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How to Become Your School's SEO Expert (7 Steps)
Connor Gleason

Nowadays, first impressions don’t come from a handshake or a campus tour but from a Google search.

Just as your school's aesthetics, curriculum, and community vibe can influence a family's decision to enroll, your school's online presence can make or break its reputation before a prospective student even sets foot on campus.

Since over 90% of online experiences begin with a search engine, ensuring your school appears at the top of search results is crucial for making a powerful, positive impression that resonates with potential students and parents. 

So when your school needs to rank for the terms that matter, who will they look to lead them to the top of searches?


With the right content and technical know-how, a strong search engine optimization (SEO) strategy is as much of a science as an art. SEO is a lot like a library, so let's head into the stacks and “check out” how SEO works for private schools. Here's how you can become your school's SEO expert:

Step 1. Understand How Search Engines Crawl a Website and Index Content

Think of the Internet as an enormous library. For users to find the “book” they're searching for, search engines like Google act as helpful librarians. They explore every nook and cranny, ensuring every book is cataloged or “crawled.”

When we talk about crawling, we're referring to the process by which search engines dispatch little digital helpers, known as “spiders,” to find and understand the content. It's similar to a librarian skimming through every book's summary.

Once these spiders gather information, search engines store or index it. Indexing is about organization, and just as a librarian would arrange books by genre and authors, search engines organize websites by topics and relevance.

For example, if your school introduced a new robotics program, you'd want this update easily found by search engines so prospective families can find it during their school search.

SEO in the Age of AI CTA

Step 2. Know What Search Engines Value

Continuing with the library theme, not all books are equally popular. Search engines prioritize those they think are valuable to readers.

Quality is essential! Just as a well-researched, engaging book captures more readers, a high-quality website with relevant content and an organized structure catches the attention of search engines.

Imagine if there were new guidelines for writing books every few months. Similarly, search engine algorithms constantly evolve, deciding how sites are ranked. Last year, there were nine confirmed updates to Google's algorithm, and they just released a core update to address spammy, low-quality content.

If a trend emerges where local schools are being searched with the term "sustainable school initiatives," ensuring this topic is covered can boost your school's visibility.

screenshot of AI in schools from Notre Dame Google Results

Thanks to their blog articles about AI in schools, Notre Dame Prep is raking in organic traffic for one of the day's hottest topics. Well-structured SEO pushes them toward the top of results. Nicely done!

Step 3. Understanding Search Engine Optimization for Private Schools

SEO for private schools and optimizing a website for search engines are like refining a book for publication – different techniques make the content more appealing.

  • On-page SEO focuses on content and structure. Think of it as refining the chapters, ensuring they’re interesting and relatable. For instance, using clear headings and subheadings and integrating keywords like "award-winning arts program" naturally within the pages on your website can boost its visibility on search engine results pages.

Keep Reading: On-Page SEO: 10 Best Practices You Should Know

  • Off-page SEO revolves around building a reputation. A book endorsed by other renowned authors gains more traction. Similarly, when internal links and reputable web pages link to your school's site or share its content on social media, it enhances its credibility and ranking.
  • With technical SEO, it’s about what’s happening behind the scenes. Just as a book needs quality binding and print, a website must load quickly, be mobile-responsive, and meet the latest accessibility standards. For your school, this might mean ensuring your site looks and functions well on mobile, your content meets the WCAG guidelines and is easy to access, and your images have Alt text, among other factors.
sacred heart search results

With Finalsite’s content management system, Composer, you can easily adjust your pages’ meta descriptions, page titles, and more, so you’re in control of what Google does or doesn’t see.

Composer Site Settings

Step 4. Research Your Market

Knowing your audience and what interests them is key. This holds true whether you're writing a book for a broad audience or creating content that will resonate with certain families.

  • Identifying what parents, students, and educators are searching for can guide your content strategy. For example, if your target audience frequently searches for "schools with advanced STEM programs,” highlighting your school's STEM achievements becomes crucial.
  • Being aware of educational hot topics and market trends ensures your content remains relevant. If there's a trending topic, consider blogging about it and share your school's opinions.
  • Observing competitor schools can provide insights. If a neighboring school's site is ranking highly due to its extensive alumni testimonies, consider enhancing your own alumni section.
Google Maps California Private Schools

There are more than three thousand private schools in California, the greatest of any state. With so many options for academic, athletics, and boarding and day programs, families have many options to choose from, so know how to stand out in a crowded market!

Keep Reading: Private School Marketing: Beating the School Down the Street

Step 5. Get Comfortable with Data

Data plays such an important role in the world of SEO. In terms of feedback, it tells you how your “book” is being received. Will it get a good review?

  • Tools like Google Analytics or Google Search Console offer a window into user behavior. For instance, if your school's "about us" page has low engagement, it might need different content, more videos or imagery, or clearer information to keep users on the page longer.
  • Regularly checking the search terms or keywords that direct users to your site can guide future content. If "sports scholarships" are a popular topic, perhaps a detailed page on your school's sports scholarship program would be beneficial.

Step 6. Put it into Practice

Like any skill, the real test of SEO knowledge lies in applying it to your school’s website.

  • Begin with smaller projects, like optimizing your school's blog posts or high-traffic pages, to focus where it counts.
  • Collaborate with staff. For instance, ensuring that the school's site is optimized for local rankings can be a joint effort between your marketing and admissions offices.
  • Monitoring the impact of your strategies offers insights into their effectiveness. If your school's enrollment inquiries increase after an SEO overhaul on your admissions and landing pages, it shows success!

SEO & Digital Advertising Fundamentals for Schools

Step 7. Continue to Learn

SEO is always changing, so don’t get too comfortable. 

  • Subscriptions to SEO news sources can keep you informed of shifts in digital marketing strategies and the latest SEO tips and best practices. (Hint: Subscribing to the Finalsite Blog is a great idea!)
  • Registering for SEO courses ensures you're always learning. How pages are ranked, SEO techniques, and keyword research, especially in nuanced areas like local search listings, always evolve.
  • Don’t hesitate to partner with school SEO experts to gain an advantage in your market, additional training, or more assistance when needed.

Key Takeaway

Invest the time, and soon you can be your school's SEO expert. While SEO might seem complicated, your school's online presence can shine with some practice, ensuring it's not just another book on the shelf but a bestseller everyone wants to read.

SEO in the Age of AI CTA

Connor Gleason Headshot


Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, storytelling, coffee, and creating content that connects.

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