You’ve surely heard of the importance of SEO, but with so many tasks on your overflowing plate, you just may not have been able to prioritize it yet. The good news is that there are some key, simple steps you can take today to drive more traffic to your site. And in a world where digital advertising is getting harder and harder – organic reach is plummeting and cost-per-click is sky-rocketing – SEO is a way to increase quality traffic to your university’s website for FREE!
There are hundreds of ways to grow organic rankings, but let’s start with the basics of SEO strategy so that you can generate some easy wins around key ranking factors. We’ve put together a list of four SEO tips for colleges and universities that you can implement today, in order to grow your search results tomorrow.
1) Conduct an SEO Audit
This sounds like a daunting task, but it can actually be 100% automated. All you need to do is enter your website URL. We recommend a tool like Neil Patel’s SEO Analyzer, which is 100% free and also allows you to add up to three competitors. This tool will give your website an overall grade, show the speed at which your pages load, and even locate errors and warnings that are negatively impacting your domain authority.
The reason an SEO audit is so valuable is that many of these errors and warnings will show you where you have dead pages, which completely ruin the pathways on your website and cripple the user experience. This is especially true for prospective students who may be brand new to your website and are trying to find vital information about your school.
2) Redirect Dead Links
If you run the audit and find that you have dead links, meaning they link to web pages that have an error message, the first step is to redirect that page to an existing one that has relevant information. This is much easier than having to create pages for every broken link on the website, as there could be tens, if not hundreds, of them.
An example of this is a program’s page that links to a faculty spotlight piece that has been deleted after the faculty member retired. You may not have another faculty spotlight to redirect to at the moment, but you can redirect that original piece to your faculty page for that program for the time being. This will solve the Error 404 issue that existed and improve your overall website score, thus boosting your domain authority – a key ranking factor.
3) Create Content for SEO
In higher education, content marketing often gets pushed to the side or is done half-heartedly, but this is actually an area that can dramatically increase your organic search traffic (Google searches that result in a prospect clicking a link to your website). When creating content – blog posts, pillar pages, or just informational web pages — conducting keyword research should be a vital component of your strategy. Instead of creating a content piece just for content’s sake, wouldn’t you rather have an asset that drives new users to your website after they Google related search terms?
The above example shows a Google search for “best majors for helping others” and the first result is a blog post by Neumann University that was written with keyword research at the forefront, including the implementation of those keywords into title tags and section headings. In addition to the keywords, Neumann also began link building by adding hyperlinks in each section to program pages so that prospects could learn more about what Neumann had to offer.
This is a great example of optimizing your website to gain organic search traction on a non-branded (no mention of Neumann in the search term) phrase and then creating content pathways to program-specific website pages.
Pro tip: Developing content is a central component of an overall marketing game plan. Check out our step-by-step approach for building an effective marketing strategy for student recruitment.
4) Augment Existing Pages for SEO
SEO for colleges and universities can be tough when it comes to title tags and meta descriptions because you have so many pages with relatively similar information, where the only real difference might be the name of the program.
If you aren’t careful with the titles of pages and their descriptions, you could be creating duplicates, which is frowned upon and damaging to your ranking factors. In order to prevent this, be more descriptive with your titles and descriptions, and if you can, use those keywords to raise your domain authority.
This blog post by West Virginia University’s Graduate Admissions team ranks for “graduate assistant benefits” even though the word “benefits” isn’t directly in the title. In our work to optimize WVU's content, we saw some initial traction on this keyword phrase. We then tweaked their meta description to include the word “benefits” and since then, have shot up the results listing and SERP and currently rank #3 for this phrase. The significance of relevant and keyword-rich meta descriptions can easily be overlooked but can often make the difference between your resource being on the first page and being on the second, or third.
How to make SEO for universities easy and repeatable
These four SEO tips for colleges and universities are just a starting point for many enrollment marketers, but maintaining SEO best practices is a never-ending checklist. Even after you’ve made all these changes and updated your website, new web pages will be created, new content will be needed, and thus more SEO audits will need to be conducted – landing you at the beginning of the SEO cycle again.
While the never-ending cycle may feel deflating, remember that every time you go through it, you’re greatly strengthening the authority of your university’s website while bringing in new prospects you may not have found otherwise. Best of all, you’re taking advantage of a free tactic. In an increasingly competitive market, where budgets are being cut by the thousands, you can’t afford to waste the free opportunities presented to you.
Get Outside Help with SEO (for free!)
I know how busy most enrollment marketers are, and I'm willing to provide some free advice if you’re interested in learning more about how your university can grow its organic reach. Find a time that works for you and book a virtual meeting with me. I would be happy to evaluate your university’s website and provide you with a few strategic recommendations to get you started!