5 SEO for Higher Education Tips to Boost Your Traffic

Organic search is the number one driver of traffic to higher education websites, and with over 4,000 colleges and universities in the US for prospective students to explore, an SEO strategy isn’t something your institution can afford to ignore. 

New to SEO for higher education? While it can seem overwhelming at first, a few steps will go a long way to ensure that your higher education website is optimized and ranking for your prospective students’ search queries. 

Let’s get started! Here are 5 practical SEO for higher education tips that you can implement today to boost your education marketing efforts.

But first… what is SEO for higher education, and why is it important?

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According to Moz, “SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, which is the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results.”

Our research has indicated that your prospective students are researching your school between six months and two years in advance. That’s a lot of search queries! SEO for higher education is the practice of implementing a number of SEO best practices so your website comes up in your prospective students’ relevant search queries. 

Here are five practical tips you can implement today to improve your higher education website’s SEO and drive more traffic. 

1. Start off with a technical site analysis and audit

The least exciting, but perhaps the most important first step of improving your higher education website is taking a peek at your technical SEO. Doing this is a bit like looking under the hood of your car — you’re looking to make sure that everything is connected and configured the way it should be. If anything is broken or misaligned, the car won’t run correctly (or at all) — and the same is true for your website. 

In completing a technical analysis, you’re looking for technical errors that negatively affect your site’s ability to rank in search results for relevant search terms. If your site is full of technical errors, it could not function properly, get penalized, and won’t appear at the top of search results — even if it should. 

Here are a few things you’re looking for in your technical site audit: 

  • 404 error pages
  • Pages with low word count
  • Missing, duplicate, and length meta titles and descriptions
  • Pages with duplicate content
  • Broken internal links
  • Images with missing titles and alt text
  • Page speed

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2. Create a master list of keywords your institution should rank for

Your goal here is to do keyword research to create a master list of every keyword that people might use to search for your school, as well as related keywords that could help drive relevant traffic to your site. This includes keywords that contain your locations, keywords related to the programs you offer, and keywords that describe what you do. 

Your goal is to use 5-10 relevant keywords on each page of your website, and you’ll want each of these terms to be specific enough that your site will rank, and to have enough search volume that the terms will drive traffic to your site. For example, UCSB’s “Graduate Schools and Programs” page might rank for: 

  • “UCSB graduate programs”
  • “UCSB masters programs”
  • “Top grad schools in California”
  • “Business school master degree”
  • “Doctoral programs in California”
  • “Marketing masters programs in California”
  • “Top nutrition schools in California”
  • And… 246 more. 

What search terms are relevant to each of your website pages? Each page of your website is an opportunity to attract prospective students looking for the information each of those pages holds. Start making that master list!

3. Figure out what questions your prospective students are asking — and how you can answer them

People are using increasingly natural language when using search engines, especially with the rise of voice search, and search engine algorithms are adapting to meet this functionality. That means that people are increasingly phrasing their searches like questions, and search engines are prioritizing the kind of content that straightforwardly answers those questions. That means that part of your strategy should be to optimize for voice search by answering commonly asked questions effectively.

So what kind of questions are your students asking? Get together with your team and put together an FAQ that addresses all the questions your prospective students might be asking. You can look to forums like Quora, Reddit, and Twitter for ideas. 

Then, work on creating content that answers those questions. Match the questions to each of your site’s pages, optimize each page to thoroughly answer those questions, and capture the organic search traffic.

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4. Use Google trends to understand search terms by timeframes and locations

It’s important to understand which keywords will drive traffic to your site and when — and this is especially relevant for higher education, as your keywords experience a high degree of seasonality.

You can use Google Trends to help you gather useful data about what your prospective students are searching for, when, and from what parts of the country. Google Trends will also help you identify “Breakout” keywords — keywords that are experiencing over a 5,000% increase in search volume.

5. Gain insights from your competitors

Finally, competitive research is a key element to any successful SEO for higher education strategy. Your competitors may be ranking for keywords that you should be ranking for, and analyzing their keyword strategy will help you improve your own. 

You can use tools like SEMRush, Moz, UberSuggest, or Ahrefs to get a comprehensive list of the keywords your competitors are ranking for, how much traffic they’re driving to their site, and what strategies you can implement yourself. Make sure that when your prospective students search for “best law school” or “where to get your mba online”, that your school’s website is showing up in the SERPs! 

Keeping up with your SEO strategy

As you know, SEO can feel like a moving target — Google allegedly makes an average of 9 updates to its search algorithm daily. That’s a lot of changes! 

But don’t worry — you don’t need to become an expert overnight. These simple tips will help you get started, and you’ll see your SEO for higher education efforts begin to pay off. 

Christina OToole

Christina is a data-driven, full stack marketer with over 20 years success leading marketing in higher education, tech and publishing industries. She lead enrollment marketing programs for the both the University of California, Santa Barbara and UC San Diego continuing education divisions. Christina has developed hundreds of marketing campaigns and built all facets of programs including lifecycle journeys, creative direction and lead generation.