In the higher education industry, digital public relations is a new yet important approach for any SEO strategy. By leveraging traditional public relations strategies for the digital world, digital PR not only influences brand awareness and thought leadership for universities, but it also directly influences organic traffic that leads to conversions and new students. In collaboration with on-page SEO elements, content marketing (infographics), and other link building strategies, digital PR helps bring prospective students to a university and serves as a significant contributor to a diverse link profile for an authoritative website. Digital PR sends the highest quality links to a website, and these links serve as a powerful indicator for Google and other search engines to recognize the site as valuable and authoritative.
In order to illustrate the value, I have created a case study from one of our clients that showcases how digital PR can play a major role in achieving a diverse SEO strategy to accomplish lead goals. This particular client is an online computer science degree program. Below you will see an overview of the types of traffic coming to our client’s website, and as you can see, organic search is a major supplier of traffic for the online degree page. It’s imperative to find new ways to grow the amount of organic traffic to the site since prospective students who are visiting the page are there because they are naturally searching for similar degrees to the one that our program tries to rank for. Organic traffic therefore provides some of the most valuable and promising leads. Plus, that traffic is free.
Computer science is a competitive degree online, and in order to compete in the search results for students searching for computer science degree programs, it’s important to show up on the first page–or as close to it as possible–and have a diverse range of links pointing to a site. According to Search Engine Watch, “Google’s top organic search results receives 33 percent of the traffic, compared to 18 percent for the second position, and the traffic only degrades from there.” Here is a snapshot of our rankings when digital PR was paused due to faculty vacations and research initiatives.
Since the new website was launched in February of 2015, we have seen significant jumps in rankings. (The green arrows showcase how many spots we have jumped.) These rankings are related to a robust digital marketing strategy that includes digital PR, infographics, and manual link building. However, the above rankings showcase the results today, at a time when we are lacking active professors to participate in the digital PR strategy. However, if you look below at the rankings of April last year when the digital marketing strategy was fully running, then you’ll see that our rankings were better overall.
An increase in rankings directly contributes to an increase in traffic and potential students. By leveraging a robust digital marketing strategy that combines on-page SEO with link building strategies from infographics, we can help our site rank for our targeted keywords. While infographics help with creating a large volume of links, digital PR is currently the best source for leveraging the highest quality links while reaching potential students. The secondary benefit is that digital PR expands the brand of the program and pushes the faculty’s research and personal brand.
So how do you determine the value of a link? Links are generally calculated by a Moz score, which analyzes a site on a scale from 1 to 100. For instance, The New York Times has a Domain Authority (DA) of 99, and a link from The New York Times pointed to the online page would send a tremendous amount of link juice to the site, helping us to rank higher in the search results. Some of the links we have created for the program include The Huffington Post (DA 98), Information Week (DA 92), and CIO (DA 90).
Throughout the course of our digital PR efforts for this program, we were able to create 39 media placements, and we were able to secure links with tremendously high domain authorities. Overall, digital PR is a part of a larger digital marketing strategy, and in order to compete and continue to rise in the rankings, it’s a strategy that we strongly recommend. In collaboration with infographics, this strategy helps universities and programs gain ground in the search results and compete for the best students.
Joseph Lapin M.F.A. is an author, creative director, and journalist, and his writing has been published in the Los Angeles Times, Narratively, Salon, Slate, and more. He is a former adjunct professor at Florida International University, and he has worked on PR campaigns for Ernst & Young, Brentwood Associates, and more.