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Why SEO Matters to Your District Brand: Put Your Best Foot Forward
Mia Major

Red Abbot, Manager of Consulting Services at Finalsite, recently discussed how school districts can put their best foot forward for branded searches In his webinar, Branded SEO for districts. In the webinar, Red discusses the structure of search, why it matters to districts and their branding in 2018 and beyond, and how you can start optimizing your district and individual school websites for important branded searches.

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Introduction to Search

Search engines play an important role in digital marketing, and Google is the major player in the search engine industry. Around 50-60% of our clients' traffic comes from search engines, with 80-90% of that search traffic coming from Google. Because search traffic makes up a large portion of overall website traffic, it is essential that your district understands how search works, and more importantly, how current and potential families are using search to learn more about your district.

Unbranded vs. Branded Searches

Unbranded and branded searches are two fundamentally different ways that users can search on Google.

An unbranded search is when a user enters a search term like "chester county pa high schools." An unbranded search means you aren't looking for a specific entity and are instead searching for a category.

The difference in search results is important to notice. With unbranded searches, you usually see a carousel and niche review websites in the search results.

Unbranded Searches Carousel

A branded search, however, means the user is looking for a specific entity, such as "avon grove public schools." If a user conducts a branded search, they will type the exact name of your district, or a school within your district, as well as something even more specific such as "tulsa public schools district calendar."

With branded searches, you often see the website of the school in the top spot with two columns of interior links. A knowledge graph with additional information about the school district is often on the right-hand side of the page.

Avon Grove School District GMB

Branded Search and District Branding

It goes without saying that "branded search" is rather critical to your school's branding. Individuals conducting branded searches are often looking for specific information about your district, and expect a seamless experience when it comes to finding that information. So, when someone searches for say, "madison public schools ct," they want to be directed to the Madison Public Schools homepage. If they search for "brown middle school calendar," they most likely expect the first or second link in the Search Engine Result Page (SERP) to bring them directly to the calendar page.

This is so important for districts, especially when we're dealing with individual school websites, as users expect to immediately find the information they searched for. When you are able to directly serve up content in an organized, well-designed fashion, it speaks highly of your district's brand and communications.

Why Understanding Users is Important for Search

As we look at search, it is important to understand why users are looking for your website. Take a moment and Google your district's name. Does it serve up something that looks like this?

Avon Grove School District Search Result

For Avon Grove School District, two columns of links appear. If you look at the two columns, you can see that Google provides additional links. Google makes link suggestions based on what others have searched for and information they feel searchers are looking for to improve the user experience for searchers.

These links can give you clues as to why or when people are looking for your content, and viewing the links listed on the search engines can help you determine where to add content that will appeal to users.

Another way to use search to understand your users is to view the autocomplete feature. As you type a search into the search bar, Google suggests terms that others have commonly searched for. Seeing what people previously searched for, helps you see the most important content on your site. These are the most important pages you should optimize for search to ensure they are easy to find.

Avon Grove District Search Bar

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

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What Should You Pay Attention to and do to Improve Your School's Search Presence?

Branded SEO has numerous components that districts should know about and pay attention to in order to improve the experience for searchers, as well as your district's overall online presence.

Local SEO

Each school within your district is a brick and mortar location, which is why doing local Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is essential for your school. Local SEO involves implementing strategies to help your school appear for local searches.

Local search affects both branded and unbranded searches.

For unbranded searches, in the past, you may have seen map results that listed three school locations. In a lot of cases today, carousels have replaced maps. When users click on the school cards located in the carousel, they are taken to a branded search for that school to find additional links and information.

Chester County PA High Schools

For branded searches, local SEO is important because school names like "brown middle school" are not unique to your district, but are unique to your area. When your site is appropriately optimized, Google will serve up the local Brown Middle School, rather than the one that is 3,000 miles away.

If you are looking to improve your performance in local search you should start with claiming your Google My Business (GMB) listings for every campus or school in your district. After you have claimed and verified your listing, you can clean up your listing and add additional information so that you have your best information presented when knowledge graphs appear.

Another option for local optimization is to use a paid service like Moz Local to help manage your citation listings on various sites. If you address has changed and you have many listings, it may be worthwhile to invest in this service to help manage and update your listings.

For more information on improving your district's performance in local search, read this blog post!

Directories & Lists

Often on page one of a SERP, you can find directories and lists where you can view a variety of schools in the area you searched. Understanding where you are listed and which directories and lists show up when users search will help you understand how to put your best foot forward in the directories. You will want to look through directory sites to ensure your name, address and phone numbers are consistent.


Understanding the language individuals use when searching helps you as you add content and optimize your website. Google AdWords has a free tool called the Keyword Planner that you can use to help determine the search volume for keywords relating to your school. Knowing which words users search for frequently will help you create new content for your site.

Branded Presentation

To have the best results page when users search for your school, there are a few key elements that you need to optimize. A typical result for your school may look like the following. Within the listing below, we can see a title, meta description and six additional links.

Octorara Search Result

Titles can be up to 55 characters long and should incorporate the name of your school. The meta descriptions can be up to 4 lines long or about 300 characters. Within these meta descriptions, you can incorporate additional information about your school like your size or location. These descriptions should be general and not seasonal since you won't want to update them every season.

If you use Finalsite Composer, your title tag can be directly edited within your SEO settings for each page.

Screenshot of Finalsite Composer settings on the SEO tab

Although Google decides what to show for the title and meta description, having a good title or meta description implemented on your site can help influence what appears. Not that you don't have control over the six links listed under your title and meta description. The only way you can get a page off the site links is to delete a page from your site or, if you use Composer, you can use the "hide from external search" option to keep the page on your site, but remove it from search engine results

Another way you can create a better branded presence is by ensuring you have a great knowledge graph. A lot of the information that appears in your knowledge graph is based on the information you provide in your GMB. Ensuring your address, phone number and location are accurate in your GMB account is an ideal place to start.

Unionville High School - FMB

Within the knowledge graph, you will notice three different sources of reviews. These reviews from directories and social media are important and highly influence users. Many users say they trust online reviews as much as they would trust a friend!

One way you can get more reviews is to reach out to individuals you have a great relationship with and ask them to leave a review. Another way is to send out surveys using a net promoter score. In your survey you will ask "on a scale of 1-10, how likely are you to recommend this school to a friend." Any individual who responds with a 9 or 10 will probably leave a great review and is someone you should ask to leave a review. With more reviews, your rating won't be impacted as much from one negative review.

Improve Your School's Online Presence with Branded SEO

Your school pages and knowledge panels will show up for search results whether you optimize them or not. Why not take some of the steps mentioned above to ensure your school has the most important information for users on the search results page.

Are you interested in learning more about how local SEO can help improve your school's listing for branded searches? Contact us to see how we can market your school online.

Branded SEO for Districts


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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