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2 School Search Engine Marketing Questions — Answered!
Red Abbott

You have probably heard us say before that 50% to 60% of your school's website traffic comes from search engines. So, if you're not paying attention to search engine trends, you need to start!

Here are a couple of things that people commonly wonder about how search works:

How do I get into Google’s “carousel”?

School searches are are often influenced by the Google carousel, a list-like display shown at the top of some searches. Here are two examples of the carousel in question. It’s a row of “cards,” each describing a member of the category I’ve just googled.

Search result for "boarding schools in CT":

google search result for "boarding schools in CT" showing a google carousel

Search result for "colleges in Boston":

search results for "Colleges in boston" showing a carousel

There’s no practical limit to the number of cards in the carousel, and it’s horizontally scrollable both on computers and touch-screen devices. Tapping on a card in the above carousel doesn’t do what I’d hope, which is to take me to Boston University’s website. Instead, it executes a search on the university's name, while leaving the carousel atop the page:

boston university search result

Now, before we address the question (spoiler alert: there’s no one answer!), I should point out that many K-12 private school category searches don’t trigger a carousel:

search result for private schools in wilmington nc show google maps result

Or, Google isn’t super-confident in its ability to build an accurate carousel, so they pass the buck to an acknowledged source like niche.com:

search result for private schools in st louis show results from niche.com

With higher education searches, however, Google really likes the carousel. Try a search for "universities in [your city]" and you're bound to see the carousel staring back at you:

google carousel result for "universities in nashville"

Since Google's search methods for K-12 schools tend to follow after higher education, I expect the carousel to be the standard for all K-12 school categories in the next 3-5 years.  

So. Where exactly do you click to insert yourself into the carousels you belong in?

1.) Add your school to category pages in Wikipedia.

Well, it’s not that simple. There’s no set process, and that’s partly because Google hasn’t committed to one method for sourcing these lists. Sometimes we see a one-to-one match between a carousel and a Wikipedia Category page like Category:Boarding schools in Massachusetts. But when Wikipedia is the sole source, we see an indication of that in the category name that appears above the carousel. Since that’s not indicated in the case of a result for [boarding schools in massachusetts], I know that there’s a more complicated set of factors at play. But you definitely want to be aware of those category pages and get listed where you should be.

2.) Update your "Google My Business."

Another really important thing to manage is your categorization on Google My Business. A look at a Google Maps search for the same phrase [boarding schools in massachusetts] shows us that the top results are all in the boarding school business category:

search results for "boarding schools in Mass" showing up in Google maps

Many schools are not categorized in a way that benefits them in the most important searches, so there’s low-hanging fruit in Google My Business listing management for sure.

If you can’t crack the carousel after tackling these two things, let me know - I’m always looking for ways to get on Google’s radar when the mainstream tactics don’t work.

How do we control the content in the Google Knowledge Panel?

Even if you don’t know what the Knowledge Panel is, you’ve probably asked some form of this question. Whenever someone googles your school by name and Google is very certain you’re the one they’re looking for (let’s face it, there are a lot of Notre Dames out there), that box of info that show up along the right-hand side of the results page is called the Knowledge Panel. See here:

This panel of info provides people a lot of stuff about you before they even get to the website you own and control. What to do?!

Here again, Google My Business is your best friend—a robust and actively-managed profile in Google My Business can really help you influence the nature and content of what Google shows in the Knowledge Panel. Note, also, that online reviews are prominent, so we recommend paying attention to online review in a way that’s only really mattered in the last few years.

You should also keep an eye out for features that are rolled out occasionally. Right now I can see in the Canterbury Knowledge Panel an item that reads “Know this place? Answer quick questions” that links to an interface like this:

knowledge panel question box example for Canterbury School

Obviously it’s good to know what kind of influence Google is giving to the general public with features like this. Oh, and while we’re talking about image selection, let’s get this out of the way: I have no idea what Google is thinking with their process for selecting the image that “headlines” the Knowledge Panel—several months ago, all the school crests and logos disappeared and were replaced—largely by exterior campus shots. It looks to me like Google decided at the higher ed level that people want a look at the campus and has rolled that out to K-12 categories as well.

So that’s my take on a couple of common school search issues - I’d love to talk more if search engine success is a priority of yours!


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Red Abbott

Red leads our team of experts who have your back when it comes to organic online searches and ads. With a long history in independent schools — as an alum, former teacher, dorm parent, coach, and now a current parent — his passion for helping you is rooted deep in his own experiences. Alongside his degree in engineering and a master's in school leadership, it's easy to see why clients say Red "gets them" when they discuss marketing strategy!

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