Higher Education SEO Best Practices By : Richard McCulloch

Higher Education SEO Best Practices

SEO tips for higher education


Richard McCulloch:
Hi. Welcome to Tribeca Marketing Group. My name is Richard McCulloch. I’m the president of Tribeca. Sitting next to me, and I think I should introduce him so you don’t get us confused. I know we were so similar. This is Kyle O’Connor, aka cool Kyle, who is our SEO Specialist. Today, we’re going to be talking about best practices in search engine optimization for websites, specifically for higher education. Is that right, Kyle?

Kyle O’Connor:
That’s right.

Richard: Kyle, I know for a fact that the generation of organic leads is one of the most important things for any school entity. They tend to convert very well. Obviously, someone going to someone’s website is getting some relevant information about their school, their programs, their student experience. As schools try to get the best search engine optimization possible, what are some of the things you think they should be concentrating on in today’s landscape?

Kyle: Number one right now is, we’ve been doing a lot of school websites, and we’ve noticed a lot of them are kind of slow. When I say slow, they’re loading slow. They are graphics-heavy. They’re built in WordPress, their themes are kind of heavy. What I mean heavy is, like, it draws a lot of resources from the server and on the client-side, and it slows things down. I don’t know if anyone’s aware, but people are impatient. If they go on your site and it takes too long to load, they’re going to click off and they’re going to go to the next one down the list. The idea is to keep people on your site as long as possible and reduce your bounce rate. There’s even statistics out there where if a site takes over three seconds to load, a quarter of the people will leave. Even Walmart did a study where if you increase your website speed by one second, you can increase your conversion rate like 2%.

Richard: That’s significant.

Kyle: That’s huge. That’s the best thing to do, just increase your speed. There are ways to do it. Don’t overdesign. Bells and whistles are great, but it comes with a cost.

Richard: More is less in a way, is what you’re saying.

Kyle: Yes, more is less.

Richard: Or, less is more, I should say.

Kyle: Yes, you got that.

Richard: Or more is less. That’s actually a true statement. Just for clarification.

Kyle: [chuckles] With that, people who go on and buy themes off of like ThemeForest or some of these places, and they’re all great, and like I said, they look great but sometimes a custom theme is better. Because when you custom build them, we could build them without all the heavy code in the background. That makes it easy for you to edit, the end-user to edit themselves, but again, it comes with a cost. Custom themes for WordPress or anything else sometimes could be made more efficient.

Richard: That’s good to know.

Kyle: Other ways to decrease speed or increase speed, I guess I should call it, would be to compress your images. A lot of people would download an image from Shutterstock or Adobe and just upload it to their website. You need to bring it into a compression software, compress it down, even bring it down pixel-wise as well before you upload it to your website.

Richard: These, all or some of these things put together?

Kyle: All together. There’s a lot of little things you can do. As well as, if you are using WordPress, and some other ones have them – Some of these other systems have them as well, there’s cash systems. It’s a plugin, bringing it in and it combines code, it combines things together to – it’s called minify. That’ll increase the speed of the web page.

Richard: Okay, so, speed.

Kyle: Speed.

Richard: That’s number one. Look at your site speed. What’s your second tip?

Kyle: Second tip is to have an SSL, which is a Secure Socket Layer certificate. A lot of people don’t have them. Back in July in 2018, Google has implemented that that’s the way they want you to go. They’ll flag you if you don’t have an SSL.

Richard: Tell me about what that means, when Google flags you or ‘penalizes you’, is this one of the things which hurt your ranking?

Kyle: Yes, it’ll bring you down. There’s like 200 ranking factors and this is one of them. This is higher up on the list. They’ll knock you down that way in the ranking, but they’ll also flag you on the SERP, which is the Search Engine Result Page. They’ll even have a little note underneath your link that says, “This page is not secure.”

Richard: Which hurts credibility for your site.

Kyle: Yes, credibility. People are going to maybe not click on it. A lot of people don’t.

Richard: I guess, in higher-ed especially, if a person sees that little disclaimer, that automatically is something that they take into consideration and it eliminates you.

Kyle: It takes away almost your legitimacy and your trust factor. Google is big on trust.

Richard: In the case of SSL, it’s not only because of the Google penalty or the fact that it has some negative ramifications on how you rank, but it also can affect the way people see you as a company or as a school.

