A recent report by Verified Market Research claims that higher education is experiencing a consistent rise in enrollment through 2021 and 2022. However, the report also states that schools are constantly faced with limited budgets that restrict their growth despite the increasing enrollment numbers.
Higher education institutions operating in a complex and diverse industry must take the initiative to ensure their brand receives vast exposure at the lowest cost. As much of business marketing is moving to online platforms like websites and social media, schools should focus on popular higher education SEO strategies. SEO is at the top of the trends for higher education marketing.
So, what exactly is SEO for higher education?
A search engine optimization strategy streamlines various on-page, off-page and technical aspects of a website to rank higher in search engine results, allowing universities to attract more prospective students and intuitively increase enrollments.
Today’s guide will cover some of the most critical higher education SEO tips for academic institutions looking to increase online inquiries and enrollments. We will discuss critical aspects such as creating user-friendly URL structures, mobile-optimized websites, topical relevance, high-authority backlinks, and many other factors that can increase your university brand’s online visibility.
Importance of SEO for Higher Education
As students explore potential career paths and the degrees offered by educational institutions, they strive to find their best options. By ranking high on search engine results pages (SERPs), your college or university can attract these students to your higher education programs and significantly improve enrollment numbers.
Here are some important reasons why SEO for educational institutions is crucial for securing better search rankings and attracting relevant audiences:
- Rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs)
- Target specific types of students with tailored content
- Improve the user experience (UX) of your website
- Track your progress and measure your success continuously
Now let’s take a closer look at how these SEO tips improve organic traffic for higher education websites.
Rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs)
Firstly, SEO higher education strategies can help your institution’s website rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs) and include lead generation for higher education, making prospective students more likely to find your school when searching for options online.
Target specific types of students with tailored content
SEO strategies for higher education websites help you target specific types of students with tailored content – for example, if you want to attract students from a specific geographic region, you can use SEO to ensure that your website appears higher in search results for students searching from that area.
Improve the user experience of your website
Third, SEO can help you improve your website’s user experience, making it a more valuable resource for everyone who visits it.
Track your progress and measure your success continuously
Finally, SEO can help you to track your progress and measure your success regularly. By tracking your SEO performance, you can see how well your website is doing regarding search engine rankings and traffic levels and make changes accordingly.
There’s no getting around it; SEO is essential for any higher ed website that wants to bring in more visitors. But where do you start? What are the basics that you need to focus on? Check out this SEO basics checklist to ensure your site is up to snuff!
20 Higher Education SEO Tips to Generate Higher Organic Traffic
In order to improve organic traffic specifically for higher education websites, particularly those aimed at recruiting students, it is important to focus on recruitment strategies for students. The SEO strategy for higher education institutions is about making a mark on the SERPs. With SEO, you’d want your higher education institute to appear on top of all search results on Google. According to a recent survey by Zero Limit Web, the first five organic results on SERPs account for 67.6% of all clicks.
Use this checklist to grasp the fundamental principles of SEO and develop a successful digital marketing strategy for universities to achieve top search rankings for higher ed-related topics.
Without further ado, let’s explore our actionable search engine optimization tactics:
1. Niche-Specific Keyword Research
Without a robust keyword research procedure, ranking your niche-specific keywords (related to higher education) will be tough. If you’re not ranking for the proper terms, your traffic won’t convert as well as it might, and you will lose enrollment.
By conducting comprehensive keyword research, you can identify the specific keywords and phrases that potential students use to search for higher education programs. You can then optimize your website and content for these keywords to improve your search engine rankings and attract more qualified leads to your enrollment funnel.
Keyword research is one of the core SEO practices for universities; here is a complete checklist of tasks to ensure success in your optimization efforts.
Use Google search recommendations to find trending keywords
Google search recommendations of higher ed are the real questions student search on the search engine. You can answer these higher education queries on your website, which can help you rank on Google against the relevant queries, as your piece will fulfill the student’s search intent.
For instance, when we searched for “South University”, Google search recommendations reflected students’ queries related to this university.
Use Google Trends to dive deeper into search patterns based on your preferred location
Google Trends gives access to a mostly unfiltered sample of actual Google search requests. It enables Google to exhibit interest in a specific issue from around the world or city-level geography.
Google Trends is a free tool that may help you assess how other higher education websites perform in getting organic traffic and enrollment.
It can help you not only identify the keywords that are trending but also help you filter the trending keywords according to your set location.
Use the Keyword research tool for comprehensive findings (Free & Paid)
Keyword research tools, including paid and free tools (Moz, Ahref, Wordstream), can help you identify the keywords that can help you attract students. For example, you can select the keywords related to the niche of higher education and then filter the keyword as per your content’s theme.
