What is SEO and How Does it Impact My School?
Learn what search engine optimization is, why SEO for schools in K-12 matters, and how to improve your school’s SEO.
As discussed in my post about school inbound marketing, the first place most internet users go to find what they’re looking for online is a search engine. Almost 90% of the time, that means Google (and a little dash of Bing).
Once given a word or phrase to search — say, “Public Schools in Cleveland” — search engines use top-secret algorithms to scour the web for sites they believe the user will find most relevant.
Naturally, websites that appear highest in the search typically get the most clicks.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the art and science of tailoring your digital presence to make your website appear as high as possible in online search rankings, preferably on the first page of results.
Why is the First Page of Google So Important?
There’s a long-standing joke among digital marketing experts that the best place to hide a body is on the second page of Google results. Because nobody goes there.
Think of SEO like this: just as the beautiful images and well-written copy on your website make it easy for prospective families to learn how wonderful your school is, SEO makes it easy for Google to identify relevant phrases and keywords that those parents and guardians are typing into their search bars.
Thousands of consultants will claim to improve your SEO. Some are very good. Some are decent. And some are, to be charitable, less good. But one thing they all have in common is that they cost money.
But before you consider hiring outside help, let’s take a look at how search engines work and see how schools can organically improve their SEO in a targeted, natural way — in a way that’s aimed not only to increase clicks but also to help attract families who are looking for a school just like yours.
SEO for Schools Tip #1: Understand How Search Engines Work
First, a bite-sized history lesson about search engines.
It’s been more than 30 years since Google burst onto the scene and became 90% of the population’s go-to search engine.
Google’s big advantage over its competitors (Bing, Yahoo, etc.) was that it was the easiest to use and gave the best results.
They pulled this off by creating an ingenious process: a search algorithm.
This algorithm not only scours websites for users’ most commonly searched keywords but also scores the relevance of each website according to how many other websites link back to it.
As Google’s market share among search engines has increased, many online businesses have discovered that whether they’re on the first page of Google results can be the difference between profit and bankruptcy.
For schools, the importance of Google is more nuanced. Sure, you want Google to rank you as highly as possible.
- But for what searches?
- And for which users?
To answer those questions, we’ll have to dig deeper into how you need to think about SEO for school websites.
SEO for Schools Tip #2: Know That Web Searches Are Global. But Schools Are Local.
The first difference between your school and many online businesses is that, unlike businesses, you’re going to find all of your prospects (students) in your immediate geographic area.
Also, families searching for schools online often focus their search for a particular kind of school — whether that’s by cost (i.e., if the school is free to attend or not), academic performance of the student body, if the school has an area of concentration (like STEM or the arts), and so on. Families search online for schools with intent.
Before beginning an SEO effort, ask yourself who you are trying to attract.
Develop family personas — a lookalike profile of the family in your community you typically enroll. Create these personas for your school, and ask yourself what search terms these families are using.
These search terms will be the building blocks of your school SEO strategy.
SEO for Schools Tip #3: Let Google Know You Exist
Whether you’re concerned about public district school SEO or public charter school SEO, an often overlooked — but essential — step for any school eager to be found online is to register with Google Business Profile.
There are a few good reasons and benefits as to why you should claim your school’s profile with Google Business Profile:
- It’s free to create your profile.
- Registering your school with Google Business Profile ensures your school will show up on Google Maps.
- It also increases the chances of your school being displayed in the top panel of search results. This panel highlights the names and location of the top three registered businesses for certain searches.
SEO for Schools Tip #4: Place SEO Keywords Across Your School’s Website
Once you’ve identified the search terms most likely to be used by the families you want to attract, the next step is to use those terms yourself.
Here are some tips for how that looks in practice:
- Feature those terms in blog posts.
- Create pages on your website dedicated to those topics.
- Use those exact terms when you are describing your programs or educational approach.