Kyle: They may skip just past your link to the next one, and then when that keeps happening, keep clicking on the guy right behind you, they’re going to move him up ahead of you eventually. They’re going to continue to do that and you’re just going to move down the list.

Richard: Get your SSL game in place. Very important.

Kyle: You can get it off your host for a nominal fee, a yearly fee. It’s not much, depending on the host. The reality why it’s so important is because the people are going to go on your website and put personal information in when they’re filling out forms.

Richard: Contact forms, the mainstay of what we do.

Kyle: Or for a tour, a campus tour or whatever. They want to make sure that the data is secure.

Richard: And will not be compromised. SSL, extremely important. Number three, what have we got for number three, Kyle?

Kyle: It’s the keywords. Obviously, the keywords, I think, you need to state the obvious. Sometimes people forget they’ll use internal language versus external language. For an example of that, with the schools is they would call themselves an institution versus a school. Kids out there are going to search for schools, colleges or trade schools are what they’re looking for. They’re not going to say, “Institutions near me.” We get into the habit of talking about we are an institution. We need to make sure we think about what the keywords that they’re going to be searching for.

Richard: Is there a way to really identify the keywords that work best for you? What is the keyword research best practice to know which keywords are best-suited for your particular organization?

Kyle: There’s software, there’s online stuff you can use. You want me to recommend?

Richard: Well, I think we can throw some of those out there, but ultimately, if you’re a college or a university, we hope that you have someone that’s really doing this as part of your infrastructure or your agency.

Kyle: They’ll farm that out to the agencies to do that research for them and that’s what I do.

Richard: Yes, that’s what Kyle does for us. It is part of his work in terms of SEO. If you’re working with an agency, that definitely should be something that you’re doing, the keyword research, because – I didn’t mean to cut you off. Were there any other things with keywords that they should know?

Kyle: Yes, with keywords you have to make sure you use them on your page. You don’t want to overuse them or you’re be penalized for stuffing, you can’t just put them everywhere. You do want to make sure they’re in your title tag, your H1 tag, and maybe your H2 and further down, and of course in the body. You can’t just have them in those tags and not in the body of the page. That’s important, obviously. The reason I brought it up and it seems obvious, but some people forget. I’ve been on sites and they’re not stating the obvious.

Richard: How does your choice of content in terms of your keyword strategy – I know content is a big part of search engine optimization. What do you recommend in terms of when you’re generating content for your website what should be part of that content generation? Should there be some keyword research that has been taking place?

Kyle: Yes, for sure. You want to look organic, to look natural. You don’t want to look like you’re-

Richard: Intentionally putting in things, yes.

Kyle: -intentionally writing it in there. Sometimes, you need to, just a little bit. You want to make it look as organic as possible.

Richard: So, don’t just put a string of keywords together that make no sense.

Kyle: People used to do that, just put it on the footer. They’ll put them all in the key – there used to be a keyword metatag. There still is, but it’s no longer a ranking factor because everyone just stuffed it. Google is like, “We’re not even going to rank that anymore. That’s not part of the algorithm anymore.” Because--

Richard: People are abusing it.

Kyle: Yes, just stuffing it away. You have to be natural.

Richard: What do you got for us next?

Kyle: This goes along with the keywords and it’s the alt tag. It’s because a lot of people use images on there. Of course, you’re going to use images to portray a message, but again, going back, they’ll download an image from Shutterstock or wherever, and just throw it up there. They’ll leave the name and then they’ll default the alt tag to just the name of the image, which will be some random number. It’s irrelevant. You need to make sure you go into your code and change that to a keyword. You want to make sure you’re describing the image accurately. The image should be pertinent to the page. Obviously, you’re going to have the keyword in there.

Richard: If I’m a college in Miami, Florida, that’s where we’re close to, and I’m showing a picture of my campus, my facility. Could you give me an example of how that image would be tagged appropriately? I’m in Miami, Florida. It’s an image of my facility. What would be a [crosstalk]?

Kyle: If you’re a trade school?

Richard: Yes, let’s say a trade school.

Kyle: I would put, “Our trade school campus located in Miami, FL.”

Richard: Got you. So, you’re gaining the benefit of a lot of detail within that.

Kyle: Yes. That’s like a local signal, too, that shows the page that you’re relevant to this – There’s many factors to the local signals, but that’s one of them. So, include the city and state in there, for sure.

