Geo-modified and “near me” search algorithms have gotten stronger and they’re impacting search engine results. Additionally, LinkedIn has added a new feature for colleges and universities with benefits for schools that use only one university page on its platform. Since search trends, algorithms and rankings constantly change, it’s a good idea to review your tools at least twice annually. Below is a list of six easy things you can do to improve the odds of being more prominently listed in Google search results when prospective students search for schools like yours.
Tip 1: Check your listings
Google’s algorithms are always searching for the best selections to display among the top three results for a user’s search term(s). The results vary by user because Google’s answer is based on a combination of variables. Some are tied to the user and others to your site’s credibility rankings.
The way your school is listed among online directories can influence how worthy Google thinks your school is to appear in a list of search results. Google responds to what is called NAP consistency, an acronym for name, address and phone. What Google wants to see is that the exact same name, address and phone are listed in every single online directory. Even small variances, such as abbreviating “avenue” in some listings but not others, will bump you to a lower spot on the list.
One easy way to check your listings is to use this unique tool to run an instant audit on 72 online directories at once. Many directories use bots to look for business listings and will post your school’s information whether you wanted it posted or not. While it’s probably helpful to have your school listed in as many directories as possible, you’ll want to ensure that each listing is identical.
This tool allows you to see and update all 72 listings at once — a timesaver your staff will appreciate.
Tip 2: Check your review-based clout
Once you’re certain that your listings are consistent, try googling a common phrase such as “best colleges in (your state).” You may see a banner of college and university logos at the top of your screen. Is your school in view? If you need to scroll to the right before your school appears, then you’re not showing up in top search results. We checked a few of the top listings in our state (Minnesota). With as few as nine positive reviews on Yelp or similar sites, these schools were more prominently placed in the search results. Talk with your student and alumni groups and encourage them to leave positive reviews for your school on sites that are meaningful to you.
Tip 3: Check higher education search trends
We summarized a third quarter 2016 higher ed search report here. In the report, we note that we saw changes regarding which search terms were most frequently used to research colleges and universities. More prospective students are searching by academic program and degree type over school name. One trend that is likely to impact all types of schools, however, is an increase in tuition/cost-related searches.
In light of the information above, we recommend ensuring that tuition information be easy to locate on your school’s website. Be sure to make it easy to locate via mobile searches, as well. By easy to locate, we mean that you don’t want prospective students to have to click through several pages before tuition information is revealed. Keep in mind, most students will abandon their mission and try a different college rather than invest more time on a site that lacks user-friendly, optimized navigation.
Tip 4: Take advantage of new LinkedIn features
This tip is especially useful for graduate schools. Why? Because, according to LinkedIn, the site has more users who are just completing their undergraduate degrees than users who are searching for undergraduate opportunities. Users approaching graduation are thinking about networking, resumes and jobs — categories nurtured by LinkedIn.
What’s new: Up until now, colleges and universities have had multiple pages on LinkedIn, organized by audience. There were informal group pages for alumni and students. There were business pages for employees and vendors, and university pages for a mix of uses. LinkedIn is now offering a new type of page that will blend a college or university’s business page with the “university” page to create a more streamlined experience for all users.
Some of the benefits include real-time analytics, InMail, the ability to sponsor content, and access to other marketing tools. LinkedIn will combine your school’s followers from both the university and business pages for you, but you have to initiate the change.
The new university page provides students with opportunities to see what types of jobs their school’s alumni have and reach out to those with similar interests. Additionally, the university page is the perfect place for students to leave positive reviews about the school — another way to boost your school’s search rankings. (See tip 2.)
There are some steps you’ll have to take to update your university page. LinkedIn sent instructions to each school’s site administrator. It might be a good time to check in with that person — or make sure you still have one. Sometimes roles like this get lost in translation due to staff changes. Learn more here.
Tip 5: Make Facebook your shop window
Search engine optimization works best with a combination of objective facts, such as consistently posted addresses and “heart and soul” content. By “heart and soul” content, we mean photos and comments from the people most engaged with your school. This content may be more organic, or it may be created by your school’s marketing staff. Go for a combination that offers glimpses into real-time campus moments.
Google algorithms are programmed to search for both types of content, and it’s to your benefit. The objective content helps users find schools that are close by. The “heart and soul” content makes them want to explore further. More information on Facebook for higher ed institutions is available here.
Tip 6: Embed a map on your site
Having a map that clearly marks your school’s location on your site is a courtesy for prospective students, parents and anyone who might want to visit your campus. It also helps search bots find your site and, consequently, can boost your rankings in search results.