- General Best Practices
Even if I’m being super conservative in my estimate, Google delivers at least a third of your site’s traffic. The good news is that Google’s search nerds are working every day to make sure their algorithm “likes” (read: “rewards with Page 1 placement”) the sites that users like.
There’s another reality here that means many schools have some low-hanging fruit just waiting to be picked: Most people start their school research process (I’m talking about admissions here, but it’s equally true for people searching for a teaching job or a summer camp) looking for schools that fit into one or several categories — such as all-girls school, Catholic school, boarding school, etc.
When you spend so much time worrying about how to stand out, it’s easy to forget to tell people that you are a Catholic all-boys K-8 school in the suburbs of Chicago.
And, forgetting this type of key information can hurt your performance in the searches that matter most to your school. So what can you do about it? Here are two quick easy homepage wins that can improve your performance in search and simplify the school research experience for prospective families.
1. Announce what you are in your search result
The first thing you should do is google your school by name and look at the top item in the traditional left-hand column of results. It should feature your website’s home page and look something like this:
Both have a blue headline in a large font that links to the green URL listed below it. Both have a couple of lines of dark gray text below that. But there are some important differences in what these two businesses are able to tell you in that space.
Because Austin Prep has a helpful description in the <title> tag on its homepage, Google is scraping that content to use in the headline of the search result shown above. Technically, we’re seeing the first 67 characters of “Austin Preparatory School | Private Catholic School in Reading near Boston,” but Austin Prep has done a good job here - Google tweaks results page layouts enough that the character count here isn’t an exact science. Consider that Austin Prep’s local market probably needs the “in Reading” info more than the “near Boston” info as they decide whether or not to click on this result.
Compare this to my hometown pastry shop’s search result headline, “Home » CocoLuxe Fine Pastries.” This, too, is the page’s <title> tag content, but it misses out on a couple of opportunities.
- First, the “Home” concept really isn’t necessary and is a waste of precious characters.
- Second, CocoLuxe also serves coffee, soups, and sandwiches - information that would certainly make their result more “clickable” to someone searching for “cafes in peapack” or similar. Imagine how much more helpful a headline like “CocoLuxe: seasonal desserts, custom cakes, coffee, sandwiches, soups” would be - and it’s only one character longer than the text Google is showing for Austin Prep!
Pro Tip: Limit your title tags to about 70 characters.
Next, consider the two lines of gray text in these results. Google always looks for a meta description tag on a site’s home page to see if it provides a helpful summary of what the site is about. If Google likes what it finds, it uses that text here in the result. If not, it wanders off to find some content on the page itself to display, and that can produce experiences that vary wildly in quality.
Consider the Austin Prep blurb: “Austin Preparatory School is an independent, private Catholic middle and high school. Learn how we cultivate the hearts and minds of our students!” So much detail about the school is here, and it helps someone looking for a school determine some important things about fit - grade range and religious affiliation. This content is pulled directly from the meta description tag on the page:
Pro Tip: The description above is 146 characters; try to keep yours below 155. That’s about where Google likes to truncate, even though it leaves quite a bit of whitespace in Line 2 for most search results.
Meanwhile, CocoLuxe has left their home page without a meta description tag altogether, and as a result, Google is displaying a mixed bag of information, some of which is redundant to the headline (business name) and some of which is just plain useless (“Like us on XYZ social media”).
Any good website management platform will make it easy to edit these things. For schools using Finalsite Composer, your title tag and meta description content can easily be edited in your homepage’s SEO settings:
Looking for more helpful SEO tips? Download our Beginner's SEO worksheet!
2. Announce what you are on your site
Not everyone will get a chance to see your beautiful home page, especially when Google is being so helpful all the time (thanks for nothing, Google). But when they do, you should make it easy for them to know what you are and who you serve, like Austin Prep does in its header:
Or if that’s too in-your-face, put it in your footer like Stevenson School:
Or maybe mix the practical with the impressive like Harrow School does right in the main panel of its home page:
In any event, things like your location, grade range, religious affiliation and gender restrictions are very helpful to people who just want to know what their options are!
Pro tip: Make sure this content is also in plain text so Google can crawl it.
If you’ve read this far waiting to hear something you didn’t already know, sorry! But we do see many schools who would benefit from doing these two things (and I did say it was low-hanging fruit, to be fair…).
Please drop me a line in the comments below to share something else schools should be doing on their homepage to improve user experience or search performance.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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!