September 17, 2019

Search Engine Optimization for Higher Education

Just Google it. 

That’s a common phrase today’s society has become accustomed to when looking for answers. Search engines have become the first touchpoint to any research whether it’s how to cook a specific dish, look back at a historical moment, or find the right college or university. It’s no surprise, then, that a well constructed SEO strategy can make a big impact on prospect volume when it comes to higher ed enrollment marketing.

What is SEO?

SEO, or “search engine optimization” is the practice of increasing both the quality and quantity of website traffic, and exposure to your school through search engine results. Understanding what people are searching for online, the content they’re looking for, the words they’re using, and the type of content they want, provides an opportunity to answer these questions and connect with prospective students searching for the solutions your school offers.  Knowing your audience’s intent is only part of it. The other part is delivering information in a way search engine crawlers can find and understand.

Today’s Landscape of SEO 

Initially, ranking number one on a search engine defined your authority and brand. However, today’s search engine space has changed dramatically over the past few years. Rather than a page full of text, the inclusion of rich snippets (extra information in the description) and the knowledge panel graph (a quick snapshot of information based on available content online) allows a user to seek and receive answers to their questions without having to leave the search engine itself. Google’s Local Knowledge Panel, Top Carousels, People Also Ask, and Featured Answer are some of the types of rich snippets that Google and other search engines have recently implemented. Focusing on these areas will keep your school at the forefront for when potential students are searching…

 “Top colleges near California” triggering a carousel search snippet:

 “top colleges near California” triggering a Carousel snippet in the search results

 “Steps to becoming a Medical Assistant” populating in a list snippet:

 “How long does it take to be a Pharmacy Tech” leading to a People Also Ask result: 

Privacy and SEO

Google may be a search behemoth, but there are minor players in the search space that are just as important, including Bing and Yahoo. Furthermore, now that online privacy has grown in importance to users, search engines such as DuckDuckGo are changing the landscape for individuals that don’t want to identify themselves and their behaviors – even if it means they’ll get less tailored or relevant search results. Shifting away from a “Google only” attitude will help your school accumulate multiple inquiries from a wider array of student demographics.

Why Do Higher Education Marketers Need SEO?

Most college applicants and parents do their research about schools online. Once a search phrase has been put in, many users click on only the first few results on the page and never make it to the next one. Thus, SEO is vital for educational institutions. If a college or university isn’t visible on the search engine results page, it’s missing out on a lot of exposure for potential students. With over two trillion searches on Google alone per year, the education/career industry is amongst the top 10 of total U.S. search engine traffic. By being on top of a search results page, institutions have a significant chance of increasing application and enrollment rates. 


Establish Authority 

Similar to retail brand marketing, the more an organization is in front of the user, the more likely they are to understand the prestige behind the name. This is also true when it comes to SEO for educational institutions. The more a school is at the top of search listings, “near me” searches, and becoming a thought leader by showing up in rich snippets, the more likely they are to become a reputable name among prospective students.

Enhance Local Brand Awareness 

Near me searches have become one of the most queried phrases primarily due to the use of mobile phones. Potential students may find distance as one of the favorable factors for attending school. Focusing on the Google Local Knowledge Graph, Top Carousel, and Google Maps are just a few SEO components that are now the first touchpoint for users. Visibility is more important than it’s ever been knowing that online searches lead to direct enrollment.

Target Bottom-of-Funnel Search Intent

Search engines have become the prominent source for potential students to seek answers to bottom-of-funnel search queries. To name a few, “where to take medical assistant classes,” “how to enroll in a pharm tech program,” and “when do classes begin for nursing school” are prime examples of potential students that understand the program they want to enroll in and are looking for that next step in the process. These users are ready to join a program, and being the first listing in the search engine results page is a necessary step in bringing them closer to becoming a student.


Higher ed SEO works to bring in student inquiries with a solid investment in getting to the first position. Once that initial goal is reached, further returns grow with minimal additional effort. Working today to get to the first page and rank can leave your school reaping the benefits of these incoming inquiries tomorrow, the day after, and so on.


Are you ready to move your school’s SEO strategy to the front of the class, and the search engine results? Let’s talk.

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