If you’ve launched a website recently (or at least, you have a website you want to show off…) ask yourself: how are users going to find it?
Digital marketing strategies are a *bit* more complicated than that, and a redesigned website alone is not going to get you to where you want to be. A website combined with a powerful search engine strategy will help make a great impression AND help you climb your way to the top of search engine rankings.
There are two main elements to every school's search engine strategy, and depending on your school's goals, you may want to invest in one or both: a healthy mix of digital ads and a smart search optimization strategy.
But within those main components are even more ways to be found when it matters most. Let's investigate ways to improve your school's search ranking.
1. Invest in Google Ads
Google Ads, which is a pay-per-click (PPC) online advertising solution, are used to promote products or services, mostly through Google search. The goal should be to get your school in front of more prospective families — at the right time.
That provides great opportunities for your school’s website to get in front of users who you want to make an impression on. These ads are the first thing that users see after they type in a search, even above the number one rank organic result.
Some common reasons your school might invest in Google Ads are that they want to increase admissions, boost brand awareness, improve brand image, or get in front of competitors. But above all, Google Ads gives you the chance to become visible to the users who search more general terms like “private schools near me,” while also being able to choose the keywords that you want your site to rank for.
In the example above, Montgomery School created an ad that puts it at the top of local search results — it's all about driving traffic and finding high search volume. Unlike organic search, you can pay to get to the top of the search results page, and this could be a great option for your school because you get to control your budget and how you want to communicate your school's message through the ad copy you create.
2. On-page search engine optimization
On-page search engine optimization (SEO), is the practice of optimizing individual web pages in order to rank higher and gain more relevant traffic from search engines.
Google only knows what you tell it. The goal of on-page SEO is to speak Google's language and make sure that your pages rank high in the organic search results. Ultimately, SEO comes down to deploying different tactics — or optimizations — to help searchers understand who you are, who you serve, and where you are.
Making sure your pages have enough quality content
A good website design can definitely increase user engagement with your site, but the content that fills the design is just as important, and it’s ultimately what will sell your school. A general rule of thumb is that if your page doesn't have at least 500 words on it, then it should have more content.
You might be thinking, “but wait, haven’t you always told me, ‘less is more’ when it comes to text on a page?” Yes … but there’s a “sweet spot” when it comes to the amount of relevant text on a page.
Google is smart enough to know that pages with less than a certain amount of content could be a waste of time. Search engines are thinking that if you have a very little amount of content on a page, it's really not enough. Google essentially wonders, “Where’s the beef?” If you don't put enough content on this page, it doesn't really know what it's about and figures there's probably another page out there that’s better.
So make your content count — Google's looking for quality content to understand your page. Make sure the landing pages you’re using are relevant to your school and that you have supporting content.
- What's the audience you want to target?
- What does your audience care about?
- What are you trying to satisfy?
Honesty is essential, so never try to be misleading. Google is working hard to behave like a human in how they rank websites. Optimize, but, think about user experience. You never want to compromise user experience just to check off some SEO box that somebody told you about.
Consider this: Google search is free. The organic results on page one are there, not because somebody paid Google, but because Google thinks it's a good result for the searcher.
3. Custom title tags and meta descriptions
Title tags are an HTML element that specifies the title of a webpage, while meta descriptions provide a brief summary of a webpage. Both are important for helping Google understand what the page is about and to create a positive user experience.
To pick on Montgomery School again, they’ve also strategically incorporated keywords into their metadata within the page title and descriptions. That brings them higher in the organic search results, and when pairing that with their paid ad above, they’re on page one, twice — nicely done!
4. Alt text
The last optimization strategy is to add image alt text, which is used to describe the appearance of an image on the page. It helps tell Google what it’s looking at, and it’s a principle of web accessibility for visually impaired individuals using screen readers, which is another huge ranking factor.
5. Google business profile
If you’re not currently using a Google Business Profile, it’s time to take advantage of it. Formally known as Google My Business, it's a powerful tool that allows you to update your business information, create posts to promote events, and increase local SEO traffic.
You’ll put some of your most-searched-for information toward the top search results, like your contact information, hours, location, and phone numbers.
Once again, Montgomery School’s local listings help it be found in a competitive landscape. That’s great, but Google likes to give local results, even in wacky situations where locality doesn't seem to be relevant.
Search for “how do I pay for boarding school?” to come up with an example. Of all of the page-one results, one of them was an article written by one of our client's schools about how to afford boarding school.
They're not the only school that has written that article, but the headline of the article is “How to Pay for Boarding School in New Jersey,” which was a very deliberate search engine decision.
That shows you can get in front of a relevant, local audience even when you have globally interesting or nationally interesting information.
Appearing at the top of page one is a goal that can be accomplished in a number of ways. Getting there quickly (and perhaps costly) requires a financial investment that can be successful, but ultimately, investing in smarter, long terms strategies will keep your school at the top for good.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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.