It's no secret that your school website is your most important marketing tool. It's one of the primary ways that you can attract new enrolments, it provides information to current families and allows you to continuously update your community. That's why it’s so important that the people who are looking for your website are able to find your website when they search online.

The first step is to ensure your website is actually appearing within search results. If you haven't read our extensive post about showing up on Google, take a pause and make sure you have covered your bases in regards to Google Search Console. Once that's done, you'll want to make sure you're appearing for relevant searches. Enter the wonderful world of SEO, or search engine optimisation

What is SEO?

SEO is the process of attracting traffic from free, or “organic” searches in search engines, like Google, Bing and Yahoo. There are a number of elements that go into performing search engine optimisation, from technical elements, like setting up your site correctly, to creative elements, like writing interesting content that your readers will engage with. 

While the elements of your website that help you to rank higher in search engines are a secret, there is a multitude of companies and individuals who spend their days predicting and testing these factors. This means that by performing a little bit of research, your school can understand the basics of getting found online. 

Why do schools need SEO?

If your school invests in SEO, it will help your website to appear in front of engaged, interested searchers straight away. It makes sure you have the opportunity to provide them with the information they are looking for at the moment they are looking for it. 

If searchers can’t find your website online, it can negatively affect your school’s business. Families in the decision stage of their enrolment journey expect to easily find all of the information that they need to evaluate your school. If they have to search over and over just to find your website, you will be missing out on incredible opportunities to engage them and make a positive impression. Ultimately, if they perform multiple searches and can't find you, there is a high chance they will give up on evaluating your school altogether.

Another poor experience is when a prospective parent is in the consideration stage of their enrolment customer journey. In this stage, they may not have even heard of your school and will be performing broad searches to find schools in their area that suit their needs. Your school will need to make sure you appear for all the relevant local search queries — for example, "best private schools near me" or "Catholic Schools in my area."

What are search engines looking for on my school website?

When a person searches online for your school, the search engines look through billions of websites and documents to find the sites that are the most relevant to the search query and then ranks those sites according to popularity.

Search engines use algorithms to determine your webpage's relevance and popularity. As we mentioned above, these algorithms (often called “ranking factors”) are often kept secret and are continually changing, so it can be hard to keep up with the latest developments. However, there are a number of SEO best practice strategies that have been proven to improve your search performance. 

We run you through the top three skills that you can use to improve your school's SEO in this video. Alternatively, read on for a breakdown of these essential strategies!

1. Understand crawling, indexing and linking

Search engines, like Google, operate by sending out a team of robots to crawl through your website finding all of the pages that are available to be displayed within its index. The good news for schools is that you can tell search engines how to crawl your website (to some extent anyway!). You can do this by creating a sitemap and submitting it to Google Search Console (or Bing's equivalent, Webmaster Tools). 

You can also help Google to understand the structure of your website by utilising internal and external links within your pages. External links point to high quality, reliable domains outside of your school website. Internal links point to another page within the same domain. They both signal to Google what your page is about and how it links to other pages:

  • External links signal what the page is about by directing users (and crawlers) to other authoritative pages on the internet
  • Internal links help users (and crawlers) to easily navigate your website and literally link related pages together.

2. Write optimised and engaging content

The second SEO strategy is to create interesting, keyword-targeted content that answers your reader's questions. To start, learn how to perform thorough keyword research to find out what your audience is looking for when they come to your website. Then, choose one or two specific keywords to target within your page.

Once you have your query, you will need to set about writing content that is simple, engaging and provides the reader with clear information. There are a number of things that will help you write effective school website copy, but an important one is to engage the journalism technique of following the inverted pyramid structure. This is where you put the most important information (usually the answer to the searcher's query!) right at the top, and then provide your in-depth information lower down the page.

3. Look out for the SEO traps

As with most marketing skills, there are SEO shortcuts that will get you fast results (but will ultimately cost you in the long run). These shortcuts are known as black hat tactics, and you've probably encountered a few if you've researched SEO. Some are maliciously designed to manipulate your search results, and others are old-school techniques that were once ranking signals but are no longer best practices.

There's a pretty extensive list of things you should never do for SEO, and if an agency recommends them — run the other mile! You could be penalised by search engines if you employ them. These include tactics such as:

  • Cloaking — showing a different version of a web page to search engines to the one you show to users
  • Keyword stuffing — filling your page with dozens of loosely related keywords
  • Buying (or selling) backlinks — offering money for websites to link to your website.

In summary

Understanding the basics of SEO is almost essential for every school marketer. If your school website isn't appearing for relevant searches, you are losing valuable contacts!

Published 26 February 2020