Filter your targeted keywords based on intent, volume & difficulty
Until a new website gains authority, it may struggle to rank for competitive keywords. As a result, you must assess the complexity of the keywords you intend to target. Beginning your higher education SEO plan might help you manage your own expectations.
Keyword volume and intent are essential in raking for a niche-specific keyword, as the volume will increase enrollment. In contrast, the intent will retain that traffic by answering students’ queries.
Don’t ignore LSI keywords
LSI keywords are search phrases linked to the main keyword you’re after. They help support your content and provide more context, making it simpler for people and search engines to understand your material.
For instance, if you are trying to rank for the keyword “higher education,” using LSIs such as “advanced learning,” “university degree,” and “college degree” can help you target the user who is searching for a higher education option. You can look up LSIs related to your primary keyword on Google or by using keyword research tools like Ahref.
Considering the example, it is clear that supplementary keywords or LSIs are crucial SEO ranking factors for improving your search engine ranking.
2. On-Page Content Checklist
Your site will struggle to rank and gain organic visitors if it lacks meaningful content and a pleasant on-page experience. This is true for both website pages and blog articles. Because there is so much rivalry for blog articles, taking every measure necessary to outrank rivals for essential keywords is critical.
Focus More on Satisfying User Intent
Understanding user intent is at the heart of modern SEO. Higher ed websites that want to thrive must have a solid grasp of what prospects search for and what they expect to see when they submit these searches.
For example, in the case of higher education content marketing, the user intends to find the best sources for higher degrees. You can rank in SERPs easily if your website offers higher education services.
Write Compelling Content Copies
Even though fulfilling a query’s intent is crucial for ranking high on search engines, the quality of your content also plays a critical role. For example, suppose your content is full of fluff and not optimized. In that case, the user will leave your website without being interested in your higher education options.
Include your main targeted higher ed keywords in Meta Title, Descriptions, and Headings
Meta-titles, descriptions, and Headings are some of the page’s most important elements. Adding targeted higher-ed keywords or keywords specific to the topic can help you indicate the search engine about the topic and the keywords you are targeting.
Use a Short, Descriptive URL
An optimized URL gives both search engines and users a clear idea of what the landing page is about. And SEO-friendly URLs may impact your website in ways other than ranking.
Short and descriptive URLs related to higher education keywords are one of the best ways to signal your service to Google. It can help the students identify the topic at a glance, making navigation easier.
Make sure all images contain ALT Text
Alt text gives greater picture context/descriptions to search engine crawlers, assisting them in correct indexing and ranking an image in image search. It also gives contextual information about the page’s content to search engines.
Improve text readability by breaking long sentences and paragraphs into shorter ones
Readability plays a vital role in communicating essential points to prospects. For example, shorter sentences and paragraphs are easier to read and understand than lengthy stories. Therefore, your on-page SEO strategy for education website content should focus on making text clear and readable for prospective students.
Make sure to link relevant pages & resources as much as possible internally
Internal links are vital as they assist Google in better understanding and ranking your website. By providing Google with links to follow and informative anchor text, you can tell Google which pages on your site are essential and what they are about.
3. Off-Page Activity Checklist
Off-page SEO is as important as on-page as it can help imprint your website’s authority. It can also help in improving your website’s ranking on search engines. Here are some of the best off-page activity checklists you need to follow in devising a comprehensive SEO strategy for your higher-ed website.
Publish Guest Posts on higher authoritative and relevant sites
Guest posts can author links to your website. It can help improve the authoritativeness of the authors and ultimately improve your website’s ranking.
Submit News & Press Releases
News and Press Releases can also generate backlinks to your website and is a popular SEO strategy for universities followed worldwide. It can boost the writers’ authority and the rating of your website. It can also help you share your achievements and present your higher ed programs to the student. Here you can learn how to do PR outreach to get university backlinks.
Submit your Higher Education site to Edu Directories
Edu directories can help you place your information on platforms with high traffic. As the user search for higher education options, your address, phone number, and website will appear in the result for easy contact.
Create Communities on Quora & Reddit
Quora and Reddit have huge audiences and are among the world’s top 100 most popular websites. Quora attracts around 620+ million monthly visits, whereas Reddit receives over 430 million! As a result, if you handle it intelligently, you may generate significant traffic to your website.
Review and update your Wikipedia page
As millions of people flock to Wikipedia for knowledge and data, there is no doubt that it is an official content source. It serves as a content source for Google’s college search function. You can update your Wikipedia page with the latest information so prospects will know how to connect with you.
