Guest post by Eric Olsen
I’m going to go out on a limb and make two assumptions here. One, you sort of understand SEO. After all, you’re on Higher Ed Live. Two, SEO isn’t your only priority. In fact, perhaps it’s only a self-imposed one. Those around you don’t really value it. But you know you should. And your time is limited. So here are 5 ways you can improve your school’s SEO right now.
Note: When I refer to “Google”, I usually mean “search engines” at large. It’s just easier this way.
1. De-Prioritize your University’s Name Within your Title Tag
For example, let’s take Reed College in Portland, OR. And not to single them out. There is so much about Reed’s design that I love. This is a universal problem, including one my school suffers from. But scan through their site and check out their title tags. Every single page throughout their entire site starts with “Reed College | ”
Now, I get why people do it. It’s nice aesthetic uniformity. It looks good in Google search results. The problem is, that Google prioritizes title tag proximity. What does that mean? That the first word and words of your title tag hold more weight than the ones at the end. So what you’re really doing is optimizing your site for “Reed College” hundreds and hundreds of times throughout your site, rather than utilizing that important meta space for some more competitive key phrases you’re hoping to optimize for.
Because let’s be honest. Most of your top 10 sources of keyword traffic are probably from different spellings of your university name. No one actually looking for your college is having a hard time finding you. With SEO, we’re trying to help prospects looking for something you offer, but not knowing you offer it, to stumble across you.
A simple fix that probably won’t get you into political trouble? The old switcheroo. Just place your university name at the end of your title tag. For example: “Freshman Admission | Reed College”
Note: Some CMS programs strong-arm you into choosing a site-wide prefix for your title tags. But if you can avoid it, do so.
2. Be Aggressive with your Keyword Choices
You’re an .edu for crying out loud. If you’ve come to Higher Education from the corporate world, you might have your mind entrenched in long-tail keyword research. But Google loves .edu sites. Most rank in at a PageRank (PR) 6 or 7. Why? University sites are huge. They get tons of traffic. They have tons of other sites linking to them. They update frequently. Plus, you’re in a relatively small market niche, e.g. there are probably way fewer universities in your area than there are general contractors.
So, you can successfully go after higher-level key phrases than you might avoid in other commercial circumstances. I’m not recommending you go after a term as broad as “college”. But don’t be afraid of “colleges in major city near you” or “colleges in your state name”. Phrases like these tend to be popular nationwide. And with just a little optimization work, you can rank well for them.
3. Use Analytics to Prioritize Your SEO Strategy
Analytics are your best friend when it comes to SEO. Not just so you can keep track of what’s working. (And by that, I mean checking your Keyword Referrals to see where you’ve been successful with organic optimization.) But to prioritize your next projects. See what your Top 50 trafficked pages are. And prioritize your most popular admission and program pages. Any pages on your site that you would love prospects to stumble across via Google, but aren’t currently.
4. Be Prospect-Focused
Don’t waste your time on your current students. I know that sounds bad. But use on-site navigation best practices to help your current students find what they’re looking for. SEO is prospect-focused. You’re helping potential students who are on Google looking for programs just like the ones you offer, to find you. So make sure to prioritize your prospect pages before the ones mainly visited by your current students. Speaking of, your analytics tool is splitting your IP traffic to separate on-campus traffic (faculty and students) and off-campus traffic, right?
5. Start With New Stuff
Even simple tips like these can be daunting. “You want me to adjust 1,200 pages?” Well, yes. Eventually. But, baby steps are ok. Start with any new pages you create or revise. Then, prioritize your most popular pages after that. Pretty soon, more and more of your site will be working for you around the clock, helping to bring new students home.
Eric Olsen is the Web Content Manager for Lewis University, a mid-sized Catholic and Lasallian University near Chicago, IL.
Follow Eric on Twitter @eolsencreative
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