For example, say you’re a school with a great arts program, and you’re trying to capture families searching for schools that specialize in that. You could create a blog post about the value of being artistic from a young age.
That blog could then drive the reader to a page that would give them more specific details about your school’s program — your art instructor, art other students have created, awards your students have won, what they’ll learn at each grade level, and so on.
Across all these pages, be sure you use a keyword and key phrases that the families in your community will be searching for.
Do whatever you can to make your search terms central to your online messaging.
However, with those tips in mind…
Avoid This Pitfall
Just spamming search terms all over your website won’t help much with attracting clicks or keeping the attention of families after they’ve clicked.
Search engines are very smart about identifying clickbait websites. And families searching for schools online won’t be impressed if your blog is just the words “Public Charter School in Chicago” or “Best school in Houston” over and over again. That’s not how SEO for schools works.
Yes, it does take time and effort to create valuable content (blog posts, videos, web pages, infographics, and so on). But parents and guardians won’t be fooled in the slightest by a page that’s stuffed with keywords and offers nothing to hold their interest.
By creating relevant, valuable content that families want to read, share, and save, you’ll make your school’s website much more visible on search engines.
SEO for Schools Tip #5: Don’t Forget About the Pictures
One important and often forgotten avenue for boosting your school’s SEO is through the images you post on your website. Google is pretty smart. But it’s not (yet) smart enough to know exactly what each image is.
To help Google, you need to add labels — called Alt Tags — to your images. These alt tags describe the image and should use the same SEO keywords you use in your web copy.
For example, if you are a school with a STEM focus, you might title your picture of kids experimenting as “Students working on a STEM project.”
While visitors to your site might never see these labels, Google certainly will. And they will use this to determine your school website’s SEO ranking. So it’s worth the time to get your alt tags right.
SEO for Schools Tip #6: The SEO Positive Feedback Loop
Here’s where your school SEO strategy can really take off.
While using your customer personas is a good jumping-off point for targeting keywords, many websites discover more effective keywords over time by looking at the data generated by their website about who their users are and how they got there.
We’ll dig deeper into identifying website visitors in an upcoming post, but for now, try to think of your school SEO as part of a positive feedback loop, where:
- Better content leads to more visitors
- More visitors leads to better data
- Better data leads to better SEO
- Better SEO leads to better content
…and on and on the loop goes!
SEO for schools can be part of a positive feedback loop. When you look at and listen to the data, over time, your website’s SEO will improve across the board.
You’ll have better content, more visitors, more data, and — ultimately — better SEO.
SEO for Schools Tip #7: Know That SEO for School Websites is a Long Game
So you’ve optimized your keywords, tagged your images, and registered your business. Now your traffic will double tomorrow, right?
Well, not exactly.
SEO takes some time to bear fruit. While you can make some changes today, you won’t get the results tomorrow.
As your site appears more and more in Google searches and people click on it, Google will slowly learn that your site is relevant to those types of searches. It will begin to show your site more and more often.
However, a well-executed SEO strategy still generally takes a few months before significant results start to appear.
But the payoff? Making your website more visible to local families means more families will know you exist — and will enroll in your school.
SEO for Schools Tip #8: Remember, Clicks ≠ Students
Unlike websites that make money through advertising, where each click is an end unto itself, a school’s goal is to find students — not regular web surfers.
Getting families to check out your website is just the first step to getting them to enroll. However, without the right SEO strategy, you may never have that chance in the first place.
SEO for School Tip #9: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
School SEO can be challenging. Oftentimes, school leaders don’t know where to start. And I don’t blame you — marketing isn’t why you took that principal, superintendent, or other leadership role.
But marketing is why SchoolMint’s strategic marketing services is here.
Our team of school marketing experts can help you get started with school SEO by running a baseline audit of your current search engine visibility and then by providing a step-by-step guide to fixing some of the basic issues affecting your SEO.
Then, if you want someone else to handle the heavy lifting of fixing your school website’s SEO, check out SchoolMint Engage!
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