Key takeaways:
  • SEO stands for ‘search engine optimization’
  • SEO is designed to rank your website higher on Google
  • Schools can use SEO to help interested parents or students find their school online
  • Every school needs an SEO strategy to improve their online leads and engagement

It's no secret that your school website is your most important marketing tool. Not only is it one of the primary ways in which you can attract new admissions, but it’s also a platform for communicating with current families and providing updates to the community. That's why it’s so important that the people who are looking for you 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 your bases are covered in regards to the Google Search Console. Once you’re feeling confident, you'll want to make sure your website’s appearing for relevant searches. Enter the wonderful world of SEO, or search engine optimization.

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 optimization, from technical elements like page speed and setting up your site correctly, to creative elements like writing interesting content that will boost user engagement. 

While the elements of your website that help you to rank higher in search engines are a secret, there are 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 being found online.

Why do schools need SEO?

If your school invests in SEO, it’ll help your website to appear in front of engaged and interested searchers straight away. SEO gives you the best opportunity to provide interested searchers with the information they’re looking for at the moment they’re looking for it. 

If your school doesn’t have a well-developed online reputation and searchers can’t find your website on Google, you’re missing out on one of the most important sources of traffic for your business. Families in the decision stage of their admissions 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’ll 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’s a high chance they’ll give up on evaluating your school altogether.

Another poor experience is when a prospective parent is in the consideration stage of their admissions 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." By optimizing your website, you’re giving your school the best chance to successfully send an interested parent or student down the admissions pipeline and ultimately convert them.

What is Google looking for on my school website?

When someone searches online for your school, Google looks 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. 

Let’s go through the top three skills that you can use to improve your school's SEO:

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 relevant pages that can be displayed within its index. The good news for schools is that you can tell Google 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 web design by utilizing 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 tell 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 optimized 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’ll need to set about writing content that is simple, engaging and provides the reader with clear information. There’s a few things to keep in mind to help you write effective school website copy which is relevant and keyword-rich. For example, the inverted pyramid structure is a useful journalism technique which can also be applied to your website content. This involves featuring the most important information (usually the answer to the searcher's query!) right at the top, and then providing in-depth information lower down on the page.

3. Look out for the SEO traps

As with most marketing skills, there are SEO ‘shortcuts’ that’ll get you fast results but 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 popular ranking signals but are no longer considered legitimate.

There's a pretty extensive list of things you should never do for SEO, and if an agency recommends them — run the other way! You can be penalized by search engines if you employ them. Some of these tactics include:

  • 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 essential for every school marketer. Your online reputation needs to be well developed if you’re interested in securing as many leads and as much traffic as possible. If your school website isn't appearing for relevant searches, you’re losing valuable contacts! By optimizing your website design for SEO, you’re giving your school the best chance at success. 

If you want to work with a team of experts who specialize in creating optimized websites for schools, get in touch with Digistorm today.

Published February 26 2020