How to SEO a College Homepage 101

I’ve been kind of neglecting the SEO part of this blog, so lets get started. The most important page on your college site is your Institutional homepage. For Wofford roughly one third of all pageviews are this page. Because of this importance it is vital that this page is not just optimized for a human visitor, but also for the search engines to bring traffic to your site. Search engines bring tens of thousands (average month is upper 40,000 hits for example) of visits to Wofford’s site a month.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for search engine optimization. The Wikipedia definition of SEO is:

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the volume and quality of traffic to a web site from search engines via “natural” (“organic” or “algorithmic”) search results for targeted keywords.

Basically this is saying there are some standard procedures that you can apply to a site or a page to help it rank better in search engines for relevant searches. This is important because so many people rely on search engines to find information online and the easier you can make it for them to find the information then the more people that are likely to visit a page.

Some Other Terms To Be Familiar

  • SERPs stands for the search engine results page. Meaning that when you search for a term you are returned with page upon pages of results. The higher your page is in the SERPs the more likely it is to be clicked on. Most people click on results that are on the first page so if your site is showing up on page 5 then it’s still very unlikely to get any visitors.
  • Nofollow links are link tags that are tell the search engines to not pass value to the resulting page.
  • Meta Data is “data about data”. Pages use meta data to tell search engines what is on a page.

Let’s SEO our Homepage!

There really is much more that you can do than what I’m about to explain, but this should be a short reminder in case your page is forgetting any of the basics.

Page Title


Your page title should be both descriptive and include keywords relevant for your institution. This is one of the most important elements that a search engine looks at to rank a page and should be well thought out. A tip do not include Homepage in your title, this is assumed. “ABC University Homepage” will not cut it. Be a little more descriptive than this, but still keep it fairly compact.

The Future Endeavour blog made a great post about Best Practices for Page Titles a while back.  The only thing I would add to it is they recommend the dash and I usually use this standard too although a lot of people will recommend the pipe “|”.  Bottom line is it really does not matter just have some sort of separation.

Meta Tags


The two most important meta tags to include are a description and keywords tag. These tags tell a search engine what this page is about. Commonly the search engine will pull the description tag to display on the SERP. Make sure that the description is relavent. It’s true that Google no longer uses Keyword meta data to help a page rank, but other search engines still use keywords. Also keep in mind that bots have a tendency to quit reading keywords after about the 8th one so don’t go overboard.

Check out this article, How To Use HTML Meta Tags, for much more detail.  Technically Page Titles are Meta Tags, but I think they are so important they need to be separated.  Also Robot Tags and others are mentioned, but by far the two most important are description and keywords.  It should also be noted that Google no longer uses the keywords, but that doesn’t mean other search engines don’t and it’s still a best practice to get in the habit of tagging for them.  You never know at some point another search engine might get on top that recognized them or Google might at some point start using them again?

CSS

Believe it or not this is important. What does your page look like if style sheets are disabled? Is it a crumbled mess? Search engines don’t see style sheets so you want to make sure that your important content on a page is at the top. This applies to all pages on a site. It’s ok to have menus and link lists farther down the page.

There are many of them out there but Yellowpipe’s has a Lynx Viewer that you can run on your site to see what your site looks like text only and how the bot crawlers see your page. Also the Web Developer add-on for Firefox has a function that will completely disable CSS on a page.  I’ve mentioned this add-on before as it also allows you to do lots of other things like validate a page for CSS, validate for HTML, and quickly generate a Speed Report to name a few great functions.

Link Sculpting

There is absolutely no reason to go overboard here, but using the nofollow tag for links in your template that you really don’t want indexed or showing up at the top results. For example I don’t really want our “linkjuice” flowing to our webmail or e-calendar.  Take a look at the picture below and the links underlined are nofollowed.  Do you really want your privacy policy showing up at the top of the SERPs?

Takeaways

So there you go some very important details to incorporate into your page designs.  Although we only looked at the homepage everything mentioned can be applied to deeper pages and ultimately should be.  For the most part, Search Engine Optimization is not overly complicate, but it is easy to get bogged down in tweaking.  The most important thing to remember is to build for usability and the SEO will usually follow.

I realize I left a ton out, but that’s another post for another day.