Richard: Perfect. I think that’s very important. Thanks, Kyle. What’s number five? Talk to me.

Kyle: I meant to finish the alt tag. One more thing [unintelligible 00:10:22].

Richard: I’m sorry I’ve jumped the gun. Kyle is going to finish.

Kyle: Just because while you’re at it, this is in the alt tag, but in the image with some dashes, put your keyword in there. Name the image something relevant rather than, again, the default. Put, “Trade-school-Miami-FL.”

Richard: Dash. Very important, clearly. I’m glad you got to put that point.

Kyle: This one’s come up recently, so I thought I would add it in here. The importance of the Google My Business page.

Richard: Yes, we were talking about that.

Kyle: I’ve just noticed a lot of institutions are not utilizing it as much as they should. The reality is, a lot of your traffic could be coming from your Google My Business page, and you just don’t know it because you maybe aren’t tracking it properly. You could do that with putting some UTM codes in there and setting up your analytics properly to break those out, and they’ll know comes from in the Google search page, what’s coming from the 3-Pack, which is your Google My Business page, and then the organic listings below. So, it’s the ads--

Richard: You can actually measure the impact that your Google My Business is having in terms of your inquiry generation.

Kyle: Right.

Richard: Very cool.

Kyle: The idea of that is to fill it out thoroughly. Everything that they have in there, just fill it out as much as you can.

Richard: I would say anybody that’s listening to this, you may just want to double-check that you are actually registered on Google My Business.

Kyle: Yes, sure. Then, it’s one thing to register and then pick the correct category, but then to fill it out properly. Thoroughly as possible. Everything. There’s even an option there for appointments, make sure you link that to your Contact Us page, which is actually my last--

Richard: Good information. We have a bonus. This was supposed to be the top five. Because all of you are special, we got a bonus tip from Kyle.

Kyle: The Contact Us page. I’ve noticed some schools will have a lot of call to actions in the program pages or all sorts of places, but it’s also important to have a page of its own, the Contact Us page. That’s the idea, you can link that from the appointment area in your Google My Business right to that page to make appointments and some other citations throughout there. It’s a good page to link to and Google’s looking for it, a specific page with Contact Us information. Then, when a person comes to your site, they’re looking for it. A lot of times they’re just looking for the content.

Richard: They’re going straight for the content. They want to speak to a specific--

Kyle: So, make sure it’s right – It’s going to keep people on the page. If they’re looking down, “I can’t find the info, I’m going to go somewhere else and maybe find it right in the search results.” You want to keep people there, click Contact Us and then go to the page and get everything about you right there. On that page, you want a map. You can embed a Google map.

Richard: Why is that important in terms of your Contact Us?

Kyle: It’s like this geo-targeting of it, because the schools are looking for people within certain geographic area around them, so you want to make sure that you’re telling Google that, “This is my area.”

Richard: Got you. You’re claiming it. It’s your territory.

Kyle: [unintelligible 00:13:48] you put the map on there. You can even list your service area. You can list cities and maybe your students come from these areas. List those cities on there so Google’s aware of what you’re looking for, what [unintelligible 00:14:01].

Richard: That helps you, once again, with your ranking and the people who are searching in that particular geographic area.

Kyle: Make sure you have your hours and of course, a strong call to action on that page because you want to convert them to a lead. That is the last one.

Richard: I think you gave them the bonus, right?

Kyle: Yes. Between the Google My Business and the Contact Us page, make sure the contact information matches identically. Your name, address, phone number, it’s called NAP. Make sure that those are exactly the same. Some people put, this is for schools, both of them put LLC at the end [crosstalk] name in the Google My Business, and then they won’t on their Contact Us page.

Richard: So, you don’t get the true benefits.

Kyle: Yes. Just do it exactly the same.

Richard: Awesome. Kyle, thank you. It’s something that we’d like to see every school out there, education is something that people are searching for. Your institution is probably doing some great things, great programs, but you’ve got to be found. Your website needs to be found, and then your organic inquiries need to be converted. Make sure you’re looking at your Search Engine Optimization, SEO. Once again, we’re Tribeca Marketing Group. If we can be of any assistance or you’d like to talk to Kyle personally, which is always a thrill, you should definitely reach out to us.

Kyle: A laugh a minute [chuckles].

Richard: Absolutely. www.TribecaMarketingGroup.com. Take care. Thank you.