4. Make Sure your Site is Crawlable and Set to Indexed
Ensuring your site can be indexed by Google is one of the most basic SEO best practices for college websites. Suppose you have a new degree or diploma to offer. If your site is not crawled, the service will not be visible to the student, as the page won’t appear in the search results.
Simply set up a Site Audit for your school’s website. After completing the audit, you may see the Crawlability report.
Checking that your site’s primary pages are indexed will save you a lot of debugging time and help you improve your enrollment figures by ranking high on search engines.
5. Check Core Web Vitals Score
Core Web Vitals are the three key performance indicators that are part of the Google Page Experience update, which was fully implemented in August 2021. Google’s algorithm now considers these three Core Web Vitals (LCP, FID, and CLS) when determining the ranking of your website on Search Engine Results Pages (SERP).
Like many of Google’s search metric updates, this is aimed at enhancing the user experience. After all, if visitors to your site are pleased with the user experience, they are more likely to believe that Google has provided what they want.
Google looks for three primary factors:
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) – Perceived load speed
First Input Delay (FID) – lag between the first click and processing that click
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) – visual page stability
Website users are accustomed to instant gratification and do not want to wait for pages to load. If your website takes too long to load, students may believe it is hacked or compromised in some manner. They may quit your page searching for one that works since another school or program is only a Google search away. As a result, you should strive to have your website load as rapidly as possible.
Core Web Vitals are crucial for your website’s growth. While your page’s contents may be excellent, every aspect of your website must be supported to rank better in search engines.
6. Make Sure your Website is Mobile-Responsive
Prospects will create ideas about your school the instant they land on your webpage. A mobile website with a sleek design will present your institution as current. If you believe your desktop site is appealing enough, make sure your mobile site is as exciting as most students use mobile phones to access your website.
Prospective students use your website through various devices with varying screen sizes. As a result, it is critical that your educational website delivers an excellent experience regardless of the device used to access the website.
Responsive design is in charge of making this happen. This web design method rearranges web items according to the screen size. For example, if four components on a web page were lined horizontally, they may be stacked vertically on a tablet or mobile device.
Furthermore, mobile-first indexing is a practice introduced by Google, so you need to focus on making your website friendly for mobile users. Mobile-first indexing means Google mostly uses the mobile version of the material for ranking and indexing.
Historically, the index relied heavily on the desktop version of a page’s content for determining a page’s relevancy to a user’s query. Because most Google Search users currently access the service via a mobile device, Google predominantly crawls and indexes pages with the smartphone agent in the future.
Approximately eight out of ten users leave a website that does not display well on mobile devices, so you must ensure that you present the best version of your website on mobile phones.
7. Avoid Content Duplication
Duplicate content is not necessarily deliberate and might result from a reformatted site or old forgotten pages. Not only can duplicate content harm your search engine rankings, but it can also degrade your website’s user experience.
Consider a potential student pursuing your website for interesting and helpful material about a certain program, only to come across the same blocks of text again and over. Copying and pasting the same text on multiple pages on your website does not bring value to your information and avoid content marketing mistakes. This type of encounter does not foster trust.
Students want information that is current, engaging, and that helps them feel connected to your institution.
8. Create a Robots.txt File
The robots.txt file on your site instructs search engine crawlers which pages and files they can and cannot request from your site. Search engines primarily use your robots.txt file to discover and index material for display on search results pages.
A robots.txt file can assist you in informing search engines about which sections of your website to crawl and which portions of your website not to crawl. Higher education websites, for example, can utilize the robots.txt file to keep specific areas of their website hidden from the SERP, such as:
- Login-required student portals
- Internal domains for employees and students
- Outdated web pages that cannot be deleted quickly
- Sites for staging
Listing disallowed folder paths in the robots.txt file might raise the crawl budget for large higher education websites. However, be cautious not to mistakenly prevent Googlebot from crawling your critical URLs or even the entire site! This might damage the organic visitors to your website.
9. Submit Sitemap to Google
A sitemap’s goal is to assist search engines in determining which pages should be crawled. It is a list of URLs that identify the critical content of your site to ensure that it is scanned and indexed.
For instance, if you have a new course of proposing to the students, your sitemap can assist in crawling the page so the SERP results can get updated.
Google supports various sitemap types, the most popular of which is XML. The sitemap for your website is usually found at https://www.domain.com/sitemap.xml.
After you’ve completed your sitemap, submit it to Google Search Console and include a link to your sitemap in your robots.txt file.
10. Check your Website for Broken Links 404
Broken links will not only harm your organic search ranking but also harm users as they can negatively impact users’ experience.
