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SEO or PPC: What's Right for Our School? [Webinar Recap]
Stephanie Griffin

As part of our Search Engine Marketing Webinar Series this month, Carl Kreger, SEO/PPC Consultant and Project Manager for our Consulting Services Team, led the webinar SEO or PPC? What's Right for our School? This webinar helped answer common questions many schools have regarding SEO and PPC including:

  • What is SEO and PPC by definition?
  • What are the benefits of using SEO and PPC?
  • What are the best times to implement a PPC Campaign?
  • How can I choose whether an SEO or PPC campaign can benefit my school?
  • How have Finalsite schools made the choice and improved their performance in search over the short and long term?

SEO/PPC Webinar Recap Hero Image

Because 83% of search query paths (aka, a simple google search) begins with an unbranded term, having a Page 1 presence is important — and there's two ways to get there: Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Pay-Per-Click Ads (PPC). You can use one or the other, or for the best results, a strategic combination of the two.

Now, let's dive into a recap of the webinar to answers these questions and share new examples that can help you determine which is right for your school.

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Tip 1: Understand the Tools of the Trade

It's essential to understand what SEO, PPC, and certain ads mean by definition, examples of how they are displayed, and what each of their own benefits are.

Search Engine Optimization

Organic SEO is defined as the efforts to increase traffic from "organic" or traditional, non-paid space on search engine result pages. In other words, these are the results Google will show a user from an organic perspective based on the keywords they search, and includes search results not associated as an AD.

There are three main parts behind SEO that are important to remember:

  1. There is no playbook, meaning, we can't say if you follow steps A, B, C, that it will lead to certain results. With Google always changing it's algorithm, it's important to consider SEO as an ever changing landscape.
  2. With this change, the tools you may have used when you redesigned your school website two or three years ago may not apply anymore, so you need to stay up-to-date with the changes in Google (or have someone stay on top of these for you).
  3. These results are at no-cost to you other than the work that goes into ensuring your website stays up-to-date with SEO standards.

There are two kinds of searches shared in the webinar that are both important to schools: unbranded and branded. First, an example of an organic unbranded search is "all boys schools in CT."

All Boys School in CT Google Search

A new feature to highlight here is the Carousel Feature at the top of the first page. This shows various schools with their logos or photos that is organically driven; meaning, you cannot pay Google to show up in this space.

However, it is important to note Google isn't perfect (granted it's a machine and not a person trying to share the best results with you based on what you're searching for). So in this case, Choate Rosemary Hall isn't just an all boys school — it's in fact co-ed, so some of the schools in the carousel may be skewed.

If you scroll down even further on the page, it's also very common for search results to be directories instead of schools themselves. The schools you find here, such as Avon Old Farms and Xavier High School, have successfully reached the place that every school wants: that page 1 ranking with eye-grabbing title tags and an engaging snippet of content:

All Boys Schools in CT Google Search Cont'd

The other important type of search that schools should start paying more attention to are branded searches. An example of this is with a school name itself, such as Brooks School.

Brooks School Google Search

There are three key aspects of a branded search to consider:

1) Google's Knowledge Panel on the right side if you're searching on a desktop or the top of your search results on a mobile device. Information that typically will show up in this area includes the school's logo, map point, and content driven by Wikipedia (also known as off-site SEO). With the Wikipedia information specifically, it is important to assure you are providing factual information on your school's Wikipedia page that may be proven. Some additional information you see here includes the school's address, phone number, and mission or motto.

Brooks School Knowledge Panel on Google

2) Sitelinks to important pages on your school website, such as Admission, Teams & Schedules, and Tuition and Aid. There isn't a way to force Google to show specific pages, but you're able to manipulate the pages SEO from your website including Title Tags, Meta Descriptions, and On-Site Copy on these pages to help Google determine which pages should be pulled in for this section. These sitelinks are commonly known as "mud rooms" meaning they are used as a way to skip visiting your homepage on your school site. You will want the most important or popular pages on your site to come up in this section.

