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Local SEO: Why Schools Need to Think Like Local Businesses
Mia Major

Red Abbott, Manager of Consulting Services at Finalsite, recently presented the webinar "Local SEO: Why You Need to Think like a Local Business," where he addresses the importance of schools thinking of themselves as a local business when they are performing Search Engine Optimization.

The same principles that apply to many businesses in regards to local SEO also apply to schools. In this post, you will learn what local Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is, why you should care, and the steps you can take to help your school optimize their online presence for local searches.

What is Local SEO?

When users search online to find local schools, Google often shows a variety of search results based on the user's location. Local Search Engine Optimization involves implementing strategies that will help promote your school for local searches. Local SEO incorporates many strategies such as claiming your Google My Business, gaining reviews and building your business listings on directories. As we look at local Search Engine Optimization, we will learn what local intent means, how Google displays local business in maps, local packs and carousels and what citations are.

Local intent

Local intent means that Google is trying to figure out, based on your search term, if it should provide listings of local business or entities. Local intent can be inferred/implicit or explicit. For example, when people search for the term "orthodontist," Google returns search results for orthodontists located near where the user is searching automatically, without the user needing to type in "orthodontists in boston," for example. Google infers that when you search for these terms, you are most likely looking for an orthodontist practitioner near you, which is why Google returns map results. These types of search results are considered inferred local intents.

Orthodontist SERP

This same principle can apply to schools. You'll notice when you search for private high schools, you will get local listings as well. Although you may not say you want a school in New Jersey, if you are searching in New Jersey, Google will infer you want to find a school near you where you can send your child.

Private High Schools

On the other hand, explicit searches are when users search for terms such as "private school in nj." Users are explicitly telling Google that they want to see results for schools located in New Jersey. This will bring up the maps, local pack and carousel views — which we dive into next.

Maps, Local Pack & Carousels

Because schools are a physical location with a specific address, Google recognizes them as such and returns listings in map results. The local pack is one way Google displays business locations by listing typically 3 locations.

Local Pack

However, we have noticed that for independent, international and public school searches, the local pack is starting to be replaced by carousels. A carousel is a horizontal list of schools that are displayed in cards. With the carousel, you can swipe to look at more school results.

Google Carousel

When Google doesn't want to show maps anymore for a set of local entities, but the carousel isn't full enough to run cards off the page, they will place the cards in a grid. Grids incorporate the same concept as a full carousel but are just organized differently to accommodate for fewer results. Typically, if you have a more specific search or are in a smaller geographic area, you may be more likely to see the mini-carousel grids.

Google Grid


Citations are mentions of your school around the web that name you by your official name and list your address and phone number. As Google sees your name, address and phone number (NAP score) listed in multiple places; they recognize you are a legit business. You should have a breath of citations on quality sources and make sure your name, address and phone number are consistent across all citations.

Why Should Schools Care?

Search traffic accounts for 50-60% of your website's traffic. Also, 80% of that traffic comes from Google,and a large majority of this traffic comes from branded search. For example, when users search for "your school name + calendar" or "your school name + enrollment."

Most likely, you care more about the unbranded searches where individuals are looking for schools like yours. Since we have seen the prevalence of local search results when users search for these unbranded terms, it is important for your school to take steps to optimize your website to appear in the local packs or carousels for these unbranded searches.

If you're a beginner to SEO in general, get your copy of this free SEO worksheet

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What Can You Do About Your School's Local Search Performance?

The following provides a list of steps you can take to optimize your school for local searches.

1. Google My Business

You should claim, verify and actively manage your Google My Business (GMB). The way you optimize your Google My Business listing can affect how your school is categorized in carousels and how you appear on map results.

The walker school knowledge panel is an excellent example of a school that has optimized their GMB listing. The information that appears in their knowledge panel is a result of how they managed their GMB listing and the information they added to GMB.

The Walker School Google Search

An additional feature that schools can use in their GMB listings is something called posts. This feature is available to edit within GMB. Hillman Center for Performing Arts has used posts to promote events. This feature is completely free and can help you promote information about your school.

Hillman Center for Performing Arts Google Search

2. Get in the Citation Business

Any time your school is mentioned online, make sure you get the school listed with your proper name, address and phone number. Many press releases contain information in the bottom footer where you may be able to include your proper name, address and phone number.

3. Be Mobile-Friendly

Local searches are conducted by people who want in the moment locations for the nearest business location like a pizza shop or clothing store. Education may not necessarily be an in the moment decision since it is a large investment that parents will consider. However, mobile-friendliness will still impact your business because it is an important part of the local ranking factors Google considers.

4. Clean up Your Directory Presence

Your school is most likely referenced on a variety of directories and lists. We often find inconsistencies in these directories online. Your name, address and phone number should be listed them same throughout the internet. Taking steps to clean up these inaccuracies will help your business rank better for local searches

5. Pay Attention to Reviews

Local Pack results return gold star ratings. In addition to ratings in the local pack, ratings can appear on ads, traditional search results and within the knowledge graph. Make sure you are paying attention to your online reviews and ratings to know where you compare to others.

Google Reviews

6. Talk About Your Local Area in Your Content

When users search for terms like "mma gym chester nj," business results that have a Chester, NJ address are given the advantage to appear in the map results. You'll notice below for the search of "mma gym chester nj," two locations are from Chester, NJ and the final result is for Dover, NJ.


If you're located in a surrounding area and would like to appear in the map results for cities near your business, you can optimize the content on your website to give the search engines signals. You can talk about your own town and surrounding cities or towns within news items on your site. As you discuss neighboring towns, you will signal to Google that you are relevant to surrounding areas.

As you optimize your content, remember that your content should be optimized for users first and nothing unnatural should be done to rank locally.

Start Using Local SEO Today

Local SEO is an important element in optimizing your website to appear for local searches. With proper local SEO tactics, you can build your school's online presence for local searches.

Are you ready to start doing local SEO to improve your local presence? Contact us to get started!

Local SEO: Why Schools Need to Think Like Local Businesses


Mia Major

As Finalsite's Content Marketing Manager, and Marketing Manager for Public Schools, Mia creates content that is helpful to public schools and districts. As a former TV and news reporter, freelance cinematographer and certified inbound marketer, Mia specializes in helping schools find new ways to share their stories online through web design, social media, copywriting, photography and videography. She is the author of numerous blogs, and Finalsite's popular eBook, The Website Redesign Playbook.

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