Organic Search: Make Their Efforts Work for You

As higher ed professionals, we learn to juggle many hats and tasks. Some wanted, some not. As we struggle to implement the latest social technologies and integrate personalized content, we may not have time to be well versed in SEO techniques or the importance of organic search. Why should we take the time to figure it out? How do we begin to stand out in a sea of information about colleges of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds and locations?

We all know the way that students - and families - are finding college programs is changing. According to the Pew Internet Center almost half of all internet users now use search engines on a typical day. Thats up from the previous study that showed only one-third of all users doing such. This most recent finding was in 2008. Can you imagine what it is today? How much easier is it to type in ‘engineering programs, Boston’ than it is to look at 60 different schools? Think of your own search engine usage. Similar, right? ‘Googling it’ has become synonymous with the way many of us use the web on an hourly,  not to mention mobile, basis.

Some of us may be using PPC/SEM campaigns to drive ‘traffic’ to our web pages. We may even be tracking ‘conversions’ through the site in completion of an action (filling out a form, etc.). These are all valid ways to approach a pull method to our pages based on audience research and ad placement. What I struggle with in these instances is the high bounce rate of these campaigns, the low enrollment/deposited student rates they do not address, as well as the distrust most internet users have for online advertising. Awareness and institutional knowledge aside, this may not be our best option. What it may help us unearth, however, is what does work with our audience (through testing) and what keywords we should incorporate on our pages for greater search rankings.

Now look at organic  search: in our own analytics, those who arrive via search engines spend much longer on the site and go deeper within it. Why? Perhaps its because they’ve stumbled upon what they’ve been looking for, or maybe its just the ease and regularity of using a search engine. Without considering this in your online content - in any area - we lose valuable connections to those who are looking for us. They’ll just as easily click on a competitor.

So, what can we do to start harvesting organic traffic without getting too complicated? Here are a few ways to get started:

  • Check keywords in analytics, reorganize content or highlight things better on lead pages
  • Work with your SEM/PPC consultant on proper keywords to incorporate to text/titles
  • Work on strengthening internal links to pages within your site
  • Determine where organic referrals are coming from, solidify that external content
  • Watch social media in analytics, who benefits/engages? New or returning visits?
  • Incorporate best practices on anchor text - no more ‘click here’!
  • Use analytics to determine where visitors are coming from, customize visits/content
  • Watch which search engines are being used, by whom, and for what

Bottom line: you spend a lot of time creating relevant content for a segmented audience. This is only half of the job. The other, is to ensure it can be found, shared and built upon. To create a community and a feeling around what your school can offer and has given to students and families. Leaving out this crucial step may mean the difference between a good and bad outcome, which would be unfair to your efforts and an inaccurate account of if this content ‘worked’.

How are you implementing SEO or organic search efforts? How do you implement it across campus?

3 Responses to “Organic Search: Make Their Efforts Work for You”

  1. Says:

    Great post! One quick question, what do you mean by strengthening internal links?

  2. Says:

    @Andrea - thanks for the comment! What I meant was using anchor text well. Many web sites - especially in higher ed - use ‘click here’ and the like. This is a missed opportunity - just like using keywords in other ways (page titles, url’s, headings, etc) using them in anchor text on your site is also helpful. I know it will be hard to get people using a CMS with varying levels of skill to actually see the value and to be diligent, but its an easy fix to use ‘google analytics’ instead of ‘click here’.

  3. Says:

    Nice post. SEO was big a couple years ago and then got pushed aside like you mention by other technologies. It is nice to start seeing it pop up here and there again, because it is a “best practice” that any site should be aware of.

    I like the bullet points of for a few ways to get started and I would like to add a thought in there. That is to look internally for any keywords that should be used more. If the college has a brand promise, positioning statement, key messages and other strategic branding statements - then the important words that highlight the college can be easily found and used more often. For example, if “hands-on learning” is part of the brand, this phrase or similar phrases should show up quite a bit on your site. Making it easier for student’s to match up with your brand when searching for “hands-on learning”.