Brooks School Sitelinks on Google

3) Google's knowledge graph that provides quick answers and additional information when people search for your school. Some features pulled into the knowledge graph include reviews and social media profiles. This will easily help individuals get a bigger picture of what your school can offer and your overall online presence. You will also see sometimes the page 1 search results will also pull in social media links directly.

Brooks School Reviews on Google

For Brooks School, their Facebook and Twitter pages both come up in search results:

Brooks School Social Media Links on Google Search

Finally, as part of Google's knowledge graph, it will offer "searches related" to bring you to the results that best fit your search in case you didn't find what you were looking for on the first page, because most of the time, visitors will not turn to the 2nd page of Google:

Brooks School Related Searches on Google

Pay-Per-Click Search Ads

Pay-per-click text ads in search results are texts ads shown to people based on what is most important to them as it relates to what they are searching for. These ads are created in Google's platform, Google Adwords, based on your school bidding (paying for) on a term to Google so your school will show up when people search for that specific term. It's also important to note that these results do not have any images or videos associated with the ads.

The three benefits of PPC Search Ads include:

1) A clear path to visibility, meaning this is the perfect way to get in front of users as they are searching for specific terms that apply to your school. It also helps for your school to show up in unbranded searches.

2) Constant innovations in Google AdWords software, for example, more recently they are moving to more mobile friendly views on search pages, provide more sitelinks in these ads, and the character limits have increased to display more content.

3) Pay as you go philosophy, so you can pay for these campaigns during any time of the year or when you want the most traffic i.e. admission season or spring time to help launch summer camp registrations.

The way these PPC search ads are displayed now look different than what we're traditionally used to. For example, this is the old version of what these ads looked like when searching "private schools in boston":

Private Schools in Boston Google Search

Now, PPC search ads will show up right under the carousel of schools. When you go to create a PPC search ad, you can create a custom title, provide Google with sitelinks from your site based on their algorithm, what people are clicking (or not clicking on), what's popular, etc. You can control how many sitelinks are provided to Google to include in the ad but again, you're unable to control what sitelinks are selected.

Private Schools in Boston Carousel Google

Another important aspect to note is with all PPC ads, you should be testing as much as possible in the backend of Google AdWords. You should be tracking clicks and switching out content every now and then to have the best results and highest ROI.

Pay-Per-Click Display Ads

Pay-per-click image ads in search results are shown to people visiting websites that rent space to ad distributors like Google Adwords; meaning images of your school or from your website may appear on other pages if a user visited your website without taking action, like filling out a form. This is also common with shopping activity. If you do not purchase a pair of shoes you were viewing, for example, you may see the same product and similar product in images on other pages as sites will rent out space on their website for display ads.

Display Ads Example

The three benefits of PPC Display Ads include:

1) Strong visual elements can help showcase your school's digital story. We recommend using photos that incorporating the individuals behind the school, whether it's photos capturing students interacting with faculty, school activities, or sports.

2) Provide an opportunity for visitors to go back to your site for the second/third time with retargeting and remarketing using tools like Google AdWords. For example, if someone goes to your Admissions page, you're able to follow them throughout the rest of their online experience and retarget them with ads back to the Admissions page on your site. You're also able to control how many and how often these display ads are shown to specific users so you don't overwhelm them.

3) As another kind of Pay-Per-Click campaign, this also involves the pay as you go philosophy, so you can pay for these campaigns during any time of the year or when you want the most traffic i.e. admission season or spring time to help launch summer camp registrations.

Social Ads

Social media ads are woven as seamlessly as possible into the organic content produced by the people and pages you follow on social media. These are created and built directly on social media platforms and can help your school get in front of constituents on a platform they are most likely using on a daily basis while it is difficult to get in front of them elsewhere.

The three benefits of Social Ads include:

1) Strong visual element, including photos, videos with close captioning options so individuals don't need sound to understand the video, and scrollable images.

2) Increasingly diverse features, including carousel images.

3) Powerful targeting, based on those who may like your school's page or follow your school's profile, their friends/connections, etc.

