A beautifully designed school website will only go so far if you’re not showing up in search results. And since more than 90 percent of online experiences begin with a search engine and more than half of clicks go to the top three results, a strong SEO strategy is critical.
Search engine optimization (SEO) for schools is the process of writing, organizing, and structuring the content and settings of your school's content to rank in the top positions of search results for the phrases, keywords, and pain points that are top of mind for users.
While SEO is often the most effective and affordable way to help your school website reach the top and stay there, it doesn’t happen overnight — it takes practice and patience.
Climbing your way to the top of the search engine results page can be made easier with small, but impactful edits you can start right now. If you’re looking to improve your organic rankings in 2023, here are 23 search engine optimization tips to boost your school’s marketing and online presence, especially when it comes to:
A short, descriptive URL can help search engines understand your page better and give you a more user-friendly, easy-to-remember appearance in search engine results pages (SERPs).
For your URLs:
- Use keywords: Try to include the primary keyword you’re hoping to rank for.
- Be concise: Shorter URLs around 50-60 characters are best because many search engines can’t process longer URLs and might rank you lower as a result.
- Be readable: When your visitor reads the URL, it should be easy for them to understand what the page is about.
For example, for the reasons above, www.yourschoolname.org/openhouse would be a better option than www.yourschoolname.org/admissions/events/winter/january/register/openhouse/welcome
2. Meta descriptions
Make sure all pages and posts have one- to two-sentence meta descriptions that act as a call-to-action for your page. Meta descriptions can actually be any length, but they should stay under the 150-character mark or risk getting truncated in search results. While they don’t have a strong impact on your SEO, meta descriptions should use enticing and accurate language that will get more users to click through and boost your SEO ranking.
Harpeth Hall takes this strategy with its tuition and financial aid page — a concise but engaging meta description paired with a keyword-driven page title will rank higher in search results than pages that don’t take this approach. Bonus points for adding an open graph image to accompany the page, which will display when the link is shared over channels like social media and Slack!
3. Minimize page redirects
To help keep your site speedy, try to reduce the number of redirects you use. When there are too many redirects in your site’s page structure, and you redirect a new page again and again over multiple page iterations, your site will slow down and be penalized by search engines. Usually, this isn't too much of a concern, but something to be aware of.
4. Use the right keywords
If everyone’s using the same keywords, it will be difficult for your school to rank well. Keywords that are too broad (or too specific) won’t support your SEO efforts. Instead, find the sweet spot and utilize tools like Google Ads or SEMRush to identify which popular search terms you can easily rank for — keywords with a decent search volume and low competition.
5. Consider keyword placement
Keywords are critical when ranking organically; it's not just a matter of what words to use, but where to use them. To rank well, your most important keywords should be included in the titles, meta description, the URL, your page’s headers, and naturally within the page’s content.
6. Keep users on your site longer
Have you heard of “pogo-sticking?” It’s when a user clicks through to your site, then jumps back to the search results to find something else. Similar to a bounce, it sends a message to Google that your site didn’t help their search, and that hurts your rankings.
Keeping users on your site longer can help fight against “pogo-sticking.” One simple trick is to make your content easier to read by using bullets and subheadings, especially on mobile. When your content is easy to scan, people will spend more time on your site, especially on mobile.
There’s a lot to take in and explore on Delbarton School’s Art pages, but by using expandable panels with great imagery, users are drawn in. Photo slideshows, branded style elements, and infographics replace long paragraphs of text that might lose a user’s interest, especially on mobile.
7. Have enough page content
There's debate over the "ideal" amount of content on a page — the idea that not enough or too much content can sway search engine results. Google's John Mueller recently stated that the number of words on a page is not a quality factor, however, some research points to a correlation, or a sweet spot, between word count and traffic.
That's probably because long (ish) content usually contains more backlinks, it answers questions more in-depth, and supports the idea that there's enough content on your page to satisfy readers. Similarly, a user would be less likely to read a 6K+ word blog. Have enough content, but don't write just for the sake of quantity.
8. Answer relevant questions
Type a keyword your school wants to rank for into Google and see what questions are being asked. Then, structure your page content based on that question (and provide the answer!). So many people rely on Google to answer their questions, and by solving these queries and providing solutions to their pain points, it can help align your content to what users want to learn.
Hotchkiss School nails it in this example: They’re at the top of the search results with a “What’s the value of a private school?” A well-structured interior page and a streamlined URL (https://www.hotchkiss.org/top-benefits-of-private-school) answer those questions plainly and directly and as a result, Google is able to even display the answers in its results. Nicely done!
9. Navigation structure
Creating an intuitive site navigation might impact SEO more than you think. Web design is a big factor when it comes to SEO — if users are coming to your site and immediately get lost, or if they are confused by the main navigation or menu structure, you’ll lose users and that will impact your rankings.
Think simply, look at your analytics for any red flags (high bounce rates and low time on site, for example), and ask for feedback on your site to identify where it’s easy to navigate and where it might need improvements.
When another website links to yours, it helps you gain some serious “street cred,” also known as domain authority — it’s a critical ranking factor. If your school's site appears on other reliable and trusted domains through a process called link building, it improves the chances of people clicking through to your website.
11. Don’t forget to include internal links
Similar to backlinks, you should include external links throughout your site to improve its crawlability, user experience, and credibility with search engines.
