- Higher Education
- Independent Schools
- International Schools
Are you a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) wizard? If so, you may have tuned in at the start of the year when Red Abbott, Manager of Consulting Services at Finalsite, presented a webinar on 2019 SEO trends. If not, let me catch you up, as we are already four months into the last year of this decade!
This post highlights three key SEO trends for schools:
- voice search
- featured snippets
- search ads
As well as three SEO topics that aren’t as new but still relevant for independent school marketers in 2019:
- local business SEO
- online school directories
- branded search performance
Let’s dive in!
Trend #1: Voice search is becoming more prominent.
How many of us ask Alexa or Google to set a timer, bring up a recipe, or settle a debate with a friend over a certain fact? I know I do. My family talks to our Google Home so much I’m surprised it didn’t make it into the Christmas card last year.
“Hey Google, how much is Harvard school tuition?”
Whether we like it or not, voice search is here to stay, and it’s only going to get more relevant to school marketers. In the broader search engine industry, voice search has proved challenging for marketers to navigate—with so much information to choose from, where does Alexa find an answer for complex questions? It’s easy to provide the founding date for a school, but tuition? That’s an answer that lasts several sentences and takes more sources to cultivate. If you ask your device the above question, you’ll get a jumbled up answer that doesn’t quite answer the question.
The point is, these devices are still trying to answer, even if they don’t know for sure.
During the webinar, Red asks Alexa the Harvard tuition question. She doesn’t respond with “Sorry I’m having trouble understanding you right now.” Her answer, albeit wrong, shows that this question is not outside the realm of possibility for independent school prospects to ask.
It may not be a relevant goal for our schools yet, but it could be soon. Finalsite is keeping an eye on this development to see how it affects the higher ed industry, as these effects will inevitably trickle down to independent schools.
Catch up on 2019 SEO strategies in our on-demand webinar: Top SEO Trends for Schools - What to Watch for in 2019
Trend #2: Featured snippets are an essential part of the search experience.
That box at the top of the Google search page, featuring a “snippet” of the content from a particular URL, is Google’s way of answering the question it thinks your search is based on, and drawing your attention to what its algorithms think is the most relevant site.
Featured snippets are closely tied to voice-activated responses.
If you’ve been wondering where Alexa is getting the information for those complex questions, take a look at the featured snippets for a typed version of the search. The same algorithms used to pull together answers for featured snippets are used for voice answers, which means understanding and mastering SEO concepts is just as important as ever.
Featured snippets lead to higher click-through-rates.
According to Google, featured snippets not only enhance the mobile and voice search user experience, they have also been proven to drive traffic to the sites they feature. It’s a no brainer... you should want to increase your chances of becoming one!
The trouble is, like any organic search optimization effort, there is ample competition from third-party websites with larger link profiles. It's mostly Wikipedia and directory content that feeds tuition snippets — meaning you might have zero to little control over the snippet content being aggregated.
The featured snippet for the search entry “sidwell friends school tuition” is pulled from Wikipedia:
The featured snippet for the search entry “the woods academy tuition” is pulled from a private school directory.
Finalsite has a team of experienced SEO consultants who can help you get on that coveted first page of Google. In late 2017, a special-education boarding school called The Gow School, started SEO consulting with our team. A quick search for “gow school tuition” shows how well their site now dominates the first page:
Trend #3: Search ads are indispensable.
It may not seem like a new trend to you, but search ads are just as necessary in 2019 as they’ve ever been. “We really don’t see a market in which search ads are out of the question,” says Red.
Ads bridge the gap between what people search and what you offer.
Many independent schools use industry terms on their websites that may not match the words prospective parents are searching for. For example, if you offer an “early childhood education” program for pre-kindergarten, it may not show up for parents searching “preschool” or even “daycare.”
Don’t want to use the word “daycare” on your site? We get it. You offer more than a babysitting service. But you may be missing out on prospects who don’t know what to search for.
Try this: write an ad for keywords that Google would never otherwise give you. For example, write an ad and bid for “daycare” and make it clear in the copy that what you offer is a daycare alternative: “Want something even more fulfilling than daycare for your toddler?”
Do more than your basic search ad.
Search ads in 2019 are found everywhere on Google — including Google Maps. The Agnes Irwin School is a private school in Philadelphia with an ad that allows it to compete well for a spot in this local search:
Note that when the “rating” filter is shown, Google hides the top school’s 1.0 rating and still keeps the ad as the top result:
So even though its important for independent schools to maintain online reviews for organic search, those who pay for search ads will always have an advantage over those who don’t.
3 search engine optimization topics that are still just as relevant in 2019
#1: Schools should think like local businesses to improve SEO.
When parents type in “best private schools” or “best catholic high school,” Google uses the IP address to show results relative to the searcher’s location. It will show results that fit both the category and the location:
- Make sure your Google My Business listing is claimed, verified and accurate. Also check the category. If incorrect, it may not show up in a search result for that category.
- Reviews, Reviews, Reviews. Users can filter out results with low reviews, so even people who do not typically visit review sites will be potentially swayed by poor reviews.
The Taft School, a private boarding school in Connecticut with an award-winning website redesign, has the correct category listed, a verified location, and a well-maintained review score, making it the only result in this filtered Google Maps search:
For more practical tips for about registering as a local business, check out this blog on why schools need to think more like local businesses for their SEO efforts.
#2: Online school directories are powerful influencers.
Directories make up a large part of unbranded search, and as previously mentioned, they are often the links featured in snippets and thus used by voice-activated devices. Keep tabs on your ratings in directories and make sure the content is relevant and accurate. Don’t underestimate the influence of Niche.com, Private School Review, or even real estate directories like Zillow!
The above Zillow page came up 4th in organic search results for “best schools in albuquerque.”
#3: Branded search performance matters.
Doing well in branded search used to mean being the number one result. Not anymore. If someone searches your school by name, your website should be at the top. That’s a given.
What about the rest of the page? In 2019, a solid SEO strategy for branded search should include everything from managing the links at the bottom of page one to updating the business information in the knowledge panel located to the right of the page.
- Replace Wikipedia content. Google now lets you add your own blurb to the knowledge panel. See the below example from a Austin Preparatory School, a Catholic school in Massachusetts:
- Optimize your social profiles for spots in SERP.
- Contribute photos to the Google Maps repertoire to compete with the lesser-quality photos that random people may have added.
The old and new trends all point to the same thing—SEO is about managing both your own content and the content others are posting on Google about you. In order to keep up with Google, you must be managing your reviews, updating directories, and investing in search ads. If you need help, try asking Alexa. She’ll know the answers soon enough.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Leah is a marketing enthusiast with a background in visual journalism. She’s passionate about global communication, handwritten notes, and sole travel. When she’s not exploring new places, she’s either blogging, doodling, or dreaming about it.