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There are about 20 million students attending post-secondary education in the US right now. Given the current environment, this could trend even higher in the coming months. More students will be graduating high school, but many adults may also be headed back to class. Of course, each student must choose a school. There are many factors that go into picking their college, including location, courses offered, and more. Part of the challenge is often letting potential students know you exist. That’s where college advertising comes in.

Today, advertising for colleges has to include a digital strategy. Before, you might have focused largely on ads in trade magazines or billboards in your local area. People are moving more and more online, especially right now, so you need to follow.

One of the most essential parts of any digital marketing strategy has to be SEO. You might already be using this to rank for your school name, but are you ranking for programs too?

If not, don’t worry. This guide to SEO for college programs will help you get back on the right track.

Do Good Keyword Research

Keywords may not be as important to SEO as they once were, but the basis of a good SEO strategy is still knowing what keywords you want to rank for.

This is true of almost anything you want to market. It’s particularly important when it comes to marketing a particular degree program.

This is true if your college isn’t known for offering courses or degree programs in a particular field. Maybe you’ve just added a new degree program. Potential students can’t apply to it if they don’t know it exists.

They also may not think to check and see if your school offers that particular program. That’s why you need to create pages for these programs that will rank for the keywords people are using to search. It will help people discover your school’s program.

Doing good keyword research is clearly the important point here. If you don’t know which keywords people search, you can’t rank for them. You might be able to guess what people search for, but you might also be surprised.

Make Sure to Include Long-Tail Keywords

Another point to consider is the shift toward long-tail keywords. People used to search terms like “electrical engineering programs” or “best physics degrees.”

In the past few years, people have changed the way they search. They ask Google more structured questions. You might see questions like, “How do I become an electrical engineer” or “which schools offer the best physics programs?”

These “long-tail” keywords are important to include in your SEO strategy as you try to get your college degree program pages to rank.

Focus on Local Keywords

Local keywords can also be important for college program marketing. There are two major reasons for this.

The first is that some students may not want to travel very far away from home. They may want to stay close to their family. They might not want to go to another state to study.

The other reason is that there are students who do want to travel for school. They might pick a school so they can stay with a significant other who is studying at your school or another nearby college. They might be hoping to move to LA or New York because they want the opportunity.

Local keywords can help you get in front of either of these groups. “Near me” searches have grown by leaps and bounds in the last few years. It’s likely local SEO and keywords will continue to play a role in marketing for college programs.

Analyze Your Competition for More Effective College Advertising

Your next question should be about who your competition is and what they’re ranking for. An SEO tool or platform can usually provide insight into this for you.

Your competitors are other schools in your area offering the same degree programs. You’re also competing with other schools across the US.

More established schools and programs can make it tough to rank for terms like “electrical engineering degrees.” Knowing which keywords your competitors are focused on can help.

Adjust Your Strategy

Once you know which keywords your competitors are ranking for, you can adjust your strategy accordingly. If there’s a more established school ranking for the title of your program, you may not want to go toe-to-toe with them.

Instead, you can optimize for other keywords. Here’s where your keyword research comes into play.

It might be tough to rank for “electrical engineering degree.” Instead, you might be able to rank for “best electrical engineering program Utah” with ease. Knowing what your competition is ranking for lets you pick and choose your battles.

Improve the Mobile Experience

Your next step for should be to improve the mobile experience for your program pages.

Mobile use has increased in the last few years. Many more people are switching to mobile-only for their Internet use. Younger people tend to prefer searching on their smartphones, versus using a desktop.

As a result, Google switched to mobile-first indexing earlier this year. Your mobile performance now counts for more when determining your place in the SERPs.

The good news is that there are many things you can do to improve the mobile experience. Design is often the biggest factor, so it may be time to give your website an overhaul.

Lighter design will load faster and look good on smaller screens. Make sure the design you choose is responsive, so it can display the right way across devices and screens.

Also make sure you’re optimizing images and videos to load across mobile connections. Testing to see how your site looks across a wide variety of devices is never a bad idea.

Look to Your Backlinks

Linking strategy gets talked about a fair bit in SEO circles, and not without reason. Backlinks in particular are important to your SEO strategy. They tell search engines that other sites find your material credible and useful.

You can think of links as a form of “social proof.” A site that has few links to it isn’t as trustworthy as a site that has a lot of links from reputable sources.