These links within your pages should lead to useful, relevant information within your site, but they should be used naturally and sparingly. A paragraph that’s a sea of hyperlinks and difficult to read will be noticed by search engines and can downgrade your SEO value. Similarly, too many links, or broken links for that matter, can be a red flag for spammy sites.
12. Create content around “shoulder niches”
Publishing engaging and high-quality content is one of the most important factors in your SEO strategy, so what do you do if you’re in a “boring” niche? Let’s face it, creating captivating content around education isn’t always … easy.
Creating content around “shoulder niches” is all about developing content closely-related to topics that are a little more popular and then tying in your content. For example, there might be more buzz around parenting tips, social-emotional wellness, and social media usage for teens that your school could lend expertise, resources, or commentary. That would be a great opportunity to write content for blogs or talk about how your school’s programs address those topics.
On page optimization
13. Create a must-click title
Your page’s content doesn’t have the same impact without a great title. It may be tempting to call your homepage “home” or your employment page “employment,” but be sure to invest the time to find titles that include one of your primary keywords and capture users’ attention, like “YOUR SCHOOL NAME | Private school in YOUR TOWN,” or “Start your Career at YOUR SCHOOL.” Remember, your page titles should use your primary keyword and stay within the 50-60 character range, or risk getting truncated in search results.
14. Add “What is X” definitions to blog content
This tip relates back to framing your content in the form of questions to provide the answers users are searching for. Writing short, digestible, and helpful content, such as blogs, can be an engaging way to introduce users to your school and keep them on your site.
The Stanly Clark School's blog offers so much insight into many great topics — it’s easy to get lost reading their library of blog posts. And with titles like, “What Exactly is an Independent School?” and “20 Ways to Keep your Child’s Mind Engaged this Summer,” they’re sure to attract some attention from organic searches.
15. Add text to infographics, podcasts, and videos
Aside from meeting accessibility standards, adding alt text to your page’s media, like infographics, images, and videos helps search engines determine what content is being displayed and that improves your site’s crawlability. Also, the text that accompanies your media files can be used to populate searches across YouTube, as well as in Google’s image and video search.
16. Reduce image size
Think of your site as a speedboat zooming across the open seas. Large image sizes are the anchors thrown overboard, abruptly stopping load speeds it tracks. By scaling down image sizes and saving them as smaller jpeg formats, you can help boost your page speeds, and that’s rewarded by Google.
Consider this: fifty-three percent of mobile visits are abandoned if a site takes longer than three seconds to load, and if a web page takes five seconds or more, the probability that a mobile user will leave that page increases by 90 percent.
17. Write content for humans
We’ve written a lot about using keywords to rank higher, but at the end of the day, your site’s content should be written for real-life, actual humans and then supported by technical SEO strategies. Boosting SEO performance can help get users to your site, but your content will make them stay. After all, humans are smart and impatient — we can see through keyword stuffing, and if they don't find your content useful and if your website isn’t easily navigable, they'll leave (and Google knows it).
18. Measure organic traffic
Tap into your analytics and keep a close eye on organizing traffic to your site. It will give an indication if your keywords strategy is working.
It may take some time, but after a while of putting best practices into play, you’ll see increasing organic traffic. If it's working, continue to refine and scale. If not, it’s time to rethink your approach and modify your strategy.
19. Check your click-through rate (CTR)
Measuring your click-through rate will give you valuable insight into if your page titles, meta descriptions, and keywords are connecting with users. If you’re seeing lower and lower bounce rates, you're enticing users with the right strategy. If not, then it’s time to look into your page’s metadata and settings to see if there’s room for improvement.
20. Check your top 10 pages
How are your top ten pages performing? That most likely includes your homepage, admission or community pages, tuition, calendar, and staff directory. Focus on your most-trafficked pages and make sure the top 10 are optimized and performing as intended. If you see a high volume of traffic, but low clicks, use the tips in this blog to start improving.
21. Give your “almost” pages some attention
After you’ve improved your top 10 pages, focus on the next five or ten and optimize them to boost their SEO performance. Wouldn’t you rather have 15 or 20 pages vying to make the top ten list all the time? Whether that list includes your academic, event, or athletic pages, bringing even more pages into the coveted "Top Ten" will only help increase the visibility of your entire site.
22. Check your 404s
These dreaded 404 errors can harm your SEO ranking, because you’re making it harder for search engines to crawl your school’s site. Make it easier for search engines by redirecting pages, fixing those links, or checking for any typos to start creating a better user experience.
You can find a list of all 404 pages by logging into your Google search console account and going to Diagnostics > Crawl Errors. Once you’ve clicked “Not Found,” you’ll see a list of all the URLs that produce a 404 error. Once you've identified what URLs you'd like to fix, editors can easily create redirects using the Redirect module within Finalsite’s CMS, Composer.
Pro Tip: If and when your users do hit a dead end, it’s a good idea to offer a custom 404 page that helps visitors find what they’re looking for, either by offering popular links for your site or a search field. Check out great examples of custom 404 pages on school websites here.
23. Rate yourself against competitors
When was the last time you checked your rankings against your competitors? Type a few keywords into Google and see how you compare to the private school down the road, or even your local school or district. Whether they’re outranking you with digital ads or through their organic keyword strategy, you’ll gain an understanding of what families might be experiencing in their search results.
Optimizing your website for SEO is a critical aspect of your school's digital marketing strategies. With properly structured content, a little keyword planning, and great school website design, you'll be climbing your way to the top of search results in no time.
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.