Additional Resources

  • SEOmoz Beginner’s Guide to SEO - this is definitely the place to start for anyone who’s seriously interested into getting into and understanding SEO. Read it completely through… then call me in the morning.

This post was written by:

Kyle James

Kyle James - who has written 227 posts on .eduGuru

Kyle is currently the Customer in Residence at HubSpot, a Co-Founder at nuCloud and  formerly the webmaster at Wofford College. Kyle is an active contributor in the social media spectrum. Although his background is technical, he claims to know a thing or two about marketing, but mostly that revolves around SEO, analytics, blogging, and social media. He has spoken at multiple national conferences and done countless webinars on topics ranging from e-mail marketing to social media and Web analytics. He's definitely a fairly nice guy.

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13 Responses to “How to SEO a College Homepage 101”

  1. Avatar image
    Michael Martinez Says:

    You’ve included some outdated and shaky advice in your post.

    The keywords meta tag is only used by Yahoo! and Ask these days, and I think people need to be careful about emphasizing its value or importance.

    Also, link sculpting is pretty much a formula for disaster. If you use “rel=’nofollow’” on your internal links you’re telling search engines not to follow those links, and they may not otherwise find or index the pages those links point to.

    Link scultping is a bad SEO idea that has been advocated by people who don’t know how to create good site structures, so when they feel the “wrong” pages are shown for very basic queries — such as for a site’s name — they compensate for their inadequate optimization by nofollowing internal links.

    It’s best to use descriptive anchor text on your internal links and to ensure that every page on your site links out to at least one other page on your site.

    There is no need to shoot yourself in the foot with “rel=’nofollow’”.

    Reply

  2. Avatar image
    Daniel Chege Says:

    Title Tags and Meta tags are very important when designing a website, because that is the first thing people see when searching online. Also usinf CSS instead of Frames makes it easier for search engines to crawl your site and also changes are more easier to implement.

    - Daniel Chege
    Poppa Productions Web Designs

    Reply

  3. Avatar image
    MIchel Says:

    Nice article.
    For the lynx viewer, there’s also a Firefox add-on:
    https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/1944
    (Compatible with FF3)

    Reply

  4. Avatar image
    Mayank - Mini Site Profits Says:

    Not to forget internal linking and giving keyword rich alt tags to images.

    Reply

  5. Avatar image
    Kyle James (author) Says:

    @Michael Martinez - if you read the whole section about Meta Tags I mentioned that Google no longer uses these, but I still believe it’s a best practice and as I also mentioned you never know if another search engine one day will pick up steam that uses them or if Google decides to start using them again. Also as far as link sculpting I also addresses your concerns about not going overboard and to only use it for pages that you don’t want indexed and crawled. Did you actually read my advice or just kind of scan? I think you are a little quick to jump the gun on your assessment and I’d love to hear your further assessment after a closer read.

    @Michel - Thanks for the link to the Firefox add-on

    Reply

  6. Avatar image
    David Kam Says:

    That’s a lot of traffic for a school’s website! Those are some pretty good techniques. How do you do link sculpting… is kind of hard for a wordpress blog imo…

    Reply

  7. Avatar image
    Paul O'Mara Says:

    Kyle, I need to direct some of my clients to this post. It’s a great primer for SEO. I’m still finding my way with Paul O’Mara Higher Ed. Photography Blog, so reading this is encouraging. Thanks,
    Paul

    Reply

  8. Avatar image
    Expert SEO Says:

    don’t forget linking, anchor text, Google Webmaster Tools, robots.txt, sitemap.xml… and a lot of kind stuff ^^

    Reply

  9. Avatar image
    Nicholas McIntosh Says:

    SEO is very time consuming but seems to be worth it. I have been tweaking my Higher Education Photography website for the last several weeks, and the work is starting to pay off. The only trouble is you have to stay on top of the changes to google’s algorithms, and make the necessary changes to your site. Thanks for the info!
    Nick

    Reply

  10. Avatar image
    seomati Says:

    nofollow has changed recently so using it within your domain is not good idea. Now its hash # era.

    Reply

  11. Avatar image
    swasa Says:

    Provided the very nice information.Thanks for sharing.

    Reply

  12. Avatar image
    Mike Says:

    What a great article. I’m going to check out my college’s newly redesigned website (www.cabrini.edu) to see if it’s doing everything right.

    Reply

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