Links also make it easier for web crawlers to find and index your page. Much like students, Google’s robots can’t index your page if they don’t know it exists.

Watch Out for Black Hat SEO

Of course, there’s a right way to go about getting links for your college degree program pages, and there’s a wrong way.

The wrong way is often called “black hat SEO.” This includes link-building strategies that are frowned upon by search engines.

Black hat SEO may look like a good idea if you don’t know any better. The SEO experts will promise results, often much faster than others can get them. What’s more is black hat SEO techniques often work.

At least, they work for a little while. If you get caught using these tactics, search engines will penalize your site. It can be difficult to gain back ground once this happens.

So, what do black hat linking strategies look like? Buying links is one sure sign of black hat SEO. You’ll get links quickly, but they’ll be from low-quality sites that don’t have much to do with your program.

Trading links in private networks can also be considered black hat SEO.

Good Tactics for Link Building

If you can’t buy links, how can you make sure you’re getting people to link back to your college program pages?

One good strategy is to invite local news media to write about your programs. You might want to reach out through any media connections you have.

You can also think about partners your school has. Do you have industry partners that hire students for work-terms? If so, get them to talk about your program and link back to it.

Guest blogging is another great strategy for college marketing. Think about education review sites and more. Press releases may also be helpful tools.

Remember that you want to build not just links but relationships with bloggers and other media connections.

Improve the Overall User Experience

You thought a bit about user experience when you looked at your mobile site. In fact, you should think about the user experience overall.

Good SEO moves beyond thinking about Google’s ranking factors and considers what human users want from your page. By thinking about what students look for, you’re in a better position to please both visitors and the search engines.

Consider page speed. Google demands pages load in two seconds or less. That isn’t just some number they made up either.

Google crunched the data and saw that visitors will often navigate away from a page that takes longer to load! So page speed will affect your SEO, but it also affects your user experience.

Google wants pages to load quickly because that delivers a better experience for visitors. That’s thinking is true of almost every SEO factor. If a page contains a keyword, it’s more likely to answer the user’s question, and so on.

Technical SEO Factors

User experience can often be improved by focusing on technical SEO factors. This includes mobile-friendliness and page speed.

It also includes image and video optimization. You may even want to consider the code behind your website design as part of your SEO strategy.

Integrate Your Other Marketing Efforts

One of the reasons SEO is so important for college marketing is that it goes hand in hand with the rest of your marketing efforts.

If you’re doing any other program-specific college advertising, you should be using SEO. Why?

SEO provides a solid foundation to work from. Your other marketing efforts can also bolster your SEO efforts. In short, all your marketing comes together when you use SEO.

Social Media Does Affect SEO

Google doesn’t put much emphasis on social media in SEO, although it does consider social media. Engagement is one key metric. If people are sharing your content on social media, Google reads that as “social proof.”

Social shares can also help spread the word. You may end up with more traffic to your site, which can also improve your rank. YouTube is particularly important to Google.

PPC and SEO Go Hand in Hand

Pay-per-click ads and SEO often work together as well. Using SEM PPC and SEO together is often a very good strategy for schools looking to rank for particular keywords.

“Electrical engineering” may be a keyword for one of your programs, but it’s not easy to outrank all other schools. Instead, you can adjust your SEO strategy to focus on local keywords or long-tail keywords. PPC can handle the heavy lifting for popular keywords.

Remember Content Marketing

Content marketing and SEO are like a matching set. Content factors into your SEO, and SEO improves your content. After all, you can write a great blog post, but it doesn’t matter if no one can find it.

SEO can help people find your content. In turn, content marketing gives you something to rank for. Posting new content on a regular basis can also factor into your SEO.

If you plan to do any kind of content marketing around specific programs, you should be thinking about SEO too.

Better SEO Means Better Marketing Results

As you can see, SEO is a key part of college advertising. It’s especially important if you want to rank for program-specific pages.

Of course, managing SEO on your own is a big job. Unless you have lots of experience, you’re at risk of making mistakes. That, in turn, could mean that your program pages get buried in the SERPs as your competitors outrank you.

Do you want to add SEO to a more integrated digital marketing strategy for your school? If so, it’s time to get in touch with the experts. Better SEO and better digital marketing results could be just a phone call away.

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