Google plays favorites. If you do what they say — such as use the right keywords on your site, streamline your NAP information, and most importantly, go responsive — they'll return the favor by serving up your school higher in Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs).
In the past year, it's Google's favoritism towards mobile-friend web design that has received the most attention.
This time last year, marketers, web designers, businesses and schools alike were in a panic as Google put forth a new mobile-friendly algorithm that favored responsive websites, while punishing fixed width websites in mobile search.
Simply put: if your site was mobile-friendly, and your competitor's was not, you'd have a leg up on them in a mobile search. Talk about a competitive advantage.
While many schools took this as the final signal that the move to responsive is a necessity, others opted to keep their fixed-width sites for a list of reasons — such as limited budget, time, and resources, or they simply didn't quite understand the importance of it.
The immediate effect of "mobilegeddon" wasn't as significant as it was hyped up to be. However, Google announced on the Webmaster blog in March that they are going to be boosting the effects of last year's mobile-friendly update.
The update will begin to roll out in May, and it "increases the effect of the [mobile-friendly] ranking signal." According to Google, if you are already mobile-friendly, you will not be impacted by this update.
The mobile-friendly algorithm is a page-by-page signal. Here's what that means based on the way your school's website is set up:
Responsive design: Every page passes, improving your performance in search
Fixed-width design: Every page will fail, hurting your performance in search
Fixed-width design with a mobile-friendly homepage: Your homepage will pass, but all interior pages will fail.
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Okay — so why does all this matter?
It affects your unbranded search performance: 83% percent of school search queries begin with an unbranded search — meaning prospective families aren't searching for your school's name, they're searching for a term like "private schools in Boston." So, if you're school's website isn't responsive, but your competitors' are, you will automatically be ranked below them in search.
Your homepage isn't the only entry point to your site from search: If your school has a fixed-width design with a mobile-friendly homepage, the home page should pass Google's mobile-friendly test. However, prospective and current families don't just search for your school's homepage, and the interior pages they most commonly enter through are admissions, tuition, athletics, log-in pages, employment, and faculty directories.
So, if a prospective family were to do a search for your school's admissions content, and your site isn't responsive, that content may be harder to find.
Mobile search is growing: Google recently announced that more than 50% of Google search queries are now done on mobile — these are the search queries affected by this algorithm.
It is believed that this rollout will have less impact than the original mobile-friendly update. When the update occurs, it will roll out gradually, so we won't see a major drop-off on non-mobile-friendly websites when the algorithm first pushes out.