Finding broken links on a website harms users’ perceptions of its quality and reputation, so you need to find and fix them immediately.
Monitoring attempted pageviews of broken links regularly will help you swiftly put up redirects and avoid this disrupted user pathway.
11. Schema Markup for Rich Snippets
Schema markup uses a format known as JSON-LD (JSON for Linked Data). It describes your page in terms of the higher education niche. Adding schema markup can help search engines understand your data and provide relevant results in the rich snippet and search results. For instance, schema markup can help you rank for the higher ed keywords and appear against students’ queries.
12. Set up Google Search Console
Google Search Console is a valuable tool for improving SEO for education websites. By setting up Google Search Console, you can find what are the trending keywords being searched by the students.
Furthermore, you may utilize Google Search Console to submit your website to Google for indexing, track your website’s search traffic, and optimize your website for higher education searchers.
It is a free tool that lets you see what search phrases the students use and what devices they use to conduct their research. With Google Search Console, you can find new keywords and queries for which you should rank. If you optimize your content to satisfy the search intent of your visitors, you have a high chance to appear at the top of SERPs.
13. Set up Google Analytics GA4
Google Analytics (GA4) is a free tool that allows you to track the traffic and performance of your website. With it, you can analyze the traffic source to your website and use that information to develop an SEO strategy to increase enrollment.
Using GA4, you can see where your prospects are coming from, their devices, and what channels they use to connect with your school. It is important to note that many prospective students use laptops, mobile apps, and tablets to research and engage with schools.
One of the critical advantages of GA4 is that it allows your school to combine data from multiple devices to get a more comprehensive understanding of user behavior. This type of data can be used to make a compelling case for prioritizing and optimizing mobile content for your website.
14. International SEO for Global Reach
International SEO boosts your institution’s website visibility on search engine results pages (SERPs) for different languages and countries. It allows higher education institutions to target international prospective students with their content, driving organic traffic from different locations.
International SEO considers the language, culture, and preferences of target markets and involves optimizing website content, data, and other elements to resonate with the users in each market.
Let’s explore the benefits of international SEO for higher education more closely:
- Increase visibility on a global scale, increasing your chances of appearing in local SERPs for relevant queries.
- Expand your reach and put your brand in front of new audiences worldwide.
- You will gain a competitive advantage in every new market you enter.
For example, when searching for studying abroad in Malaysia, you can see SERPs showing scholarship options from leading regional universities. International SEO gives these websites chances of being featured on the first page and boosts visibility.
But how do you perform international SEO? Consider the following steps to develop international SEO for your institution.
- Map out your international SEO goals.
- Perform market and competitor analysis.
- Conduct keyword research for each target market
- Choose between language or country targeting
- Select the proper URL structure for your international site
- Use the hreflang attribute
- Include a navigation menu and language switcher
- Avoid automatically redirecting users to a different language based on location.
- Adapt content to local culture and regional preferences
- Build local links to your website
Moreover, you must consider international SEO to stand out from many private universities, colleges, and schools.
15. Semantic SEO for Contextual Understanding
The word ‘semantic’ is all about understanding the meaning of language. Semantic SEO is the process of giving more meaning and thematic depth to your website content.
Higher education institutions must adapt to this evolution of search. Previously, Google used keywords to evaluate a web page’s topic and relevance to a search query. Still, now it focuses on the page’s overall topic instead of only looking at keywords to understand what the page is about.
Benefits of semantic SEO:
- More keyword rankings in organic search
- High-quality content improves Google crawlers
- Establishes brand authority and expertise in the eyes of searchers
- Helping Google see your brand as its entity with expertise in core topics
- More opportunities for internal linking
Semantic SEO improves the experience of searching for users. Here’s how you can conduct semantic SEO for your institution:
- Conduct Semantic Keyword Research
- Optimize Content with Semantic Markup
- Implement Structured Data Markup
- Ensure Content Relevance and Context
- Create Topic Clusters
- Enhance User Experience and Accessibility
- Optimize for Voice Search
- Utilize Natural Language Processing (NLP)
- Monitor and Analyze Semantic SEO Performance
Institutions improve online visibility by optimizing content with semantic markup, structured data, and relevant keywords. It helps search engines understand the context and relevance of their content, leading to higher rankings, increased organic traffic, and improved overall search performance.
16. Website structure
Website structure, or website architecture, is how information on your site is structured, interlinked, and designed. This might seem a no-brainer, but your website must have a flat structure. The users must reach the desired webpage in less than 3 clicks.
