First Things First: Keyword Research in Higher Education Marketing

By July 16, 2013 No Comments

In previous posts, we have discussed the importance of a strong online presence of any business wishing to be competitive. We’ve covered how to allocate marketing budgets, social media marketing, and even taken a look at the Google Algorithm. This week I would like to dive into a smaller aspect of search engine optimization: keyword research.
What Exactly are Keywords?
In our case, keywords are one or more words used to describe your website, brand, product, or service that are typed by consumers into the search box of a search engine. This sounds easy enough, but there are many factors that surround keywords. For example, when a marketing manager is determining which keywords should be typed in a search engine to find his or her site, they must put aside their biases as to what they think should be typed and research what is actually typed. Another aspect to consider is the fact that when individuals use search engines, they do not type words as they would say them aloud or even in complete sentences.
Let’s say Joe the college graduate would like to enroll in an MBA program online. If he were talking to someone he would say something along the lines of, “Where can I find an online MBA program from a respectable university?” On the other hand, if Joe was sitting behind his computer on a search engine he may simply type, “online MBA programs” or “online masters programs business administration.” As you can see, what keywords are actually typed may be drastically different from what is thought. If a business develops their entire website and marketing efforts around poorly researched keywords, they will fall short of their potential.
Why is Keyword Research Important?
Keyword research should ideally be completed before a launch of a website. This is because keywords are important at the most basic level: the URL. Let’s say our college graduate Joe wants to start a website where he creates business cards for young professionals. Joe comes up with a creative name for his website such as www.joebizz.com but without completing proper keyword research beforehand. Joe will be left playing catch up to his competitors who have the keyword ‘business cards’ or something similar somewhere in their URL.
Keyword research is important in determining your on-page SEO attributes such as the page titles, headings, and meta descriptions. Keywords are also essential for off-page SEO, such as content marketing and anchor text choices. In order for a successful paid search campaign, thorough keyword research must be completed. At the base level, keyword research gives a company a better understand of how their website is currently viewed by searchers
TIP: It is important to carefully place targeted keywords into the title tag of each page of your website. This is another way to tell search engines to send individuals that are searching your keywords to your website. In regards to higher education, if you are launching an online master’s in civil engineering program, you will want your core keywords placed in the title tag. In order to cover a variety of keywords, your title tag may look something along the lines of: Online Masters of Civil Engineering Degree | Master of Science in Civil Engineering.
How to Target Your Website’s Keywords
As we have decided, thorough keyword research is a pertinent part to launching and optimizing a website. Individuals must sit down and brainstorm all possible keywords surrounding their product or service and take advantage of available tools such as the Google Adwords Keyword Tool. In this tool, when a word or phrase is entered, the user receives a list of associated keywords with Global and Local Monthly Searches as recorded by Google.
Along with the Google Keyword Tool, an analysis of a website’s Google Analytics results should be completed. With these results, website owners can see what exact keywords were used in search engines by visitors to their site. Using these tools, marketing managers can determine if their ideal keywords are correct or if the keywords are the language of marketing executives and not that of consumers. Marketers can use this analysis to help them create a list of core keywords to base their marketing efforts off of.
Competitiveness of Keywords
Alongside determining core keywords, marketers must also look into the competitiveness surrounding said keywords. If Sarah is starting a website for her new small business designing specialty pencils, she is going to run into a ton of competition utilizing the keyword ‘pencil.’ She will have to fight in the rankings with such giants as staples.com, officedepot.com, amazon.com and will have a very hard time ranking her website in the first ten or twenty results based on that keyword.
This is where great keyword research comes in handy. Sarah can use varieties of phrases relating to her product depending on what keywords her target audience is using to search. She may also use long-tail keywords. Long tail keywords are, as you can guess, longer phrased keywords that have a much lower search volume. With these keywords targeted, Sarah can rank much higher than with the popular and competitive ones.
TIP: Another way to find the best keywords to target for your website, especially when you are dealing with high competition, is to break down keywords into levels of relevancy. Whereas ‘online MBA degree’ may be what best describes your program, also look into the next relevant like ‘business degree’ or ‘online master’s business degree.’ Once you have solid list of keywords with different levels of relevancy, you can really dig using the tools I mentioned previously in order to find a solid set of keywords specific to your marketing campaign.
For a marketing manager or anyone optimizing a website, the act of careful keyword research is clearly a necessary step. Though once it is completed, it should not be forgotten.  Marketers should be constantly monitoring what people are searching to get to their website along with what keywords their competitors are targeting. With strong keyword research in your arsenal, you are on the right track to building a powerful website and strong online presence.

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