Expert Q&A: The Importance of SEO in School Marketing (Part I)
Often underestimated or ignored completely, I’ve found SEO to be a rather infamous topic of conversation when it comes to discussing marketing initiatives with my school clients. Yet, I find I cannot blame many schools for feeling the way that they do. After all, creating and implementing a comprehensive SEO strategy can be confusing and complicated. That’s why I took the time to sit down with Clark Morgan, Director of Online Marketing at North Star Marketing in Burlington, North Carolina.
Clark handles SEO and paid search campaigns on behalf of many of my school clients (Full disclosure: Clark also manages my SEO and content marketing strategy). During our interview (which I’ve divided into two parts), I hope to clear up a few common misconceptions about SEO and garner a few pointers for those schools attempting to implement SEO strategies themselves. Also, you will want to view Clark’s offer at the end of this blog post for a free local SEO audit for your school.
First of all, what exactly is SEO?
SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” Essentially, it’s the process of getting free traffic online from what are considered “natural” or “organic” listings. These free listings are earned on major search engines like Google and Bing. On any search engine, the top free listings (or rankings) are usually given to websites that deliver the best possible user experience and relevant content to their visitors.
Why is SEO important for schools to include as part of their marketing strategy?
Following the best practices of SEO will help ensure that your web content is found by major search engines like Google. Without the proper site architecture, positive user experiences, useful content, relevant page titles, helpful meta descriptions, targeted keywords, and so on … your school has a very low probability of showing up in any search engine’s top search results. In fact, Google and Bing no longer consider SEO to be an “option,” but rather a required practice for all sites looking for online visibility with prospective customers.
What would you consider to be some of the most important SEO strategies that a school should utilize today?
There are a variety of SEO strategies for schools to zero in on today. Here are just a few of the most important ones:
First, have a website designed with your audience in mind. This includes everything from your navigation menu, images and page loading speed, to conducting critical keyword research to understand exactly what kind of content your audience is interested in finding on your site. That’s why SEO plays such a major role in determining both site architecture and content development.
Publish engaging and instructional content on your site. The biggest goal for the content on your site should be to attract and then keep prospective parents there. If they come to your site and leave quickly, that’s a bad sign. Google can see how long visitors remain on your site and doesn’t look favorably on sites with high bounce rates or low visit duration.
Speak human. You want content that is rich with relevant keywords used in a natural way. Google and Bing will penalize any unnatural use of keywords—especially if it doesn’t sound like a human speaks. While I recommend taking advantage of the writers at your school, the services of a professional writer or marketing company can also go a long way toward producing exceptional content that will help you rank well and sound “human.” Creating killer content is also a great way to generate “link juice” or other websites sharing and linking back to your site.
Make sure your school shows up in the local results on major search engines. These local or “location” results typically show up at the top of the first page of search results. Google and Bing are the two largest search engines you’ll want to start with. The local results will include a group of 1 to 7 business locations. To show up in this type of search result, schools should claim and then verify their Google Local and Bing Local listings. If claimed and optimized correctly, both of these business listings can quickly improve your local ranking results. However, be sure to select the correct category (private school/school). Also, if you claim other free local listings such as Yelp, Citysearch, etc., make sure your name, address and phone number are listed the same way across all of your listings. Name, address, and phone discrepancies are an easy way to confuse or create a breach of trust with any search engine. A great place to manage the most high value local listings is GetListed.org.
Optimize your web pages with relevant, keyword-focused page titles, meta descriptions, H1 headlines, and content. Relevant meta page titles hold significant weight in determining each page’s rank in search engine results.
Want to learn more? Join me later in an upcoming blog post, as I share a few more SEO tips and tricks from Clark Morgan, Director of Online Marketing at North Star Marketing. If you would like North Star Marketing to help you evaluate your school’s current website and show you how to get more traffic and leads, request your FREE local SEO audit by clicking here.
Do you have any more questions about the role of SEO in your school’s integrated marketing strategy? Submit your questions below and I will be sure to include the answers in my next blog post.