On Facebook, these ads will show up as "Sponsored."

Facebook Sponsored Post Examples

These ads will look like regular posts in someone's news feed as it includes interactions. There are also call-to-actions like "sign up" or "shop now" that will direct a person to a specific link on your website. Furthermore, there is a trust factor that is linked to the ad that shows which of your friends like the page as well, to encourage you to like and follow the page.

On Instagram, there are three different kinds of ads:

Instagram Ad Examples

The first is a regular photo ad, with one image. The second is a video ad (and you can tell it's a video ad because of the speaker icon on the bottom left corner) that will automatically play. The third is a carousel ad with multiple images. All of these ads also look like regular posts as they show interactions in terms of number of likes and views, and include a call-to-action "learn more."

On Twitter, these ads will show up as "Promoted."

Twitter Promoted Post Examples

These will be based on the audience you're already following. For example, many independent schools may see content from NAIS, whether they follow the account or not, because according to Twitter, it is a relevant account to any independent school.

Tip 2: Know How To Use SEO/PPC At The Right Time

So after breaking down the four main components to SEO and PPC, how do you determine the right time to use both?

The No-Brainers

First, it is crucial to write home page tags in the backend of your website so your content remains SEO friendly in time for individuals to search for terms that apply to your school. Title tags should be no more than 55 characters, and descriptions should be no more than 155 characters.

In Finalsite Composer, this can be easily added to any page in your settings, here:

IHS SEO Settings

It does take Google a few days to reflect any updates you make from your site, so be sure to review the search engine in a couple days to assure the listing is exactly how you want it.

Second, it's important to finally take control of the information being pulled into the knowledge panel. You can edit this via Google My Business here. In case you do not currently own your school's Google My Business page, simply do a branded search with your school's name, go to "Own This Business" and follow the steps to claim the page so you can access and update all necessary information.

Make a decision about search

Some questions you need to consider when making a decision about which search options you should be investing your time in include:

Can you get away with PPC?

In other words, do you have positive feedback from your school's board, Head of School, to use PPC as another avenue to drive traffic back to your site?

Can you afford PPC?

Cost is of course a factor as you have to pay for the bid behind terms you want to show up for.

Are you ambitious in your visibility goals?

You should be considering how important is it to your school to show up based on a specific term or during a specific time of year. What terms do you want your school to be the results for?

Is there an immediate need?

If you have high admission goals, or want to fill up attendees at an upcoming event, you may consider these as immediate needs to do a PPC campaign.

Is your school even making page 1 organically?

You need to see how well your school is performing organically first before anything else. So if you answered NO to questions 1 through 4, you should prioritize SEO before doing any paid efforts.

Building on your choice

Remember, search is king, so you need to weigh your options on what you want to be investing your time most in, whether that's improving your organic search for SEO or paying for a PPC that will drive traffic back to your site and help reach a goal. The added benefits for PPC Display ads include it being a cheaper cost per click when setting up the bids, and can be used with retargeting to keep people in your funnel until they convert. The added plus with Social Ads involves more demographic and social connection targeting and are built around more desired outcomes.

Tip 3: Consider Finalsite's Search Engine Marketing Services

Managing SEO and PPC can be a full-time job, but here at Finalsite, we offer SEO & PPC Services to schools to do this job for you. Our Ad Campaigns by the numbers have reached over 30 million impressions, 240,000 click throughs, and costing on average only $.156 per click.

We also have unlimited resources and blogs related to search engine marketing that many schools find useful. You can even read client success stories on how other schools like Riverside Presbyterian Day School and Bancroft School took control of their search performance and ad campaigns.

Social Engine Marketing Services


Stephanie Griffin

Stephanie brings a fresh new marketing perspective with her background in social media, communications, and radio broadcasting. She is a co-producer for the FinalsiteFM podcast network and is passionate about helping schools stay ahead of their marketing goals by tracking new trends and developments. She is also a practicing singer/songwriter and loves to expand her creativity in DIY projects.



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