• Independent Schools
Why Your Peer Schools are Outranking You in Search
Red Abbott

If you’re a school marketer who fields questions from school leaders like “Why aren’t we #1 for [private schools in our town’s name]??? Make that happen!” you’re not alone. We asked Red Abbott, Finalsite’s Manager of Consulting Services, to write up some tips for keeping up with the competition. Red, the creative genius that he is, gave us a fun new format for this blog. Enter: the pretend interviewer. 

Pretend Interviewer: Good morning, Red. Great to have a chance to chat about search success for schools.

Red Abbott: Yes! I love this stuff, and there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit out there for most schools.

PI: Such as?

RA: Oh, you know, the first thing I wanted to talk about was a really simple thing that’s causing problems for schools all over the place. Take a look at this screenshot:

google maps search result for schools in chattanooga tennessee

PI: My eyes hurt, Red. What are we looking at?

RA: Well, I did a Google search for [private schools in Chattanooga, TN] and clicked on the “More Places” link in the map feature that occupied the top of the results page (FYI, it’s called the “Local 3-Pack”). That kicked me over to this longer list of schools in a more Google Maps-y experience.  Then I took a screenshot and blurred the school names to protect the innocent.

PI: OK, so...

RA: So look at the very last school listed. Despite having a competitive Google review score and an awesome Google review quote, it falls 8th on this list. But it isn’t hard to see that it’s also the only one not showing “Private school” as its categorization as a local business. So I’d say a really easy way for this school to have a chance at floating higher in this list (and maybe into the precious top 3 that make it onto the original Local 3-Pack) is to go into its Google My Business listing and update its categorization to “Private school.” As a side note, this school actually has a middle school, so the “High school” categorization is problematic for other reasons, too.

PI: Good tip. Did you say “Google My Business?”

RA: Yes.

PI: What is that?

RA: It’s the platform Google provides to businesses so they can manage their information in a central place for Google to use in places like the map results and in the Knowledge Panel that shows up on the right-hand side of a branded search result.

PI: OK, now your answers are just prompting more questions. Unpack the “Knowledge Panel that shows up on the right-hand side of a branded search result” for us please.

RA: Ha ha sure. Do a search for any “brand” or unique thing. I’ll use an example from higher education:

williams college search engine results page

The panel on the right, called the Knowledge Panel, contains lots of information about the thing I just searched for, and the primary way the thing in question can influence the contents is through its Google My Business listing.

PI: OK, so how does one claim and manage one’s Google My Business listing?

RA: Well, the answer to that changes as they mess around with their interface and account security stuff, so I’d just recommend you Google “claim my google my business listing” and see what Google support content comes up - they’ve got amazingly current support content.

PI: OK. Red, I just have to stop you to say you have really nice eyes. But I mean that in like a totally platonic, nonthreatening way.

RA: Wow, thanks. That’s nice of you. I’ve actually been using this new cream and drinking more water and I’ve noticed a big difference, especially first thing in the morning.


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PI: So anyway, back to search and schools. 

RA: Right. So another thing that other schools might be doing to have greater search success than you may surprise you.

PI: No!

RA: Yes.

PI: What is it???

RA: Directories.

PI: What?

RA: So, everyone who talks about search success focuses on being at the top of Page 1 rather than the more important thing, which is getting the searcher to your site.

PI: OK...

RA: So if you look at most “unbranded” searches for schools - take “private schools in atlanta” for example - you find that Page 1 is more likely to contain directories, school rankings, and association sites than it is individual schools. So the chances to “get found” shift to those platforms where people are going to do their research. A visit to your site from Niche.com is a search victory if the user found Niche via a search engine.

PI: OK…

RA: So there are a lot of schools that have never really taken stock of which third-party sites are successful in the searches they care about. So they have no idea if they’re putting their best foot forward on those sites in relation to the other schools listed. That’s a pretty easy thing to do that can be impactful.

PI: Got it. What else have you got for us? Is there a third “easy win” you can share?

RA: I feel like we have a good rapport so I’m going to be straight with you. My coffee is cold and I need to take a machete to my inbox before my meeting schedule for the day gets rolling, so I’m going to stop at two.

PI: Fair enough. Thanks for the chat - always fun to connect on your favorite topic.

RA: Thank you for listening!


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Red Abbott

Red leads our team of experts who have your back when it comes to organic online searches and ads. With a long history in independent schools — as an alum, former teacher, dorm parent, coach, and now a current parent — his passion for helping you is rooted deep in his own experiences. Alongside his degree in engineering and a master's in school leadership, it's easy to see why clients say Red "gets them" when they discuss marketing strategy!

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