If People Can’t Find It, Does It Matter?

Last year I hit up the Higher Education Conference circuit asking the question “If nobody is visiting your site does it matter?” in my web analytics presentations.  This year I’m really digging into Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and as I am thinking about the SEO Best Practices presentation that I’ll be giving at eduWeb this summer it only seems appropriate to start out with a similar question.

“If People Can’t Find It, Does It Matter?”

Specifically I’m talking about content on your website.  As Director of Web Marketing explored a few months ago a college website is large and the Information Architecture of a College Website is vital.  I went over to eduStyle.net and grabbed ten complete random colleges and ran them through Google to see how many indexed pages each domain had.  This is done by searching for “site:domain.com” where the domain.com is replaced by the associated domain name.  This picks up all subdomains which I did want to include because college web presences are VERY complicated.  So lets look at the results.

College Name Domain Indexed Pages
Alfred State College alfredstate.edu 9,230
Central Arizone College centralaz.edu 3,030
Columbia Gorge Community College cgcc.cc.or.us 2,690
George Mason University gmu.edu 994,000
Loyola College loyola.edu 26,600
Nichols College nichols.edu 3,150
Southeastern Lousiana University selu.edu 46,400
Thomas Edison State College tesc.edu 6,460
University of Florida ufl.edu 998,000
University of Washington washington.edu 2,530,000

So just looking at this sample size the smallest sizes have thousands of pages and the larger ones have a million or MORE!  What is even crazier is that these are just pages indexed by Google and are easily not including lots of content like content behind password protection.

Why SEO is Vital for College Websites

The way that I present Google indexed pages of content to my clients is that each page of content is an opportunity.  What I mean by opportunity is that it is an opportunity to rank on a new keyword. Because of the long tail nature of search having a million pages of content potentially means tens or hundreds of million of various keywords that the larger sites can rank.  Wofford College has just short of 10,000 indexed pages in Google and averages over 50,000 visitors from search engines.  These searchers ended up at www.wofford.edu from over 7,000 different search terms in the last month!

guru traffic breakdown If People Cant Find It, Does It Matter?

.eduGuru Monthly Traffic Breakdown

So if you want to talk about people visiting a site being important than search traffic has to be included in a large percentage of that.  For Wofford it is about 25% of total traffic and for this Higher Education marketing blog it accounts for over 40% of our traffic.  Can you imagine giving up a quarter of your traffic?  What if you could increase your traffic 10-20% by simply doing some optimization around your content and making it easier for people on the web to be able to find your content when they are looking for it?  If a 10% increase in traffic resulted in 10% more alumni giving or 10% more students applications then would you care?

What about someone who visits a college site and is searching for something?  The information architecture is vital, but what percentage of your visitors who are looking for something specific do you think just give up and try an internal site search?  For the exact same SEO reasons your internal site search can be that much better if you optimize your content in a certain way.

More To Come

So I’m not even talking about how to optimize your content for search, simply trying to convince people of the importance.  We will get to the how soon enough, I promise.  In the mean time why not refresh yourself with some of the good SEO posts already on this blog including:

13 Responses to “If People Can’t Find It, Does It Matter?”

  1. Says:

    You’ve probably seen this too Kyle, but we often find that a lot of those pages are ranking well for certain search terms even though they’re either totally irrelevant for the term, or woefully out of date. It presents a real challenge for institutions with distributed ownership (lots of subdomains) and no strategy for pruning out-of-date content. A good CMS is one tool to help, but it’s more of an organizational issue.

    Has anyone reading this seen an example of an institution that had a good internal process for keeping hundreds of thousands or millions of pages both current and reasonably optimized?

    • Says:

      Those are good questions. Part of the problem is that from an SEO standpoint that a lot of the time a CMS is part of the problem from friendly URLs, meta data, page titles, header elements, etc that just isn’t handled optimization by a CMS unless the person is designing with these usability things in mind. As far as a really good example of a gigantic website my personal favorite has been the University of Virginia for quite some time now. In fact I’m not going to lie my first year as webmaster at Wofford I spent copying many of the things that site does.

      Hey they say that copying is the highest form of flattery so there you go… Just told on myself.

      Hey at 1,440,000 indexed pages you take a look and see what you think.

  2. Says:

    Frankly, Kyle. It DOES matter, if there’s no one drop my site a visit. The main purpose of writing blogposts/entries is to attract more new readers to share our thoughts and opinions! If there’s no one even reading our blogpost, then what’s the point of writing it?

  3. Says:

    Yes, you’ll notice I said a “good” CMS :-) SEO has to be part of the plan from the beginning, or you’re liable to select a system with gibberish URLs and no way to manage tags across the site.

    I love the UVA site too (even though I’m a Hokie). They’ve done most of the work internally with design help from a freelance designer, very impressive.

  4. Says:

    I really like how optimizing pages really helps internal search. I never really thought of it. Even if you aren’t ranking well for an keyword, optimizing for it on your site will help people looking for it on an internal site search.

  5. Says:

    I think the 10-20% increase in traffic from search engines is a pretty modest estimate, especially given the amount of authority sites like Google and Yahoo give to .edu domains.

    It would be an intriguing before/after experiment to take an unoptimized higher education site and perform some very basic SEO upgrades to it. I suspect that you’d easily see some drastic traffic increases in the range of 40-50%, depending on the key phrases targeted.

  6. Says:

    I wish I had a .edu domain name. I wish I could have a .edu client. I’d do wonders for them. I wonder how long it will be before colleges start routinely using SEOs.

  7. Says:

    Ooh oops i just typed a huge comment and as soon as i hit post it come up blank! Please tell me it worked right? I dont want to write it again if i dont have to! Either the blog bugged out or i am an idiot, the second option doesnt surprise me lol.

  8. Says:

    Simply want to say your article is astounding. The clearness in your post is simply spectacular and i can assume you are an expert on this field. Well with your permission allow me to grab your rss feed to keep up to date with incoming post. Thanks a million and please keep up the effective work

  9. Says:

    Great post, good question.

  10. Says:

    I face this problem all the time. You can create great content, but getting attention is the hardest part.


  1. Trending Upward | Why You Need a Meta Description --> says:

    [...] James just wrote a great SEO post on .eduguru last week about optimizing higher education websites for search engines. This is an area that [...]

  2. FAQs Pages: Good Web Usability or Outdated Content Strategy? | ePublish Media --> says:

    [...] Founder, a friend and Inbound Marketing Consultant at HubSpot, asks the pertinent question, “If people can’t find it, does it matter?” In a recent SEO presentation, Founderexplained the importance of choosing relevant web copy keywords. [...]