Google page 1 is destiny. 90% of users never go beyond page 1 of Google results. Organic rankings (i.e. the 10 natural search results) are trusted more, and convert three-folds better than paid ads.
Here are a 10-step plan for colleges, universities and higher education institutions to secure coveted Google page 1 rankings.
10-Step SEO Plan for Colleges, Universities and Higher Education Institutions
1. Identify Your Goals and Objectives
Here are a few common goals:
Grow enrollment in undergraduate, graduate, doctoral, or online programs
Strengthen Brand Reputation locally, regionally, nationally — in new areas of expertise, strategic priorities, and centers of excellence — all in service of positioning the institution as a school of consequence
Expand Fundraising to serve students, secure high caliber students, secure talent, or to fulfill the vision of the strategic/master plan
Improve External Relations with trade groups, foundations, corporations and government partners
Recruit Talent personified by great faculty, staff and students
Your tactics should change depending on your selected goal(s).
2. Establish a Multi-Year Attack Plan
Take the long view. Develop a plan that goes after the lowest hanging fruit first (local rankings), then harder-to-achieve rankings (regional), and finally the hardest-to-achieve national and reputation rankings. Slow and steady wins the race.
3. Use .edu Instead of Using .com, .org and Other Domains
Since each college and university can be awarded only one (and occasionally two) .edu domains, search engines generally rank .edu websites higher than other domain extensions. Use .edu domains for websites, landing pages and microsites.
4. Make your website responsive, secure and fast
Google rewards responsive websites – the ones that auto-adjust gracefully on smartphones, tablets or desktops. Google also ranks higher those websites that load fast and are running in secure mode.
5. Create a Keyword Lexicon, and Claim Top Search Engine Rankings
Develop a Keyword Lexicon for your college. The lexicon is comprised of keywords and key phrases the college should claim. Categories in the lexicon include program keywords, brand positioning keywords, reputation keywords, decisioning keywords, and location keywords.
Prospective students use different clusters of keywords at each phase of the decision funnel. (e.g. they’ll use reputation keywords during the awareness phase, category keywords during the consideration phase and branded keywords during the preference/purchase phase). Write copy that responds to the issues that matter in each specific phase of the decision cycle.
6. Optimize all Assets for Search Engine Bots
Optimize copy, images, videos, pdf’s, tables, links, and meta-data on every college website page. This will ensure that Google serves up your copy, images, videos, maps and tabular data on a search results page. Since search engine bots also review and serve up assets on college social media channels, ensure that they are also optimized.
7. Multiply Social Signals
Social signals (a webpage’s shares, likes and social media visibility) impact organic rankings. Add them to every page of your college website.
8. Secure Top Rankings for Mission-Critical Pages
Secure top rankings for your signature academic programs by developing high-fidelity, sharable and optimized content to secure top rankings for each on Google. This helps colleges combat competitors and lead aggregators.
The more competitive a keyword, the more high-fidelity content you’ll have to create to secure page 1 rankings.
Alternatively, claim thought leadership by re-packaging, optimiizing and re-marketing new content assets based on your college’s natural wellspring of ideas, innovation, and intellectual capital.
9. Embrace Voice Search
We have entered a new era of “natural language”, “sentence based” and “question based” search with the advent of voice-activated search on mobile phones (like Google Assistant, Siri, Microsoft Cortana and Amazon Alexa) and gadgets like Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple HomePod and others. 30 percent of searches are now voice driven. Get ready for the voice era by taking the following steps:
Write colloquially. Since people won’t change their speaking habits for the computer, write new content using everyday vernacular.
Write page summaries. Write short, persuasive, 29-word page summaries above the screen fold on long-form pages. These summaries act as pop-up snippets served up by voice searches on mobile devices and home gadgets; they also appear as answer boxes on desktop search results.
Build social shares. Implemnt social share campaigns because the more shared the page is on Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn and other social channels, the more likely it will surface on voice search.
Think globally. Act locally. Since more than 20% of searches are local, add phrases such as ‘near me’ into your copy, especially if a college is a local or regional brand.
Rank high on desktop/mobile search. If a website is not ranked on desktop/mobile search, it is unlikely that it will be ranked on voice search. Therefore, focus on achieving top rankings on desktop/mobile search for your college website.
10. Monitor and Protect Keyword Rankings
Measure keyword rankings to ensure your college ranks on Google and sustain your rankings. Watch your college competitors for signs of encroachment, and counter their moves on an as-needed basis.
Ideally SEO thinking should be baked into every aspect of a new website construction project: all the way from strategy, information architecture, design, content, front-end development, back-end development to site launch and post-launch marketing. However, on most occasions, we are either called in at the tail end of a website redesign project or after it has been relaunched.