people are aware when they are being targeted with an ad, PPC can come off as being disingenuous or less credible than organic results, which is why digital PR can be beneficial in adding another layer of credibility to a program. For students who are actively researching a program, seeing a program featured in various reputable publications can be important and, ultimately, help push them along in the admissions funnel.

Social media also plays an important role in building a credible online community for a brand. Since most students will research a program on social media sites like Facebook, having an established community of engaged and interested participants on social media platforms is important in getting prospective students excited and interested about a program. Additionally, there is often a link on Facebook paid ads that will be directed to the program’s Facebook page, so it’s important to have a strong social media presence built up when sending prospective students that way. Social media also has a mutually beneficial relationship with digital PR and infographic distribution because it provides another platform to feature this content on. This not only expands the reach of this content, further positioning the program as a thought leader and content creator, but also provides relevant and interesting content to the audience on social media.

As I’ve illustrated here, ensuring that a program or university is visible to prospective students throughout all possible channels and touchpoints that they may encounter is essential to a comprehensive and optimized marketing strategy. As we have seen, there are many ways that prospective students can search for or come in contact with a brand. A diversified approach accomplishes both short and long term marketing goals while more effectively reaching prospective students throughout various stages in the decision making process.

Caroline-Black-and-White-tan-3-4

Caroline brings a wealth of knowledge in communications, marketing, and account management to the Circa Interactive team. 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.