Website structure is important for SEO for a few key reasons:
- It helps search engines find and index all your site’s pages
- It spreads authority throughout your web pages via internal links
- It helps visitors find the content they’re looking for
An SEO-friendly website must group topically related content, organize groups logically, and highlight your most important pages.
Here are six tips for an optimal website structure:
- Use internal links strategically
- Make sure users can access your pages in just a few clicks
- Create an easy-to-follow navigation menu
- Optimize your site’s URLs
- Use breadcrumbs
- Use HTML and XML sitemap
Thoughtful planning will help you create a website structure that enhances SEO and boosts your institution’s rankings.
17. Dynamic SERP Features Optimization
Dynamic SERP features are rich snippets, images, videos, maps, and reviews that enhance the organic search results. These features can boost your click-through rate, traffic, and conversions, but they can also push your organic listings down.
Some of the most common SERP features include:
- Featured snippets
Concise summaries at the top, offering quick answers to queries extracted from relevant web pages.
- Knowledge panels
Information-rich sidebars present key details about entities sourced from trusted databases and websites.
- Local packs
Maps with nearby business listings, showcasing addresses, reviews, and contact details for local searches.
- Image packs and video carousels
Visual content collections, displaying images or videos for enhanced user engagement and diverse media results.
- Site links
Additional links beneath a primary search result direct users to specific website pages.
- People also ask
Expanding question boxes offering related queries, enhancing search depth and user exploration.
- Rich snippets
Enriched search results with structured data, providing extra context like ratings, prices, and event details.
Ratings and feedback are prominently displayed, influencing user trust and decision-making in product or service searches.
SERP features combine to create a holistic and enriched search experience for users. By conducting thorough research, understanding the intent behind the features, and implementing the right SERP features optimization strategies, you can drive more organic traffic to your institution’s website.
18. Dynamic Local SEO Strategies
Local SEO helps institutions rank higher organically on several relevant local searches, increasing visibility and outranking competitors. Optimizing your local SEO means more traffic to your website, more leads, and more conversions.
Location can play a huge role in where a prospective student applies. For instance, an online degree program targets a broader audience, whereas an on-campus degree program can gain visibility through local search optimization.
Consider the following ways to boost your local SEO game.
- Create and optimize Google My Business (GMB)
Maximize online visibility by providing accurate business information and engaging with customer reviews on Google My Business.
- Focus on local content.
Tailor website content to local interests, events, and trends, enhancing relevance for regional audiences.
- Benefit from local educational directories and listing
List in educational directories to boost credibility and visibility among local audiences seeking specialized services.
- Target local keywords
Optimize content with region-specific keywords to align with local search intent and improve discoverability.
- Get inbound links
Build authority by acquiring quality links from local businesses, organizations, and influencers in your community.
- Leverage location-pages for SERPs
Create dedicated pages for different locations to enhance local relevance and improve rankings in search engine results.
- Optimize website for mobile.
Ensure website mobile-friendliness for seamless user experience, a critical factor in local search ranking algorithms.
19. Continuous Feedback Loops for SEO Improvement
A feedback loop is also helpful in improving your SEO efforts, as it makes it possible to create a more positive user experience with valuable content.
Feedback loops are the foundation of engagement and building relationships with prospective students. But do you know how to implement feedback loops? Follow these steps:
- Collecting customer feedback
- Analyzing feedback data
- Applying feedback and beginning to test
- Following up with customers
Establish continuous feedback loops in higher education SEO by regularly monitoring website analytics, user behavior, and keyword performance. Utilize feedback to refine content, optimize keywords, and enhance the user experience. Stay informed about industry trends, algorithm updates, and competitors’ strategies.
20. Multilingual SEO for Diverse Audiences
Multilingual SEO is optimizing your website’s content to rank well in search engines for multiple languages and regions. Multilingual SEO ensures that users who speak different languages or are located in different regions worldwide can quickly discover your website.
Multilingual SEO in higher education enhances global outreach by tailoring content for diverse audiences. It boosts visibility, engages international students effectively, and improves search rankings. Determining the most important languages for your website can be challenging, as there are many factors to consider.
Here are some steps you can take to help you make this decision.
- Identify your target audience
- Consider the languages spoken by your competitors
- Analyze your website traffic
- Consider the cost and resources required
For example, if you want to tap students in the new markets, consider supporting languages spoken. Or, if you are looking to attract a specific target audience, such as international students, consider supporting their language. Implementing language-specific strategies ensures relevance, positively impacting overall SEO performance.
Even with all the information on SEO, sometimes you cannot get the desired results, and you will have to hire a higher education marketing agency. However, implementing the items on this SEO checklist for higher education institutions should help you improve your website’s visibility and organic search traffic.
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