Everyone always says, “there’s no silver bullet to [insert something that’s challenging here]” but today I present to you — *drumroll ensues* — The Golden Bullet.
What will this Golden Bullet produce if you follow the below processes? Content that ranks on the first page of Google for non-branded keywords! That’s right, your university will rank for keywords that don’t mention your school’s name in the search term – hallelujah!
You’re probably wondering what all of this entails as it sounds too good to be true… Just follow these steps and you’ll be on your way to the promised land (commonly known as the first page of Google):
- Create Target Audiences
- Conduct Keyword Research
- Generate Content Ideas
- Develop a Content Calendar
- Create Content
- Track and Augment Your Content
Create Target Audiences
Before you do anything else, think about who you want to be attracting with these pieces of content. It could be a specific program or college, or just general awareness about your university and its unique value propositions. Then, fill out a persona matrix with a description of your audience, their needs, pain points, search terms, and frequently asked questions (here’s a template for you to get started!)
Creating a target audience for content is a bit different than for digital ads, meaning, there are no available options that you can simply choose and then hope your ad reaches those people. You need to understand what your audience’s pain points are and how your university or program can help relieve those.
No matter what your official job title is when identifying a target audience, you need to consider yourself a content marketer who is trying to build trust with a potentially brand new audience. How do you build trust? Proactively answer prospect questions, address their pain points, and position your university as the overarching answer.
To do all of these things, you need to conduct keyword research. Keyword research will give you insight into what your audience is actually searching on Google and what questions they’re asking.
Conduct Keyword Research
This tends to scare people off because everyone thinks you need some fancy tool that costs tons of money. Wrong! Google Keyword Planner is free and very easy to use.
This tool, and other keyword tools, help you determine which keywords are actually worth pursuing. To determine if a keyword phrase is worth your time, look at the average monthly searches and the competition of the phrase(s) you’re looking to go after.
You want to promote your social work program, so you enter “social work” in the keyword planner and then see there are roughly 1,000 searches a month for the phrase “characteristics of social workers” and low competition.
Wait, you can just type in a general phrase like “social work” and get back far more detailed and specific keywords? Yes, it’s that easy, — you just have to pick which keyword phrases make the most sense for your program and align best with your target audience.
Baylor University’s School of Social Work did this and created this blog post: 8 Characteristics of a Successful Social Worker. They now rank on the first page of Google for 6 different terms around “characteristics of a social worker.”
Generate Content Ideas
Through the keyword research you conduct, you’ll see phrases that make the most sense for your program these will be the starting point for your blog post’s title.
That’s only one post though and you’re going to need much more than that. I’d recommend generating about 3-4 blog posts per topic that you’re hoping to cover. Going back to the previous example, the starting point was “social work,” so browse through the other keyword ideas that Google provided you and pick out a few more that are different topics, but still within the realm of social work.
A few other keywords that would be good options are “becoming a social worker,” “social worker qualifications” and “social work graduate programs”. This will give you a good mix of topics to write about, but most importantly they’re all closely related which means you can add links to all the other posts in each of them – this linking tactic is key for SEO growth!
Develop a Content Calendar
Now that you have your 3-4 post ideas for one topic, you should repeat the same process for all of your potential audiences. If you’re promoting just one program, this looks like creating multiple audiences within your program (in state, out of state, online, etc.) and if you’re covering several programs, just repeat the process for each individually.
As you build out an editorial calendar, you’ll want different types of content: listicles, student stories, informational pieces, and so on. The point here is to see which style of content attracts the most number of visitors to your blog, clicks on your CTAs, and engagement with future emails or offers.
Just publishing all of these posts at the same time is obviously a bad idea and you’ll really want to have a content marketing strategy in place before publishing. For example, if one of your keyword phrases included something like “program X events” you’d want to publish that 30-45 days before your event, not in the middle of summer when you aren’t hosting anything.
Okay, the calendar is set; here comes the fun part!
Content creation is often seen as a huge project/burden that no one has time for and isn’t necessary. While I somewhat understand the thinking here, oftentimes there is so much content around your website that you don’t actually even need to write all that much.
Take content from program pages, emails, social promotions, brochures, etc., and you’ve already got 75% of what you need for a high-quality blog piece. From there, add some additional information and be sure to include hyperlinks to other content pieces, program pages, or more detailed information about financial aid, scholarships, assistantships, case studies, etc. (anything that is of value to your audience).
After you’ve created this content, you’ll want to send it out to any relevant email lists and promote it on social media to drive some immediate traffic to your website. But wait, before you do that, it would be awesome to make sure you have a way of tracking these posts so you can measure success. More money? Nope – just use Google Analytics!
Track and Augment Your Content
You’ve got Google Analytics set up and have promoted your content via email, social media, and hyperlinks on other pages, now what? SEO growth doesn’t happen overnight, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t check in on these blog posts every couple of weeks.
Check out the views every few weeks from Organic Search — these are people who are Googling phrases and then landing on your post. If these views are steadily rising, (even if the numbers are small in the beginning) this is a great sign. When you aren’t seeing growth, you may need to augment your keywords or add more information in the post.
Google ranks pages that demonstrate thought leadership on a specific topic, but you can’t be a thought leader in 100 words. Beef up that content and then continue to monitor it over the next few weeks.
Pro tip: A content strategy is one aspect of an overall marketing strategy for student recruitment. Check out our post for pointers on developing an effective marketing game plan.
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