SEO for Higher Education – Help Prospective Students Find Your College

You already know search engine visibility is important – but do you know what your prospective students are searching for?

Illustration of searching for Higher Education
Published: 12.14.2017

The vast majority of online research starts with a search engine. It’s pretty easy to ensure your college or university comes up high in search engine results pages (SERPs) – it’s almost a given unless you’ve done something that violates best practices – but is your school’s name what they’re searching for?

For students who already know about you and are already interested, it may well be. But you’ve already engaged those students, and what you’re looking for with marketing plans and enrollment campaigns are ways to widen your net and attract the students who don’t know that your school might be a great fit for them.

That’s where great search engine optimization (SEO) comes into play. If you can identify what your prospective students are searching for, you can optimize your site to rank well for those terms. That can help you meet your enrollment goals – and even boost retention rates, because the students who seek you out will be the students who are more likely to be a great fit, and stay to graduate from your school. If you’re in one of the many states that now uses (or is considering) performance-based funding, you already know how important that is.

Prospective students search based on a lot of different criteria, including programs they’re interested in, sports they play or other activities they enjoy. Does your college have an outstanding photography club? Offer an overseas mission trip? Play those up – prospective students are looking for them! My youngest son is currently in the college search process, and when we asked how he came up with the list of schools he’s considering, he said he looked for small schools that offer his major and that have good baseball programs – and he checked out photos of the baseball field. It’s unique for every student.

So how do you identify meaningful keywords and phrases for your institution? Here are a few ideas:

  • Think about your value proposition. What’s special about your college? Why do students choose to enroll? Maybe it’s your MBA program, or your biophysics program. Or baseball. Maybe it’s quality education at an affordable cost (community colleges, we’re looking at you here). Once you understand your education brand, you’ll be able to generate a relevant list of keywords and phrases that can help the right students find you.
  • Ask. Conduct some focus groups and ask your current students why they chose your school. How did they find you? What other schools did they consider? What were their final decision criteria? What would they tell others who are considering coming to your college? Talk to prospective students, too – they’re in the search process right now and will have a different – and very important – perspective. Plus, making a connection with them now may mean another enrollment later.
  • Do competitive research. Look at your competitors. What’s their positioning in the market? Where do they rank for the keywords you’re considering? (You’ll probably get some additional ideas for your own keywords during this process, too.)
  • Use an idea generator. There are lots of keyword planning tools available – some are free and others are subscription-based. A few we like are Answer the Public (which has a really fun interface as well as great ideas and visual mapping) and Wordstream. If you conduct paid search advertising campaigns, Google’s keyword planner is a useful tool as well – though not quite as useful as it used to be.

Once you’ve identified your keywords, it’s time to optimize your site to rank for them. We’ll talk about that in a future post.

How did you find this post? Did it come up in search engine results when you were looking?  We can help your college or university get great SEO results, too. Contact us, and let’s talk about it.

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Sanger & Eby
501 Chestnut St.
Cincinnati, OH 45203

Katie Krafka
Director, Client Engagement
p. 513.784.9046

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