If you’ve heard about one hot marketing trend in recent years, it was probably SEO. Still, you may be surprised to learn that over 27% of organizations in the US don’t have a website, let alone an SEO strategy.

Unfortunately, smaller universities are among the greatest offenders here. Fortunately, that means there’s less competition standing in your way. Let’s talk about how to use SEO to boost your college’s local ranking as soon as possible!

Understand the Benefits of SEO

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the best tool for building online, organic traffic to your website. It’s the process of optimizing your website and its content to rank higher on search engines like Google. Here are some of the key benefits of using SEO in your marketing strategy.

Long-Lasting Results

Unlike constantly having to pay for advertising, once you own the content that’s ranking on search engines, that’s it. There’s no limit to how much you can earn from it. This means that you can potentially continue earning from high-performing pages for years without additional expenses.

Higher Conversions

Whether you want to attract new students, new faculty, new grants, or anything else, SEO is more valuable than ads.

Think about it. Are you, as a consumer of any kind, more likely to make conversions with the 5,000th ad you’ve seen today or a website that you found that offered all of the information you were searching for?

SEO is a great way to build trust among your target audience. Organic traffic is far more likely to convert than paid traffic, as well as to stick around.

Expanding Your Reach

Let’s be honest and say that some of us actively avoid advertisements, email campaigns, and social media efforts. Consequently, SEO is a great way to expand your reach to users on the web. With over 2 trillion searches per day, you’re sacrificing a lot without a search engine strategy.

Build a High-Quality Website

Your SEO strategy is wholly dependent on the quality of your website. As a result, every boost to your website is a boost to your SEO strategy. Google wants to see high-quality user functions, including:

  • Mobile-friendly design
  • Fast page loading times
  • A clean navigation system
  • Proper internal and external linking structures
  • A clear page hierarchy

The list goes on, but these are some of the most important factors. Auditing your website for these factors is a good first step to see what needs improvement. A little goes a long way.

Build a List of Keywords

Your website and your keyword list lay the foundation for your entire SEO strategy. Keywords are the number one factor search engines use to rank your content with users, so choose them wisely.

Ideally, you should have a diverse list of short-tail and long-tail keywords to rank for. Short-tail keywords are the obvious ones that a college would try to rank for, like “colleges near me.” These have the highest search volume but also the highest competition.

Conversely, long-tail keywords have the lowest search volume but also low completion and high relevance. These are keywords like “best history programs in Boston” or “electrical engineering programs near me.” 

While these will drive fewer users, they will be the most likely to apply to your school or make the intended conversion. A diverse keyword list for your blog content writing is the best long-term strategy for marketing a college.

Moreover, you can find these keywords using online keyword research tools. Start with keywords that have the best search volume to competition ratio (high to low) and go from there. If you want to see how they compare on search volume, use Google Trends.

Develop a Content Marketing Strategy

High-quality content marketing should be relatively easy for a college or university. Colleges have no shortage of literate and well-educated faculty, so put these advantages to use! You can develop content for:

  • Celebrating department achievements
  • Staff spotlights
  • Current events at your school
  • Student issues and solutions
  • Recent discoveries related to relevant departments
  • Athletic achievements
  • Local news
  • General advice for college students or applicants

The list continues as far as your imagination. Of course, a blog is the easiest form of content marketing to start, but why limit yourself? Different types of content, such as videos or infographics, can help you stand out from your competitors.

For example, you may notice the layout on a Google results page. There are links for written content, followed by carousels of images, videos, ads, and more. Therefore, video content could be the key to “skipping the line” on a highly competitive keyword.

However, a blog is still important. It’s the easiest to maintain, the easiest for Google to index, and the most popular form for users. Once you have a strong list of keywords, it should be easier to create topics.

If you begin to run out of ideas, take a look at your competitors to generate more. Ideally, you want to post at least 3 times a week, and you can share these on social media to help “lighten the load” for both marketing strategies.

Keep Users in Mind

Remember, you are creating content for users, not search engines. It’s easy to lose sight of this fact, but it would be to the detriment of your SEO strategy. Google uses over 200 factors to determine your ranking, and they are almost entirely dedicated to their perception of your website’s user experience.

Even if you manage to cheat the system for a while, it won’t last if your site is not user-friendly. Some important factors include engagement rates, user retention, and more. Design your site and content with users in mind first, and optimize for search engines second!

