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Getting Found in Search: Understanding Millennial Search Behaviors
Leah Mangold

When it comes to school research, most schools know that their websites make up a critical piece of the puzzle. It’s why we’ve spent so much time educating schools about enhancing the user experience and telling an authentic story. But it’s not the only piece. In order to truly optimize their website for millennial parents, schools need to consider ease of access. And that means thinking about Google.

It’s no surprise that Google is stealing the show with millennials. It’s presenting content about you on your behalf, before the viewers even get a chance to click on your site. Here are three things you need to know.

1. Google provides millennial parents with various online parenting resources.

There are a myriad of online resources catering to the “new parent” audience (especially to young millennial moms!) These range in relevance to your school, from:

  • Broad parenting content such as parenting blogs, which mainly focus on general parenting tips but may have some school info. (Example: MommyPoppins
  • Local newspapers and magazines which may have some mom-and-dad content. They often include information about schools in the area.  (Example: This article from the Detroit Free Press)
  • Online reviews, which are very school-specific. (Example: Niche, Private School Review)

Depending on the search terms, all of these sources can play a role in school research and aid in the decision-making process for parents. For example, on the right is a search for “Best Schools in Annapolis,” which serves up a variety of articles beneath a map of some schools, but not all.

public schools in maryland google search


Even the sources that aren’t school-specific still produce enough education-related content to gain traction in search and can play a factor in your market, competing with not only your school-specific material, but also content written by associations that represent the independent industry at large (NAIS, TABs, etc.) Sometimes even random message boards threads like this one will rank higher on Google’s first page than branded websites.     


Try several searches that affect you so you can gain a better understanding on what parents are finding. Be sure to include superlatives in your search such as “best” or “most affordable” to better mimic millennial search habits. You won’t know which sources are worth getting yourself visibility in if you don’t do the research first.

2. Millennials worry about affording independent schools—and their searches reflect that.

When a millennial mom is first thinking about private school, your school may not even be on her radar. She may be thinking “how does this private school thing work?” or “how do people even afford this?” 


For a search such as “private school tuition,” no single school is the target. But pay attention to how Google is addressing these searches.

unbranded search on google for schools in brooklyn

Here are some features that may affect you.

  • An answer box is often located at the top of the search, providing immediate answers to millennial’s questions without them having to click through to a website. In the answer box in the image below, you can see that Google pulled information from
  • Search filters encourage users to get more specific in their search. In the image below, you can see the location buttons that, when clicked, will lead to another search (Private School Tuition “in NYC” or “in Hawaii”). Google may also suggest other specifications, such as “Catholic Schools” or “Preschools.”
  • User profiling via a computer’s IP Address and/or recent search history enables Google to provide information that caters to the specific user. If your school isn’t near the searcher’s location at that time, Google may put a different school above yours on the page.


When it comes to searches specific to your school (for example, “[My School] + Tuition”), Google often provides a lot of information on the sidebar:

google-sidebar example with austin preparatory school

 There’s a lot to digest from the screenshot above. Here are a few important features:

  • Answer Box is pulling information right from Austin Prep’s website (this means that the website makes tuition information easily accessible).
  • The “Google My Business” Tool allowed Austin Prep to take advantage of its online search presence— for free. In the feature section, you can see they are promoting their “Summer Preview Open House.”
  • Description Feature Blurb is pulling information from Wikipedia— a source schools don’t have complete control of. 
  • Reviews from the web display is pulling ratings from a select few sites and setting them side-by-side. If your ratings from these sites are low, prospects may not bother clicking on the sites with high ratings.
  • “People also search for” section pits you up against your competitors in one fell swoop:
people also search for panel in google


When someone searches your school, they are bombarded by so much content— a lot of which is brought in by algorithms you have no control over. 


Capitalize on user expectation by providing as much information as you can in your website:

  • Avoid “the jewelry-store model” of tucking the price tag underneath the item. It was common in independent school markets 15 years ago, but this tactic won’t work for millennials. They don’t want to take that extra step to talk to a “salesperson”.   
  • Take your tuition information off of those PDFs. It takes time and effort to download a PDF and read through it. The easier it is for millennials to access your tuition for comparison purposes, the more likely you will stay on that whittled-down list.
  • Include data tables with tuition information for Google to crawl. There’s no guarantee that your table will end up in Google’s answer box, but it’s a good start and a best practice for providing easy access.
  • Capitalize on the sticker price analogy to ease parent’s concerns about price. Schools that tell a story about affordability are more likely to stay on a parent’s short list.
  • Use infographics to continue to engage parents once they click on your site. This can be particularly effective in portraying the availability of financial aid for families.

One school mastering the branded tuition search is Landon School, an independent boys school in Maryland. The table on their tuition and financial aid page feeds Google’s answer box in this search:

landon school tuition google search

As you can see in the screenshot, Landon also invests in paid ads to directly target individuals searching for this branded search term with content they control.

On the tuition webpage itself, Landon incorporates video testimonials, infographIcs, an accordion with FAQs, how-to videos, “helpful hints” from their financial aid director, and of course, call-to-action buttons to bring prospects further down the admissions funnel.

By including all of these components, Landon lessens the affordability angst that has become a major hurdle for independent school enrollment.

3. Google accommodates millennials with mobile-first content.

It is no longer an option to be mobile-friendly, and Google knows this. Here are some features that may affect your prospects' online experience:

Search Accordions make it easier for users to scroll through and select only the content they really want to see. But where is the content that fills these accordions coming from? Information that populates these boxes is pulled from many different sources. It’s sometimes out of date or inaccurate, so make sure you monitor this to stay in-the-know.

The Call Feature on a mobile device allows people to make very easy phone calls directly from Google. Make sure this feature is sending callers to a friendly admissions voice.  You don’t want to lose prospects to some sort of attendance list/excused absence voicemail purgatory:

call-out-google-feature for charlotte country day school

Google Maps Filters can sort by rating. What if parents decide to check out a few schools near them?  They can decide to only show the highly-rated schools, and yours might not make the cut:

google map filter


Monitor your reviews frequently. Pay attention not only only to the existence of reviews and the number of stars you are getting, but also the number of reviews. Because if there are only a few reviews, one bad rating tomorrow could dramatically change your overall rating.

Ask your fan base to rate you on websites that you know Google is pulling from. Reach out to parents who you know have positive experiences— they will probably be more than willing to share!

Seek professional guidance reputation management experts who can evaluate your online presence and implement a strategy to help you generate, manage and respond to reviews. A review management process can ensure you always put your best foot forward in search and on social, helping you reach new potential families, driving new website traffic, and increasing enrollment and retention.

A lot of millennials are going to be coming to your website through a search engine (most likely on their phones). You can increase that number if you pay attention to:

  • Local SEO
  • Keyword Research and Optimization of Language (in your site and metatags)
  • Directory Optimization
  • Branded Search Optimization

And never stop monitoring this content! Algorithms continue to change and it can be difficult to predict how your school will be represented in search. For more help with google analytics.

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Leah is a marketing enthusiast with a background in visual journalism. She’s passionate about global communication, handwritten notes, and sole travel. When she’s not exploring new places, she’s either blogging, doodling, or dreaming about it.

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