Boost Your Enrollment Cycle with These Higher Education SEO Strategies
Billions of searches occur daily across global search engines through desktop, mobile, and voice search devices. These organic searches are the largest drivers of website traffic, particularly for higher education institutions, making SEO the most essential ingredient in the recipe for generating student leads. A student’s journey towards pursuing a graduate degree is a roller coaster of considerations. From looking at financial costs and career opportunities, to workload and faculty projects, students turn to search engines to answer their questions.
Optimizing your university’s website involves looking at a variety of SEO factors: webpage speed, optimized page titles and headings, URL structure, link building, content, and more. The SEO team here at Circa are experts at every step on the path towards optimizing a university’s website including technical on-page optimization, off-page link building, and most importantly, content creation and promotion.
Here’s what our team has to say about the most upcoming and relevant higher education SEO strategies and tactics of 2020 that every higher education marketer should be thinking about.
Determine Your Student Journey
Maria Akhter, Content Strategist
Student journey maps are going to be key in helping you guide the focus and intent of your content. Students looking to advance their academic and professional careers are at some point of the sales funnel but they are also at some stage in their search engine journey.
For example, a student might be only tangentially familiar with types of careers in finance, so craft a piece about finance careers you can get after receiving a finance degree. On the other hand, a student might be further down on their journey and might be at the point of more serious consideration of an accounting degree.
For this student, we’ll craft a post about accounting burnout and stress management. If you want to get students to read your blog, finding a topic is only half the game. Finding a keyword to optimize your content for is how you push that content to the finish line. Google’s latest algorithms emphasize value, so figure out what value you can provide your reader at every stage of inquiry.
By walking through the student’s experience and differentiating content based on the needs of each stage, we at Circa curate specific content to answer their search intent, keep them engaged with the university’s brand, and guide them down our content map to a post that hopefully encourages them to convert.
Satisfy Student Search Intent
Austin Anderson, SEO Traffic and Link-Building Expert
Brian Dean, the top content and link-building expert, explains that “satisfying Search Intent is ultimately Google’s #1 goal.” So when it comes to driving new student traffic to your higher education online program, keyword research and content creation that match the student’s search intent should be a primary focus.
Here is a great example of a university creating a piece of content that matches search intent and provides steps that show how the university program can help the searcher accomplish their goal. Content should discuss a range of topics that align with the university’s mission and program’s course curriculum, but still keeping the searcher at the top of mind. With each different piece of content, you’ll be able to attract students who are in different places in the student discovery process.
Finally, each piece of content needs to have a strong call-to-action that intrigues the prospective students to want to learn more about university’s program and how they become more involved or apply. This call-to-action could range from an aesthetically pleasing learn more button or request more information form. Below is a screenshot of the call-to-action on the How to Become a CEO article.
Elevate Your Content Strategy
Tyler Putz, Inbound Marketing Manager
Searchers are no longer satisfied with traditional text-based content or boring images. This is especially true for Millennials and Generation Z who account for 64% of the general population (4.7 billion individuals) and the majority of a university’s target market. To capture the attention of these easily bored searchers, higher education universities will need to transition from traditional articles and infographics to content that visually captivates and psychologically intrigues. This next stage of content should not only aim to catch a searcher’s immediate attention, but also leave a lasting brand imprint leaving the returning back for more.
Check out the following example of an engaging piece of content from zippia.com that outlines the different career paths for cost accountants. The piece is interactive and lets you move you use your mouse to move along the career paths.
Look to create content that is fun to interact with and easy to use but still provide the quality and quantity of standard articles and infographics.
Occupy Google Search Results
Raymond Martinez, SEO Manager
Occupying more real estate on ever evolving search engine results pages (SERPs) is more crucial than ever. Just under 50% of all searches on Google do not result in a click. With the advent of more featured snippets, the importance of a technically sound website, structured data, and high quality content grows. Since 2018, Google has beefed up higher education specific knowledge graphs, which are pulling information from a variety of sources.
While on-page SEO is still crucial for ranking on the SERP, off-page efforts and creating a user experience that expands past your website are the next wave of occupying real estate. Off-page citations like US News, third party placements and sites like Wikipedia will push hints and signals to Google that validate your brand. Your quality and desired UX should transcend your site.
Optimize Your Website for Mobile
Sean Taylor, SEO Specialist
In order to enhance the student enrollment funnel experience, you need to maintain the health of your website for both desktop and mobile.
Since mobile accounts for approximately half of web traffic, it’s no question that higher education universities should be focusing on the mobile user experience of their website. To start off 2020, Google has updated its mobile-first indexing best practices which may affect a number of higher ed university websites. If your website’s content differs from desktop and mobile, then your site is at risk of having pages not indexed or crawled which could result in a significant loss of traffic. So what does this all mean?
Ensure that your content is identical on both desktop and mobile, and technical elements such as structured data and meta tags are also identical. Whether you’re developing content or updating your website, always be sure to consider both platforms first.
Understand Your Competition
Frederic Lee, Senior Director SEO + Content Strategy
With Google ads for the search term ‘online mba’ surpassing a $70 cost per click (CPC), higher education is one of the most competitive segments of search engine rankings. Why? Simply put, graduate degree programs are expensive and have large marketing budgets. In addition, affiliate marketing is rampant in the higher education space. What’s affiliate marketing? Affiliate marketers in higher education sell student leads to universities.
Who are the major affiliate marketers? Red Adventures owns a number of higher Ed affiliate sites including highereducation.com and onlinemba.com. US News is also a large player in the affiliate marketing space. These affiliate sites often have large SEO budgets and benefit from degree ranking and badging tactics. Take a look at the density of non-edu’s in the search results by Googling ‘online mba.’
As well as competing with a number of affiliate websites, traditional schools have to compete with for-profit institutions as well as institutions with powerful national and regional brands.
While it’s a competitive market, a long-term SEO strategy, with a nuanced understanding of the higher education market, can yield tremendous results around student enrollments and thought leadership.
Don’t Feel Like Optimizing Yourself? Let Our Team Help You!
Circa Interactive’s team of SEO experts is always up to date on strategies to help your program gain visibility in prospective students’ search results. Our SEO tactics can help your university:
- Increase its visibility in student-generating keywords
- Grow the amount of organic traffic to the site
- Ensure its site is optimized for organic search
Maria Akhter is a content strategist at Circa Interactive. She’s passionate about creating the most valuable and optimized content for her clients and improving page rankings through strategic link building. A graduate of UC Davis, Maria worked as a publicist for North Atlantic Books before joining Circa. She has a certificate in data analytics using Excel and a certificate in digital marketing, social media, and e-commerce from The Wharton School. She also recently completed a search engine optimization course through UCSD’s professional advancement extension program.