Remember Which Users

Also, this includes tailoring your content to the users you want to attract. We mentioned some ideas for content marketing on your blog, but it’s important to consider who you are marketing to.

For example, are you trying to convert high school students into applicants, applicants into full-time students, or industry experts into faculty? Whatever your answer, make sure your content aligns with these goals.

Remember Your Goals

When creating content, remember what your intended conversions are and try to direct traffic there. You can do this by using a strong “call to action” or CTA at the end of your posts. For a few examples based on different goals, you could use something like:

  • “Keep reading our blog for our latest tips, and contact us with any questions.”
  • “Stay up to date with our latest campus news, and don’t forget to sign up for early enrollment.”
  • “If you want to kickstart your career, apply today!”

Each of these has a perfect opportunity for a hyperlink to direct traffic. “Contact us,” “early enrollment,” or “apply today” are all excellent opportunities to direct users to your intended destination.

Still, you have to prepare users for this. You can offer the information they need and spend some time positioning your school as the solution before offering the CTA.

For example, if you have a post about how difficult it is to find work as a historian, you can then explain that there’s a shortage of qualified history professors and then explain some of the benefits of working for your school. From there, all you have to do is sell it!

Build Off-Page SEO

While most of Google’s ranking factors are related to the quality of your website, many of them take place entirely off of the page.

Let’s use a familiar example. Harvard University has some of the most respected departments in the country, particularly its medical school, law school, and business school. Each of these has high domain authority in the eyes of Google.

Moreover, this is because other high-authority sites link to them all the time. Sites like Healthline, WebMD, and even the NIH/CDC are constantly citing articles from Harvard Med School on their websites. Large business outlets link to Harvard Business School almost daily, and law firms link to their law school.

While Google’s algorithm is impressive, it does not have the means to fact-check every claim made on the 130 trillion pages it’s indexed. Therefore, it relies on other sites to establish another’s authority. These links act as a “vote” in your favor.

Consequently, the more relevant backlinks (links from other sites) you have, the more likely you are to rank higher on Google. This is why your neighbor’s blog won’t rank higher than the New York Times, even if their post was hundreds of times better.

Get Relevant Backlinks

Building backlinks is tricky, and it doesn’t help to stress about it too much. However, reaching out to local affiliates, faculty who may have websites, and other schools for links can give you a head start in your SEO strategy. Google doesn’t expect a newer website to have backlinks, but the sooner you can start building them, the better.

Without a doubt, the best way to build backlinks is organically. This means building high-quality content on a high-quality website and giving other websites a reason to link to you. Assuming you have a “.edu” website, you already have the legitimacy many website owners need, so just follow it up with quality content.

Use Local Listings

Local directories, college listings, and online program directories can help your SEO strategy, but they won’t count as backlinks. Still, social media, Google Business Profiles, Google Maps, and other listings will help confirm to Google that you are who you say you are.  Just remember to keep your information 100% uniform across all platforms!

Measure and Adjust

Using your favorite online analytics tools like Google Analytics, you can measure some of the key performance indicators (KPIs) necessary to improve your strategy. There is no such thing as a perfect SEO strategy, so there is always a need for improvement.

While every strategy is different, some of the most important metrics include:

  • Engagement rates
  • Bounce rates
  • Click-through rates (CTR)
  • Conversion rates
  • Return on investment (ROI)

There are plenty more to worry about, but these are the most critical, especially early on in your strategy. Remember that until you’re at the top of every keyword on your list, there is always room for improvement!

Get Professional Help

SEO takes time to improve, and there is a lot of trial and error with a first-time DIY strategy. For this reason, if you want to build a proper local SEO strategy as soon as possible, then hiring professional local SEO services is the best way.

With the right help, you can have your website audited and optimized and your entire SEO strategy managed for as long as you need. These services can include:

  • Online reputation management
  • Web design and maintenance
  • Link-building strategy
  • Keyword research
  • Data tracking and analysis
  • Detailed SEO reports

The list goes on. With the right help, you could see a major difference in just a few short months without any guesswork. This will offer the fastest and longest-lasting results on average, so spare no expense!

Build Your Local Ranking Today

Now that you know how to improve SEO and local ranking for colleges put these tips to use today. The sooner you do, the sooner you can enjoy the long-lasting benefits of a proper SEO strategy. It takes time to build, but the benefits can last for years to come.

Stay up to date with our latest marketing tips for your university, and don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions or for help with your strategy!

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